Mention the name Flash Gordon to me and you conjure images of the lithe, clean-lined figures drawn by Mac Raboy, and not those of Alex Raymond, the newspaper strip’s celebrated creator.
That’s because in 1959 or 1960, when I first saw the strip in the Sunday color funny pages, Raboy drew it. I’d never heard of Raymond, the artist who’d inspired Raboy and who’d also created another strip I liked, Rip Kirby (then drawn by John Prentice).
Born in New York City in 1914, Emanuel “Mac” Raboy began his career with government-funded art classes and in President Roosevelt’s Works Progress Administration during the Depression. Several of his federally funded wood engravings remain in the permanent collection of NYC’s Metropolitan Museum.
“Heavily influenced by the outstanding Flash Gordon work of Alex Raymond, Raboy created Captain Marvel Jr. in its image,” noted comics historian David Brancatelli. “His figures were lithe and majestic, tightly rendered and classically composed … The anatomy and draftsmanship were always perfect.”
Comics historian Benito Cereno wrote, “Raboy’s work on Captain Marvel Jr. manages to strike a perfect balance between the drama and dynamism necessary for the superhero genre and a realistic-looking, though idealized, vision of a teenage boy who punches Nazis all the time (whose overall look and design famously inspired the caped jumpsuits worn by latter era Elvis Presley).”
Raboy left Fawcett to draw the Green Lama in 1944. “The strip became a minor classic, but it never sold enough,” Brancatelli observed.
In 1948, King Features assigned Raboy to take over his hero’s strip, a step up for him in the popular mind because newspaper comic strips were respected while comic books were often despised. Raboy, who kept a portfolio of Raymond’s Flash Gordon art by his side for inspiration, drew the strip until his death in December 1967.
Comics historian Graham Exton observed that Raboy’s life ended on an odd note of synchronicity. In the summer of 1967, Raboy stayed in a quiet cottage near the village of Flash, Staffordshire, and produced his last comic strips there.
“Flash Gordon was actually produced in Flash. Some coincidence!” Exton noted. “Mac was clearly very ill at the time, and died shortly afterwards, presumably as a result of heavy smoking.”