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The Strange Death of Alex Raymond

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Legendary creator Dave Sim is renowned world-wide for his groundbreaking Cerebus the Aardvark. Now, in The Strange Death of Alex Raymond, Sim brings to life the history of comics' greatest creators, using their own techniques. Equal parts Understanding Comics and From Hell, Strange Death is a head-on collision of ink drawing and spiritual intrigue, pulp comics and movies, Legendary creator Dave Sim is renowned world-wide for his groundbreaking Cerebus the Aardvark. Now, in The Strange Death of Alex Raymond, Sim brings to life the history of comics' greatest creators, using their own techniques. Equal parts Understanding Comics and From Hell, Strange Death is a head-on collision of ink drawing and spiritual intrigue, pulp comics and movies, history and fiction. The story traces the lives and techniques of Alex Raymond (Flash Gordon, Rip Kirby), Stan Drake (Juliet Jones), Hal Foster (Prince Valiant), and more, dissecting their techniques through recreations of their artwork, and highlighting the metatextual resonances that bind them together.


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Legendary creator Dave Sim is renowned world-wide for his groundbreaking Cerebus the Aardvark. Now, in The Strange Death of Alex Raymond, Sim brings to life the history of comics' greatest creators, using their own techniques. Equal parts Understanding Comics and From Hell, Strange Death is a head-on collision of ink drawing and spiritual intrigue, pulp comics and movies, Legendary creator Dave Sim is renowned world-wide for his groundbreaking Cerebus the Aardvark. Now, in The Strange Death of Alex Raymond, Sim brings to life the history of comics' greatest creators, using their own techniques. Equal parts Understanding Comics and From Hell, Strange Death is a head-on collision of ink drawing and spiritual intrigue, pulp comics and movies, history and fiction. The story traces the lives and techniques of Alex Raymond (Flash Gordon, Rip Kirby), Stan Drake (Juliet Jones), Hal Foster (Prince Valiant), and more, dissecting their techniques through recreations of their artwork, and highlighting the metatextual resonances that bind them together.

