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Al Williamson Alex Raymod Artists - Cartoonists Flash Gordon Ramblings & Reviews

Adventure Strip Finales

With the Amazing Spider-man comic strip going to reprints for the time being, Roy Thomas and Alex Saviuk’s run on the strip has come to an end. March 17 was the last Sunday with March 23 being the last daily.

Amazing Spider-Man – Roy Thomas, Alex Saviuk and Joe Sinnott
March 17, 2019
Amazing Spider-Man – Roy Thomas, Alex Saviuk and Joe Sinnott
March 23, 2019

The Spider-Man strip started out January 3, 1977 written by Stan Lee and drawn by John Romita. Following Stan Lee’s run on the strip Roy Thomas had written the strip uncredited for a number of years (more on that at SyFy.com). Artists that followed Romita included Fred Kida, Larry Lieber, and most recently Alex Saviuk with Joe Sinnott inks.

After the announcement of the strip’s finale, Joe Sinnott’s son Mark posted the following to his Dad’s Facebook page.

Truly the end of an era!

With adventure strips being far and few between on today’s comics page, I thought it would be of interest to look at a few notable comic strip finales.

Note: Thanks to Allen Lane who posted a number of these to the Yahoo Classic Adventure Comic Strip Group.


Buz Sawyer was created by Roy Crane and first appeared November 1, 1943. Crane worked on the strip until his death in 1977. Crane’s replacement was Henry G. Schlensker who worked on the strip from 1977-1983. Schlensker was followed by John Celardo who worked on it from 1983–1989. Upon Celardo’s sign-off, King Features discontinued the strip.

Buz Sawyer – John Celardo
October 7, 1989

Buck Rogers by writer Philip Francis Nowlan and artist Dick Calkins debuted on January 7, 1929. Writers following Nolan included Rick Yager (who also drew it), Jack Lehti, Ray Russell, Fritz Leiber and Howard Liss. Artists following Calkins included Russell Keaton, Rick Yager and George Tuska.

Howard Liss and George Tuska’s finale strip appeared June 13, 1965.

Buck Rogers – Howard Liss and George Tuska
June 13, 1965

The strip was given a second life in 1979 by writer Jim Lawrence and artist Gray Morrow, followed by writer Cary Bates and artist Jack Sparling. The finale strip appearing December 25, 1983.

Buck Rogers – Cary Bates and Jack Sparling
December 25, 1983

One of the most memorable finales for a comic strip happened before the strip in question actually even ended. I’m talking of course of Milton Caniff’s Terry and the Pirates.

Looking to have the financial stability of ownership of his strip (something Caniff was denied at Tribune-News Syndicate with Terry), he accepted an offer from the Field Newspaper Syndicate to create a new strip that he would have ownership of. That strip would be Steve Canyon.

In Caniff’s iconic final Sunday page Terry says goodbye to Jane Allen as Caniff says goodbye to his Terry and the Pirates readers.

The story so far – Romance is in the air for Terry and Jane Allen until it’s discovered that her old flame, Snake Tumblin, is still alive and in a base hospital somewhere in Australia. Sacrificing his own happiness, Terry secures Jane a flight and escorts her to the airfield…

Terry and the Pirates – Milton Caniff
December 29, 1946

That last panel is the killer as Caniff adds a double meaning to the writing on the wall.

As pointed out by R.C. Harvey in the foreward to the Complete Terry and the Pirates Volume 6, the Sunday page was not the last strip Caniff drew. Because the Sunday pages were due well in advance of the dailies, the following daily strip – printed the day before the momentous final Sunday page – was actually the last strip drawn.

Terry and the Pirates – Milton Caniff
December 28, 1946

Caniff’s replacement on Terry and the Pirates would be George Wunder, who would go on to draw the strip for another 26 years. Here’s Wunder’s last Sunday page.

Terry and the Pirates – George Wunder
February 25, 1973

Terry and the Pirates would be revived in 1995 by Michael Uslan with art by the Brothers Hildebrandt. The following year they left the strip and were replaced by writer Jim Clark and artist Dan Spiegle. A year after that the strip was discontinued.

