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ALEX RAYMOND: AN ARTISTIC JOURNEY

Alex Raymond: An Artistic Journey—Adventure, Intrigue, and Romance
By Ron Goulart; Introduction by Daniel Herman
242 19x13-inch pages, b/w and some color
2015 Hermes Press hardcover
$75

Alex Raymond cover
This is an art book of the very first order. The pictures are all reproduced from original art — Flash Gordon and Jungle Jim (both January 7, 1934-April 30, 1944), Secret Agent X-9 (January 22, 1935-November 16, 1935), and the later Rip Kirby (March 4, 1946- September 29, 1956), all of Raymond’s masterpieces of illustrative art. Organized chronologically, a third of the book is devoted to Flash; another third to Rip Kirby; the remaining third, to a miscellaney — X-9, Jungle Jim, and book and magazine illustration.

The generous sampling of the strips also appears in chronological order within each section, but a lot of strips are missing: this is, after all, not a reprint volume of the totality of any of the titles. Each strip is meticulously dated. Some pages reproduce at enlarged dimension (perhaps original art size) individual panels from a strip on the facing page — “details,” in curator lingo — which better reveal the intricacies of Raymond’s artwork. A few strips are reproduced in color from their newspaper appearances, but the book is fundamentally a black-and-white showcase.

Despite the gigantic page measurement, the strip reproduction is small. Sunday Flash measures 7.5x11 inches at most, usually smaller; and the daily Rip Kirby is 2.5x8 inches, about the size it appeared when initially published.

Goulart’s text traces Raymond’s career and, for each of the strip titles, offers summaries of a few of the stories and a brief critique of the artist’s developing drawing style. Goulart is always a good read and a fund of information. Here, he adds to the Raymond canon, noting, for instance, the several Big Little Book incarnations of Flash Gordon. But for the full career rundown and biography, you need Tom Roberts’ superior production, Alex Raymond: His Life and Art, which we reviewed in the Usual Place (RCHarvey.com) in Harv’s Hindsight for May 2009.

The only disappointing aspect of the book is, oddly, in the very reproduction of the artworks the volume exists to showcase. In all of Raymond’s syndicated work, he resorted to a fine line for feathering and many details; a fine line typically outlined faces and other forms. Unhappily, many of the fine lines disappear or are broken rather than continuous in some of the reproductions. This shortcoming is particularly noticeable in the Rip Kirby strips in which Raymond deployed fine lines masterfully in sharp contrast to solid blacks.

This unhappy situation in an art book with this one’s ambition is unfortunate, but the book itself, while suffering somewhat, is scarcely devastated. Many more of the strips are accurately reproduced than are flawed in their fine lines. And the maneuver of reproducing some panels as enlarged “details” compensates for the shortfall in some of the strips. Any fan of Alex Raymond’s oeuvre should have this handsome volume in his library.

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For more Rants & Raves with its comics news and reviews, gossip and cartooning lore, visit www.RCHarvey.com

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