30 review for The Strange Death of Alex Raymond

  1. 4 out of 5

    Alex Sarll

    'A Metaphysical History of Comics Photorealism', and a loopy project in so many ways that I don't even know where to start. If you're aware of Dave Sim it's almost certainly from Cerebus, which started off as a so-so Conan spoof, morphed into a masterpiece expanding the frontiers of comics as an art form, and then spiralled off into a mess of horrible gender politics; deeply idiosyncratic hermeneutics; and worst of all, Three Stooges riffs. After 300 issues of that, which to my knowledge is stil 'A Metaphysical History of Comics Photorealism', and a loopy project in so many ways that I don't even know where to start. If you're aware of Dave Sim it's almost certainly from Cerebus, which started off as a so-so Conan spoof, morphed into a masterpiece expanding the frontiers of comics as an art form, and then spiralled off into a mess of horrible gender politics; deeply idiosyncratic hermeneutics; and worst of all, Three Stooges riffs. After 300 issues of that, which to my knowledge is still a unique feat for one creator, it was anyone's guess what would come next, but I'm pretty sure nobody had money on a fashion mag pastiche interleaved with a history/conspiracy theory of photorealist artwork in comics. Parts of the latter strand of which Sim then decided to rework as this project – only to find himself pretty much unable to draw on account of a mystery ailment. Thus, it reaches us now with a new conclusion by Carson Grubaugh, working from Sim's rough layouts as far as they go, and then attempting to put some kind of ending on a project which, even aside from that mystery malady, was probably unfinishable in any real sense. As Sim himself said, in an interview Grubaugh quotes, "The story was huge...and it was...it wasn't just huge, it was impossibly huge." How come? Surely Alex Raymond was one man, who died in one car crash 65 years ago? Isn't the cold case investigation one of the standard story formats of our age? How could it get so thoroughly out of hand? Well. Let's take as an example the section where Sim goes into great detail exploring comics cover-dated July-August 1949 which contain echoes of the life of Margaret Mitchell – finding so many that it "stretched the concept of a coincidence up to – and well beyond – any rational breaking point". You know, Margaret Mitchell as in wrote Gone With The Wind. Was she involved in the crash? Did she know Alex Raymond? Not as such. As for the limits of coincidence...well, there were an awful lot of comics published in any given month of the 1940s, and speaking as someone with pretty high-grade apophenia myself, finding connections between any two things really isn't that difficult. Particularly when you bear in mind how many ways there are to find a link. So, if we confine ourselves to the numerology, here are three connections at which Sim points across the course of this book: "(Stan Drake is born November 9, 1921, the day after Margaret Mitchell's twenty-first birthday.) (Seven seven seven)" A comic with a cover recalling the Gone With The Wind premiere fourteen years earlier – "(Seven seven)" "Stan Drake died forty-nine years, to the day, after Zelda Fitzgerald. Forty-nine. Seven Seven." There are a lot of players here, and a lot of multiples of seven, and then on top of that it doesn't even have to be the same day – the day after is fine too! Lords know I'm prone to this sort of stuff myself at times, but I try to remember Ken Campbell's golden rule: "Don’t believe in anything – but you can suppose everything." Sim, on the other hand, is big on believing; this is, after all, a man who follows all three Abrahamic religions. In short, you know that image/GIF used to indicate conspiracy mania, the wild-eyed guy with the bits of paper pinned to the wall, convinced he's just conclusively proved that the Beatles were all replaced or jet fuel doesn't melt steel beams or whatever the fuck it is this week? The sensation of reading The Strange Death Of Alex Raymond is an awful lot like that, except if the wall behind him were, while remaining just as baffling, absolutely beautiful. Sim was always, after all, whatever one might think of him as a writer or a thinker or even a person, one hell of an artist. The best letterer comics ever had, too, but that's less on display here. The point is, the guy could draw, and he taught himself to do it all over again here, trying to unlock the secrets of Raymond and his peers. None of whose work I really know, incidentally – obviously I'm aware of Flash Gordon, but more through the film and the cartoon than the original strips. The likes of Rip Kirby, or The Heart Of Juliet Jones, I only know from reading Sim's account of them, seeing his reproductions of the panels. Whether his inferences about Raymond's methods are commonplace, innovative, or outlandish, I couldn't tell you. Someone who knows this material, or someone who can draw, would be much better placed to say; all I know is that it's fascinating to read, and gorgeous to behold. Sim asks of Raymond, "How did he maintain the precision of his brush stroke, the consistency of his brush stroke and the length of his brush stroke over wide areas?" These are questions worth answering, and also questions which are at least potentially answerable. There's also the fact that this whole set of cartoonists, but Raymond most of all, were doing work which would be reproduced quite shabbily in the newspapers of the day, which simply weren't up to printing the fine lines their art used for shading, so in a sense their greatest achievements, and much of their effort, were purely for their own benefit and that of the very few people who'd see the originals. Now, isn't that a wonderful study in how artists think? And it works; what the original readers of the papers saw was fine, but what's here is gorgeous, and those components are worked into fabulous layouts, counterpointing old panels as part of a wider whole. Sim clearly feels an attraction to this set, for all he may not approve of their morals. He quotes Neal Adams, a bridge between Raymond's era of comics and Sim's: "These were guys who dressed in three-button suits and lived in Connecticut and drove sports cars. And it was a group of them. A whole bunch of them. If they didn't live in Connecticut, they lived as if they lived in Connecticut and they all dressed the same." A more elegant time, as against the jeans and t-shirts which Sim insists all modern comics types wear (again, quite the generalisation, but I'm going to try to do better than Sim about not going down every rabbit hole I pass). So little wonder if he starts putting himself in their heads; method art has a long and often fruitful history, and it comes as no great surprise that Sim finds it easier to ink like Alex Raymond when he thinks like Alex Raymond, imagining that he needs to hurry up with this panel so he can go drive his sports car (Sim himself, just to be clear, lives a very spartan and entirely sports-car-free life). The problem arises with some of the other stuff Sim finds going through his mind while thinking like Raymond, which he then brings back as proof positive. So, early on, of the headlong ride in fellow cartoonist Stan Drake's car which would end in Raymond's death, with Drake thrown clear: "The central fact: it had been, unquestionably, a murderously aggressive act on Raymond's part." It's that 'unquestionably', isn't it? Not supposing, but fervently believing to the extent of stating as solid fact. And that may seem bold, but really it's only the edges of the deep, dark wood we're about to enter. "No one but Raymond - in 1946 - could have seriously contemplated such a thing. A metaphysical event...and process...without precedent or equal: into unexplored inner – and upper – reaches of ultra-realistic incarnation. An event and process into which – and within which – Raymond would soon find himself completely subsumed.... And which would – ultimately – destroy him." "Alex Raymond – in developing Rip Kirby – is becoming the first human being to methodically and purposefully shatter the metaphysical realism barrier". In short, Sim argues, and apparently feels that he has proved, that Alex Raymond unleashed something through the meticulous realism of his developing art style. Something which would lead to his death. The thing is, while that's plainly bonkers by currently accepted standards of consensus reality, I don't necessarily disagree. "The creator shapes the comic art, and the comic art in turn shapes the creator. And sometimes, some times, the comic art snaps the creator in two." Yeah, why not? Two of my favourite comics writers are magicians. One, Alan Moore, created the character of John Constantine, and then met him, an experience several subsequent Constant writers have also had. Grant Morrison, on the other hand, created a sexy protagonist called King Mob in order to reap the benefits of giving him exactly the sort of girlfriend Morrison wanted, but forgot that King Mob was also going to get tortured in the course of the story, suffering injuries which were then mirrored on Morrison. I have no problem whatsoever with supposing these stories to be true. But some of the conclusions Sim reaches from this point are, and I say this as someone who just accepted comics writers meeting their characters, a bit on the batshit side. The problem isn't just that Sim's argument is wrong, it's that in places it's not even clear what argument he's making – again, remember that conspiracy image. Clearly it's something about the comics and the lives reflecting into each other, what Moore and Morrison would call magic but Sim scrupulously leaves as 'metaphysics'. Occasionally the ideas on gender which detonated his popularity intrude, still managing to sound out-there even in the age of innumerable online incels: "Fictitious, light-projected female giantism, by 1950, all but overwhelms the actual female psyche, the female sense of actual self. Actresses' actual lives are a brief and unhappy adventure of nightmarishly long hours worked at fictitious pretence interspersed with sequential adulteries and fornications...in place of the happy, lifelong married lives all women actually desire." But there's less of this than you might think. And it probably doesn't help that permission was refused to use Margaret Mitchell's words, so the Peanuts-style Sim from one of two framing devices that never quite resolve themselves gets pasted over all the quotes from her – a couple of times, there are as many as nine of him spawning like pop-ups all over a single page. But all the same, I like to think I'm at least moderately good at following a complicated argument, and I was still unclear why we were even talking about Margaret Mitchell in the first place. Finally, we get there, and – SPOILER, maybe, if the concept even applies here – Sim explains the crux of it all. Raymond's scripter, Ward Greene, was a racist who wanted to do a Gone With The Wind comic, while also having the leeway to adapt it as he saw fit. And, says Sim, the threat was "A Ward Greene-ghosted Gone With The Wind comic strip, powered by the metaphysical juggernaut of Alex Raymond's increasingly realistic drawings, if it would (or had) (or would) come into existence, bringing about a mid-twentieth century revival of the racist Southern Confederacy." A threat which seems at once ridiculous, and inconsequential. There are mentions elsewhere in the book of the Klan's mid-twentieth century revival, the outrages they perpetrated. More recently we had the early twenty-first century revival endorsed by the literal President. Neither of which needed an Alex Raymond comic making Gone With The Wind more racist. Still, at least we've had an argument of sorts; phew. Maybe now we'll get back to that car crash... "Arguably, early eighteenth-century Ireland is the metaphysical lynchpin in all this". It is? And we're into Margaret Mitchell as iteration of an old infernal presence. That sort of fizzles out, just in time for Aleister Crowley and Krazy Kat, neither of whom has been mentioned up to this point, to take the stage, linked by "Reporter, adventurer, future self-confessed cannibal and lifelong obsessive bondage fetishist William Seabrook". You might think that bit about cannibalism would merit explanation, but no, it just gets left there (though I infer that it's from an account of some ceremony in which he participated, recounted in one of his travel books?). By this point Carson Grubaugh, "skeptical, but spooked", has taken over from true believer Sim, and for me he's a much easier guide to follow, both logically and emotionally. He takes a middle path, prepared to accept a bottom-up version of the 'metaphysics', that comics creators explore patterns and get caught in the flow – as Sim has done himself, and Grubaugh by continuing... the reader too, of course, by getting this far. The problem being, like any book of any power at all, what it has is catching. So when we get Grubaugh saying "That entire 'top down' conception of exsitence makes no sense, to me" – the reader, or at least this reader, thinks: of all the words to have a typo. And in the picture from which this speech bubble comes, Carson is *sitting*. WHAT DOES IT ALL MEAN? Nothing, probably. Just like the inconsistencies in the reports of Alex Raymond's crash, the details of a windscreen or an ear which Sim triumphantly points out as inaccuracies, are more likely the confusion of a report from a man who's narrowly escaped his own death in the same crash, or shoddy reporting, or both, rather than grand signs and symbols, or evidence of a conspiracy. But that absolute certainty that this can't be the case, that there's a hidden pattern, leaves the whole thing with the tinge of outsider art. Likewise those layouts, the expressive intricacy of the early pages becoming more and more of a tangle as the book goes on, until it's finally stripped back in those last rough layouts. The irony here being that Sim is exactly the sort to disapprove of decadence, but this ramification upon ramification until a work sprawls beyond comprehensibility as it ties itself in knots is as decadent as they come. Please understand, I don't say any of this to dismiss The Strange Death, at least not as art rather than argument. I like some outsider art, and if Richard Dadd had done comics, I think he might have produced a work not unlike this. But bloody hell, even if you don't hold with the whole 'metaphysics' bit, whereby no wonder probing into the 'upper reaches' blew up in Sim's face and left him unable to draw, I can see how drawing something like this would mess your hands up, because it's at the extreme limit of what human digits can reasonably be expected to produce. I could feel my eyes going a bit funny at times, and ended up having to read most of it zoomed in. To be fair, it's worth noting that Grubaugh at least is aware of the issue here – this is a rare case of a Netgalley ARC opening with a note asking us to remember that the book has been prepared for print, and for a larger scale, where I can well imagine it might be more of a sensory delight. Even as is, I'm very glad I read it. Investigate it as you might some gorgeous old map of the four-cornered Earth, marvel at it - just don't believe it.

