Archive | Flash Gordon and Jungle Jim

A Bicentennial Look Back

During a cold, snowy first week of 2017 here in New England, two things occurred to me: [1] we’re overdue for a Fantasy Comics Page in this space, and [2] 2017 marks the 241st anniversary of the acknowledged founding of the United States of America. We’re fewer than ten years away from the USA’s 250th birthday, the Sestercentennial! (Or Semiquincentennial, if you’re cut from Johnny Littlejohn/Hank McCoy polysyllabic cloth — the jury’s out on what the celebration will officially be called.)

When that pair of thoughts collided, I went back into the strips, looking to build a Fantasy Page from the first day of our Bicentennial Year, January 1, 1976. What I put together tickled me, and I hope you’ll enjoy it, too. It features a mix of comedy and adventure strips, popular long-running comics and more obscure fare. We begin with two of my all-time favorite series: Al Capp brings Baby New Year back to Li’l Abner (no one knew it at the time, but the strip had less than two years’ of life remaining), while Tom Ryan ignores the new year entirely in his always-wonderful Tumbleweeds.

Gus Arriola’s work always gives me a smile, so including Gordo on this Fantasy Page is a distinct pleasure — and one might think Flash Gordon could use New Year’s Day as an excuse to take a break from tromping around dungeons and fighting monsters, but this lovely example of Flash’s strip by Dan Barry proves that’s not the case. And who among us has not faced the “good diet resolution” dilemma Tom Batiuk presents in Funky Winkerbean? (Though I hope most of us last longer than this before breaking our resolutions!)

Lolly was a new strip to me, and I enjoy such finds, as well as going back to learn a bit about them. In this case, Lolly was the brainchild of former Disney Studios animator Pete Hansen and ran from 1955 to 1983. Lolly herself is a nicely-designed character, and the balance between her home and work life (she was an office employee, supervised by “Mr. Quimby”) gives her the same sort of plot grist that would make the Mary Tyler Moore Show such a hit throughout most of the ’70s (though Lolly, while appealing, is no Mar’!)

Junior Tracy’s Bicentennial New Year begins earlier than he’d like — note who’s sleeping next to him! You can read the first appearances of the Moon Maid in our just-released Dick Tracy Volume 21. Irwin Hasen was one of the treasures of the comics world, even when newspaper editors mistakenly identified him as “Irwin Hansen;” here’s how his Dondi started off 1976. Snoopy and Woodstock were partying hard in Peanuts, and appropriately, our Fantasy Page ends with a strip created specifically with the Bicentennial in mind, Yankee Doodles. This was also an unknown strip to me when I stumbled across it, but thanks to historian extraordinaire Allan Holtz and his invaluable “Stripper’s Guide” website, I learned this was a feature that lasted only fifty months, and was the product of three creators: Ben Templeton (later of Motley’s Crew fame), Fred W. Martin, and Don Kracke — think of the hilarity that could have ensued if the credits had said, “by Kracke!”

Who knows what sort of comics will arise to take advantage of the Sestercentennial? (Or the Semiquincentennial, should we opt for the longer name …)

Anyway, here’s our look back at January 1, 1976 —

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Movietone News (The KFS Edition)

I’m hoping that U.S. readers of this space have recovered from the twin effects of turkey-based tryptophan and early-morning Black Friday shopping — and that every American reading these words had a fine and fun Thanksgiving holiday. I still have family visiting for a few days, but while they’re otherwise occupied I wanted to finish our look at some of the classic comic strips that made their way onto the silver screen decades before the wave of comic-books-turned-film-franchises that currently dominate international box offices. Last time we checked out the movie adaptations of “The Big Three” from the Chicago Tribune New York News Syndicate — Terry and the Pirates, Dick Tracy, and Little Orphan Annie — but the other behemoth in strip syndication, King Features, was also always ready to shift its most popular properties to a Hollywood footing. We’ll start this brief overview of King’s cinematic side with arguably their most influential comic strip of all …

Two years after it debuted in newspapers during the start of 1934, Flash Gordon came to movie palaces nationwide in an ambitious thirteen-chapter serial from Universal. As discussed in Volume Two of our Definitive Flash Gordon and Jungle Jim books, this cliffhanger proved so popular it spawned two sequels, was re-edited for release as a theatrical film and, later, as a feature for the syndicated TV market; generations of children grew to adulthood with this serial’s images of the Emperor’s palace, Mongo spaceships, and an always-breathless Dale Arden cemented into their memories. Much the same way the Flash Gordon strip helped bring science fiction to the newspaper masses, the Flash serial introduced SF to thousands of moviegoers.

