Buck Ryan

Created by Don Freeman (text) and Jack Monk (art)

He initially dressed like he’d just raided Dick Tracy’s closet (just a coincidence, I’m sure), but two-fisted, hard-boiled private eye BUCK RYAN had his own comic strip which ran for an amazing twenty-five years in London’s Daily Mirror from March 22, 1937 to July 1962. In fact, he was so associated with that paper that when his adventures were reprinted in the Super-Detective Picture Library, he was referred to as “the Daily Mirror ‘Tec.”

The brown-haired and square-chinned Buck was a British gumshoe with a seemingly global knowledge of crime and criminals. He had an eye for damsels in distress, and a decided dislike for his arch-enemy Twilight (a sexy lady crime boss), as well as the usual kidnappers, bank robbers, blackmailers and Nazis.

Still, I’m not quite sure of the creators were quite clear on what a “private detective” is. In the very first panel of his very first adventure, “A Lady Disappears,” he’s referred to as an “amateur sleuth,” but then almost immediately his dweeby young assistant Slipper and he hustle off to the London docks on orders from a client. A strip or two later, he’s ordering around the local cops, like he’s in charge.

So, yeah, the strip had a few growing pains, and took a while to gel. Nor did it help that Buck was originally saddled with a young (and rather annoying) assistant/sidekick, Slipper. Fortunately, by the second arc, he was gone, never to be seen again.

He was replaced by Zola,  a former gang member who becomes Buck’s secretary and later partner. She was tough and smart, and the perfect traveling companion when Buck’s cases would take him around the globe. Of course, being a woman, she had to suffer through being kidnapped occasionally, as well as a few embarrassing wardrobe malfunctions over the years.

Besides Zola, Buck had to contend with Inspector Page of Scotland Yard, who would often warn off Buck, but more frequently would end up working with him.

And then there’s Twilight. Master criminal, gang boss and cold-blooded killers, she hung around for years, and eventually saw the error of her ways, thus paving the way for a possible romantic relationship with Buck. In at least one of the later stories it even looks like they might… kiss.

Poor Zola never had a chance.

But right from the very start, it was clear this was no love comic. There was going to be action. Freeman and Monk crammed the strip with shootings, explosions, car chases, ambushes, wild animal attacks, treacherous dames, betrayals, inscrutable “Oriental” villains, and some surprising amounts of violence, tempered only slightly by the occasional touch of glamour and even romance, not to mention more than a few scantily clad babes.

Certainly, Buck had a good long run.  The writing became sharper and the plots became stronger, and Monk soon developed a smooth, classy style, equally at ease with characterization as he was with settings and the prerequisite action scenes. The strip was a hit, and soon began appearing in newspapers and reprinted in comic books and collections all over the world.

The strip was translated into Tamil, and appeared in Muthu Comics by Prakash Publishers. In Italy, his adventures were reprinted in five albums from Milano Libri Edizioni, and the Montreal newspaper, La Presse, published a number of Ryan stories around 1963, while over in France, the journal Franc-Tireur ran stories in the fifties.

There was an Australian comic book, as well, put out by Atlas Publications, that ran from 1949 to around 1957, while back home, many of his adventures were soon reprinted in comic books Super Detective Library, a popular British comics anthology.

Buck even returned to the Daily Mirror over fifty years later, in 2015, kicking off a series of spiffy reprints of some of his later adventures, touched up and colourized by Martin Baines, that ran until April 2018, and made the decades-old artwork by Monk really pop.

ABOUT THE AUTHORS

Jack Monk had done a couple of two short lived strips for the Daily Express in 1934, before moving on to the Daily Mirror in 1936, where he and Don Freeman collaborated on an adaptation of Edgar Wallace’s J.G. Reeder story Terror Keep. Apparently nobody checked the copyrights, though, and the strip was soon dropped for legal reasons. Frustrated but undeterred, the two decided to create their own strip, and decided Britain was ready for an American-style private eye. And so Buck Ryan was born.

COMIC STRIPS

  • BUCK RYAN
    (1937-62, The Daily Mirror)
    Written by Don Freeman
    Art by Jack Monk