  2. 4 out of 5

    Mike Dominic

    This book is a beautifully illustrated, cleverly designed and perfectly executed work from a master of the medium. Which makes it all the more unfortunate that is nearly unreadable. In its early stages, the book is quite captivating and, to this artist, inspirational for the quality of Sim's work and the way he makes the work of the photorealist comic artists fresh to new eyes. Sure, there's a hint of conspiracy theory in the subject matter, but that's more than compensated for by the investigati This book is a beautifully illustrated, cleverly designed and perfectly executed work from a master of the medium. Which makes it all the more unfortunate that is nearly unreadable. In its early stages, the book is quite captivating and, to this artist, inspirational for the quality of Sim's work and the way he makes the work of the photorealist comic artists fresh to new eyes. Sure, there's a hint of conspiracy theory in the subject matter, but that's more than compensated for by the investigation into the historic significance of the art style. However, as the book proceeds, the material becomes more uncomfortably existential and meta-textual, making it difficult to not only follow but to reconcile with anything resembling reality. By the time Sim breaks out the numerology ("seven-seven-seven", etc.), it seems that he's gone full tilt into crazypants territory and that's when you know it's time to check out. Dogged readers who make into the section (of which, admittedly, we were forewarned) where Sim has to bow out and Grubaugh takes over will find that by the end of the book, even the subject matter has been abandoned, and the book becomes fully self-referential and inward facing. In the end, it's progression from analytical study through metaphysical exploration to self-absorbed navel-gazing is either a great work of existentialism on a par with Heidegger and Sartre, or a pointless journey down "Who Cares" lane. Still....it's got some pretty pictures, so there's that.

  3. 5 out of 5

    Alex Robinson

    A beautiful book that’s somewhat challenging to read both in terms of content and presentation. The bulk of the art is recreations of various photorealistic cartoonists of the mid-twentieth century who make up the central characters. There isn’t really much of story in the traditional sense—the basic facts of the titular death are dispatched pretty quickly—but it’s Sim’s exploration of the event’s Cosmic Significance that, for better or for worse, make up most the book. Dave Sim is a big believe A beautiful book that’s somewhat challenging to read both in terms of content and presentation. The bulk of the art is recreations of various photorealistic cartoonists of the mid-twentieth century who make up the central characters. There isn’t really much of story in the traditional sense—the basic facts of the titular death are dispatched pretty quickly—but it’s Sim’s exploration of the event’s Cosmic Significance that, for better or for worse, make up most the book. Dave Sim is a big believer in what can best be described as a magical connection between our reality and creativity. Fictional characters and situations will be replicated in real life and vice versa. As Sim sees it, Alex Raymond’s strange death we foreshadowed in (or caused by) events in comics created by him, his contemporaries and others. And not just Raymond—Gone With the Wind author Margaret Mitchell (who gets just as much screen time as Alex Raymond) also died in a car accident which was also a manifestation of various creative works. Other real life people associated with Raymond and Mitchell also had fates that echoed fictional works, and it seems that the more Sim dug the more connections he found. At its best the book reads like an entertaining comics history version of someone pointing out all the fun coincidences when you play Dark Side of the Moon with “The Wizard of Oz.” But eventually the obsessive depth becomes exhausting (if two events happen on the same date years apart or if two people share the similar last name they obviously have a Cosmic Significance, for instance).

