Flash Gordon by Alex Raymond
'Flash Gordon' (28 May 1939).

Alex Raymond was one of the most influential American newspaper comic artists of all time. With his epic space opera 'Flash Gordon' (1934-2003) he redefined the science fiction genre, while his post-war detective series 'Rip Kirby' (1946-1999) stood out for its contemporary realism and cosmopolitan look and feel. Other Raymond (co-)creations like the jungle adventure comic 'Jungle Jim' (1934-1954) and the spy series 'Secret Agent X-9' (1934-1996) have become classics too. Alex Raymond is widely praised for his realism, elegant depictions of women and clever use of black and white. Together with his contemporaries Hal Foster, Milton Caniff and Burne Hogarth, Raymond left a lasting mark on realistically drawn, serious comic series.

Rip Kirby by Alex Raymond
'Rip Kirby' (28 October 1946).

Early life and career
Alexander Gillespie Raymond was born in 1909 in New Rochelle, New York, into a family of Irish-American descent. His father - an engineer working in the Woolworth Building - strongly supported his son's artistic talents. Although Raymond showed an early interest in drawing, he held several jobs to support his family after his father passed away in 1922. By 1928, the youngster had dropped out of high school and became an order clerk with a brokerage firm in Wall Street. In the evenings, Raymond took a course from the Grand Central School of Art. The 1929 Wall Street Crash and the ensuing economic crisis in the USA cut Raymond's career as a stockbroker short. For a while, he earned a living as a mortgage salesman, but eventually chose to pursue his artistic ambitions.

Tim Tyler's Luck by Alex Raymond
'Tim Tyler's Luck', ghosted by Alex Raymond (19 October 1933).

Early comic career
By 1930, Raymond was the assistant of his former neighbor Russ Westover, the cartoonist of 'Tillie the Toiler'. Initially serving as an errand boy, he was eventually tasked with some small lettering and background art chores. Westover introduced Raymond to King Features, the newspaper syndicate belonging to William Randolph Hearst's media empire. In 1931, the young Alex Raymond was hired as an assistant artist in the King Features bullpen. In the evenings, he helped Chic Young with his comic strip 'Blondie'. In late 1931, he joined Young full time, and assisted on 'Blondie' until early 1933, shortly after the story arc of Blondie and Dagwood's marriage. Also in late 1931, Raymond began assisting Chic Young's younger brother Lyman Young on 'Tim Tyler's Luck'. In 1932 and 1933, he ghosted both the daily and Sunday 'Tim Tyler' installments, after which King Features manager Joseph V. Connolly realized the full potential of Alex Raymond's talent. In the previous years, competing syndicates had launched several popular newspaper comics, so Hearst's company had to strengthen its position in the market. To enable this, Alex Raymond debuted no less than three major comic strips in January 1934. 'Flash Gordon' was Hearst's answer to the John F. Dille Company's popular feature 'Buck Rogers in the 25th Century' feature (1929) by Dick Calkins and Phil Nowlan; 'Jungle Jim' competed with United Feature's 'Tarzan' by Rex Maxon, while 'Secret Agent X-9' stepped in on the wave of popular crime features initiated by Chester Gould's 'Dick Tracy' (1931) at the Chicago Tribune-New York News Syndicate.

Flash Gordon by Alex Raymond
'Flash Gordon' (20 May 1934).

Flash Gordon
Of all his 1934 creations, 'Flash Gordon' became the most iconic. Debuting as a Sunday page on 7 January 1934, it evolved into one of the most iconic space operas of all time, running in newspapers until 2003. It also inspired a great many movie adaptations, TV and radio serials, comic books and merchandising lines. Raymond's Jules Verne-type space opera headed for thrills right away. Starting with the first panel, humanity is threatened by a strange new planet approaching Earth. A flaming meteor, torn loose from the comet, hits a transcontinental plane with "Yale graduate and world-renowned polo player" Flash Gordon and Dale Arden, a female passenger, on board. Instantly portrayed as the true hero, Gordon parachutes himself and Dale to safety. On the ground however, they are captured by the desperate scientist Dr. Hans Zarkov, who takes the two innocent bystanders with him on a suicide mission: crashing his rocket into the approaching comet. And all this was only the first Sunday page! Gordon overpowers the mad scientist, but can't prevent the rocket from crash-landing on the mysterious planet Mongo, ruled by Ming the Merciless (the name says it all). It is the beginning of an epic saga filled with strange creatures, intriguing landscapes, futuristic cities and machinery and highly imaginative science fiction.

