Alex Raymond aka Alexander Gillespie Raymond (1909–1956)
Born October 2, 1909, in New Rochelle, NY; died in an automobile accident, September 6 (some sources say September 7), 1956, in Westport, CT. Education: Attended Iona Prep School; studied at the Grand Central School of Art.
Cartoonist and comic strip artist. Worked at a Wall Street brokerage house, c. 1929; served as assistant to cartoonist Russ Westover on Tillie the Toiler, 1930–31; King Features Syndicate, New York, NY, an assistant on such comic strips as Tim Tyler’s Luck and Blondie, 1931–33, artist on the comic trip secret Agent X-9 (with writer Dashiell Hammett), 1934–35, creator (with Don Moore) and artist on the comic strip Flash Gordon, 1934–44, creator (with Don Moore) and artist on the comic strip Jungle Jim, 1934–44, creator and artist on the comic strip Rip Kirby, 1946–56. Military service: U.S. Marine Corps, 1944–46; served as a public information officer and combat artist; became major.
National Cartoonists Society (president, 1950–51).
Reuben Award for Outstanding Cartoonist of the Year, National Cartoonists Society, 1949, for work on Rip Kirby.
(With Dashiell Hammett) Secret Agent X-9, King Features Syndicate, 1934–35.
Flash Gordon, King Features Syndicate, 1934–44.
Rip Kirby, King Features Syndicate, 1946–56.
COMIC STRIP COLLECTIONS
(With Dashiell Hammett) Secret Agent X-9, David McKay (Philadelphia, PA), 1934, Kitchen Sink Press (Princeton, WI), 1990.
Flash Gordon in the Caverns of Mongo, Grosset & Dunlap (New York, NY), 1937.
Flash Gordon, Nostalgia Press (New York, NY), 1967.
(Illustrator) Scuttle Watch, W.S. Sullwold (Taunton, MA), 1970.
Flash Gordon into the Water World of Mongo, Nostalgia Press (New York, NY), 1971.
(With Dashiell Hammett) Secret Agent X-9: The Detective Classic from the Comics’ Golden Age, Nostalgia Press (New York, NY), 1976.
(With Dashiell Hammett) Dashiell Hammett’s Secret Agent X-9, International Polygonics (New York, NY), 1983.
Flash Gordon: Mongo, Planet of Doom, Kitchen Sink Press (Princeton, WI), 1990.
Flash Gordon: Three against Ming, Kitchen Sink Press (Princeton, WI), 1991.
Flash Gordon: Tides of Battle, Kitchen Sink Press (Princeton, WI), 1991.
Flash Gordon: Fall of Ming, Kitchen Sink Press (Princeton, WI), 1992.
Flash Gordon: 1941–1943, Between Worlds at War, Kitchen Sink Press (Princeton, WI), 1993.
Flash Gordon: 1943–1944, Triumph in Tropica, Kitchen Sink Press (Princeton, WI), 1994.
Alex Raymond’s Flash Gordon, Checker Book Publishing Group (Miamisburg, OH), 2003.
Tom Roberts, Alex Raymond: His Life and Art, foreword by George Lucas, introduction by James Bama, Adventure House Publishing (Silver Spring, MD), 2004.
Alex Raymond’s Flash Gordon, Checker Book Publishing (Miamisburg, OH), Volume 1, 2004, Volume 2, 2004, Volume 3, 2005, Volume 4, 2006, Volume 5, 2005.
Other books include Flash Gordon in the Ice Kingdom of Mongo, 1967; Flash Gordon: The Planet Mongo, 1974; Flash Gordon in the Underwater World of Mongo, 1975; Time Trap of Ming, 1976; Flash Gordon Escapes to Arboria, 1978; Flash Gordon versus Frozen Horrors, 1978; Flash Gordon Joins the Power Men, 1978; and Flash Gordon: Mongo, the Planet of Doom, 1990. Contributor of illustrations to periodicals, including Life and Esquire.