  4. 4 out of 5

    Dominick

    What a dumpster fire of a book this is. What credit it does get is for often quite stunning art, though the pages become increasingly difficult to read as the book progresses, not only because of the cluttered imagery but also because text/caption placing becomes increasingly ... complex, I guess, making it difficult to figure out what to read when. This may be part of Sim's point, of course, as the ideas of "layers upon layer upon layers" and (I kid you not) the simultaneity of past, present, a What a dumpster fire of a book this is. What credit it does get is for often quite stunning art, though the pages become increasingly difficult to read as the book progresses, not only because of the cluttered imagery but also because text/caption placing becomes increasingly ... complex, I guess, making it difficult to figure out what to read when. This may be part of Sim's point, of course, as the ideas of "layers upon layer upon layers" and (I kid you not) the simultaneity of past, present, and future are key conceits. One way the layering works--Sim folding in redrawn and recaptioned (sometimes) panels and sequences from various old comic strips and books--is a kind of interesting instance of meta-comics, I guess, but it's in service of frankly batshit crazy nonsense. Sim has invented this idea he calls "Comic book metaphysics": what happens in comics affects reality. His thesis, insofar as it can even be determined, since the work is not only incomplete but also simply expands in its interweaving of dubiously linked events and people as it progresses, without ever concluding, seems to be something about the death of Alex Raymond being tied to the writer of Rip Kirby, Ward Greene, using the strip to encode autobiography and to trying somehow to influence the life of Margaret Mitchell, even though she was killed in a car crash (but so was Alex Raymond! Though Raymond was driving, and Mitchell was a pedestrian....) in 1949, seven years before Raymond's death in 1956, and even though Greene had evidently stopped writing the strip in 1952. How do we know the strip includes encoded autobiographical elements? Well, sometimes, instead of a period or three ellipses appearing following text, only two dots appear. Two dots are Morse code for "I." Obviously, therefore, when these two dots appear, Greene is secretly telling us that "I" (i. e. he) is speaking in his own voice, rather than simply narrating. What other evidence is there, you ask? Well, um ... none, other than Sim's apophenic-induced enumeration of too many links and echoes to ... well, whatever to be explained away as coincidence. (Also, ascribing the eccentricities of punctuation to the author rather than the letterer seems odd.) The pattern grows as the book goes on, until we get to Sim folding in references to a Margaret Mitchell from Ireland two hundred years prior to the events he is ostensibly documenting being "arguably" (credit to Sim for stating that it is merely arguable, not incontrovertible) the "lynchpin" of the whole thing. Again, how this might be is opaque. Sim finds echoes of Margaret Mitchell in various comics women drawn by different hands, because they all look so similar ... which is normative in comics. Sim finds numerological significance in sevens, noting many dates or passages of time that include or add up to multiples of seven. Why is this significant? Who knows? Sim simply notes the numbers. He's also fond of claiming that things happened "exactly" a certain amount of time apart (e. g. two different books published "exactly" two years apart), without explaining why it is significant or even what he means by "exactly": the same day in the two different years? If so, he doesn't provide the dates, or even tell us how he could know (or if he does, I missed it). Eventually, Sim abandoned the project, so the final few dozen pages are cobbled together by collaborator Carson Grubaugh (also no slouch as an artist), from partially completed art. Do we ever actually get to the explanation of Raymond's strange death? Nope. If you want to look at some nice art, this might be worth a glance. If you want some information about the realist school of comics, Sim does have some interesting things to say about the techniques of Raymond and others early in the book. If you want a coherent account of Raymond's death and a clear explanation of what was strange about it, you're out of luck. I laughed frequently reading this, not because it was supposed to be funny but because Sim's manufactured correspondences between events and his inferences about the people whose lives he is ostensibly documenting are frequently laughable in their absurdity, as well as is the absolute confidence in their veracity with which Sim asserts them. Even his collaborator on the project, Carson Grubaugh, wonders in the final part of the book whether Sim is just crazy. I'm gonna say, arguably yes.

  5. 4 out of 5

    Bill Wallace

    I've never read Cerebus and I mostly know Sim's work through friends' recommendations and the controversies he has kicked up over the years, but when I read a brief review of this book that mentioned its unlikely tie to William Seabrook, it went to the top of my reading list. I have no regrets. Having just read a book about Hans Prinzhorn and his curation of the work of "insane" artists, it's difficult not to see this volume as an example of immense artistic talent so blended with an alternate vi I've never read Cerebus and I mostly know Sim's work through friends' recommendations and the controversies he has kicked up over the years, but when I read a brief review of this book that mentioned its unlikely tie to William Seabrook, it went to the top of my reading list. I have no regrets. Having just read a book about Hans Prinzhorn and his curation of the work of "insane" artists, it's difficult not to see this volume as an example of immense artistic talent so blended with an alternate view of reality that the darker foundations of creativity just may peek through. Beautiful drawings and a good survey of photo realistic comic strip art are the wrappings around an obsessive quest for meaning that the artists' mind obsessively extracts from his own perceptions. I won't spoil anything by revealing his premise or the elaborate evidence he brings forth to support it and I will resist passing judgment on anyone's sanity. It may all be art. I believe that it is possible for art, and popular culture, to produce unintentional truth, even foreshadowing things that have not yet happened, because art and culture are born from the same actions and perceptions that shape our common consciousness and that precipitate actual events, but the premise here goes well beyond that notion. As a footnote to the strange world of Willie Seabrook, I found the book totally satisfying. As a guide to a side of comic history I hardly knew, it's excellent, though probably not for the literal-minded. As an example of graphic novel design, it's a masterpiece. Artist Carson Grubaugh deserves enormous credit for his work in completing the story, as much as it is possible to complete something that lends itself to endless layer-peeling. Given the pages spent on the efforts Raymond took to ensure his inked lines survived the printing press, there is certainly an irony in the misprinting of many copies of the book, dropping vital content due to an error in reproduction. Probably not an example of comic strip metaphysics at work, but worth noting since Amazon is still shipping defective copies.

  6. 5 out of 5

    Todd Glaeser

    The 2nd book I never thought that I would see arrived this year. (The first was Monsters.) An enigmatic book that left me enjoyably confused and flabbergasted. A compromise, surely. I'm sure the final product was not what was envisioned way back in Glamourpuss but an immersive experience nonetheless. The 2nd book I never thought that I would see arrived this year. (The first was Monsters.) An enigmatic book that left me enjoyably confused and flabbergasted. A compromise, surely. I'm sure the final product was not what was envisioned way back in Glamourpuss but an immersive experience nonetheless.

  7. 4 out of 5

    Михаил

    Самое мощное когда-либо недописанное произведение, которое пытались дописать. Невероятной силы текст и визуал, обволакивающие четыре (их ведь четыре, правда?) слоя повествования. Обязательная книга для тех, кто хочет лучше ПОНЯТЬ комиксы.

