Friday, March 18, 2011

Space Conquerors!

A Fine Day in Space

When I was a kid I was a Boy Scout. I had a subscription to Boy's Life, a large-format monthly filled with short stories, fact articles, lots of ads for guns and...a comics section!

Naturally this was my favorite part of the magazine. The section ran full- and half-page color comics, their subject matter divided amongst fact, humor and adventure. I later learned these strips were produced by Johnstone and Cushing, the legendary comic art studio. At the time I was reading Boy's Life the section's roster included "The Tracy Twins," "True Stories of Scouts in Action," "Tono of the Longhouse People," biblical and historical one-shots, and my favorite, an s-f series called "Space Conquerors."
From my garage/midden I've recovered the handful of tearsheets I clipped from the magazine in the early 1960s. For years they'd been my only mementos of the series. Three cheers for the Internet! While googling in preparation for this post I discovered a complete index of the series with links to every episode in Google Books' run of Boy's Life!
I learned that the feature began in 1952 and went through several reboots as well as periods during which it simply presented astronomical facts. The story I'm posting turns out to have been the first episode of one of those reboots. It introduces three nameless astronauts exploring space in the first faster-than-light spaceship. Early episodes were rather tame, but later the series became a wild and woolly space opera. Not that the stories were very good: half a page per month made for sketchy plots and no characterization. It didn't help that the writer (presumably Al Stenzel) occasionally changed plans in mid-story.
This 1962-1963 episode was drawn by Lou Fine in his most generic style. Art on the strip was generally good. Fine had replaced George Evans, who had replaced the second of two guys I don't recognize. Fine drew several stories, then Alden McWilliams took over for a long run. After a surprise appearance by Gray Morrow, Fine returned. This time his art was more elaborate, though in some strips he seems to have been inked by another hand. Fine died in 1971, so the art variations may have been related to illness.According to Planettom, the series ended in 1972. However I swear that years later...maybe the mid-1980s?...I came across a copy of Boy's Life, now thinner and in a smaller format, and found an episode of "Space Conquerors" drawn by Ernesto Colon. Did I dream this? Does anyone know about post-1970s Boy's Life comics? Several later "Space Conquerors" originals are out there. Here's a nice 1964 page from Stephen Donnelly's collection. From near the end of the strip's run comes this one from 1971 which belongs to Alan Crouse. Both are by Fine.


Anonymous said...

I find it interesting how in each of his reboots of SPACE CONQUERORS!, it's sometimes years before Al Stenzel mentions the various crewmember names, letting one slip here or there (and not always consistently, so that one can only conclude one reference is a name and one's a nickname). Just seems funny; if I was given the assignment, seems like I'd start out, "...the spaceship is on the launchpad, with our intrepid Skipper, loose cannon Kurt, communications officer Red, and ship's physician Doc!" or whatever.

In one instance, after they stop off on a base on Mars, it was several issues later before I realized, hey, their crew of 3 is now a crew of 4, I guess they picked up another guy at that Mars base!

Smurfswacker said...

Planettom: I agree with you on both points. I'd expect an author would at least have the characters call each other by name so we'd know who they are. Makes you wonder how they were named in Stenzel's script:

MUSTACHE GUY: A giant bug!

As for Mustache Guy, he became pretty important in the first insect-men story; not bad for a guy they found hanging out in front of the Spaceship Depot parking lot.

Anonymous said...

Mustache Guy seems a little older than the rest of the crew. And they (eventually) call him Doc, so I assume he's the ship's physician, though I guess he could be Chief Scientist.

They don't really seem to say, "Hey, I've got these lava burns, could you take a look at that, Doc?" so I guess it's an arguable point.

Also, at times in the various reboots, the Skipper doesn't really seem to be in charge. Well, maybe he's in command of the ship, but not the Away Team, so to speak.

Which actually might be a good way to operate, instead of the STAR TREK habit of, "Here's a dangerous situation, let's put our entire command crew off the ship and in the thick of it!"

In that one storyline with Doctor Cosmo ---- wow, that guy was really destined to be in charge of an interstellar mission with a name like that.

Ger Apeldoorn said...

Great stuff! I have a huge stack of 1956/61 issues, where almost all strips are drawn by Evans. I also have doubles, if you are interested.

By the way, who is selling all his Star Wars strips (including the syndicate package) on ebay at te moment?

Ger Apeldoorn said...

In a random 1954 issue, I also found what looks like a Lou Fine Ad...

Henry R. Kujawa said...

Running across the BOY'S LIFE site by accident the other week has really been something. I originally had a one-year subscription from mid-1968-mid-1969, and that was it. Now, I've been able to read the strips, from the beginning!

I really liked the George Evans stuff. By comparison, Lou Fine's art is more "generic" and the stories far more tedious.

However, this morning I finally reached the beginning of the "Galaxy One" era, which is what I've been looking forward to since starting this project.

I hope you don't mind, but I've reused your scans from here (slightly cleaned up) for my blog, as they were somewhat larger and higher-quality than the ones at the BOY'S LIFE site. I've credited you and have a link to your blog.

Henry R. Kujawa

Smurfswacker said...

Henry, glad the scans could be of use. Wish I had more of the strips.

While I preferred George Evans' art (but then I'm a hopeless Evans fan), too many of his strips were science-fact presentations. I wanted a story!

(Come to think of it, what a challenge it would have been to tell a coherent story with only 9 panels each month!)

Henry R. Kujawa said...

The entire SPACE CONQUERORS! series is up at my blog, starting here...

More recently, I've done the same with STORIES FROM THE BIBLE. Unlike SC, the BIBLE series is STILL running, for 61 years now!

It features art by Creig Flessel, Irv Novick, Curt Swan (I think), Frank Bolle, Don Punchatz, Anthony Castrillo, Graeme Hewitson and, most recently, Tim Salamunic.

There's also several other artists between the mid-60's-late 70's. If anyone can help identify who they are, it'd be appreciated!

It all starts here...