In most of the early stories, Flash Gordon is a heroic resistance leader, fighting against the ruthless Ming. Allies joining him in his battle are noble leaders like Prince Barin - ruler of the forest kingdom Arboria and the rightful heir to the throne of Mongo - as well as Prince Thun of the Lion Men and Prince Vultan of the Hawkmen. Ming's daughter Princess Aura initially takes after her father, but she is reformed by her love for Flash, although her affections later turn to Prince Barin. In a July 1941 storyline, Flash, Dale and Zarkov leave the planet Mongo and return to Earth, motivated by news about an upcoming world war, initiated by the Fascist Red Sword organization. Obviously inspired by real-life World War II events, Flash manages to end this fictional war far sooner. In January 1942 - only one month after the Pearl Harbor attack - the Red Sword organization is overthrown.

Flash Gordon by Alex Raymond
'Flash Gordon' (30 October 1938).

Alex Raymond created his plots in a steady collaboration with a ghostwriter, pulp novelist Don Moore. Raymond and Moore invented the most extraordinary worlds and creatures, brought to life with Raymond's skillful brushwork. Taking inspiration from leading magazine illustrators like Matt Clark, Franklin Booth and John LaGatta, Alex Raymond brought character into his settings through his strong sense of realism and unique use of perspective. From the lush landscapes of Mongo and masterful renderings of sensual women to the egocentric splendor of Ming's environment - Raymond was one of the first artists who made science fiction "believable". As Mark Thompson wrote in his foreword for Checker's first 'Flash Gordon' collection (2005), Raymond "brought the worldwide public into the visual age of science fiction".

On 27 May 1940, 'Flash Gordon' received a daily comic strip, written by Don Moore and drawn by Austin Briggs. Raymond continued to work on the Sunday page until February 1944, when he signed up as a volunteer with the U.S. Marines. During his absence, Briggs took over the Sunday comic series, and as a result, the daily feature was dropped. Briggs drew 'Flash Gordon' until 1948, after which he was succeeded by Mac Raboy. Between 1951 and 1990, a new daily 'Flash Gordon' series was drawn by Dan Barry, who also took over the Sunday comic after Raboy's death in 1967. A notable celebrity scriptwriter of 'Flash Gordon' during this era was Harry Harrison, the sci-fi author most famous for the novel 'Soylent Green'. During the 1970s and 1980s, the series was inked by Bob Fujitani. In the early 1990s, many artists worked on the 'Flash Gordon' Sunday and daily comics, including Ralph Reese, Bruce Jones, Gray Morrow, Thomas Warkentin and Andrés Klacik. The daily comic series was discontinued on 7 March 1993, but the Sunday comic survived for another decade. Between 1992 and 1996, Richard Bruning, Kevin VanHook, Thomas Warkentin and Andrés Klacik alternately drew the feature. After that, Jim Keefe continued the series until the final episode was published on 16 March 2003.

Flash Gordon by Alex Raymond
'Flash Gordon' (7 February 1937).