  8. 5 out of 5

    Kalle Vilenius

    It’s difficult to succinctly explain what this book is. There is a framing narrative about Jack, a woman working late at a comic book store, doing the inventory, and in the process discovering the first issue of a mysterious comic, called The Strange Death of Alex Raymond. As she reads it, the issue keeps switching to the next one, and thus we are treated to the entire book-within-the-book, the actual meat of Strange Death. Framing narrative aside, what is The Strange Death of Alex Raymond? Large It’s difficult to succinctly explain what this book is. There is a framing narrative about Jack, a woman working late at a comic book store, doing the inventory, and in the process discovering the first issue of a mysterious comic, called The Strange Death of Alex Raymond. As she reads it, the issue keeps switching to the next one, and thus we are treated to the entire book-within-the-book, the actual meat of Strange Death. Framing narrative aside, what is The Strange Death of Alex Raymond? Large parts of it consist of writer-artist Dave Sim talking to us about the history of realism in comic art, and these lessons in art history are well-researched and demonstrated visually, making it possible to quickly absorb the information presented. As Sim studies the changes in the art styles of people like the eponymous Alex Raymond (author of Flash Gordon and Rip Kirby) or his contemporaries and rivals, like Hal Foster (Prince Valiant), Milton Caniff (Terry and the Pirates) and Stan Drake (The Heart of Juliet Jones), the book turns to not just a study in art history but an in-depth analysis of personal rivalries and behind-the-scenes drama between talented and surprisingly wealthy comic artists. Making this book must’ve been a daunting task, and it did take decades of work. So much of what Sim presents here relies on hearsay or reading between the lines, and he even spends some pages on interpreting body language during a handshake between two people, breaking the image down and making a very compelling case for his interpretation in light of the information he has given us for context. The Strange Death of Alex Raymond is not just a history of realism in comic art presented in comic form, nor is it a simple biography about the rivalries between the founders of the different schools of said realism. It is also a cold-case mystery, with Sim himself acting as a sort of detective, trying to piece together the evidence required to show what really went on when Alex Raymond perished in a fatal car accident. But even this isn’t the whole of it, and the most important reason for why Sim himself appears as a character throughout the book is that this is a book about his own artistic development. Having read the entirety of Cerebus, I’ve had the pleasure of seeing Dave Sim go from his amateurish drawings in 1977 to excellent cartooning skills and constant experimentation. His growth is well documented in the pages of a single, 300-issue series and can be easily followed. But even after Cerebus ended in 2004, he wasn’t done. Some of the latter parts of Cerebus (specifically in Latter Days, volume 15) featured many images that were traced, whether from Ingmar Bergman movies or from fashion magazines, and this trajectory away from cartooning and toward realism would continue in his later career. The study of realism in art is what brought Sim to the old masters this book is about, and thus to the mystery of Raymond’s death, which is generally accepted to have been an open-and-shut case of a man simply driving a car off the road with fatal results. The Strange Death of Alex Raymond is perhaps at its most interesting not when discussing this mystery or even the admittedly fascinating history of comic art, but specifically when Sim is talking shop and exploring the methods by which he learned the techniques of these older artists. Regardless of what your personal opinions are of Dave Sim as a person, his skill as an artist cannot be denied. When he speaks of the interpersonal drama of long-dead artists, this is speculation, even if informed and convincing, and sometimes goes a little weird (the talk of comic-art metaphysics would be right at home in a Grant Morrison comic) but when he speaks of the art itself, he speaks with an unquestionable authority, and his words carry a weight that cannot be ignored. For example, from page 98 onward he demonstrates how to ink with a brush and the inherent problems with it. To achieve the results Raymond did, one would have to spend an exorbitant amount of time on brush maintenance, but this couldn’t be considering the speed with which Raymond worked, and the solution to this problem is something only an artist could have discovered. I’d have been completely stumped. It’s not at all necessary to be an expert in comic art to appreciate this book, though I imagine actual artists will get even more out of it than I ever could. My takeaway is clear, though; Dave Sim the art historian is competent and engaging, Dave Sim the cold-case detective is a bit loony but at least persuasive, and Dave Sim the art style analyst and mimic is the true hero of the book, intrepid, clever and possessing almost magical talents. The book would fit on the shelf right alongside Scott McCloud’s Understanding Comics, Reinventing Comics and Making Comics. There is so much to be said about this book. The visuals demand your attention. There’s pages here, especially the ones having to do with the car crash itself, that have this Katsuhiro Otomo –esque detail that must’ve taken an ungodly amount of labour to draw but that the eye simply skips over during the reading experience. My words cannot adequately describe how impressive it is. It came in at the very end of the year, and I will gladly name The Strange Death of Alex Raymond my book of the year for 2021. Get your hands on it while it’s still available. 5/5

  9. 5 out of 5

    Daniel

    This review originally published in Looking For a Good Book. Rated 2.5 of 5 This is a very difficult graphic novel to review because there are many different aspects to the book. First, the description. Even then is difficult because of the various parts to this novel. Here's a portion of what the publisher has on Goodreads: (Dave) Sim brings to life the history of comics' greatest creators, using their own techniques. ... Strange Death is a head-on collision of ink drawing and spiritual intrigue, This review originally published in Looking For a Good Book. Rated 2.5 of 5 This is a very difficult graphic novel to review because there are many different aspects to the book. First, the description. Even then is difficult because of the various parts to this novel. Here's a portion of what the publisher has on Goodreads: (Dave) Sim brings to life the history of comics' greatest creators, using their own techniques. ... Strange Death is a head-on collision of ink drawing and spiritual intrigue, pulp comics and movies, history and fiction. The story traces the lives and techniques of Alex Raymond (Flash Gordon, Rip Kirby), Stan Drake (Juliet Jones), Hal Foster (Prince Valiant), and more, dissecting their techniques through recreations of their artwork, and highlighting the metatextual resonances that bind them together. A phrase like "metatextual resonances that bind them together" always makes me a little nervous. What drew me first to the book was the name of Alex Raymond. Of course I knew of him as the creator of Flash Gordon, and that was probably enough. But a 'strange death' surrounding Alex Raymond? Was this true? Or was this bait to hook a reader? It turns out that the death itself wasn't particularly strange, but there are enough unusual (and not so unusual) circumstances surrounding Raymond that writer/illustrator Dave Sim (and Carson Grumbaugh) can make multiple connections from Raymond to a number of famous personalities (from Margaret Mitchell to, well, just about anyone with the initials "M.M.") What starts out as an interesting hypothesis and worth following (mostly because of the art, which I'll come back to) slowly devolves into a series of speculations that would make even the most ardent conspiracy theorist raise an eyebrow. At one point (pun slightly intended) near the end of the book, Sim notes that in one of Raymond's works there is an ellipsis that contains only two dots rather than the standard three dots. Now in Morse code, two dots is the code for the letter "I." Clearly this is a sign of Raymond sneaking in the message that he is actually the subject of the story - why else would he put in a secret code saying "I"? By this point I was already pretty much rolling my eyes as Sim kept making all sorts of connections. If you throw out enough crazy ideas or spurious connections, something is bound to hit and feel authentic to someone. The artwork in the book is absolutely outstanding. Sim identifies a number of artists that Raymond worked with and influenced, or was influenced by, and Sim emulates those styles with remarkable detail. Even someone like me, who might not normally notice a difference in art styles, could see how different these artists' styles were. I was particularly impressed with some of the really fine detail. In the first quarter of the book I was highly excited to be reading this, and reading it quite closely. The presentation of material was terrific and I figured this was not only going to be a five star review but possibly my best graphic novel of the year. But Sim inserts himself into the story, questions his own findings and what it means and we lose sight of where this story started and where it's heading because Sim appears to lose sight, and what started on the high ground becomes a conspiracy theorist's dream, with every name, every image, every error holding multiple meanings. What started out as one of my favorite graphic novels (for the art alone), becomes something so convoluted that it's hard to give it any positive rating. Hard, but not impossible. I'll give this two and a half stars just for the art. Looking for a good book? Prepare yourself for a psychedelic, metatextual trip of hidden meanings in art and story in Dave Sim's The Strange Death of Alex Raymond. I received a temporary digital copy of this book from the publisher, through Edelweiss, in exchange for an honest review.