Flash Gordon has appeared in either reprint form or new adventures from several comic book publishers, including Dell Comics, Harvey Comics, Gold Key Comics, King Comics, Charlton Comics, Marvel Comics, and DC Comics. A novel, Flash Gordon in The Caverns of Mongo, credited to Alex Raymond and published by Grossett & Dunlap, appeared in 1936.
Films based on Raymond’s works include the movie serials Flash Gordon, thirteen episodes, Universal, 1936; Flash Gordon’s Trip to Mars, fifteen episodes, Universal, 1938; and Flash Gordon Conquers the Universe, twelve episodes, Universal, 1940, all starring Buster Crabbe, and the radio serial The Amazing Interplanetary Adventures of Flash Gordon, 1935. Other films include the Jungle Jim adaptations Killer Ape, Columbia, 1954; and Jungle Man-Eaters, Columbia, 1954; and Flash Gordon, Universal, 1980. Parodies of the Flash Gordon concept have also been filmed, including Flesh Gordon, 1974, and Flesh Gordon Meets the Cosmic Cheerleaders, 1989.
Television productions based on Raymond’s works include Flash Gordon, Inter-Continental Film Productions, 1953; The New Animated Adventures of Flash Gordon, Filmation, 1979; Defenders of the Earth, King Features, 1986; and Flash Gordon, Hearst Entertainment, 1996. Sound recordings based on Raymond’s work include Flash Gordon, Mark 56 Records, 1973; Jungle Jim, Mark 56 Records, 1973; and Flash Gordon’s Trip to Mars, narrated by Buster Crabbe, Pelican Records, 1976. Director Stephen Sommers purchased film rights to Flash Gordon in 2004.
Alex Raymond is remembered as the distinctive cartoonist who created the popular comic strip Flash Gordon. A significant influence on subsequent generations of comics artists, he developed a “dry-brush” style, strongly rendered characters, and finely detailed settings. Raymond got his start in cartooning by ghostwriting Tillie the Toiler in 1930 and 1931. He then collaborated with Lyman Young on Tim Tyler’s Luck and with Lyman’s brother Chic Young for Blondie. In 1933 he created Flash Gordon and the jungle adventure strip Jungle Jim, the latter with Don Moore. The science-fiction adventure Flash Gordon, styled after the hugely successful Buck Rogers, made its debut in 1934 and was an equally big hit.
While the writing in Flash Gordon was “abysmal,” according to Richard Marschall in America’s Great Comic-Strip Artists, Raymond’s visual storytelling overcame the narrative deficiencies. “His work matured to a powerful, lush style of intense portrayals of personality, majestic poses, dramatic compositions, and a unique method of realization—romanticism in the comics,” remarked Marschall. In reviewing a collection of the strips, Flash Gordon: The Planet Mongo, a critic in Time noted that after forty years, Raymond “still seems to be some sort of genius.”
Raymond’s Flash Gordon strips were reprinted in chronological order in the multi-volume series Alex Raymond’s Flash Gordon. Volume 1 begins with the strip’s introduction in 1934 and covers material from the remainder of that year and into 1935. The reprints reintroduce the characters in their original form, including the world-renowned Polo player and Ivy-League Yale graduate Flash Gordon, establishing Gordon as a much more intellectual character than sometimes portrayed in later incarnations.
Critics of the strip have consistently remarked on the pulpy, campy quality of the writing while affording great praise to Raymond’s sophisticated, illustration-quality artwork. A Publishers Weekly reviewer faulted the reproduction size and quality in the volume, but commented favorably on Raymond’s “lavish drawings” and “lush renderings and stylized fantasy.”
In Volume 2, which contains strips from 1935 through 1936, Flash, Dale, and Dr. Zarkov continue their swashbuckling adventures against Ming the Merciless on the planet Mongo. “Outstanding art overcomes weak scripts in this sci-fi classic,” remarked a Publishers Weekly contributor. The reviewer also stated that Raymond’s “wonderful brushed ink illustrations bring the characters to life.” Booklist critic Gordon Flagg observed that writer Don Moore’s strips were “pulpy and unsophisticated.” He also acknowledged the lineage that the Gordon strip shares with progenitor Buck Rogers, but added that Flash Gordon “surpasses its predecessor … through Raymond’s marvelous artwork.