Flash Gordon - success and media adaptations
By the late 1930s, 'Flash Gordon' was read by 50 million people worldwide. It ran in 130 newspapers and was translated into eight foreign languages. The strip also gained popularity in Europe, where it appeared as 'Guy L'Éclair' (France), 'Speed Gordon' (Germany), 'Jens Lyn' (Denmark), 'Lyn Gordon' (Norway), 'Blixt Gordon' (Sweden) and 'Stormer Gordon' (The Netherlands/Flanders). Other countries kept the original title. The weekly installments of the space hero were faithfully adapted into a weekly radio serial called 'The Amazing Interplanetary Adventures of Flash Gordon', starring Gale Gordon as Flash. The radio versions of Flash and Dale however eventually returned to Earth and their adventures ended on 26 October 1935. A weekday radio serial called 'The Further Interplanetary Adventures of Flash Gordon' was launched two days later, featuring independent storylines different from the comic strip. A weekly time slot was filled by a 'Jungle Jim' radio serial starring Matt Crowley and later Gerald Mohr.

The first 'Flash Gordon' movie adaptations appeared as early as 1936, starring Buster Crabbe as the title hero. Three movie serials were made: 'Flash Gordon' (1936), 'Flash Gordon's Trip to Mars' (1938), and 'Flash Gordon Conquers the Universe' (1940). Years later, George Lucas wanted to make a new 'Flash Gordon' film, until he discovered that the producer Dino De Laurentiis had the rights. So he made 'Star Wars' instead. De Laurentiis initially approached Federico Fellini to direct his 'Flash Gordon' adaptation, but the Italian director refused. It was Mike Hodges who took the job and made the best-known movie adaptation of 'Flash Gordon'. The campy film starring Sam J. Jones was loosely based on Alex Raymond's early stories, and featured a prominent soundtrack by rock band Queen. Throughout the years, 'Flash Gordon' has also appeared in TV series, both live-action and animated. The series also inspired a wide range of merchandising, including such items as toy ray guns, rocket ships, space suits, watches, pins and buttons.

Flash Gordon by Alex Raymond
'Flash Gordon' (18 January 1942).

Flash Gordon - parody
Like any popular work, 'Flash Gordon' was the target of spoof and parody too. Harvey Kurtzman and Wallace Wood ridiculed the space opera in Mad Magazine issue #11 (May 1954) as 'Flesh Garden'. In France, Jean-Pierre Dionnet and Nikita Mandryka gave their take on the character in the feature 'Jules L'Éclair' (1975-1980), published in Métal Hurlant. 'Flash Gordon' is also mentioned in Richard O'Brien's stage show 'The Rocky Horror Picture Show' (1973) and its 1975 Jim Sharman cult movie adaptation. In 1974, Alex Raymond's comic strip received a full-blown porn film parody, entitled 'Flesh Gordon'.

In the early 1950s, both Harvey Comics and King Features Syndicate reprinted 'Flash Gordon' in comic book format. In 1967 and 1971, Nostalgia Press released the first two actual book collections, followed in the early 1990s by six hardcover collections by Kitchen Sink Press. In 2004, Checker stepped in with their complete collection of the 'Flash Gordon' Sunday pages by Alex Raymond. Between 2011 and 2014, IDW collected Alex Raymond's run on 'Flash Gordon' and 'Jungle Jim' in four large format volumes.

Jungle Jim, by Alex Raymond (1939)
'Jungle Jim' (16 April 1939).

Jungle Jim
When Alex Raymond launched 'Flash Gordon', he was assigned to fill a full page in the Sunday newspapers by King Features Syndicate. To accompany his lead strip, Raymond and his ghostwriter Don Moore developed the "topper" comic 'Jungle Jim'. Launched simultaneously with 'Flash Gordon', 'Jungle Jim' was clearly modeled after the 'Tarzan' strip from the United Feature Syndicate. In contrast to the yodeling vine swinger in loincloth, Raymond's hero was not born in the wild, nor are his adventures set in Africa. Jim Bradley, aka 'Jungle Jim', is a wildlife hunter in South East Asia. His personality was inspired by the real-life adventurer/writer Frank R. Buck, author of 'Bring 'Em Back Alive' (1930), and he was named after Raymond's brother (and fellow cartoonist) Jim Raymond. Jungle Jim is accompanied by the loyal Hindu Kolu, a master with knives. Jim's steady girlfriend was Lilli Vrille - nicknamed "Shanghai Lil" - a femme fatale inspired by Marlène Dietrich's role in the film 'Shanghai Express' (1932). Although mainly concerned with animals, Jim and Kolu get caught up in far more exciting mysteries and treasure hunts. In the early storylines, the duo is up against pirates, smugglers, slave traders and other regular genre villains. During World War II, Jim's action terrain broadened. He was called back for patriotic duty and went on military missions in South America and South East Asia.

