The Pink Elephant Ring
A treasure from the John Ryan Comic Collection
22 October 2014
The John Ryan Comic Collection is a collection of Australian and overseas comics purchased from Mrs John Ryan back in June 1981. It has remained largely uncatalogued in the Library for over thirty years, and was represented in the catalogue by just one collection record.
Recently we started a project to catalogue each comic title individually, linking them together with a note, “John Ryan Comic Collection”, to enable researchers and comic fans to see exactly what the John Ryan Comic Collection consists of.
In June of this year, I became the new caretaker of the John Ryan Comic Collection cataloguing project. At first I saw it as just another task to try and squeeze into my already full work days. As time went by, I eventually realised what an absolute privilege it was to be asked to work on it, and I now see the project as "my precious", to quote JRR Tolkien’s character, Gollum. I’m determined to be the caretaker to see this cataloguing project through to its completion. It’s extremely important to me personally, that all these wonderful items are made available to researchers and readers, especially as I’ve been finding that the National Library of Australia is often the only institution that holds or has catalogued some of the titles in question.
I began my reign with box 12 (of 66!) containing titles beginning with M. I’m now on box 14, which contains so many gems that I wanted to share my excitement and make people aware of these wondrous items from a bygone era. I hope this will be the first of many posts!
I’ll start with one of Will Donald’s titles, The Pink Elephant Ring, published in Sydney by Offset Printing in approximately 1944. Will Donald specialised in adventure comics, and was quite prolific particularly during the 1940s. The bright cover and intriguing title originally caught my attention. On closer inspection, I found it to be a fast-paced action adventure detective story full of heroic good guys, evil bad guys, ambitious plans from both sides, and delightful humour. I can only begin to imagine how excited children - and perhaps some parents - must have been when reading this comic when it was first released approximately 70 years ago!
Jefferson Thrane, a diamond investor, has been robbed. Detective Dale arrives on the scene to investigate. None of Thrane's employees heard or saw anything, except for the chauffer, who was "coming out of the garage when one of them gave me a crack that nearly made me swallow my cigarette." Apart from one of the thieves being tall, and another being "a short nuggety fellow" who "never said a word", the only clue Detective Dale has to go on is a pink elephant ring left at the scene of the crime.
Further investigation reveals that the ring, as unique as it seems with its elephant head and trunk formation, is a cheap dime-a-dozen job given away free with meals at the Pink Elephant Roadhouse.
While at the Pink Elephant Roadhouse, the proprietor informs Detective Dale that the two crooks, Dragon-Fly Danny and Hamburger Harry, have left a cage of pigeons behind, which they plan to return to later. Detective Dale puts two-and-two together, believing that the crooks plan on using the pigeons to fly the diamonds back to their hideout in an attempt to avoid arrest if caught themselves.
While they wait for the crooks to return, all but two of the pigeons escape. Detective Dale hurries back to the police station, where he picks up a flock of specially trained pigeons who will return there once released. No sooner has Detective Dale returned to the Pink Elephant Roadhouse and set himself up, than the crooks return, attaching small cylinders of diamonds to the pigeons and setting them free. Detective Dale then arrests them and takes them to the police station. The crooks think they’re home free until they’re shown the haul of diamonds they just released with the pigeons they thought were their own.
With those two crooks under lock and key, Detective Dale sets his sights higher and goes after their boss. He does this by following one of the crooks' last original pigeons in a plane flown by wise-cracking pilot, Mike Andor – a very ambitious plan indeed! While they do locate the hideout, their plans to turn back for reinforcements are thwarted when they are shot from the sky and crash.
Our heroes are captured by two gunmen and taken to meet their fate at the hands of the three Masked Sisters. The Sisters are impressed by the men's intelligence, and ask them to join their team. When the men refuse, they are put in 'The Taming Room' with Kitty, a deadly cobra.
Detective Dale and Mike manage to bluff their way out of the Taming Room when one of the Masked Sisters, Angela, comes by to check on them, with Mike falling for her in the process. The two men end up being separated and the detective is taken to a small room containing a torture device referred to as a 'lemon squeezer', as he is no longer deemed any use to the crooks. After a brief skirmish, the detective overcomes his captor and puts him in the lemon squeezer to hold him while he looks for a way to escape and come back with reinforcements.
Meanwhile, Mike and Angela, who, it turns out is being held against her will and is not actually a sister to the other two women, rush to escape. Alas, they are captured and separated. Before Angela is taken away, she manages to warn Mike that 'The Book of Fate' he is about to be forced to 'read' will emit chloroform. Using the book against his captors, Mike is free to rescue Angela and escape.
As Mike and Angela make their getaway in a car, they are pursued by a plane loaded with bombs. The bombs narrowly miss their intended target and the plane ends up crashing in a fiery explosion. Mike and Angela make it back to the police station, get reinforcements, and go back to rescue Detective Dale, who is waiting out the front for them with the remainder of the crooks secured.
After only just one afternoon, Mike and Angela announce their engagement. The only problem is that Mike cannot afford a ring. Detective Dale has the ideal answer, and offers up the pink elephant ring he has in his pocket.
To read this title in its entirety, and other comics in the John Ryan Comic Collection, visit the Manuscripts Reading Room at the National Library of Australia during opening hours.