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Title card for the original Flash Gordon serial. Note the prominent credit for cartoonist Alex Raymond.

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Who could blame King Vultan (John Lipson) if he has trouble diverting his gaze from the comely Jean Rogers? She assayed the role of Flash’s girlfriend, Dale Arden. Like the comic strip Dale, Rogers was a natural brunette, but the serial’s production staff decided audiences would respond better to Dale as a blonde.

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A nifty Flash publicity shot featuring, left-to-right, Priscilla Lawson as a zaftig Princess Aura, Rogers as Dale, and Buster Crabbe as the intrepid Flash Gordon, with Lipson’s Vultan literally looking over his shoulder. Charles Middleton is pitch-perfect as the ruthless, cunning Ming, the merciless ruler of Planet Mongo.

A year later, Universal Pictures brought Flash‘s topper strip, Jungle Jim, to movie audiences as a serial in twelve parts, with Grant Withers playing the part of Jim. More enduring was the late-1948 full-length movie version of the character Columbia distributed, which was a low-budget success, spawning more than a dozen sequels that appeared during a period from the end of the 1940s to the mid-1950s. The actor playing Jim Bradley for Columbia was arguably the most famous Tarzan of them all — multi-Olympic -gold-medalist, swimmer Johnny Weissmuller.

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In his early 40s by the time he left Tarzan’s loincloth behind for Jungle Jim’s safari hat, Weissmuller spent his entire career as a leading man playing either the Lord of the Jungle or the Manhunter of the Malay Peninsula. What other “name” actor can say his fame was built upon only two roles, both of them offshoots of newspaper comic strips?

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From later in the series, a lobby card for 1949’s The Lost Tribe. Note Elena Verdugo among the supporting cast; as discussed in our next Steve Canyon volume, she came close to having a recurring role in the short-lived Canyon TV series as Steve girl friend!

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If the chap in the pith helmet being led by Jim looks familiar, that’s because it’s none other than actor George Reeves in his pre-Superman days!

Since King’s roster of comics included so many humorous features, it’s only natural the biggest gag-strips morphed into cinematic incarnations. Penny Singleton and Arthur Lake’s twenty-eight Blondie films came out from 1938 through the mid-’40s and remained immensely popular as syndicated TV fare well into the 1960s. Less successful in execution to the Blondies, but very good looking in terms of the actors and costuming, are Monogram’s five Jiggs and Maggie pictures, starting with 1946’s Bringing Up Father.  This series starred Joe Yule as the hodcarrier-turned-millionaire Jiggs and Renie Riano as his social-climber wife, Maggie.

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Lobby card for Bringing Up Father. Maggie and Jiggs’s creator, cartoonist George McManus, also appeared in the movie as himself.

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From later in the series, this still is from Jiggs and Maggie in Jackpot Jitters. Like her comic strip counterpart, Riano’s Maggie is never shy about making men toe the line in her presence!

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The Bringing Up Father films received mixed reviews, at best. Their artistic merit can be debated, but certainly the two leads always look as if they might have stepped out of a panel of a McManus comic strip.

This look at comic strips come to life is hardly exhaustive, but it was fun to look back at select offerings with a Library of American Comics flavor. And for my friends who were remarking how extraordinary it is to see comic book properties being featured in 21st Century big-budget blockbusters, this little miniseries of articles might serve as a reminder that comics-to-film is nothing new under the sun … and that, as usual, the comic strips got there before the comic books did!