'Jungle Jim' is one of the few Sunday companion comics that became a classic in its own right. Although it never received a daily comic, the feature became an independent Sunday comic series in the 1940s. In February 1944, Raymond joined the U.S. Marines to serve the United States during World War II. His brother Jim Raymond ghosted 'Jungle Jim' from May 1944 until 1945, after which Austin Briggs assumed art duties. Between 1 April and 15 August 1948, John Mayo ghosted the series, and then Paul Norris took over until the final episode saw print on 8 August 1954. By the time Norris became the artist, Don Moore was finally given writing credits on the series.

Between 1937 and 1938, David McKay reprinted 'Jungle Jim' episodes in the comic book Ace Comics. In the post-Raymond period, 'Jungle Jim' received comic book series with original stories published by Standard Comics (1949-1951), Dell Comics (1953-1959) and Charlton Comics (1969-1970). In 1988, Pioneer Comics compiled 'Jungle Jim' in 16 comic books under the title 'The Official Jungle Jim'. In January 2015, a reboot of 'Jungle Jim' was launched by Dynamite Entertainment, written by Paul Tobin and illustrated by Sandy Jarrell. Alex Raymond's 'Jungle Jim' episodes were included in the 2011-2014 reprint series of 'Flash Gordon' by IDW. 'Jungle Jim' was translated into several languages, including French ('Jim La Jungle'), Italian ('Jim Della Giungla') and Dutch ('Jan Zonder Vrees').

Jungle Jim media adaptations
Jungle Jim's adventures were first adapted into a radio serial called 'The Adventures of Jungle Jim' (1935-1938). In 1937, Universal released a 12-part 'Jungle Jim' movie serial starring Grant Withers. Between 1948 and 1955, Columbia Pictures also adapted the comic strip into sixteen feature films. Ironically, Jungle Jim was played by Johnny Weissmuller, the most famous Tarzan of the silver screen. In the final three installments, Columbia wasn't allowed to use the Jungle Jim name anymore, so the main character was named after its portrayer, Johnny Weissmuller. The reason for this prohibition was the simultaneously produced 'Jungle Jim' TV adaptation (1955-1956), starring none other than... Johnny Weissmuller!

Secret Agent X-9 by Alex Raymond
'Secret Agent X-9' comic strips from 23 and 24 January 1934.

Secret Agent X-9
Alex Raymond's third comic strip, 'Secret Agent X-9' (1934-1996), debuted only a few weeks after 'Flash Gordon' and 'Jungle Jim'. Launched as a daily strip on 22 January 1934, King Features Syndicate managed to hire the popular detective novelist Dashiel Hammett, famous for his 'Sam Spade' stories, such as 'The Maltese Falcon', as the scriptwriter. Hammett's collaboration was heavily promoted in the Hearst newspapers and was expected to draw a huge audience. However, the feature never achieved the same popularity as Raymond's other series. Directly inspired by Chester Gould's 'Dick Tracy', 'Secret Agent X-9' is a strange mix between spy series and hard-boiled detective comic. X-9 is a secret agent whose real name isn't revealed. Some call him "Dexter", but this was a code name too. Although X-9 wants to keep his identity a secret, he can be easily approached in his private office, taking commissions to spy on people and shadow thieves, kidnappers and other common thugs. The series's ambiguous setup can be attributed to the syndicate editors, who couldn't decide which direction the strip should take, and heavily edited Hammett's dialogues. After crafting four storylines, Hammett left the series. He was first replaced by 'Flash Gordon' writer Don Moore and then by Leslie Charteris, a novelist famous for 'The Saint' series.

