Scott's Classic Comics Corner: A Dash of Hammett

Dashiell Hammett is inarguably one of the finest crime fiction writers of all-time. His creations went on to become icons of the silver screen. What you may not know, however, is that his works and creations have made appearances in the Four Color world. Let’s take a look at some examples:

Hammett’s greatest contribution to the Four Color world is Secret Agent X-9, co-created with the legendary Alex Raymond in 1934. The strip ran for more than 60 years (although Hammett only contributed scripts for the first 3 years). As far as I can tell, the characters has only made spotty appearances in proper American comic books, but was widely features in European comics. I won’t try to delve into the Scandinavian and Australians books that featured X-9, as I would only expose my ignorance. In the U.S., Feature Book #8 consisted of strip reprints, whereas the back-up feature that ran in Gold Key’s Flash Gordon in the 60s were new stories written by Archie Goodwin and drawn by Al Williamson.

Fans of the The Maltese Falcon (and who isn’t, really?) may be surprised to find that it was adapted in a comic book way back in 1946, in Feature Book #48. I’ve never actually read this one as it is tough to find, and sure ain’t cheap (the Mile High and Davis Crippen copies sold for over $400 in 2006). Rodlow Willard handled the art chores on this book. Never heard of him? His only other comic book work consisted of a handful of stories for Fiction House. He was, however, a major contributor to newspaper strips.

One of the strangest places you will spot a Dashiell Hammet creation is in a series of full page advertisements that ran in DC and Fawcett comics between 1947 and 1950. Wildroot Cream-Oil Hair Tonic was the sponsor of the Adventures of Sam Spade, a radio drama featuring everyone’s favourite San Francisco based P.I. These are quite entertaining, and many were drawn by Lou Fine.

The last Hammett inspired comic I’ll mention is a bit of an oddity. The Mystery of the Mali Ibex appeared in The Phantom #70 (April, 1976), one of the final Charlton issues. This story borrows heavily from The Maltese Falcon, but also takes a bit from Casablanca, the African Queen and even High Sierra. We’ve got Bogart, Bergman, Greenstreet, Lorre and Rains lookalikes all making an appearance. Credited to Bill Pearson, I believe I remember reading somewhere that the great Don Newton also had a lot of influence on the script. This is a great one, and I’ve chosen to highlight the Hammett connection by including this page where the Casper Gutman character discovers that the Falcon (sorry, Ibex) is a fake. It’s a shame that Charlton’s Phantom stories haven’t been reprinted, but thanks to the likes of The Ghost Who Blogs , we can get a good sense of what we’re missing.

As far as I can tell, Nick and Nora Charles never made a comic book appearance, nor did the Continental Op (at least in American comics). If anyone else knows where more Hammett creations appear, feel free to comment.

For more comic book goodness – stop by my blog: Seduction of the Indifferent

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