A Few of My Favorite Things (Part II of II)

Concluding a look at some of my favorite storylines from the LOAC line of books, as it exists as of May, 2016. Let’s forge boldly onward, and remember this entire list is provided in no particular order …

5. Iconic Crossed Swords. Like “awesome” and “friend,” “iconic” is a word sorely abused in our modern language, its true meaning being eroded and dulled by dullards. So I try to use it carefully, and I chose it with care in reference to the last panel of this Flash Gordon Sunday page from August 14, 1938. Throughout the Alex Raymond/Don Moore run there is a reluctance to bring Flash and Ming the Merciless into direct confrontation; in this sequence, with Gordon and his loosely-knit band of Freemen ambushing the Emperor on The Island of Royal Tombs, we get an image of Ming and Flash squaring off, mano-a-mano, that truly lives up to the word “iconic.” It’s not only a perfect encapsulation of the strip, in a larger sense it’s a stirring representation of Good versus Evil. It is perhaps my favorite moment in the entire run of Flash Gordon, and I suspect I’m not alone in that assessment.

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4. Before the Famous Sandwich, There Was … The Dagwood Hunger Strike. For years while growing up, this was one of those plotlines I heard about and read about but never got to see. Bringing it to fans in our first Blondie collection was therefore a real treat for me, and I found that absorbing Chic Young’s full original run on his strip (given a first boost toward its eventual uber-popularity by this very sequence) was a fun — and sometimes eye-opening — experience. This January 25 daily, from deep in the heart of the Hunger Strike, especially tickled me, foreshadowing as it does Dagwood’s famous appetite, though his penchant for combining unlikely ingredients was a future development that readers of this story circa 1933 could never have guessed was on the far horizon.

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3. Punjab to the Rescue! One of the things I’m most proud of where LOAC is concerned is that we have preserved large spans of several deserving strips. On occasion I still pinch myself when I realize we have succeeded in putting thirty years of Dick Tracy continuity back into print, and we’re approaching doing the same for twenty-five years of that most American of The Library of American Comics, Little Orphan Annie. Harold Gray treated us to many memorable sequences starring the kid with a heart of goal and a quick left hook, but one of my favorites is “Assault on the Hacienda.” Captured by the nefarious Axel, Annie is whisked to a remote South American retreat and put under the care of the exotic Dona Dolores. “Daddy” Warbucks mounts a rescue, but eventually is captured and imprisoned deep underground with the two gals. “Daddy’s” men are still on the job and Punjab, their leader, gets good play in this July 16, 1939 Sunday page — he displays his wits, his strength, and even shows off his sensahumor!

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2. A (Sailor) Man of the World. I recently did a long piece in this space extolling the virtues of Bobby London’s Popeye, and of the many wild and wonderful stories London spins, my favorite (by about the width of one of Poopdeck Pappy’s whiskers!) is “Heavy Metal Toar.” What’s not to love in a yarn that features classic rock music superstars, a lost land, a fountain of youth, and the wonkiest biker scenes this side of Easy Rider. In fact, the August, 1989 daily below trips off a plot point that has the squinky-eyed sailor and Olive’s shapely cousin, Sutra Oyl, on a rest stop at a refreshing pond after riding a chopper south across the border. Sutra Oyl decides to do some skinny-dipping and gets a surprise after suggesting Popeye is too intimidated by her state of undress to join her — he wades in, picks her up, tosses her over his shoulder, and, well, see for yourself …

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1. Canyon Gets the Point. It’s easy to list any number of fantastic Terry and the Pirates stories that qualify as must-reads, but let’s not forget that Steve Canyon has its share of delights, too. This 1952 melodrama sees Steve among a small band who survive the crashing of their light plane in the remote woodlands south of Alaska. There they run into a most unscrupulous-seeming French-Canadian nicknamed Bonbon and hear a random radio news broadcast that indicates one of their number is hiding a stolen diamond necklace. It’s a classic melodrama of the genus “band of strangers forced together in stressful circumstances, with one of their number More Than He (or She) Seems,” and it’s expertly told with all the Caniffian touches we Milton-fans enjoy. This tale also introduced audiences to the snappy Miss Mizzou, she of the Marilyn Monroe physique and the naked-except-for-her-trenchcoat wardrobe. Mizzou became a favorite of readers, popping up semi-regularly when Steve might least expect it, and she was grist for the Caniff Steve Canyon Publicity Mill. J.B. Winter’s fine book, Miss Mizzou: A Life Beyond Comics, offers details of Mizzou’s effect on popular culture and the stir she created in the town of Columbia, Missouri. I recommend it as heartily as I recommend this Steve Canyon adventure.