On 16 November 1935, Alex Raymond too left 'Secret Agent X-9' to fully concentrate on 'Flash Gordon', 'Jungle Jim' and his ambitions to become a magazine illustrator. Still, 'Secret Agent X-9' enjoyed a long newspaper run. Between 1936 and 1945, Max Trell was the main scriptwriter, publishing under the pseudonym Robert Storm. During this period, the stories were illustrated by, respectively, Charles Flanders (1935-1938), Nicholas Afonsky (1938), Austin Briggs (1938-1940) and Mel Graff (1940-1960). Over the years, the plots improved, with more focus on exciting and mysterious action-adventures. After 1945, Mel Graff wrote the narratives too. He deepened the character by giving X-9 a genuine name (Philip Corrigan) and a social life. Later storylines saw Corrigan involved in romantic storylines, and eventually his June 1950 marriage to Wilda Dorre and the birth of his child, Philda, in 1952. During the 1950s, the series changed its tone from an exciting adventure comic into a sentimental family comic. Under Graff's successor Bob Lubbers, 'Secret Agent X-9' got a welcome return to its origins as a detective comic. In January 1967, a new team was assembled. Archie Goodwin became the main writer and Al Williamson provided the artwork, while the series was renamed to 'Secret Agent Corrigan'. By now, the series took inspiration from the popular 'James Bond' franchise, with Corrigan even divorcing Wilda off-screen, so he could conquer attractive women again. Between 4 February 1980 and 10 February 1996, George Evans was the final author of the series, continuing as both scriptwriter and artist until the end of its run.

Secret Agent X-9 - adaptations and collections
In 1937, 'Secret Agent X-9' was adapted into a film serial by Universal, starring Scott Kolk in the title role. Universal produced another film serial in 1945, with the main role played by Lloyd Bridges. In January 1994, BBC Radio 5 adapted the comic into a radio play starring Stuart Milligan. In later years, Alex Raymond's run on 'Secret Agent X-9' has been the subject of several reprint projects, starting with a 1976 paperback volume by Nostalgia Press. Respectively in 1983 and 1990, International Polygonics and Kitchen Sink Press released trade paperback collections of all episodes by Dashiell Hammett and Alex Raymond. In 2010, IDW embarked upon a more thorough reprint of the 'Secret Agent X-9' series, devoting the seventh installment to the Raymond-Hammett episodes.

Jungle Jim by Alex Raymond
'Jungle Jim' (25 January 1942).

Career in the 1940s and World War II military service
After leaving 'Secret Agent X-9', Alex Raymond had more time on his hands to combine his comic work with magazine illustration. During the 1940s, his work appeared regularly in magazines like The Saturday Home Magazine, Collier's, Blue Book, Esquire and Look. A member of the prestigious Society of Illustrators, Alex Raymond also provided artwork to clients like Alfred A. Knopf Publishing and The Atlantic Mutual Insurance Company. In February 1944, Raymond left both 'Flash Gordon' and 'Jungle Jim' in the good care of his assistants and joined the U.S. Marines. He initially served as an artist with the Marine Corps Publicity Bureau in Philadelphia, drawing a weekly illustrated panel and designing war bonds and recruitment posters. His most iconic work of the period was the painting 'Marines at Prayer', which appeared on the cover of the December 1944 issue of the Marine Corps' Headquarters Bulletin. In 1945, Raymond served in the Pacific Ocean theater on the aircraft carrier Gilbert Islands, where he documented the everyday life and on-board camaraderie in his drawings.

Military-themed illustration for the Saturday Evening Post (13 January 1945)
Military-themed illustration for the Saturday Evening Post (13 January 1945).

