cover image The Strange Death of Alex Raymond

The Strange Death of Alex Raymond

Dave Sim and Carson Grubaugh. Living the Line, $39.99 (320p) ISBN 978-1-73686-050-2

Nearly a decade in the making, with Grubaugh joining to complete the ambitious undertaking, the Eisner Award–winning Sim (Cerebus) unveils his obsessively detailed, demanding, and dazzling history of Alex Raymond, a comic strip golden age great. The Flash Gordon, Rip Kirby, and Secret Agent X-9 series artist is viewed through a 20th-century photo-realist comic style, mimicking Raymond’s own true-to-life fine-line illustration technique. In the tradition of Scott McCloud’s Understanding Comics, Sim as narrator recounts history and art theory in a conversational analytical tone, using scenes to demonstrate technical details, such as how Raymond’s trademark inking style arose via tweaks to his brushes. Other period figures who make appearances include Hal Foster (the Prince Valiant series), Milton Caniff (Terry and the Pirates), and Al Williamson (EC comics). Sim's storytelling weaknesses, though, are jarring and sometimes self-indulgent: a wobbly foray into metafiction of a comic shop manager reading the book, and recreations of uncited conversations or imagined inner thoughts that undermine legitimacy. Grubaugh capably completes final chapters that Sim had paused due to physical and mental health issues (as well as his misogynist public comments, which left him with a tarnished reputation). While sometimes baffling, the passion for comics history is evidenced in each dense and detailed page. Sim’s enthusiasm for the subject is contagious and his imposing artistry undeniable. (Sept.)