15 August, 2008

Review: Mac Raboy's Flash Gordon Vol. 1

A rocket- fuelled adventure into the history of comics.

Most of my reviews go well over 100 words, but I'm really going to keep to it this time. Starting now.

No wait... now.

Mac Raboy took over from his hero Alex Raymond drawing Flash Gordon for King Features Syndicate, from 1948 until his death in 1967. This volume collects Raboy's Sunday comics strips from 1948-1953.

The artwork is great on some of the strips, with great panel design and illustration. Raboy is justifiably renowned for his bold lighting effects, which give a lot of punch to the strips.

But two things particularly struck me about these Flash Gordon strips. The first was the short-form storytelling.

Although one of Flash's adventures to outlandish alien planets could be as long as a modern comic book - albeit spread out over a couple of months - these newspaper strips, with their mini-adventures and cliffhanger endings, feel like a completely different genre to modern comics.

The narrative skips a lot of action, giving the impression of fast-forwarding through the story. Lots of momentum, to be sure, but not much coherence, which must have worked just fine for weekly readers.

The second big feature was the dominance of captions and the absence of speech balloons, any emanatae or sound effects. Dialogue is in reported speech and frequently summarised in the captions.

I wonder why Raboy chose not to use speech balloons, which had been long established. From a graphical perspective it allows for nice, clean compositions, but it creates quite a static, airless effect.

Modern comics have few or short captions, direct speech between characters and lots of 'sound', which creates a lively, direct feeling to the narrative and puts the reader in the scene.

Raboy's Flash Gordon is exactly the opposite and while it is fascinating from a historical perspective, it really feels its age. This first volume, collects the earliest strips, so it might be interesting to see how the strip changed over the years.

Okay, was that one hundred words? No?