  10. 5 out of 5

    Stephen Dennis

    The Strange Death of Alex Raymond is a difficult book to review. If you're looking into this chances are you are at least familiar with the author Dave Sim. He is best known for his 300 issue comic series Cerebus, which I will maintain is the best comic series of all time. Following Cerebus he did 26 issues of Glamourpuss (which I'm still missing an issue of, so I haven't yet read). In the pages of Glamourpuss he became interested in Alex Raymond's art and his death. So what is Strange Death? I The Strange Death of Alex Raymond is a difficult book to review. If you're looking into this chances are you are at least familiar with the author Dave Sim. He is best known for his 300 issue comic series Cerebus, which I will maintain is the best comic series of all time. Following Cerebus he did 26 issues of Glamourpuss (which I'm still missing an issue of, so I haven't yet read). In the pages of Glamourpuss he became interested in Alex Raymond's art and his death. So what is Strange Death? It's a lot of things. It's partly an unfinished framing sequence of a real girl named Jack who manages a comic book store, it's partly an autobiography of Sim's life since 2004. It's partly the history of newspaper comic art, it's partly a philosophy book on Dave Sim's theory of Comic Art Metaphysics and it's partly a look at the Death of Alex Raymond. There are also a lot of things Strange Death is not. It is not a story with beginning, middle and end. It is not a book that offers a satisfying conclusion (though given Sim's seeming desire to bury the book, we should just thankful we got this much of it. I doubt Dave will see this, but if he does, I may only be speaking for myself here, but I would love to hear how his religious convictions tie in with his theory of Comic Art Metaphysics.) With all that said, Carson Grubah, who is responsible for the last fifty pages, plus actually getting the book published, does an admirable job wrapping it up. His art is nearly as good as Dave's and though he doesn't seem to agree with it, he has a decent grasp on Dave's Comic Art Metaphysics theory and manages to give the broad brushstrokes of how it all ties together in the last twenty odd pages. So should you read Strange Death? If you've read Cerebus and enjoyed it, absolutely. If you just want to look at some of the most beautiful comic art you'll ever see, the book is worth more than the price of admission. Just be aware of what you're getting into. There isn't a cohesive plotline, this isn't a well rounded tale of Alex Raymond's death or even a fully fleshed out look at Comic Art Metaphysics. This is Dave Sim's stream of consciousness as he discovers how Alex Raymond died, how his brushing technique worked and ultimately how he lost faith in the book itself.

  11. 4 out of 5

    Vivienne

    My thanks to Living the Line/Diamond Book Distributors for a digital review copy via NetGalley of ‘The Strange Death of Alex Raymond’ by Dave Sim with Grubaugh Carson. It is due to be published in December 2021. This was a fascinating history of photorealism in comics. It is quite visually complex and at times entered territory that reminded me of Robert Anton Wilson’s wild writings on coincidences and conspiracies. I was able to follow it to some degree though I likely wasn’t as invested as some My thanks to Living the Line/Diamond Book Distributors for a digital review copy via NetGalley of ‘The Strange Death of Alex Raymond’ by Dave Sim with Grubaugh Carson. It is due to be published in December 2021. This was a fascinating history of photorealism in comics. It is quite visually complex and at times entered territory that reminded me of Robert Anton Wilson’s wild writings on coincidences and conspiracies. I was able to follow it to some degree though I likely wasn’t as invested as some readers might be. However, the artwork was stunning and I was very impressed. While I not a huge reader of comics and graphic novels, I do have an interest in art history and aware that illustrations, such as those found in comics, have often been overlooked by art historians. In actuality, comic art has been at times innovative and certainly worthy of study and inclusion in the history of modern art. Dave Sim placed himself in ‘Strange Death’ as its narrator addressing the reader from the printed page, including at times as a Charlie Brown-like character. It appears to have taken a long time to produce the final book due to various issues. Dave Sim had to step aside from its drawing due to a painful malady that effected his wrist. As a result in 2015 Grubaugh Carson, a fellow photorealist artist, was brought in to complete the art in collaboration with Sim. Then in 2020 Sim left the project completely though gave permission to Carson to finish and then publish ‘Strange Death’ in its entirety. This was detailed in Part Five, titled ‘In Dave’s Wake’. I didn’t find this had quite the impact of the earlier sections. In addition, it was rendered in part using blue ink and this proved harder for me to read as the contrast wasn’t as strong as with black ink on white. Overall, I found ‘The Strange Death of Alex Raymond’ a visually detailed, playful and thought-provoking work of meta fiction that was rich in ideas, even if a little ‘out there’ in places. As a result it wasn’t a graphic novel that I could zip through and it took me a considerable amount of time to read it.

