Created by Cris Hammond
For some reason, the number of comic strips featuring private eyes have been few and far between. Off the top of my head, there’s Alex Raymond’s Rip Kirby, his and Hammett’s Secret Agent X-9, and the short-lived Mike Hammer strip, but that’s about it.
But in the eighties, just at the time that newspaper strips had pretty much given up on any sort of long-running narratives (save for a few glorious exceptions, like Canadian Lynn Johnston’s For Better or Worse or maybe Garry Trudeau’s Doonesbury), an honest-to-God shamus came strolling in, courtesy of cartoonist Cris Hammond.
SPEED WALKER was a private eye, and the United Features Syndicate made no bones about it–the strip itself was called Speed Walker: Private Eye, for those of you who lost your scorecard. And just to remind you, he usually wore a trench coat and a fedora–the latter even when he was in his pjs.
Not that Speed was some two-fisted hard-boiled dick dishing out dark, nasty tales of murder and mayhem on a daily basis. The strip was definitely played for laughs, a light-hearted jest with Speed the butt of most of the jokes. He was the detective as Everyman; a good-natured working joe stumbling through life, looking for a clue. He lived alone with a small army of demanding cats, and his two closest acquaintances were his long-suffering secretary Sally Gelata, a single woman with an attitude and plenty of opinions on what her boss was doing wrong, and Lt. Lou Arches, an overweight homicide dick who was Speed’s best friend. Nothing special–Speed owed more toCharles Schulz’ Peanuts or maybe Chic young’s Dagwood Bumstead than Sam Spade–he just happened to be a private eye.
He did work cases, however, with some of the “cases” stretching as long as three months, although to be fair, the cases were more prolonged gags than actual detective work. A quirky idea, maybe, but United Feature Syndicate thought it just might work, and soon the strip was appearing in over 150 newspapers. Not a bad start.
But less than a year and a half later, the plug was pulled. Still, during its short run it was popular enough to spawn not one but two (now hard-to-find and surprisingly pricey) collections, Speed Walker Private Eye and Totally Fearless (both 1984).
Why didn’t it not catch on? One rumour, reported by The Stripper’s Guide, is that “[Hammond] was getting bored and finding it hard to write gag a day mysteries. He stopped the strip to take a job with Lucas Films Industrial Lights & Magic to design special effects where he made lots of money doing something he enjoyed.”
Too bad. By 1984, the genre could have used a little humour.
- “Speed’s not exactly the world’s greatest detective. He’s more like Maxwell Smart (yes, I know he wasn’t a detective) than Mike Hammer. He looks good in his fedora, though. If you’re looking for some really light reading and something different from the usual PI fare, here it is. Check it out.”
— Bill Crider
- SPEED WALKER, PRIVATE EYE
(1983-84, United Features Syndicate)
Syndicated daily and weekly strip
First strip: May 2, 1983
Last strip: August 27, 1984
Written & drawn by Cris Hammond
- Speed Walker, Private Eye (1984) | Buy this book
Contains all the strips from May 2 through November 25, 1983
- Totally Fearless| Buy this book
- Cris Hammond Cartoonist
The official web site.
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