When I was a wee-little lad, back in the early 1980s, there was a movie HBO played almost every afternoon and every night, every summer, seemingly all summer long. The film’s soundtrack featured music by, as I would later learn, a band called Queen. . . a rocking, constantly thumping and completely action-inspiring collection of tunes accompanying a movie known the neighborhood over as Flash Gordon. Little did I know at so young an age that the film was actually being enjoyed the world over, by countless fans of all ages made hungry for more fantasy sci-fi thanks to Star Wars.
The movie itself was a great watch for a youngster. . . full of action and dramatic conflict and strange creatures and races and even men with hawk wings! The ages-old story didn’t hurt the film’s popularity either: that classic struggle and triumph of good over evil. It was fairly clear-cut, but it was also my first taste of conflict on one side of the equation. . . why were the Arboreans acting hostile toward the Hawkmen and vice-versa? Weren’t they both “good guys” and fighting the same fight? At the age of 6, I had never seen anything like that before. I remember being not so much confused as hurt by it, like when friends or parents argue. Looking back on that now, it’s how I know I was compelled by the story, because I was reacting to the dynamics of fictional conflict.
But as much as I enjoyed the movie, I didn’t have to fast-forward my VHS taped-from-HBO cassette to get to my favorite part. All I had to do to reach that point was to merely hit PLAY. Over and over and over again, I would watch Ming the Merciless wreak havoc on earth with his array of “natural disasters” from the control panel in front of him, and I would stress with awe-inspired abandon as General Klytus cackled with glee. And then the drum beat would start up with its steady, relentless pounding, and the bass-line would kick in to match it, and then. . . oh sweet jeebus!
With every beat of the drums and every nuance of the powerful guitar, I would be bombarded with a steady flow of the most gorgeous comic book imagery I still have ever seen. And beyond the events of the movie, which I’ve seen a hundred times in my lifetime, I had no context for these images. . . and therein lay the beauty! An angry general pointing down a vast hallway, Flash pointing a pistol toward the reader, two swords clashing, a tidal wave washing over Flash’s body (so frail and flimsy in the wave despite all his strength), beautiful girls in beautiful gowns and dresses, the faces of Flash and Dale with eyes closed and a caption reading “. . .and knew that real death could not be far off”, hawkmen swooping overhead in organized formation, Flash standing atop a cliff with his cape fluttering out behind him as he overlooked a vast crowd of people in the canyon below, rockets rockets and more rockets, mad scientists mixing devious chemicals in funny-shaped flasks, massive cities towering ever upward with their future-gothic spires. . . and all while someone I did not know was named Freddy Mercury sang out rock-n-roll power followed by softly crooning about the courage of “just a man.” Pardon my french, but it was goddamned magnificent!
I wore that old VHS tape out. Not just from constant screenings of the movie, but from watching, re-winding and re-watching that opening title sequence a thousand times or more.
My main point is the utter lack of context. The images alone, flashing by (pardon the pun) at such a rate that the blink of an eye would cost the viewer half a dozen drawings or more, was enough to instill in me such an overwhelming sense of adventure and story-telling that I would eventually resort to pressing pause at the beginning and then moving through the sequence frame-by-frame. I would study every single frame of the artwork of a man whose name I did not know at the time was Alex Raymond.
In adulthood, I have acquired a few volumes of the Raymond Flash Gordon Sunday comics serial, but while reading through them (as I occasionally do), I cannot shake the feeling that it somehow just isn’t the same. . . that it somehow just isn’t as good as what my childhood imagination was conjuring with the images as taken out of context.
And this, to me, is one of the main reasons and inspirations for writing. You get the chance to tell your story. You get to pull the imagery from your own mind, the situations you’ve conjured up and built piece by piece from various bits of inspiration all around you, and form it into something you want to make.
I’m not claiming that my writing is better than that of Alex Raymond, nor that the tale of my characters is more compelling than that of Flash and Dale and Zarkov and Ming. Not by a long-shot. But what I am saying is that I get to create, every single day if I so desire, worlds and conflicts and armies and characters that are my very own, inspired by as many or as few things as I have ever dared to love or hate or dream, and that’s a pretty powerful feeling to be able to pluck for absolutely free. Seriously, can you think of any hobby with as low a start-up cost as writing. . . except maybe the hobbies of standing or sitting?
Anyway. . . cheers to Alex Raymond, cheers to Flash Gordon. . . and cheer’s to Queen!