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That’s my list of ten favorite LOAC stories. If you have your own list of ten (or even five) fave-raves, why not share it with us? Zap it to us at info@loacomics.com and who knows? We may do a follow-up in this space that will feature your list …

A Few of My Favorite Things (Part I of II)

After several years and well over a hundred releases, I sometimes get asked about my favorite stories from the LOAC family of books. Sometimes the question is just that straightforward — “Which ones do you like best?” — and sometimes I provide that answer within the context of a larger inquiry, something along the lines of, “What stories would you recommend to get a new reader hooked on classic comic strips?”

Of course, there are certain stories that belong in the Comic Strip Hall Of Fame — “The Death of Raven Sherman” from Terry and the Pirates, for example, or Dick Tracy’s encounters with The Brow or Flattop. And certainly our friendly competitors have released their share of Must-Read sequences in several of their fine series. But I have other, perhaps less obvious favorites, and this seemed like a good time to share ten of them with you. In no particular order, here are the first five that have burned a warm place in my comics-fannish heart:

10. Scorchy Smith in Northern Africa. Our big Noel Sickles retrospective/Scorchy Smith reprint remains one of my very favorite books. I like to think we brought well-deserved new attention to the major and important talent that was “Bud” Sickles, and the wealth of artwork we were privileged to see and publish (more of the former than the latter!) was a rare treat. Thanks to this book, Sickles’s virtuoso efforts on Scorchy are now also preserved for future generations to savor, and while there are several delightful moments throughout the run, I’m especially partial to the 1936 sequence that sees “Scorcher,” his sidekick Heinie Himmelstoss, and their charge/employer Mickey LaFarge touring Northern Africa and the Middle East. In this lovely strip from March 25, 1936, set in Algiers, Mickey’s foreboding is well-founded, since she and her aviator pals will soon run afoul of the evil Ali Hamman in the Syrian desert …

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9. The King Aroo Seal of Approval. Something else within the LOAC oeuvre I’m especially proud of is our two-volume set of King Aroo. I’ve loved Jack Kent’s winsome style and smart, snappy writing since my first encounter with the King and his Myopean subjects in the Nemo magazines of the 1980s; it was both a delight and an honor to offer over ten thousand words of biography devoted to the man, and to help get hundreds of his King Aroo comics back into print (I’ve also been fortunate enough to acquire an Aroo original from 1960, which proudly hangs on a wall in my home!). There are many, many King Aroo sequences I’d eagerly point to as a favorite, a big grin on my face as I do so, but I have special fondness for the October-to-December, 1951 storyline in which Professor Yorgle drinks Wanda Witch’s magic potions by mistake and turns into a seal. Great sight gags ensue, series regulars serve up all variety of amusing reactions to the change in their friend, and new characters are introduced such as “Rube,” the flea who is now a theatrical agent. Rube has all the contacts Professor Yorgle needs once he decides to embark on a new career — as a trained circus seal! King Aroo is a singular accomplishment within the comics firmament, and I can’t give this storyline, and the strip in its entirety, enough praise.

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8. The Rocky Road to Motherhood. Within the past year mainstream and comics media have reported on Marvel Comics’s decision to feature first a pregnant Spider-Woman, then that character as a new mother. Taking nothing away from this turn of events (how many mothers get whisked off Earth by the Skrulls, after all?), yet let’s not forget that Marla Drake, AKA Miss Fury, was a superhero who became a parent about seven decades before Marvel’s Jessica Drew gave birth. Yes, Marla went the adoption route, but that still put her ahead of heroes like Bruce Wayne, who was content simply to serve as guardian to his youthful ward, Dick Grayson. This Sunday page from February, 1945 is an excerpt from the story that puts Marla on the path to adopting a young son. The diabolical Doctor Diman has perfected an acid as clear as water, but capable of destroying every trace of the organic matter it touches. At least, he thinks it is — it’s passed all the preliminaries and is now ready to be tested on a human subject — in this case, a curly-headed toddler in the doctor’s care. Miss Fury intervenes and saves the boy from an horrific fate. Shortly afterward, she adopts the lad as her son, Darron Drake, never suspecting the boy’s mother is one of her greatest enemies, and his father is the man she once almost married! Cartoonist Tarpe Mills’s unique mix of intrigue, soap opera emotion, high fashion, and derring-do make this Miss Fury escapade a fun and frothy reading experience!

