Tuesday, June 15, 2010

Between the Panels

And then there was Flash Gordon. Who among us hasn't been mesmerized and seduced by the adventures created by Alex Raymond?

Between the panels.

Many of you know that phrase. A cartoonist creates a world so appealing, so dynamic, so fertile, that we, as the readers, use our imaginations to create what happens in the story between the panels. Raymond gave us a premise and fulfilled it with dynamic, ever-evolving artwork—inspiring generations of active imaginations to fill in the interludes between the panels.

The comic strip inspired movie serials that acted out scenes from the world of Mongo to show us what transpired between the panels. I just re-watched those serials last night. They were poorly written, poorly acted, and poorly staged. In short, they were magnificent. Buster Crabbe (Flash) was the perfect hero, saving Jean Rogers (Dale) as the perfect damsel from the clutches of Charles Middleton (Ming), the perfect villain. I watched the dvd as if I were in the audience of a theater from long ago, unspoiled by our modern aesthetics.

There really was a particular someone in that audience of long ago who thrilled to see Buster Crabbe as Flash Gordon. Someone who would go on to dream of what happened between the panels, and go further on to create panels for the rest of us to step between. Of course I'm talking about Al Williamson who, more or less, had a lifelong obsession with Flash Gordon and carried on the tradition of Alex Raymond.

Directly below is probably the first Flash Gordon drawing by Al when he was seventeen.

And here, his drawing of Buster Crabbe in the role:

Williamson's fluid sketches from over the years were dynamite—bursting with energy, swirling with action. And yes, some of his thoughts were on Barsoom as well as Mongo:

Many of his panels would show us details of the exotic flora, fauna and females of the worlds of adventure. Below, a bootleg print of a preliminary sketch:

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