Titan Books continues its series of high quality collections of classic comic strips with the release of the second volume of Alex Raymond’s Sunday Flash Gordon strips. This volume, presenting strips from April 1937 through January 1941, represent the start of Flash Gordon as a pop-culture phenomenon. In addition, these four years solidified Alex Raymond as a master of the dry brush, elevating his art above anything else in the Sunday funnies.
The Tyrant of Mongo contains five adventures which take Flash and his faithful companions all across the wilds of Mongo. While the first volume was mostly dedicated to Ming and and Flash’s direct conflict with the capital of Mongo, this volume explores much of the more fantastic locales of Mongo. There are adventures in arctic extremes, lush jungles, and soaring futuristic cities. In short, it is everything anyone could expect from Raymond’s far-flung hero.
More fun than the stories is the art by Raymond. The first volume showed Raymond develop as an artists tremendously. This volume shows a master refining his craft. It was at this time that Raymond refined his use of the dry-brush technique which would come to define his art. Dry brushing allows an artist to create a textured and varied look without having to use a multitude of paints and brushes. Nowadays it is a common technique for portrait painters, but Raymond was one of the pioneers.
It was also during this time that Raymond began playing with panel layout, opting for staggered panels as well as diagonal gutters. This added to the visual interest of the strip and further differentiated it from the other Sunday strips. Looking at these seventy year old comics (!!!), the layouts look just as fresh and exciting as most of what is used in comic books today (and is far more interesting and ambitious than anything being used in modern Sunday strips).
Rounding out The Tyrant of Mongo is an al-too-brief essay about the rise of Flash Gordon as a pop-culture phenomenon. There is a bit about Raymond and his use of live models and a little bit about the Universal serials. There is even some about the Flash Gordon exhibit at the 1939 World’s Fair. But all of this is given just a four pages. Given the importance of Flash and the cultural icon status he achieved at this time, it would have been nice to have more pages dedicated to a scholarly look at the impact of Flash Gordon at the time.
But, alas, it is a minor quibble because the comics speak for themselves. Anyone who cannot look at the work of Alex Raymond and read the adventures of Flash Gordon without feeling a tingle of thrills creeping up from their core must have already succumbed to the dehumanizing ray of Ming the Merciless. For Flash Gordon and Alex Raymond are a pair to be reckoned with!
Flash Gordon: The Tyrant of Mongo is available now from Titan Books. Looking for a deal? You can order your copy of Flash Gordon: The Tyrant of Mongo: The Complete Flash Gordon Library 1937-41 here and save 34%!