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Crossing Borders: Opposites Attract

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We move from one end of the comics spectrum to the other with Alex Raymond’s classic Flash Gordon to Peter Rogiers’ experimental The Hunger: Snowman Vs. Squid.

The Complete Flash Gordon Library

Swashbucklers ahoy, the ultimate newspaper sci fi ladies man has his complete adventures collected in this Titan Books series. My first meeting with Flash goes back to the early eighties when I came across a black and white picture of the Buster Crabbe Flash Gordon in a Star Wars book citing Flash Gordon as one of the many inspirations for George Lucas’ 1977 Star Wars movie. Though even then I thought the 1980 Flash movie overly campy, it certainly had that creative spark that tends to keep the fires of history burning. And writer / artist Alex Raymond surely has that fire.

His origins famously dipped into the ever muddy pool of commerce, Flash Gordon started out as a Buck Rogers rip off with the same space-as-swashbuckling-adventure concept  but quickly came into his own thanks to the stellar combination of great art by Raymond and imaginative and fast paced scripting of Raymond and Don Moore. Flash Gordon still burns bright in the annals of science fiction while Buck Rogers watches from the sidelines. And if there is one thing I can say about Flashs’ adventures is that it is faaaaaaast. Familiars Flash, eternal love interest Dale and deranged genius Zarkov (he can also whip out those killing machines mighty fast) keep falling into one kingdom and hostage situation into another ad infinitum.

This first volume entitled On The Planet Mongo features an introduction by Alex Ross and reprints the first strips from 1934 all the way to 1937 so you can’t really fault the scripting though. Comics or newspaper serials just didn’t feature indepth storytelling in those days but were more a punch to the gut. Flash is less about story but more about the celebration of the imagination and on this front, everything goes. Raymond and Moore invent the one kingdom after another, a whole slew of animal inspired humanoids, strange predators, flying kingdoms, undersea kingdoms etc and this is just the first volume. One has to wonder what else they have in store for the upcoming two volumes that collects the whole of the Raymond strips.

Alex Raymond illustrates it all as if it is just another session at the live drawing class. One of the big attractions of this first volume is watching Raymond’s style develop and develop rather quickly. While the first strips, though intricate and well drawn, feature a more general stiff comics style, after only a year Raymond has evolved to his more well known illustrative style. From 1936 on and more specifically the story The Undersea Kingdom Of Mongo, Raymond hits his stride; his style and trademark posing and hatchwork has germinated fully. Luckily this is also where the reproduction starts to get better because a book like this stands or falls with his reproduction quality. In general, the reproduction is pretty good though it is never stated what the starting basis is for these reprints which is a shame because then you could forgive the more problematic parts running from December 1934 to June 1935 where linework is not entiry visible and colours are muddy and inconsistent.

The newspaper strip collection The Complete Flash Gordon Library is a testament to Raymond’s lush brushwork, classical posing and imaginative creativity. Titan Books manages to get across the pure energy that Flash Gordon exudes. Vol. 1 On The Planet Mongo just absorbs you and lets you drown in pure unadulterated  sci fi adventure fun from a more innocent period.

The Complete Flash Gordon Library - On The Planet Mongo (Vol 1) is published by Titan Books. It is a hardcover counting 208 pages and retails for £29.99.

 

Snowman Vs. Squid

And this is about as far away as you can get from the classical figure work of Alex Raymond, ladies and gentlemen meet Peter Rogiers’ The Hunger: Snowman Vs. Squid.

The picture of beauty is more alluring than beauty itself. The aesthetic sense objectifies. The need to create beauty is necrophiliac in a way.
- John the Snowman

The above quote from the main protagonist certainly reflects the antithesis of Belgian artist Peter Rogiers who is known for his expressive 3D sculptures. Rogiers’ artistic works drown in a sort of antithesis of beauty, an exploration of materials and offensiveness, radically departing from standardized norms of attractiveness. Sources of inspiration are not only fine artist like Francis Bacon or Picasso but also traditionally lower forms of art like comics and cult movies. The Hunger: Snowman Vs. Squid is his first graphic novel and as you can tell from the introduction, no-one expects Rogiers to deliver a nicely laid out traditionally beautiful drawn comic. And he didn’t.

On the surface the story of love interest Jill and John who gets transformed into the ‘superhero’ The Snowman after a car crash plays with the conventions of soap opera superhero storytelling but at the same time The Hunger is both parody and art object (explaining why art book publisher Mer. Paper Kunsthalle puts this out on the market). Rogiers himself admits that being an artist, the joy he derives from this project is more from the graphical side than the storytelling side.

The Hunger is a fast paced tale of betrayal, adultery, transformations, slaughter, sex and sentient palm trees overlords experimenting on humanity turning us all in to demented superheroes. Or something like that. The art is brutal, rough and mixes traditional brush work with pens, markers, paints, photography and collages. Rogiers pulls it all nicely together into one attractive cohesive visual style. The mixed media utilizes its own visual language in an internal consistent way and even though you can sometimes get lost in the panel arrangement or the unclear visuals, Rogiers manages to guide the reader quite clearly through his tale of lust and power. I found especially the collage pages where Jill and John make love after being transformed oozing a particular powerful energy reminiscent of the Kirby collages in New Gods or Thor. Rogiers pulls back his tendency to overcrowd the pages and lets the art speak for itself.

If there is one fault in this experimental graphic novel it would be the computer lettering. Rogiers’ choice of fonts is just plain ugly and his widely drawn out balloons do not complement his art at all. On the contrary, they are tacky and seem pasted on, I can’t for the life of me figure out why he has chosen this approach since lettering is integral to the overal presentation of a comic page unless it was somewhat guided by a lack of knowledge on computer lettering.

However, The Hunger #1: Snowman Vs. Squid (part 1 of 3) represents a particular artists’ point of view on the phenomenon of superheroes, comics and low art. Its art is rough and beautiful at the same time and exudes an energy and liveliness that many comics nowadays are missing. It represents an arcane alchemy mixing creativity with materials and out of the cauldron rises … the Snowman. Recommended for anyone with any interest in a broader perspective on comics.

The Hunger #1: Snowman Vs. Squid is an english language graphic novel published by MER. Paper Kunsthalle. It is a 72 pages counting softcover in full colour and retails for €20. An extensive free preview can be read online right here (warning: contains adult images).

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