  12. 4 out of 5

    Dan

    My thanks to NetGalley and Diamond Book Distributors for an advanced copy of this graphic novel. There is a lot going on in this new work by legendary writer illustrator Dave Sim and Carson Grubaugh. A lot. The Strange Death of Alex Raymond starts I believe as a possible history on the realistic art of the 20th century, moves into metaphysics and numerology and lots of other -isms that you love the art work for, but kind of just fumble around trying to find the plot. A manager doing inventory at My thanks to NetGalley and Diamond Book Distributors for an advanced copy of this graphic novel. There is a lot going on in this new work by legendary writer illustrator Dave Sim and Carson Grubaugh. A lot. The Strange Death of Alex Raymond starts I believe as a possible history on the realistic art of the 20th century, moves into metaphysics and numerology and lots of other -isms that you love the art work for, but kind of just fumble around trying to find the plot. A manager doing inventory at a comic book store is involved too. And the art is just beautiful. Somewhere during the project Mr. Sim developed a mysterious malady that effected his drawing hand, and he was unable to finish. And another artist, Carson Grubaugh was brought in to bring the project to a sense of completion. I won't confess to understanding what I read, but I did enjoy it. The art work is beautiful odd, but you see the images and the joy he was feeling doing it. I just feel guilty that he might have crippled himself trying to do it. The story is not really a story more long discourses, biographical sketches and stories,about the comic legend Alex Raymond, his death and his artistic legacy, which sound normal, but trust me they are not. The weird starts early, and while some of it is interesting, it is not for everyone. This is not much of a review. If you enjoyed Mr.Sim's Cerebus comic series than this might be for you. For a history of the era that Alex Raymond drew in, again this might be for you. It is a very hard call. I personally recommend it, but you might want to give it a good look in the store. If you like the weird, with great artwork, that might not fit the story, this might be for you. If you like it, great, if you don't I understand. I'm with both of you too.

  13. 4 out of 5

    Annie

    Originally posted on my blog: Nonstop Reader. The Strange Death of Alex Raymond is a beautifully drawn but largely inscrutable graphic novel begun by Dave Sim and more or less completed by Carson Grubaugh. Due out in Aug 2021, it's 320 pages and will be available in hardcover format. This is a difficult book to evaluate and review. On the one hand the art is top notch - beautifully rendered and clean - it mesmerizes. The story on the other hand is just strange and very disjointed. It begins ( Originally posted on my blog: Nonstop Reader. The Strange Death of Alex Raymond is a beautifully drawn but largely inscrutable graphic novel begun by Dave Sim and more or less completed by Carson Grubaugh. Due out in Aug 2021, it's 320 pages and will be available in hardcover format. This is a difficult book to evaluate and review. On the one hand the art is top notch - beautifully rendered and clean - it mesmerizes. The story on the other hand is just strange and very disjointed. It begins (mostly) understandably, with a parallel narrative essay on photorealism generously interleaved with kind of nutsobonkers conspiracy theory and soon switches into turbo-numerology and around that point I lost (and never found) the plot again. If it's truly sublime genius, a modern comics stream-of-consciousness nod to Finnegan's Wake, Anna Karenina and other classics, or simply self absorbed navel gazing must be left to wiser minds than mine. I do know that I simply couldn't catch any narrative threads and wasn't able to sink myself into the story at any point, but I really loved looking at the art. Five stars for the art. Two stars for the narrative (which may well have been too intellectual and subtle for me). Three and a half stars overall. For Dave Sim completionists, this will be a must-buy. Probably important for public library acquisition, otherwise I'm in a bit of a quandary for audiences for whom this will be a good fit. Disclosure: I received an ARC at no cost from the author/publisher for review purposes.

  14. 4 out of 5

    Hal Johnson

    Dave Sim has always been underrated as an artist, especially as an inker (it was Gerhard who got the Harvey nomination for his inking), and let me say: this gorgeous volume is a long-overdo showcase that displays his art’s swansong and its glorious brush inking as it should be seen. Swansong unfortunately it is, as Sim’s hand gave out and he can no longer draw. He only completed maybe two thirds of this book, which should be fatal to its success—but fortunately, as if by miracle, Sim found anothe Dave Sim has always been underrated as an artist, especially as an inker (it was Gerhard who got the Harvey nomination for his inking), and let me say: this gorgeous volume is a long-overdo showcase that displays his art’s swansong and its glorious brush inking as it should be seen. Swansong unfortunately it is, as Sim’s hand gave out and he can no longer draw. He only completed maybe two thirds of this book, which should be fatal to its success—but fortunately, as if by miracle, Sim found another artist, one Carson Grubaugh, who can also pull an amazing line! He even does a boffo Dave Sim impression! Book saved! Unfortunately, what is fatal to this volume’s success is the fact that it is street-preacher tinfoil-hat crazy. I mean something happened one day in Westport, CT, and it changed the face of American cartooning, and it sure would be interesting if someone could unravel what it was. While the bare facts (the two greatest “photorealistic” newspaper cartoonists in America got into a car alive and one came out dead) are clear, so many of the alleged details don’t add up. As Sim points out, how can a driver confuse the gas and the brake when his foot perforce must already be on the gas? We are supposed to believe that Stan Drake was “thrown clear” of the accident and survived…but the very phrase “thrown clear of an accident” is a now-archaic fiction, and all seatbelt-related research has shown that being thrown clear of any accident not involving a drive into a volcano is the very worst thing that can happen to you. “Thrown clear” is exactly the kind of thing that sounded plausible in 1956 but by 2021 looks like a trumped-up fiction. Did Stan Drake kill Alex Raymond? Did Alex Raymond commit suicide in Stan Drake’s car? A little of both? The answer would be fascinating, and I thought that an answer was just what Sim was groping towards a decade ago in his comic book Glamourpuss. But whatever the answer is it probably involves neither a Crowley disciple trying to manipulate Margaret Mitchell into resurrecting the Ku Klux Klan nor how many time Sim spots multiples of the number 7. Sim’s close readings of comic strips are clever, but they’re closer to Carl Jung’s book-length confession that he is bad at math than to the true-crime expose the opening pages of TSDoAR promise the reader. Even all this craziness could be forgiven—and by forgiven I mean I would still be hailing TSDoAR as a comic work of the first order that deserves canonicity despite or even because of its madness. The art is that good, the cartooning (I mean the pacing of the panels and all that) is that assured. Moore and Campbell’s From Hell is the obvious touchstone here, but TSDoAR is crazier, and better-drawn. Everything would be fine… …except that 80% through the project, Sim just straight-up abandoned it. Dave Sim being Dave Sim, he gave his blessing to Carson Grubaugh to finish the project and publish it in this prestige format, but “finish” is too generous a term for the (well-drawn) shrug Grubaugh manages to conjure up. The threads just hang there. Something about Grace Kelly. Something about Milton Caniff “defeating” Alex Raymond via handshake. Something about everything except, of course, the day Alex Raymond borrowed Stan Drake’s car and suffered an eponymous strange death. This is a book with a host of virtues, and if you can overlook its shortcomings you’ll be…not rewarded, really, because it’s a book distinctly lacking a reward. But you’ll get some kicks from it. No one has loved the art of Alex Raymond the way Sim has loved the art of Alex Raymond, and that kind of love always makes a book fun. At the very least, we’ll always have Sim’s so-crazy-it-must-be-right analysis of the great man’s inking technique. If that sounds like a small payoff for a 300-page oversized hardcover, then this book may not be for you. But if you can find beauty in inkers’ secrets you’ll find beauty in more than that inside.