Rip Kirby
In 1945, Alex Raymond returned to civilian life with the desire to resume his cartooning career. King Features Syndicate had however signed on Austin Briggs to produce the 'Flash Gordon' comic until at least 1948. With no chance of returning to his trademark series soon, the syndicate offered him the opportunity to develop a new daily strip. His wartime experiences made Alex Raymond a changed man. As he later explained: "The war made a realist out of me." Instead of science fiction, Raymond felt the need to create something less fantastical and more rooted in reality. Returning to territory he previously explored in 'Secret Agent X-9', he created the private investigator 'Rip Kirby'. The daily strip debuted on 4 March 1946. Raymond's main star was however different from earlier comic strip sleuths. Instead of solving crimes with spectacular car chases and hard-boiled fist fights, the cosmopolitan and sophisticated Kirby rather used his wit and power of deduction to overthrow New York's criminal masterminds. Just like his creator, Kirby was an ex-marine. Although his busted nose hinted at an action-filled past, Rip Kirby was an intellectual in the tradition of Arthur Conan Doyle's 'Sherlock Holmes'. He smoked a pipe, wore suits and glasses, and lived in an extravagant penthouse apartment. His sidekicks were his British butler Desmond and his love interest, fashion model Honey Dorian. The 'Rip Kirby' storylines were also more realistic and modern than those of PI archetypes like Dashiell Hammett's 'Sam Spade' and Chester Gould's 'Dick Tracy'. The 'Rip Kirby' strip didn't feature grotesque villains or a wisecracking protagonist, but focused on contemporary issues like drug addiction, juvenile delinquency, the dangers of atomic and bacteriological weapons, black market babies and war orphans.

Rip Kirby by Alex Raymond
Second 'Rip Kirby' strip (5 March 1946).

This return to reality also further enhanced Alex Raymond's drawing style. The artist carefully documented the strip's New York settings and trendy cars, while using real life models like Beulah Bestor for his portrayals of Honey Dorian, femme fatale Pagan Lee and other female characters. To accurately apply the latest fashion, he carefully studied the leading women's magazines of the time. Fashion consultant Joan Weed kept the artist up to date on the latest trends in international couture. The format of a daily strip urged Raymond to experiment more with the use of black-and-white. This resulted in photo-realistic, delicate pen lines with dramatic brush strokes. His technique has been widely copied since. Raymond's main influences were illustrators from contemporary women's magazines, such as Al Parker, Albert Dorne, Robert Fawcett and Alex Ross. He elaborated on the groundbreaking comic work by Noel Sickles and Milton Caniff, and experimented freely with shading, cross-hatching and bold brushwork.

The plots and dialogue of 'Rip Kirby' were conceived during weekly storywriting sessions with King Features general manager Ward Greene and editor Sylvan Byck. In 1952, Greene's role in the 'Rip Kirby' writing team was taken over by Fred Dickenson. Shortly after the feature's launch, Raymond hired Ray Burns to do the lettering and additional background art. Burns stayed with Raymond throughout his run on 'Rip Kirby', with the exception of a short period in the early 1950s when he joined the Navy and Bob Leatherbarrow filled his place. Plans were made to launch a Sunday page as well. Leonard Starr and Bob Fujitani were considered as artists for the feature, but Raymond abandoned the idea, realizing a Sunday page would be too much work for too little profit.

Rip Kirby by Alex Raymond
'Rip Kirby' (24 December 1949).

Rip Kirby - post-Raymond period
After Raymond's sudden death in 1956, John Prentice was quickly named his successor on 'Rip Kirby'. Fred Dickenson continued to participate in the writing until shortly before his death in 1986, after which Bruce Smith and Maxwell MacRae were contributing writers throughout the rest of the decade. John Prentice continued 'Rip Kirby' on his own until the final episode was published on 26 June 1999. In the early 1980s, Pacific Comics Club published 16 issues of a 'Rip Kirby' comic book. In 2010 and 2011, the complete 'Rip Kirby' became part of IDW's Library of American Comics with the subtitle 'The First Modern Detective', edited by Dean Mullaney.

Rip Kirby by Alex Raymond
Action-filled 'Rip Kirby' strips from 26 and 27 July 1956.

