The original art for Alex Raymond’s first Flash Gordon newspaper strip was sold in a Profiles in History auction for $480,000 this week, the highest price ever realised for a piece of comic strip art.
The piece was consigned to Hollywood auction house Profiles in History by the widow of an unidentified life-long collector, who had it framed on his wall. It was created in 1933 by Raymond for King Features Syndicate, who commissioned the Sunday strip to compete with the successful Buck Rogers strip, and first published in US newspapers on Sunday 7th January 1934. Flash Gordon soon surpassed Buck Rogers in popularity.
The initial strip introduced Flash Gordon, Dale Arden, and Dr. Hans Zarkov, introducing the handsome “Flash Gordon, Yale graduate and world-renowned polo player” and companion Dale Arden, who parachute out of a crashing plane and are shanghaied by Dr. Hans Zarkov aboard his rocket ship launched to intercept the threatening planet Mongo hurtling towards Earth. Thus began the fantastical space opera that, by the late 1930s, was published in 130 newspapers across the globe, translated into eight languages, and read by over 50 million people.
From 1936-1940, Universal Pictures released three highly popular Flash Gordon movie serials starring the 1932 Olympic gold medal swimmer Buster Crabbe. Alex Raymond was encouraged to draw by his father at an early age, and by 1930 he became an assistant illustrator working with cartoonist Russ Westover on his Tillie the Toiler comic strip. Through this association, Raymond was introduced to William Randolph Hearst’s King Features Syndicate where he later became a staff artist and produced his best work.
Alex Raymond’s realistic style and skillful use of feathering (a mid-tone shading technique using a series of parallel lines to give form and volume to objects and figures) influenced comic luminaries such as Jack Kirby, Russ Manning, Bob Kane and Al Williamson, just to name a few. Flash Gordon is regarded as one of the best illustrated and most influential of American adventure comic strips. Siegel and Shuster based Superman’s uniform of tights and a cape on costumes worn by Flash.
The historical impact Flash Gordon had on science fiction and pop culture heroes of the 20th century cannot be overstated. The “space western”, emphasising space exploration as the final frontier, influenced Gene Roddenberry to create Star Trek.
George Lucas had originally wanted to adapt the Flash Gordon serials in the 1970s but was unable to secure the rights, and his project evolved into Star Wars. Lucas’ homage to Flash is evident with the opening title “crawl,” episodic story structure, “moving wipes” when transitioning to new scenes, good (Flash/Luke) versus evil (Ming’s Empire/Galactic Empire), incorporating a “Cloud City” into the storyline, and the narrative tied together with a grand, sweeping orchestral musical score.
The art was owned by a life-long collector who attended comic and science fiction conventions going back to the 1960s. While reviewing the various artefacts her husband had amassed, his widow mentioned in passing that she had something framed on her wall having to do with the old Flash Gordon comic strips.
“When she sent detailed images of the piece, we couldn’t believe our eyes,” a spokesperson for Profiles in History commented. “it was the original artwork for the very first episode of Flash Gordon, replete with “No 1” handwritten beside comic legend Alex Raymond’s signature! Here it was, after 87 years of casting an indelible shadow of influence on science fiction and pop culture.
“From Superman’s tights and cape, to the space opera that would become Star Wars, Flash Gordon inspired creators across genres and generations. This seminal artwork remains an icon among icons.
The strip was offered alongside its original companion piece that launched simultaneously as a “topper” above Flash in the Sunday comics on the same day: Alex Raymond’s artwork for Jungle Jim #1 – the popular jungle adventure strip!
Two additional Alex Raymond artworks were also sold, both created for the wartime issue of LOOK Magazine dated 20th October 1942. The article, entitled, “The Creator of Flash Gordon Envisions the War’s End”, features artwork depicting futuristic warplanes bombing the “Axis octopus”, as well as a vision of peace showing images of Flash Gordon and Dale Arden (with a “cloud city” in the background!) holding the torch of freedom above a war-torn landscape.
Founded in 1985 by Joseph Maddalena, Profiles in History is the nation’s leading dealer in guaranteed-authentic original historical autographs, letters, documents, vintage signed photographs and manuscripts. Owning virtually every Guinness Book record prices for original screen-used memorabilia Profiles in History has also established itself as the world’s largest auctioneer of original Hollywood memorabilia.
Titan Comics have previously released a number of Flash Gordon newspaper strip collections, launched in 2012 with The Complete Flash Gordon Library: On the Planet Mongo.
Flash Gordon Sundays: Dan Barry Volume 1 – The Death Planet was released in 2017 and Volume Eight is due for release in September, according to current AmazonUK listings information.
ARCHIE MEETS FLASH GORDON!
In June, Archie Comics will release an Archie Meets Flash Gordon one shot, written by Jeff Parker (Flash Gordon, Archie Meets Batman ’66) with art by Dan Parent (Archie Meets The B52s), with a variant cover by Sandy Jarrell.
A strange phenomenon occurs, leading to an alien crash-landing in Riverdale. Fortunately, someone arrives on the scene to save the day: Flash Gordon! A conqueror from another world wants to colonise Earth and he’s close to sustaining a portal that could let his warships through – which leads Flash Gordon, along with Archie and his friends, to the Planet Mongo in this special crossover event…
“I’m now a pretty big believer that the Riverdale gang can fit with practically any other characters and genres,” says Parker, “but it’s best when they get to really flex and go way outside their zone like say, the planet Mongo with Flash Gordon, King of the Impossible.
This of course coincides with the sad passing of cinema great Max Von Sydow who was the most memorable Ming the Merciless, and wait until you see our take on the Emperor of Mongo.”
The interplanetary crossover re-teams Parker with artist Dan Parent, who previously created another pop culture mash-up with Archie Meets Batman ’66. Parker added, “I wanted to write more Archie and more Flash Gordon, so this really clicked for me, and I tried to laser in on tailoring this to be a story Dan Parent would enjoy drawing. He hasn’t yelled at me yet, so fingers crossed!”
“I was more than thrilled to work with Jeff again,” Parent said. “And what could be better than working with a classic character like Flash Gordon? The story has so much action and fun, it really jumps off every page! As a fan of the classic comics and movie serials (and the 1980 movie which I happened to watch again before I was approached with this project), I was excited to take part in another monumental Archie team up. I’m happy to work with my pal Rich Koslowski on this, too!”
For Archie Comics and King Features, this new adventure is a natural pairing of two global fan-favourites with deep roots in comics going back nearly a century. “Flash Gordon is an iconic, sci-fi/pulp hero, and in the long tradition of great, off-the-wall Archie crossovers, this seemed like a perfect next step,” said Archie Comics Co-President Alex Segura. “When we were thinking of creative for this, Jeff Parker, who did a bang-up job on Archie Meets Batman ’66, was atop our list. And no one is better equipped to give this one-shot the classic, retro-but-modern vibe that it demands than Archie legend Dan Parent.
“This book will be fun, accessible, and just what people are looking for.”
“King Features and Archie Comics are a great team, so having our beloved characters, FLASH GORDON and the ARCHIE kids, team up, too, is an exciting moment for both of these classic brands” said Tea Fougner, editorial director, King Features Syndicate. “To top it off, to work with such amazing talent like Dan Parent and Jeff Parker is an honour. Their love for all of these characters shines through every page, and we’re thrilled to share this story with fans new and old.”
• Profiles in History is online at profilesinhistory.com