The Strange Death of Alex Raymond Review by Alex Grand

Read Alex Grand’s Understanding Superhero Comic Books published by McFarland Books in 2023 with Foreword by Jim Steranko with editorial reviews by comic book professionals, Jim Shooter, Tom Palmer, Tom DeFalco, Danny Fingeroth, Alex Segura, Carl Potts, Guy Dorian Sr. and more.

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I read Dave Sim’s The Strange Death of Alex Raymond last night then re-read Glamourpuss, and it took a solid amount of energy to understand what he was getting at.  First, it accomplishes two things, one of closure since its fifth page finally shows the crash that killed Alex Raymond that had been so painfully, meticulously and slowly approached over his 26 issues of Glamourpuss from 2008-2012. The final shot seen in issue 26 shows from the perspective of both Raymond and Drake their hands in the air, approaching a tree right before impact. The details leading up to this climax, including the history of comic illustration, professional jealousy, and the midlife crisis of both artists tirelessly tracked down and documented through property documents, artist interviews and newspaper clippings over the 26 issues finally led to the carnage it has promised.

However, the forensic detective work by Sim immediately breaks into a metaphysical exploration of how things got to that point, and if there was something larger than “one-up-man ship” that brought these two photorealists to intersect in this cataclysm.  As Glamourpuss concludes, the strangeness begins in The Strange Death of Alex Raymond which rehashes some of Glamourpuss and adds new material regarding King Feature Syndicate editor and Rip Kirby writer, Ward Greene to go into the metaphysical.  It’s a partial sequel prequel.  Like Twin Peaks: Fire Walk With Me which actually required the aid of illustrator, Carson Grubaugh to finish the last chapter due to Sim’s “wrist ailment.”  Pieces of data are brought together beyond Glamourpuss like Kirby comics dated in 1949, the deaths of cast members of Gone With the Wind, and the lives and deaths of William Seabrook and Aleisteir Crowley that puts together a numerological and occult picture that there is more to the car accident than meets the logical eye.

There are two sides to this, one is the rational that says it feels like the comics history version of A Beautiful Mind regarding the Nobel prize winner, John Forbes Nash.  There is a piecing together of unrelated occurrences to make a point not proven by any rational conduct.  On the metaphysical and likely irrational end, it is Sim looking at Ward Greene, the writer of the Rip Kirby strip and editor of King Features comics line, as a nefarious occultist who hexed Raymond into his car crash that killed him.  Sim uses odd facts that are likely coincidences to  support and try to triangulate the idea that a large reality altering magic from Greene existed which used script, art and mass publication to effect reality.  It definitely sounds like a conspiracy theory, but Greene did intersect for many years with known occultist and cannibal William Seabrook who also intersected with Aleister Crowley.

It seems to me that Sim likely discovered this on the internet after 2012 and before 2021 when this book was released because Greene isn’t overtly emphasized as an occultist in Glamourpuss.  Stan Drake who was in the car with Raymond, drew the Heart of Juliet Jones which is said here to be sourced from Margaret Mitchell the writer of Gone with the Wind, who also had dealings with Greene and also died in a car accident.  This story had much less to do with the details of the actual accident and more to do with a conspiracy theory that can’t be proven by any forensic sciences.  But it’s certainly intriguing and adds some (likely fictional) backstory to these historic names including an inferred jealousy by Raymond toward Drake and a spiritually carnivorous nature to Greene.

Sim also analyzes illustration in comics using comic strips that I’ve read reprints of like Flash Gordon, Rip Kirby, Secret Agent Corrigan, etc.  His classification of the three and maybe four types of comic illustration into Non-Stylized realism (Foster), Stylized realism (Raymond) and Cartoon Realism (Caniff) and analysis of brush techniques was certainly informative, as well as the spotlight on Photorealism as compared to Non-Stylized realism.  The photorealism seems more an aspect of the advertising world where it seeks to capture an emotional moment as opposed to non-stylized realism which he describes as more about symmetry and partially expressionless layout.  I enjoyed it, it wasn’t what I expected. I felt unsettled like I finished a David Lynch movie.  Metaphysically, maybe I just did…

Pic description: Ward Greene (left) Margaret Mitchell (right) page from book (middle).  David Lynch’s eyes (bottom) because Lynch could make a hell of a movie out of this.

More on Greene and Seabrook here:


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