Joe Shuster and Alex Raymond

There can be no doubt that in the 1930s, many comic strip artists imitated the great Alex Raymond.

I forget where I first read it, but Hal Foster (Prince Valiant) once visited Raymond’s studio in Connecticut, only to find Raymond copying a drawing of a horse from one of Foster’s strips. Foster’s response was “Alex, what are you doing? I based that drawing off one of yours!”

In general, artists often derive inspiration and reference from many, many places, sometimes even lifting whole images entirely. Wally Wood once said “Good artists copy, great artists swipe.” This was no where more common than in the Golden Age of comics, when copyright patents weren’t exactly what they are today. This can be seen as cynical to us today, sure, but when an artist constantly wants to evolve and learn to grow better (especially when faced with deadlines), other, revered artists are often a source of inspiration.

What was that expression about imitation being the most sincere form of flattery?

The Flash Gordon Sunday strip which rocketed (see what I did there?) Raymond to superstar status began in 1934. Action Comics #1 debuted in 1938, but we know that issues 1 and 2 had been submitted by Siegel and Shuster to the publishers a year before, and then were kept as inventory. It seems fair to assume that by the time Flash was hitting its peak, Shuster was gathering references for his book.

I’d be shocked if Joe didn’t know of or read Raymond’s work. I’m sure he did. Even though his art was very different from Raymond’s, elements of Flash Gordon must have been utilized, even if subliminally. Shuster has said his main artistic inspirations were Segar and Crane, but who’s to say where else inspiration came from?

After finishing a read of Raymond’s Flash Gordon last year, it was easy to see how influential the art would be for others who followed, and perhaps for Joe Shuster for his early issues of Superman. I’m not sure if Shuster ever talked about or said anything about Raymond as an influence, but I would have loved to have heard his thoughts.

For us as fans, ultimately it’s all about enjoyment, and good art is good art.

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