Final years and death
In 1940, Alex Raymond relocated to the quiet back country of Stamford in Fairfield County, Connecticut. The county was the homebase for many cartoonists and illustrators, largely because there was no state income tax. Just like Rip Kirby, Raymond enjoyed a lush lifestyle. He was a member of the local Country Club, played golf with his colleagues and became an avid sports car collector. He was also an active member of the National Cartoonists Society, and in March 1950, he succeeded Milton Caniff as its president. Although the society was largely a social group, Raymond helped establish several functioning committees that offered training, studies of the comic art form, and aid to financially struggling members and legal advice. Throughout his career, Raymond always aspired to become a magazine illustrator and fine artist. Yet, he didn't look down on comics. In 'Famous Artists & Writers of King Features Syndicate' (1946) he explained: "I decided honestly that comic art is an art form in itself. It reflects the life and times more accurately and actually is more artistic than magazine illustration - since it is entirely creative. An illustrator works with camera and models; a comic artist begins with a white sheet of paper and dreams up his own business - he is playwright, director, editor and artist at once."

Unfortunately, his other ambitions remained unfulfilled. On 6 September 1956, Alex Raymond crashed Stan Drake's Chevrolet Corvette convertible into a tree while speeding in bad weather. While Drake was seriously injured, he survived the crash; Raymond died on the spot. He was only 46 years old. Ironically, later that evening, he had a meeting planned with top illustrator Robert Fawcett that could have propelled his career even further. Over the years, Alex Raymond's death has been the subject of much speculation. Was it an accident or suicide? Dave Sim and Carson Grubaugh made a graphic novel about the fatal car crash, titled 'The Strange Death of Alex Raymond' (2021).

Raymond's mercedes is Rip Kirby, July 1956
Alex Raymond often depicted his Mercedes SL300, like here in the 'Rip Kirby' strip of 2 July 1956, printed only two months before the cartoonist died in a car crash.

Recognition and legacy in the United States
In 1949, Alex Raymond won the NCS Reuben Award, handed out by the National Cartoonists Society. He was posthumously inducted in the Will Eisner Comic Book Hall of Fame (1996) and the Society of Illustrators Hall of Fame (2014). Even decades after his death, Alex Raymond remains an important and influential figure in the comic industry. Both the sci-fi series 'Flash Gordon' and the contemporary 'Rip Kirby' strip have become templates for their respective genres. In the United States alone they influenced dozens of artists. William Ritt and Clarence Gray's 'Brick Bradford' (1933-1987) began a few months before 'Flash Gordon', but borrowed heavily from the strip after it appeared. 'Flash Gordon' also inspired Carl Pfeufer's 'Don Dixon and the Hidden Empire' (1935-1941). At National Periodicals (DC Comics), Dennis Neville modeled the costume of Hawkman after the Hawkmen in Raymond's 'Flash Gordon' episodes.

All the other artists who have worked on 'Flash Gordon' are indebted to Alex Raymond too: Austin Briggs, Mac Raboy, Dan Barry, Bob Fujitani, Bruce Jones, Ralph Reese, Gray Morrow and Jim Keefe. The contemporary photo-realistic soap opera 'Rip Kirby' had followers like John Cullen Murphy's 'Big Ben Bolt' (1950), Stan Drake's 'The Heart of Juliet Jones' (1953), Leonard Starr's 'Mary Perkins, On Stage' (1957), Alex Kotzky's 'Apartment 3-G', (1961), Neal Adams' 'Ben Casey' (1962), Lou Fine's 'Peter Scratch' (1965). Other U.S. artists who cited Alex Raymond as an important inspiration on their work have been Allen Bellman, John Buscema, Kim DeMulder, Jerry Dumas, Will Eisner, Raye Horne, Al Jaffee, John Johns, Gil Kane, Jack Kirby, Harvey Kurtzman, Ken Landau, Bob Lubbers, Russ Manning, Juan Ortiz, Frank Thorne and Al Williamson.

Rip Kirby by Alex Raymond
'Rip Kirby', 3 February 1951.

