Flash Gordon Year One – Learning Curve


In 1995 I was hired as the writer and artist of the Flash Gordon comic strip (my first Sunday page appeared January 21, 1996). It was my first big freelance gig, and as with all freelance work, you have whatever skills you’ve attained up to that point and then you learn on the job. My first year doing Flash Gordon it was very much about getting a feel for the characters and getting the look right.

Nightfall on Mongo was my second story that first year and I opted for werewolves as being the antagonists. I mean, who doesn’t like werewolves, right?

Drop panel from 5/26/1996

Flash comes upon Thorne, the wounded survivor of a downed craft.

Click on image to see larger.

I based Thorne’s look off of Kurt Russell.

One thing in this story that sticks out like a sore thumb to me now is the environment and wardrobe. Instead of an alien world Flash might as well be in upstate Minnesota. Also, I modified a helicopter by taking off the propellers so that it would look like a small spacecraft  – instead it just ended up looking like a helicopter without propellers…

Original art – Click on image to see larger.

Realizing I needed some strong feedback to strengthen my work, I sent pages to a couple of syndicated artists I was corresponding with at the time – George Evans and Bud Blake. Shown below are the critiques I got.

George Evans (1920-2001)

Bud Blake (1918-2005)

As far as critiques go, friends and family tend to pull punches – professionals get the job done. I had the basics down storytelling-wise, but both George and Bud showed me that I needed to amp things up. I can’t stress enough how invaluable their input was.

I’d like to add that for George and Bud to take the time to sketch up short tutorials and mail them out to me was beyond generous – especially with the ever present syndicate deadlines they were under.

As far as my learning curve went, the next story I did I purposely retold Flash Gordon’s origin in order to give myself a refresher course on all things Mongo-esque.


More Flash Gordon Flashbacks to follow…

And if you’d like to see more of my work on Flash Gordon,
King Features is currently re-releasing the strips at FlashGordon.com.
Hope you check them out!

About Jim Keefe

Jim Keefe is the current artist of the Sally Forth comic strip, he is also the writer and artist of the Flash Gordon comic strip - both available at ComicsKingdom.com. A graduate of the Joe Kubert School, Keefe likewise teaches Comic Art. Teaching and speaking engagements include SVA in Manhattan, Hofstra’s UCCE Youth Programs, The University of Minnesota and most recently the Minneapolis College of Art and Design.
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