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7. Li’l Abner‘s Attacks on Ham Fisher. This is a selection from Li’l Abner Volume 8, on sale soon and a book I personally feel no serious comic-strip collector can do without. In it we take a long look at the Al (Abner) Capp/Ham (Joe Palooka) Fisher Feud and the Sunday continuities in its pages feature a pair of stories, spanning three consecutive months, in which Capp went for his nemesis’s jugular. The longer of the two plots involves Sam the centaur, a horse race, and an old plug named “Ham’s Nose Bob” — which was Capp’s way of letting the world know that the vain Fisher had recently had plastic surgery on the ol’ schnozzola. After Sam returns to Olympus, Abner runs afoul of “Happy Vermin, the World’s Smartest Cartoonist,” in a savage satire that set off waves of controversy through whole segments of the newspaper industry, receiving coverage in Walter Winchell’s popular syndicated column and elsewhere. Li’l Abner is one of comics’s bonafide masterpieces, and these anti-Fisher Sunday pages — plus the information on the Feud upon which we focus, information spotlighted nowhere else that we have seen in our research — plus the other fun and fanciful tales from 1949 and 1950 make Li’l Abner Volume 8 a book I most heartily recommend. These anti-Fisher screeds are some of the most arresting, significant, and (on a few levels, at least) fun comics I’ve read in a handful of years.

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6. Call Him Dexter, Though His Name is Corrigan. Mix one of my all-time favorite writers (Dashiell Hammett) with one of my all-time favorite artists (Alex Raymond) and the result is, for a number of reasons, less than the sum of the talents involved. Still, the original Secret Agent X-9 is anything but dogmeat. Their long inaugural tale is filled with bits of business that would have been right at home in Black Mask and the Street & Smith hero pulp magazines. The young Raymond, still deep in his Matt Clark Period, displays bravura flashes, especially in his eye-catching single-panel panoramas. “The Martyn Case” gives X-9 hints of an origin that other creators would borrow, flesh out, and make good use of throughout the ensuing years as they created adventure heroes of their own, everyone from The Avenger to The Punisher. Still, I’m perpetually fascinated by “The Torch Car Case,” from 1935. This represents Hammett’s last work on Secret Agent X-9, and while some scholars have claimed he never contributed to the story at all, I submit this March 13, 1935 strip gives X-9 the sort of sarcastic, wryly-humorous quip that was a Hammett hallmark — and reflects a skill with dialogue that few of King Features’s writers of the day demonstrated (and that Alex Raymond, who would do uncredited scripting on the series until The Saint‘s Leslie Charteris was brought in, was likely not yet capable of). “The Torch Car Case” is a creditable swan song for the superstar Hammett/Raymond team.

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Having reached the halfway point in this unscientific, purely subjective countdown, I’ll wrap up here for now. Please watch this space in coming days for Part II, and five more of my favorite LOAC stories!

Flash—AHHhh-h-h-h!

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It’s a long way to Tipperary, and it ain’t exactly a trip across the street from my home in the greater Boston metro area to Stamford, Connecticut…but at 11:00 AM on Saturday, October 20th, I saddled up and embarked on a ten-hour round trip down the length of The Constitution State to visit the Flash Gordon and the Heroes of the Universe exhibit at the Stamford Museum and Nature Center. The venue was easy to find, though an outdoor fall festival made parking a bit problematic (though certainly it meant great foot traffic for the Museum/Center, which is, after all, the name of their game). The Museum was formerly a mansion belonging to Henri Willis Bendel (1868-1936), a fashion designer and successful retailer; it’s quite the imposing pile, as you can probably tell.

