This panel is from Alex Raymond’s Flash Gordon, among the most revered comic strips of the early 20th century, from a storyline called “The Witch Queen of Mongo”. Hard to imagine that it was published in May 1935, and appeared in family-friendly Sunday newspapers considering the kind of hullaballoo made nowadays over much more innocent imagery.
Why I like the panel so much is in part due to Raymond’s god-level figurework – Dale’s posture as she undergoes her punishment resembles a figure from a classical painting. The movement of the woman with the whip is captured without the any visual trickery – no speed-lines or sound effects that you see in modern comics. Raymond keeps the background to a crisp minimum, using stray crosshatching and Dale’s shadow to convey the presence of the wall to which she is bound. The other reason is because of the obvious way in which it is constructed to appeal to its target audience. At that time, I am betting that the greater percentage of readers following Flash Gordon comics was teenage boys – and isn’t this image just a right mix of taboo and titillation? If I were thirteen and I saw this panel in my Sunday newspaper, I would make sure I cut it out and keep it safe before the newspaper gets trashed the next day. And I know I would look at it again and again, when I was sure there was no one around. When I saw this page while flipping through the book for the first time, I had to pause and stare, for quite some time. I have to admit that the scan above does not do the actual color artwork justice – not to mention the fact that Raymond’s actual inked pages still have it in them to make eyes of grown men pop with awe and disbelief.
Indrajal comics never printed these original pulp stories in India. They got the Dan Barry run, which is good as well; but it was Raymond’s run that laid down the mythology of Mongo and its inhabitants and stands on its own as a fascinating, self-contained bunch of space yarns. One cannot really call the somewhat-repetitive storylines worthy literature. A standard template of a Raymond Flash Gordon story would go this way – Flash, Dale and Zarkov meet a hitherto unknown tribe on Mongo, and one of whom is a hot woman who falls for him; a rival in the tribe first envies Flash and his obvious charisma, and then either repents or dies, and there is a final showdown with Emperor Ming who shows up to conquer the tribe but fails, thanks to Flash’s uber-Aryan combination of brains and brawn. But it would also be wrong to dismiss them as vapid pulp – there’s definite plot development, the trio even come back to to Earth and use Mongo technology in WWII, and Flash and Dale’s romance grows over the episodes. What’s most striking is the iconic artwork of Alex Raymond, whose brush strokes brought the fantastic creatures and landscapes of Mongo to life, and who fanned the flames of adolescent desire and imagination with his skill.
Checker Books has reprinted the complete run of Raymond’s Flash Gordon in seven hardcover volumes, and it’s well worth your time to pick them up if you can. My collection has five of the seven volumes – Book 3 is apparently out of print, and Book 1 was not available along with the rest in Odyssey, where my girlfriend picked them up for me in February.