Terry and the Pirates – Jim Clark and Dan Spiegle
July 27, 1997

Secret Agent X-9 began on January 22, 1934. It was created by writer Dashiell Hammett (The Maltese Falcon) and drawn by artist Alex Raymond (Flash Gordon). Writers that followed Hammett in those early years included Don Moore and Leslie Charteris. The artists that followed after Raymond left the strip were Nicholas Afonsky and Austin Briggs. In the 1940s Mel Graff took over the writing and drawing chores, followed by Bob Lubbers (pseudonym “Bob Lewis”) in the 1960s.

From 1967 to 1980 the strip was written by Archie Goodwin and drawn by Al Williamson and relaunched as Secret Agent Corrigan. Here’s Goodwin and Williamson’s last strip from February 2, 1980.

Secret Agent Corrigan – Archie Goodwin and Al Williamson
February 2, 1980

Following Goodwin and Williamson was veteran cartoonist George Evans. Evans would write and draw the strip until 1980. Upon Evans’s decision to retire from producing the strip, King opted to discontinue it.

Secret Agent Corrigan – George Evans
February 10, 1996

Another comic strip Alex Raymond started back in 1934 was the topper to his famous Flash Gordon strip, and that was Jungle Jim. Artists that followed Raymond on the strip were John Mayo and Paul Norris. After a 20 year run Jungle Jim wrapped up in 1954.

Jungle Jim – Paul Norris
August 8, 1954

Rip Kirby premiered March 4, 1946 and was also created by Alex Raymond. Raymond’s work on Rip Kirby would win him the Reuben Award in 1949 for “Outstanding Cartoonist of the Year.”

Alex Raymond’s career was cut short in 1956, when at age 46, he was killed in a car crash. King Features sought out a replacement and found it in John Prentice. After John Prentice died in 1999 (after an amazing 43 year run on Rip Kirby) the decision was made by King Features to discontinue the strip. Frank Bolle would ghost the final week (to “ghost is when an artist fills in for another artist by mimicking his style).

Rib Kirby – Ghosted by Frank Bolle
June 26, 1999

Alex Raymond’s most renowned comic strip, Flash Gordon, first appeared January 7, 1934. It has had a number of artists and writers over the years (myself included), some of whom I highlighted on this Sunday page.

Flash Gordon – December 26, 1999.

Quick side note: Bob Fujatani (who worked with Dan Barry on Flash Gordon) gave a great interview recently to the the Connecticut Post talking about his career in comics. Here’s the link: At 97, Flash Gordon Artist Bob Fujitani Remembers Cartooning’s Golden Age


The Flash Gordon Dailies were discontinued on two occasions. The first in 1944 shows Flash, Dale and Dr. Zarkov in a ticker tape parade having returned from Mongo after successfully saving the Earth.

Flash Gordon – Austin Briggs
June 3, 1944

The dailies were revived in the 1950s with artist Dan Barry at the helm. In 1990 the dailies were taken over by Bruce Jones as writer and Ralph Reese as artist, followed by artist Gray Morrow upon Reese’s departure. A Buenos Aires studio of artists were hired in 1991 with writing alternating between Kevin Van Hook and Thomas Warkentin. The last daily would be in 1993

Flash Gordon – Thomas Warkentin and a Buenos Aires studio
July 3, 1993

Meanwhile the Flash Gordon Sunday page had been running continuously since 1934. I started my tenure writing/drawing Flash on January 21, 1996. It was a fun run, but after a failed contract renegotiation, I deciding to bow out. My last strip, and Flash Gordon’s finale, appeared March 16, 2003.

Flash Gordon – Jim Keefe
March 16, 2003

The inspiration for my sign-off was the ending of the first Flash Gordon serial starring Buster Crabbe (Flash Gordon), Jean Rogers (Dale Arden) and Frank Shannon (Dr. Zarkov).

Flash Gordon serial – 1936

Originally I had a slightly more surreal ending planned in a Sunday page I did in collaboration with Mutts creator Patrick McDonnell. It was never meant to be though as the page was rejected by the editor up at King Features – his thoughts being “It really didn’t work as a Flash Gordon page.”