 

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Inside, I spent about ten minutes on my own, sizing up the exhibit. The first exhibition hall was exclusively devoted to Flash (and Jungle Jim), the walls filled with Alex Raymond originals ranging from the “Lion Men” page from April 15, 1934 (see page 29 of our first Flash/Jungle Jim volume) to the War-years Sunday of February 21, 1943 (which you can look forward to seeing in our fourth book in this series). Many, including yr hmbl svnt, have written about the change in size the World War II paper shortage brought to the comics—the originals on these two walls hammers home that point. The dramatic difference in size between Raymond’s pre-War and War-years originals is startling, and it’s a testament to talents like Raymond and his fellows that they adapted to such significant changes in their “canvases” while the quality of their work never wavered. One wishes one could say the same about the quality of my photography, but if you’ll forgive the small reflections from the exhibit lamps on the frames’ glass, I’ll give you at least a taste of what I saw:

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CAP: Raymond originals: Flash Gordon from March 13, 1938 and Jungle Jim from two weeks later, March 27th. Compare with pages 107 and 109 of our Flash Gordon and Jungle Jim, Volume 2.

Down the center of the hall are glass display cases featuring Flash Gordon tear sheets from various Sunday newspapers, in some cases allowing visitors to compare the original on the wall to the published work. Other cases focus on Flash merchandizing and ephemera.

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Did you know there’s a 1935 Tournament of Doom pop-up book? The page open for public viewing features a banquet scene and a scantily-clad Dale Arden, which must have surely helped further the education of more than one Depression-era youngster…

A small room adjoining the two main halls is filled with Buck Rogers materials. As predecessor toFlash and the grandpappy of all such space-faring superheroes, it’s fitting that Buck has such a strong representation as a “Hero of the Universe.”

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CAP: A real rarity – Buck Rogers in the 25th Century daily original art! And like Flash, Buck had his own pop-up book. His female sidekick is wearing considerably more than Dale, of course.

The inner exhibition hall features post-Raymond Flash work, including a wall devoted to Al Williamson, surely Flash‘s number one all-time fan; the other major Flash artists – from Austin Briggs to Mac Raboy to Jim Keefe – also have original art on display. Again, display cases running down the center of the hall present merchandizing products and tear sheets for Sundays pre- and post-dating Flash‘s arrival, like a sample of Jack Williamson and Lee Elias’s Beyond Mars and this November 15, 1908 John Bray Little Johnny & The Teddy Bears loaned by Sunday Press’s Peter Maresca. Note its “homage” to Georges Méliès and his 1902 silent film classic, A Trip to the Moon.

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In an alcove at the far right of the second hall Star Wars receives attention, with a display case of action figures, plus poster art and examples of Al Williamson’s originals from the daily Star Warscomic strip. A TV monitor also plays an A&E/Biography program devoted to Flash Gordon, with the volume low but audible.

As I say, I did a fast tour of the exhibit by myself before being joined by the co-curator of the show, Brian Walker, whose scholarship work most recently enhanced the pages of our Rip KirbyVolume 5 and Blondie Volume 2. Brian graciously gave up a chunk of his Saturday afternoon to give me the “curator’s tour.” He also used his pull with the Museum to get them to allow me to take the photos of the exhibit that accompany this piece, since photography is typically not allowed.

After we spent time ooohing and aaahing over Raymond’s fabulous, delicate brushstrokes and the amazing leaps his talent took over what amounts to a very short period in terms of staging and storytelling – OK, we also indulged in a bit of shop talk – Brian spoke warmly of Cori Williamson, Al’s widow, and her invaluable help in staging the show (many of the originals on display came from the collection Al amassed during his prolific career). Mark Schultz of Xenozoic Tales and Prince Valiant fame escorted Cori to the late-September exhibit opening, and a Schultz original is also on display inside. Brian noted that the A&E/Biography documentary continually refers to “Alec Raymond,” which is not the gaffe it sounds like – the Raymond family, Brian said, routinely referred to the creator of Flash, Jim, and Rip as “Alec.”

Brian also had words of high praise for the Stamford Museum staff, who were extremely enthusiastic about this show in particular and pop culture shows in general. The Museum’s maintenance and carpentry crews hand-crafted all the display cases used; as one of the staff members with whom I spoke put it, “We never say, “No,’ we ask, ‘How are we going to do that?'”