With the 1936–38 strips reproduced in Volume 3, Raymond perfects the “lush, romantic style that would make him a major influence on future generations of comics artists,” Flagg commented in another Booklist review. The storyline also expands to more exotic areas of the planet Mongo and introduces other mainstay characters, such as King Barin of Arboria. In a Booklist review of Volume 4, Flagg summarized a significant theme in modern criticism of Flash Gordon: “It’s as silly as it sounds, a far cry from today’s more sophisticated comics.” However, Flagg concludes, it is not the writing or storyline that makes the strip valuable, but “Raymond’s gorgeous art” that elevates the work’s aesthetic appeal.
Raymond worked with mystery writer Dashiell Hammett in the creation of the comic strip Secret Agent X-9, which ran from early 1934 until late 1935. Meanwhile, Flash Gordon was being adapted to radio and film serials starring Buster Crabbe, an Olympic gold medal swimmer. After a tour with the Marine Corps, during which Raymond saw duty in the Pacific theater as a combat artist, he created the detective strip, Rip Kirby.
With Rip Kirby, Raymond presented a hero who was not an obvious stereotype or response to a competitor’s successful strip, as Flash Gordon was to Buck Rogers. As opposed to hardboiled comic strip detectives like Dick Tracy, the character Rip Kirby was a cerebral crime-solver interested in applying brain over brawn, although, being an ex-Marine, he was skilled in fighting when the need arose. Raymond’s artistry on Rip Kirby was considered by Marschall to be “his most mature. In an approach unlike any in his earlier strips, Raymond moved the point-of-view camera around with … verve.”
Raymond died in an automobile accident while at the pinnacle of his career. Many of his strips have been preserved and collected into books. As Marschall remarked: “Raymond, who was one the comics’ great teachers by example, was also a student of the comic strip until the day he died. Remarkably, someone of such achievement could be termed a late bloomer, but Raymond’s understanding of comics as an art form was still evolving at the end, and such dedication, as much as all of his considerable work, made him one of America’s great comic strip artists.”
BIOGRAPHICAL AND CRITICAL SOURCES:
Clute, John, and Peter Nicholls, editors, Encyclopedia of Science Fiction, St. Martin’s Press (New York, NY), 1993.
Falk, Peter Hastings, editor, Who Was Who in American Art, Sound View Press (Madison, CT), 1985.
Marschall, Richard, America’s Great Comic-Strip Artists, Abbeville Press (New York, NY), 1989.
Booklist, October 1, 2004, Gordon Flagg, review of Alex Raymond’s Flash Gordon, Volume 2, p. 320; April 15, 2005, Gordon Flagg, review of Alex Raymond’s Flash Gordon, Volume 3, p. 1444; September 15, 2005, Gordon Flagg, review of Alex Raymond’s Flash Gordon, Volume 4, p. 40.
Choice, January 1975, review of Flash Gordon: The Planet Mongo, p. 1592.
Library Journal, April 1, 1972, review of Flash Gordon in the Ice Kingdom of Mongo, p. 1312; April 1, 1990, review of Flash Gordon in the Underwater Kingdom of Mongo, p. 113; March 15, 2005, Steve Raiteri, “Graphic Novels,” review of Alex Raymond’s Flash Gordon, Volume 2, p. 64.
Publishers Weekly, November 3, 2003, review of Alex Raymond’s Flash Gordon, Volume 1, p. 56; October 4, 2004, review of Alex Raymond’s Flash Gordon, Volume 2, p. 72.
Time, December 16, 1974, review of Flash Gordon: The Planet Mongo, p. 97.
Read also: William Ellis Green (1923 – 2008)
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