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.
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:
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.
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.”
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.
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:
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.
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.