Patrick did an end run though and asked the editor, that if it wasn’t going to see print as a Flash Gordon page, could it be used as a Mutts page. The go ahead was given and it eventual saw print on March 23, 2003 as a Mutts Sunday page (with the Flash Gordon title kept intact).

Mutts – Jim Keefe and Patrick McDonnell
March 23, 2003

Note: As mentioned, these are just a FEW notable adventure strip finales. Any more you think are missing? Enter your suggestions in the comments section below.

Closing Thoughts…

Adventure strips reigned when newspapers comic strips were printed large and there was room to tell a story. Just compare the two Sunday pages below from 1934 and 2002.

On the left, Flash Gordon 2/25/1934 by AlexRaymond.
On the right, Flash Gordon 11/10/2002 by Joe Kubert.

Since 2002 (the image on the above right) comic strip Sunday pages have regrettably shrunken even smaller. Here’s an example of my hometown paper the Star Tribune (my hand shown on the bottom left for scale). Unless you have a jewelers eye loupe you’re at a loss…


Here’s a comic page artist Terry Beatty (Ms. Tree, Rex Morgan M.D.) wrote and drew for Big Funny back in 2009 that really drives the point home.

Big Funny – Terry Beatty

Granted all is not doom and gloom – whereas adventure strips in the newspaper may be withering on the vine, we’re in a golden age as far as comic strip collections being published. Check out the Library of American Comics, and Fantagraphics to name just a few.

I also feel like comic strips, and in particular continuity strips, are being given a renewed life and readership online as fans of the medium now have the ability to binge weeks worth at a time. The big two comic strip sites being King Feature’s Comics Kingdom and AMU’s GoComics.

And even though comic book sales have shrunk over the years, graphic novels have increased in popularity. From a recent article in Publishers Weekly; “Over the past five years, the North American graphic novel market has welcomed a wave of new readers and grown from about $805 million in sales in 2012 to more than $1 billion in 2017.”


In the early 1900s onwards comic strips reigned supreme. By the 1940s comic books had taken off. In the 1960s indie comics/undergrounds entered the fray. In the 1980s self-published/alternative comics joined in at the same time graphic novels were just getting their sea legs. In the 1990s online content joined the mix. And now in the 21st century graphic novels have taken flight. And that’s not to say comic strips and comic books have been replaced and have gone away, it’s just that they aren’t the only game in town anymore.

Cartoons, comics, graphic novels – whatever you want to call it – the packaging keeps changing, but sequential art is just as popular now as it’s ever been. And as long as the stories are strong and the artwork delivers, the art form will continue to have an audience.

And that’s my two cents. See you in the funny papers…

-Jim Keefe

Categories
Al Williamson

The Homecoming

The Homecoming
Author: Archie Goodwin
Art: Al Williamson
Creepy #112 (August 1979)
Reprinted in Creepy #137 (May 1982)

This is a story I was incredibly fortunate enough to see the original art to when I visited Al Williamson in October of 1998.

Al mentioned that Bruce Jones scripted the original concept (if I am remembering correctly), but after Al drew it he felt something was missing and shelved it. Al then talked to his good friend Archie Goodwin about it and Goodwin offered to rewrite it (changing the focus and making it much darker than the original).

It is one of my favorite Goodwin/Williamson collaborations.

Categories
Al Williamson Neal Adams

Neal Adams on Al Williamson

Flash

“He (Al Williamson) was the inheritor of the Alex Raymond school, and he was the logical inheritor of the Flash Gordon comic strips, and he did not get them because people making decisions for those things were stupid. And remain stupid. But it doesn’t matter anymore because nobody cares about comic strips.”

Neal Adams from an interview by Comic Book Resources.

Categories
Al Williamson Artists - Cartoonists Flash Gordon Sally Forth

Sally Forth – Photo Reference

Sometimes to get the right pose for a character you’re drawing you need to take some photo reference – and 10 times out of 10 the model who’s usually available and works the cheapest is yourself.

Along these lines, one of the artists I’ve always looked up to is Al Williamson.