Global legacy and influence
Alex Raymond was also a major influence on comic artists from Europe and South America. When Raymond's 'Flash Gordon' episodes appeared in the Italian comic magazine L'Avventuroso (1934-1938), they inspired a new generation of Italian authors of adventure comics, including Kurt Caesar, Annibale Casabianca, Leo Cimpellin, Gianni De Luca and Gallieno Ferri. In 1938, Mussolini banned the import of U.S. comics, but this didn't stop some crafty publishers. Publisher Nerbini launched a local version of 'Flash Gordon', written by future filmmaker Federico Fellini and drawn alternately by Giove Toppi and Guido Fantoni. In January 1942, a similar situation took place in Belgium, where the Nazis also banned U.S. comics. At the time, 'Flash Gordon' ran in Bravo magazine and suddenly saw the import of new episodes freeze. Local artist Edgar Pierre Jacobs was quickly asked to continue the ongoing story in Bravo by mimicking Raymond's style. When the story was concluded, Jacobs created a Flash Gordon-esque science fiction story of his own: 'Le Rayon U' (1943).

In France, Alex Raymond inspired Chott, Patrice Pellerin and Albert Uderzo. In Belgium, he was an inspiration to François Craenhals, Eddy Paape, Paul Cuvelier, Gérald Forton, Karel VerschuereWilliam Vance and Buth. In The Netherlands, Raymond's influence can be spotted in the work of Alfred MazureHans G. Kresse, Hans Borrebach, Bert Bus, Thé Tjong-Khing, Dick Matena, Dick Vlottes, Piet Wijn, Minck Oosterveer and Henk Alleman, Spanish artists like Enrique Badía Romero, Jordi Bernet, Francisco Darnis, Carlos Freixas, Luis Garcia, Xavi, Jaime Tomás, Victor Mora and José Luis García López have expressed their admiration. In Switzerland Philippe Wurm did the same. As did the South Americans Emilio Cortinas, Oscar Carmino, Getúlio Delphim and José Luis Salinas. Alex Raymond's influence can also be felt in the work of artists from the United Kingdom (John Gillatt, Frank Hampson, Sydney Jordan, Ian Kennedy, Ron Turner, Mike Western), Israel (Asher Dikstein), The Philippines (Rudy Nebres), Australia (Stanley Pitt) and Turkey (Abdullah Turhan, Orhan Halil Tolon - the latter downright plagiarizing 'Jungle Jim').

Alex Raymond and his model Beulah Bestor in 1949
Alex Raymond and his model Beulah Bestor in 1949.

Cultural impact
Alex Raymond's characters have had an immeasurable impact on global pop culture. In 1936, Harold Hershey published 'Flash Gordon Strange Adventure Magazine', which featured a written story about Flash Gordon, penned by James Edison Northford. However, the magazine barely sold and its first issue was consequently also the last. In 1939, the New York World's Fair had a special ride devoted to the "space universe of Flash Gordon". During World War II, the 440th Combat Crew Training Squadron (nowadays 1st Air Commando Group) used "Jungle Jim" as a code name. George Lucas cited 'Flash Gordon' as a strong influence on his science fiction saga 'Star Wars' (1977). He originally wanted to adapt Raymond's signature comic to the silver screen, but couldn't get the rights. So instead he wrote his own story, taking elements from 'Flash Gordon'. One of the most famous is the text crawl from the 1930s 'Flash Gordon' film serial, which is used at the start of every 'Star Wars' picture. In 2001, the band Modest Mouse released a song titled 'Secret Agent X-9'. Another celebrity fan of 'Flash Gordon' was film director Lina Wertmüller. Alex Raymond is the great-uncle of Hollywood actors Matt Dillon and Kevin Dillon.

Books about Alex Raymond
The book 'Alex Raymond: His Life And Art' (2008) by Tom Roberts is a highly recommended biography. It has a foreword by George Lucas, and an additional introduction by Western painter and etcher James Bama. Another must-read is 'Alex Raymond: An Artistic Journey: Adventure, Intrigue and Romance' (Hermes Press, 2016) by Ron Goulart.

Flash Gordon, by Alex Raymond
'Flash Gordon' (18 May 1941).

Series and books by Alex Raymond you can order today:


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