(from Suggested For Mature Readers, 30 November 2015)
...At the opening of [Glamourpuss] #14 there’s a splash page, as if he’d out-of-the-blue remembered the grammar of comics and how it can be used, of a gull-wing Mercedes and a story begins. The story of Alex Raymond’s final day of life, September 6th 1956, when he uncharacteristically visited fellow comic-strip artist Stan Drake and the two went for a drive in Drake’s new Corvette. Raymond, a sports-car enthusiast, was at the wheel when it crashed. He died. Drake doesn’t remember what happened. Dave Sim, a very different kind of comic artist working more than half-a-century later, decides to reconstruct the whole thing. And in doing so, you’re reminded why anyone paid attention to Sim in the first place; because he’s good.
The story, later titled The Strange Death of Alex Raymond and the last thing Sim was working on, takes up roughly half – between 10 and 12 pages – of each issue from #14 to #26, the final issue. It isn’t interspersed with the Glamourpuss stuff anymore, but gets an uninterrupted stretch of its own. It isn’t, of course, without its late-stage Sim touches. As the last 30-odd issues of Cerebus proved, he was no longer capable of and/or willing to create comics that weren’t expressions of his personal philosophies. The authorial voice that’s been the only thing holding the photorealism sections of the comic together is still there. Raymond is left standing at a door, waiting for his knock to be answered, while Sim analyses signatures and cross-hatching in The Heart of Juliet Jones for seven pages. But there is now action to get back to, an actual narrative with propulsive force, that makes that analysis a digression with a point. And the art’s changed. The photorealism influence is still there in the cars and the objects, but for Raymond, Drake and the other characters Sim’s back to the cartooning he mastered over 20 years, figures and faces realistic enough but always with that expressive, rubbery feel that keeps them bouncing through the panels and the reader’s eye powerless not to follow.
The return of panels returns Sim to the music of his art, using layout to play with perception and expectation and the flow of time like he used to. A fantastic cruciform page layout showing Raymond entering Drake’s office is an example of the vision, the fluency, a lifetime in comics allows you to do. A page in #18 showing Raymond and Drake from the back, the latter clearly flirting and the former seething, is poetic in composition, in detail, in heavy blacks and whisper-fine linework, making the words around it redundant...