Al.bio

Williamson took reference shots of himself constantly to nail down a drawing. The following pic is from the book The Art of Al Williamson with the corresponding drawing from his adaption of the 1980 Flash Gordon Movie.

Photo.Ref.02


For the EC comic books from the 1950s,
Al’s friends would lend a hand as well…

Photo.Ref.03

Frazetta


Suffice it to say, Williamson had the build to pull off
the heroic shots he wanted to capture.

Williamson


And following in this grand tradition, the following is the photo reference I used to capture the shot I needed for Ted for the January 24th Sally Forth strip.

Jan_24

And the finished strip…

01.24


Maybe someday I’ll post the photo reference I took when I was doing Flash Gordon – suffice it to say I wore pants on my head a lot less…

Categories
Al Williamson Artist Spotlight Artists - Cartoonists Flash Gordon

Al Williamson – Flash Gordon Sunday pages

One of the highlights of doing Flash Gordon was the opportunity to work with Al Williamson (1931-2010).

This first page ran on November 7, 1999.
The layout and partial penculs are by Al, the finished inks are by me.

Click on image to see larger.


This next page is all Al and the last Flash Gordon piece he did that saw print.
July 8, 2001

Flash2001_07_08

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Backstory on the November 7th strip:

During the summer of 1998 I was working on staff as a colorist at King Features Syndicate. King was gearing up to move from the building it had occupied for decades and I got a tip that a number of old files were being thrown out. I was told that if I was up for it I could go through the trash and keep whatever I wanted as the files mostly consisted of decades old paperwork and files of proof sheets from a myriad of projects/collections that spanned back for years and years.

Rooting through the dumpster I eventually came upon a a lost treasure – proof sheets of Al Williamson’s work on Flash Gordon from the old 1960’s King Comics. I could not believe my luck. Now this was around the time that Marvel was withholding artwork from Jack Kirby. That being the case I got Williamson’s contact info from our Comics Editor Tom Daning who had worked with Al two years prior, and – after making copies for myself – sent off the proof sheets.

About a week later I got a call from Al. He thanked me, then told me how all the artwork from that first issue of Flash Gordon he had drawn had been stolen years ago. He greatly appreciated receiving the package of proof sheets from out of the blue – so much so in fact that he invited me out to his studio.

Al Williamson in his studio inking a Star Wars movie adaptation – October 1998.

I am still in awe of the original artwork I saw that day. His own, and from his personal collection; Alex Raymond, Hal Foster and much, much more…

Since I was the hired hand on Flash Gordon at the time, I inquired whether or not he would be interested in doing artwork for a Flash Sunday page. Granted, I knew he hadn’t had the best working conditions/relations with King in the past, so I was unsure if he’d be up for it. As he was under deadline inking a Star Wars book at the time he politely declined and I left it at that.

Skip ahead a year…
Al would call me from time to time just to check in on how work was going and how the family was doing. By the fall of 1999 I decided to inquire again if he would be interested in doing a Flash page. At this time he said he’d be up for it, but he had two conditions.

1:  That he’d have plenty of lead time.
2:  Under no circumstance would he accept payment.

He wasn’t able to finish the page due to other deadline commitments, but he did provide a beautiful layout. What follows is the inking study he worked up on tracing paper.

Click on to see larger.

Williamson’s method of working up a page starts with an inked rough (to size). First laid out in pencil, Williamson then goes over it with ink to start tightening it up. He explained that comic pages he does the whole job on (pencils and inks) he literally ends up inking the page twice.

Click on to see larger.

I believe he later changed the figure of Dale because it was derivative of a drawing he had done shortly before this for another project.

Al blocked in partial pencils onto Bristol, then sent me the tracing paper so I could see what he intended. Due to time constraints he wasn’t able to pencil the inset characters.

And here’s my inks.

Click on to see larger.

I can’t say enough about how great a guy Al Williamson was, not just as an artist but as a mentor and friend.

For more on Al Williamson’s work on Flash (including these pages) I highly recommend Flesk publications’ Al Williamson’s Flash Gordon. The book includes an essay by Mark Schultz, and the art is beautifully shot from the originals whenever possible.

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If Flash Gordon isn’t in your local paper, you can check it out online at…

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