Archive | Flash Gordon and Jungle Jim

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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