    • “A Lady Disappears” (March 22-July 21, 1937)
    • “The Hooded Terror” (July 28, 1937-October 16, 1937)
    • “Buck Ryan and The Dope Gang” (October 18, 1937-February 12, 1938)
    • “Buck Ryan Meets Dr Malabar” (February 14-May 31, 1938)
    • “Buck Ryan and the Terror in New Guinea” (June 1-November 22, 1938)
    • “Murder at Meadowside House” (November 23, 1938-April 4, 1939)
    • “Title Unknown” (April 5, 1939-July 19, 1939)
    • “Smokey Sam’s” (July 20-December 2, 1939)
    • “Mystery of the Silent Bomber” (December 4, 1939-May 25, 1940)
    • “Buck Ryan in Germany” (May 27-November 18, 1940)
    • “The Mystery of Sydall House” (November 19, 1940-July 40, 1941)
    • “Buck Ryan Smashes The War Racketeers” (July 31, 1941-October 24, 1941)
    • “Guardians of Our Sky” (October 25, 1941-March 2, 1942)
    • “Unknown” (March 3-June 18, 1942 )
    • “Green Flames” (June 19-October 20, 1942)
    • “Title Unknown” (October 21, 1942-January 2, 1943)
    • “Title Unknown” (January 4-March 9, 1943)
    • “Title Unknown” (May 17-November 27, 1943)
    • “Buck Ryan Hunts Axis Spies” (November 29, 1943-March 24, 1944)
    • “Spies in Burma” (March 25-June 28, 1944)
    • “Buck Ryan Battles Imperial Forces” (June 29-October 6, 1944)
    • “Buck Ryan, War Correspondent” (October 7, 1944-January 19, 1945)
    • “Buck Ryan and the Terrorists” (January 20-March 31, 1945)
    • “Brides of the Swastika” (April 2-June 26, 1945)
    • “The Case of the Crimson Grass” (June 27-September 25, 1945)
    • “The Case of the Broken Thistle” (September 26, 1945-January 4, 1946)
    • “The Atomic Chase” (February 18, 1946-June 29, 1946)
    • “The Case of the Blue Star” (July 1-October 26, 1946)
    • “The Sonata Murder Plot” (October 28, 1946-January 25, 1947)
    • “Crime With a Collar” (January 1-May 20, 1947)
    • “The Laughing Killer” (May 21-August 2, 1947)
    • “Twilight Escapes” (August 4-December 11, 1947)
    • “Fine Feathers” (December 12 , 1947-April 1, 1948)
    • “The Riddle of the Stolen Jewels” (April 2-July 31, 1948)
    • “Moon Murder” (August 2-November 8, 1948)
    • “Rule of the Road” (November 9, 1948-February 25, 1949)
    • “Avarice” (February 26-June 26, 1949)
    • “Title Unknown” (June 14-September 20, 1949)
    • “Twilight’s Out” (September 21, 1949-March 21, 1950)
    • “The Affairs of Mr Wylie Domeless” (March 22-July 11, 1950)
    • “A Fishy Story” (July 12-November 7, 1950)
    • “The Scrubber” (November 8, 1950-March 1, 1951)
    • “The Steel Tree Stump” (March 2-June 16, 1951)
    • “Beating the Book!” (June 18-September 21, 1951)
    • “The Enemy Within” (September 22, 1951-January 5, 1952)
    • “The Fight Game” (January 7-April 23, 1952)
    • “Title Unknown” (April 24-June 25, 1952)
    • “Twilight Goes to Town” (June 26-November 12, 1952)
    • “Fun Fair Fence” (November 13, 1952-March 14, 1953)
    • “Witchcraft Consultant” (March 16-May 30, 1953)
    • “The Surprise Bag” (June 1-September 15, 1953)
    • “The Nocturnal Fox” (September 16-December 31, 1953)
    • “The Strato Midjet” (January 1-April 13, 1954)
    • “Arty Crafty” (April 14-August 18, 1954)
    • “The Island of Refuge” (August 19-December 31, 1954)
    • “The Bank Bandits” (January 1-May 11, 1955)
    • “Twilight’s Dilemma” (May 12-August 24, 1955)
    • “Chocolates, Cigarettes” (August 25-December 9, 1955)
    • “The Viking Invasion” (December 10, 1955-March 13, 1956)
    • “Cyclops, Spirit Guide” (March 14-June 16, 1956)
    • “The Four Faced Bandit” (June 18-November 17, 1956)
    • “The Show Must Not Go On!” (November 19, 1956-February 12, 1957)
    • “The Intruder Seed” (February 13-June 19, 1957)
    • “The Sport of Kinks” (June 20-September 14, 1957)
    • “Manhunt” (September 16, 1957-January 21, 1958)
    • “The Strange Antique Shop” (January 22-May 10, 1958)
    • “The Case of the Nervous Hero” (May 12, 1958-September 13, 1958)
    • “The Mad Mistress of Montezorro” (September 15, 1958-February 28, 1959)
    • “In The Black” (March 2-July 18, 1959)
    • “Road Raiders” (July 20-October 21, 1959)
    • “Pay Off” (October 22, 1959-January 5, 1960)
    • “Number One” (January 6-April 23, 1960)
    • “The Rat Pit” (April 25-August 13, 1960)
    • “Death Watch” (August 15-December 3, 1960)
    • “Twisted Trail” (December 5, 1960-April 5, 1961)
    • “Jackpot” (April 6-August 13, 1961)
    • “This Man is Ours” (August 14-December 9, 1961)
    • “Find the Lady” (December 11, 1961-April 7, 1962)
    • “The Bomber” (April 9-July 31, 1962)

COMIC BOOKS

  • BUCK RYAN
    (1946, Mirror Features)
    One issue
    • “The Case of The Oblong Thistle”
      A reprint of “The Case of The Broken Thistle,” presented in landscape format (the perfect way to display newspaper strips).
  • BUCK RYAN
    (1949-57, Atlas)
    Published in Australia
    30 issues

COLLECTIONS

The number of Buck Ryan collections is apparently endless. Some of them may even be legit, but almost all of them seem to be slap-dash affairs–poorly reproduced black & white newspaper strips chopped, edited and distorted to fit into an unfriendly format. Buyers beware.

Respectfully submitted by Kevin Burton Smith.

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