Finishing my tour just a few minutes before the 5:00PM closing time, I sighed, “You are now leaving Mongo—please fly safely!” when I saw this image above the entranceway to the main exhibition hall:

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Before parting company with Brian I grabbed a last few pictures of the Museum’s main entrance and the surrounding grounds. A long drive home was waiting for me – and it means I’ll be staying up extra late a few nights to catch up on the Steve Canyon Volume 3 writing time I lost! — but it was worth the time and energy. My sincere thanks go out to Brian Walker and the Stamford Museum and Nature Center staff for allowing me this truly once-in-a-lifetime opportunity.

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For those of you in the Northeast, the Flash Gordon and the Heroes of the Universe exhibit runs through Sunday, November 4th – so hurry if you plan to attend! You’ll find a great selection ofFlash Gordon original artwork on the Museum walls, but if you like comics in general, the work of Alex Raymond in particular, or Flash Gordon and his space-faring ilk, this is a presentation you’ll surely enjoy.

 

 

Flash and the Seven Dwarfs

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One of the fun parts of doing research (in this case for the forthcoming Flash Gordon/Jungle JimVolume Two), is seeing the contemporaneous connections of pop culture icons from the past. Bruce Canwell uncovered this 1938 Seein’ Stars by Feg Murray, in which the cartoonist  presents three then-current Hollywood stories, each of which has a comics tie-in: Buster Crabbe in the second Flash Gordon serial, Disney’s famous first animated feature, and Jackie Coogan suing his parents over squandered earnings (Coogan’s brother, Robert, co-starred with Jackie Cooper in the Academy Award-nominated film version of Percy Crosby’s Skippy in 1931).
Like many cartoonists of the time (such as Will Gould), Murray was a sports cartoonist before creating a nationally syndicate comic. Murray was also a Hollywood reporter and radio host. Seein’ Stars was initially printed in the entertainment section of newspapers, but moved to the comics section in 1938. Drawn in the format of Robert Ripley’s Believe It or Not, Seein’ Starswas a popular feature that lasted into the 1950s.

Alex Raymond’s Guided Tour

I am in the process of restoring Sunday strips for Flash Gordon Volume Two. Alex Raymond’s art is such a treasure—it’s like I am working on pieces that belong in a museum. That’s how I feel about these books…they are all little museums and I get to help guide the reader through the rooms. The Jungle Jim renderings have definitely taken a new turn. In Volume One all the plain-faced babes were in jodhpur pants and pith helmets—now we see them in low-cut dresses and bare legs, topped off with lipstick and eye shadow. I can’t help but grin at the obvious sexy styles of the heroine and villainesses.

In Flash Gordon the faraway overview scenes familiar in Volume One now switch to tight close-ups, revealing Raymond’s exquisite detailing of facial anatomy. He captures the characters’ expressions in tight renderings and excellent line work. This new focus draws us into the drama, showing how the characters are “feeling” during the adventure. As a woman I am sensitive to the storyline of the 1930s in which the females seem unable to fend for themselves and have nothing in their wardrobe except high heels and skimpy outfits that reveal lots of cleavage. But it is Raymond’s brilliant ability to create a futuristic world of laser guns and rockets that continues to enthrall me. His art has clearly inspired others. I love coming across panels like this. Who knew Stormtrooper uniforms were all the rage in the mid-30s?

 

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It is with gratitude that I write this little blog. I wake every day and have the pleasure of visiting art museums inside the world of LOAC. On any given day, I find myself in the galleries of some of the best artists who have ever walked this planet such as Alex Toth, Cliff Sterrett, Percy Crosby, George McManus, and Alex Raymond. I often wonder if the fans of comics today have ever even heard of these wonderful artists. If they haven’t then tell them—spread the word and maybe those costumes you see at the next Comic-Con will reflect a different attitude. Perhaps instead of Chewbacca, Wonder Woman, and Spiderman you’ll find Polly, Dagwood, or even an original Stormtrooper—now that would be something to see!

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Size DOES Matter

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If anyone had any doubts that our Flash Gordon/Jungle Jim series was going to be big, this picture of Lorraine Turner— the book’s designer holding her handiwork—will dispel them. We just received our advance copy from the printer, which means it should be in stores in about four weeks. Time to break out the champagne!

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