  15. 5 out of 5

    Jared Driskill

    Imagine if David Lynch wrote Scott McCloud’s Understanding Comics with a heavy dash of From Hell thrown in, and you may get an idea of what to expect from The Strange Death of Alex Raymond. However, this is not a book that you can read passively as the connections that Dave Sim makes between the people surrounding the death of Alex Raymond takes a bit of thinking (at least on my part) to make sense. The payoff is worth the effort if you put the work in. Apparently, I have received a misprinted Imagine if David Lynch wrote Scott McCloud’s Understanding Comics with a heavy dash of From Hell thrown in, and you may get an idea of what to expect from The Strange Death of Alex Raymond. However, this is not a book that you can read passively as the connections that Dave Sim makes between the people surrounding the death of Alex Raymond takes a bit of thinking (at least on my part) to make sense. The payoff is worth the effort if you put the work in. Apparently, I have received a misprinted copy from Amazon and there were several pages that were partially blank, but this did not deter my enjoyment of the book.

  16. 5 out of 5

    Nathalia

    This book really isn't for everyone and I'm one of those it is not for. The artwork is stunning, but everything else was a struggle for me. I didn't understand what I read. It is a confusing and strange piece. This book feels like it is supposed to be thought provoking, but I just feel confused. I also massively struggled with the font, which was very difficult for me to read. I wanted to be able to enjoy this one, especially with the amazing artwork, but I just couldn't. This book really isn't for everyone and I'm one of those it is not for. The artwork is stunning, but everything else was a struggle for me. I didn't understand what I read. It is a confusing and strange piece. This book feels like it is supposed to be thought provoking, but I just feel confused. I also massively struggled with the font, which was very difficult for me to read. I wanted to be able to enjoy this one, especially with the amazing artwork, but I just couldn't.

  17. 5 out of 5

    Critter

    This book really isn't for everyone and I'm one of those it is not for. The artwork is stunning, but everything else was a struggle for me. I didn't understand what I read. It is a confusing and strange piece. This book feels like it is supposed to be thought provoking, but I just feel confused. I also massively struggled with the font, which was very difficult for me to read. I wanted to be able to enjoy this one, especially with the amazing artwork, but I just couldn't. This book really isn't for everyone and I'm one of those it is not for. The artwork is stunning, but everything else was a struggle for me. I didn't understand what I read. It is a confusing and strange piece. This book feels like it is supposed to be thought provoking, but I just feel confused. I also massively struggled with the font, which was very difficult for me to read. I wanted to be able to enjoy this one, especially with the amazing artwork, but I just couldn't.

  18. 4 out of 5

    M.J. Sewall

    It is a beautiful book in every way - from the binding to the fantastic art. It feels like going through some very specific dreams, where even if you don't know the subject at hand, the total immersion make you a super fan wanting more. I will re-read this mysterious and beautiful work many times over. It is a beautiful book in every way - from the binding to the fantastic art. It feels like going through some very specific dreams, where even if you don't know the subject at hand, the total immersion make you a super fan wanting more. I will re-read this mysterious and beautiful work many times over.

  19. 5 out of 5

    Kyle Burley

    Not giving a star rating for this one. It's too strange, too obsessive, and way to complex to sum up with stars. As a matter of fact, I think I'll allow the reviewer from The Comics Journal to speak for me. I like this book a little more than he does but I also agree with pretty much everything he says. https://www.tcj.com/reviews/the-stran... Not giving a star rating for this one. It's too strange, too obsessive, and way to complex to sum up with stars. As a matter of fact, I think I'll allow the reviewer from The Comics Journal to speak for me. I like this book a little more than he does but I also agree with pretty much everything he says. https://www.tcj.com/reviews/the-stran...

  20. 4 out of 5

    David C

    It’s such an enormous ambition laid out by Dave Sim when he started this book it’s difficult to sum up effectively. It’s an overwhelming achievement. The world owes Carson Grubaugh for getting this thing across the finish line. His contributions are phenomenal

  21. 4 out of 5

    Tolstoyevsky

    I don't think I understand this book. However I find myself continually drawn to it like a moth to a flame. I will be thinking about it for a very long time. I don't think I understand this book. However I find myself continually drawn to it like a moth to a flame. I will be thinking about it for a very long time.

  22. 4 out of 5

    Andréa

    Note: I accessed a digital review copy of this book through Edelweiss.

  23. 5 out of 5

    Luis Joel

    Dammn this guy REALLY can do storytelling.

  24. 4 out of 5

    John

    Obsession has both power and curse.

  25. 4 out of 5

    Theediscerning

    Just couldn't be doing with this huge splodge of up-its-own-arse-ness. Not for the general reader at all. Just couldn't be doing with this huge splodge of up-its-own-arse-ness. Not for the general reader at all.

  26. 4 out of 5

    Trent Rogers

  27. 4 out of 5

    Richard

  28. 4 out of 5

    Bill

  29. 4 out of 5

    Chw

  30. 4 out of 5

    Dan Eckhart

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