Dave Sim faithfully reproduces the photograph and takes us into an in-depth discussion. First, he gives us the surface details: "The photo taken 29 March 50 of (left to right) Rube Goldberg, Alex Raymond and Milt Caniff on the occasion of Raymond becoming the third president of the National Cartoonists Society (Goldberg had been the first and Caniff the second)."
All three men are legends of the comics. Rube Goldberg was famous for his cartoons of humorously elaborate contraptions designed to perform simple tasks. Alex Raymond was known for his creation of Flash Gordon and his then-current strip, Rip Kirby. Milton Caniff at this time was three years into his celebrated new strip 'Steve Canyon'. By all accounts, the three were congenial friends who, with others, had started the National Cartoonists Society as an excuse to socialize.
I take issue, then, with Sim's analysis that ascribes malice to Caniff's handshake. Sim feels their friendly rivalry as men at the top of their field has turned sour, with Caniff giving a hard handshake, causing Raymond to wince in pain and be pushed backward into Goldberg and the draperies. What was the source of Caniff's anger? Sim supplies reproduced panels of 'Kirby' and 'Canyon' to demonstrate his deduction that for a week in October 1949, Raymond borrowed Caniff's inking style (see below with the Raymond example at left and the Caniff at right)
Sim concludes that Raymond couldn't pull off Caniff-style inking, and so immediately went back to his own style. We are supposed to believe then, per Sim, that five months later Caniff is non-verbally telling him, "Hey, buddy...BACK OFF!" There are several problems with all of these suppositions. I contacted R.C. Harvey, Caniff's biographer. He doesn't know of any hostility between Caniff and Raymond and believes that what Sim calls Raymond's wincing is how the artist always looked when he smiled. Quoth Harvey, not one to mince his words, "Sim is off his rocker." The final nail in the theory's coffin comes from Caniff's own opinion, as recounted in Harvey's book, Meanwhile...
"As soon as Flash Gordon came out, it startled the hell out of everybody. I remember reading [Raymond's] stuff every day and enjoying it very much, but I never thought of him in terms of a rival...a mean, old hate-his-guts rival. I had great admiration for him."
My conclusion is that the photograph is a congratulatory moment and Sim is over-thinking it to the point of delusion. However, I admit the deconstruction of the scene is a tantalizing exercise, and the idea that someone would even put these ideas together jibes with my own esoteric blogging compulsions.
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