With Further Ado #024: Why Didn’t You Tell Me About Red Barry?

I get invigorated each time I visit my friend Bill and he shows me his astonishing comic strip collection. It’s like a trip to the Twilight Zone of Sunday Funnies. I still find it hard to believe that someone in my little town has this incredible collection. Of course, 99.9% of the locals think he “just has a lot junk”. When I view his stuff, I feel a little guilty that I don’t pay him an admission fee.

It starts and ends with Books. A guy named Books, to be precise. We sometimes called one of my high school buddies “Books” because he worked at the library. Ok, I admit, we weren’t the most original thinkers.  My nickname was “Crash”, by the way. Guess why I earned that one.

But we really need to focus on this column.  That collector, Bill, is Books’ dad. Since I’ve moved back to the Finger Lakes region, I’ve renewed a lot of friendships.  Old teachers, old prom dates, etc…you know how it goes. And Books’ father, Bill, is one of those folks with whom I’ve renewed a friendship.

It turns out, Bill owns a truly incredible comic strip collection. I had no idea about his love for comics back when I was in high school.  He has original art, collected editions, autographs, reference books and more. His original art collection is deep – everything from Hal Foster to Frank Robbins to Chester Gould and back again. 

This Christmas, I gifted him a copy of The Complete Kreigh Collins Volume 1: Mitzi McCoy. Longtime readers know that I’ve been excited about this project for a while.  The author, Brian Collins, collaborated with Lost Art Books’ publisher Joe Procopio to methodically collect Kreigh Collins’ first comic strip, Mitzi McCoy.  I helped out with the marketing and also contributed the Afterward.  You can still get a copy at your local comic shop or here, but this column isn’t meant to be a hard sell.

During my Yuletide delivery visit, Bill pulled out a copy of the book he was reading. He enthusiastically explained how fascinating it was and asked if I’d like to borrow it. It’s a gorgeous IDW hardcover reprinting old strips in that same format that they publish comic strip collections of Steve Canyon, Terry and the Pirates, Superman, Rip Kirby and Spider-Man.

(I’ve always been an IDW reader and fan, but now that I’m working on a top-secret project with them – to be announced this spring -you’ll soon see why I’m even more of an IDW fan!)

The book is Red Barry, Undercover Man by Will Gould. But I had never heard of the character, Red Barry, or the creator, Will Gould. Have you? 

It turns out Red Barry infiltrates criminal organizations… on behalf of justice.  This character, along with Secret Agent X-9, by Dashiell Hammett and Alex Raymond, were King Features’ fighter brands, meant to combat Tribune’s popular Dick Tracy strip.

And before you ask, no, Will Gould wasn’t related to Dick Tracy’s Chester Gould. But the last names are a nutty coincidence.

Red Barry enjoyed a brief run (’34 to ’38) in both daily and Sunday strips. The whole affair has a bruised knuckles-Film Noir feel to it all.  Gould’s style, evocative of Michael T. Gilbert’s distinctive look, is a stylized combination of action and shadow. Red Barry also made it to the big screen…but that’s a whole ‘nuther story.

This first volume reprints dailies and the first two Sunday strip sequences. I thought I’d enjoy the color Sunday episodes better, but the real Red Barry is in the black and white dailies.

Be advised, some of the storytelling is dated and/or wince-inducing for our modern-day sensibilities. Despite that, Red Barry has an exciting potential to him. These adventures have a siren call – whispering to the reader, “Stick with it, it will get really good soon!”   Bruce Canwell’s introduction lays out the fascinating story behind the story, and it makes one wonder if that isn’t the story that needs to be told.

All in all, it’s a lot fun. I think this is the quintessential book for every library to maintain in their graphic novel section. I’m grateful that publishers like IDW and Lost Art Books publish these types of books, and I’m so happy that amazing comic strip fans, like Bill, are around to open new horizons for guys like me.

One thought on “With Further Ado #024: Why Didn’t You Tell Me About Red Barry?

  1. Yes, I’ve heard of Red Barry. I’d read about the strip in sundry histories, and the Menomonee Falls Gazette ran it a couple decades ago and that’s where I fell in love with the strip. I suspect IDW won’t be doing a follow-up, though.

    Fun Fact: The ubiquitous Larry “Buster” Crabbe (Flash Gordon, Tarzan, Buck Rogers) played the lead in the 1938 Universal Pictures serial.