Thursday, September 23, 2010

Blogging Alex Raymond’s FLASH GORDON, Part Three: “Tournaments of Mongo”

“Tournaments of Mongo” was the third installment of Alex Raymond’s FLASH GORDON Sunday comic strip serial for King Features Syndicate. Originally printed between November 25, 1934 and February 24, 1935, “Tournaments of Mongo” picked up the storyline where the second installment, “Monsters of Mongo” left off with Dr. Zarkov being knighted by Vultan for saving the Hawkmen’s sky city from crashing to the ground.
Before Vultan can host Flash and Dale’s royal wedding, Emperor Ming and his daughter, Princess Aura arrive with Ming’s air fleet demanding Flash be handed over. Of course, Aura wants Flash for herself while her father wants to see him dead. Vultan invokes the ancient rite of tournament to determine Flash’s fate and Ming heartily agrees, certain it will mean the Earthman’s doom.
The obvious change beginning with this strip is that Alex Raymond’s artwork is being granted more space than before as Raymond decreases the strip from nine equally-sized panels to a more inventively designed seven panels to better showcase his stunning artwork which was steadily growing in both complexity and sophistication.
Raymond began to move away from word balloons in each panel to more formal narrative in small print at the top or bottom of the panel, often relegated to a single corner. This allowed Raymond to concentrate on majestic paintings depicting Mongo’s people and wildlife in all their glory.
Mongo was portrayed as a neo-Classical world of centurions, barbarians and mythological creatures juxtaposed with scientific advances such as rocket ships and jet-propelled cities. Alex Raymond’s enticing combination of the familiar and the fantastic touched an imaginative chord with readers the world over that continues to resonate to this day.


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