Dynamite and Buck Rogers in the 21st Century
First, the news:
Dynamite Entertainment honcho Nicky Barrucci announced today that a series based on the classic space hero Buck Rogers will be joining The Lone Ranger, Red Sonja, Zorro and Battlestar Galactica in his project lineup, with participation of Alex Ross and John Cassaday, who will be doing character designs and covers. As of this typing, no regular story and art team has been announced.
Next, the history:
Publicly credited to John Flint Dille, Anthony “Buck” Rogers was the work of science fiction author Phillip Francis Nowlan. The first novel, Armageddon 2419, was anthologized in Amazing Stories Magazine cover-dated August 1928. It was successful and sequels were commissioned; the book came to the attention of wire service and newspaper syndicate owner Dille who hired Nowlan to create a newspaper comic strip version of his novel, teaming him up with artist Dick Calkins and renaming the character Buck.
It was awesomely successful, spinning off onto all the genres available in its time and the phrase “Buck Rogers” became a colloquialism for futuristic invention. It lasted until the mid-’60s and was revived a couple of times with varying degrees of success.
Over the years Buck was illuminated by an impressive cadre of artists, most notably Murphy Anderson (twice; his Adam Strange design was influenced by his work on the strip) and Frank Frazetta.
Finally, the personal angles:
My first job in comics was to intern for Dille’s National Newspaper Syndicate, then run by John Dille’s son. I helped contribute one of the final plots to the strip, then drawn by George Tuska. I was completely awed by the offices: they had one of the spaceships (or, perhaps, the spaceship) used in the 1930s movie serial and lots of ray guns and other merchandising items. Their offices were in an historically important building: Chicago’s Civic Opera House, built by business magnate Samuel Insull in the shape of a throne for his daughter who had been rejected by other opera companies, a story later adapted by Orson Welles in Citizen Kane. The whole thing was a lot for this 16-year-old wannabe.
The Dille family still owns Buck; his grandson, Flint, is a major animation (G.I. Joe, Transformers, An American Tail II) and videogame (Transformers, Batman, Fantastic Four II) writer known in certain circles for employing more euphemisms for the word “penis” than any other living person I’ve met. This happened at a very memorable lunch during an ancient toy fair in Manhattan. Our table got a lot of strange glances… but we did get our check fast.
He and his sister, Lorraine Dille Williams, used to own TSR, and they did a lot of re-development work on the character in the late 1980s. Lorraine once showed me some fabulous concept art by Jerry Ordway (some of my favorite of Jerry’s work, which says a lot) and Jeff Butler. Some games were developed, a few comics were produced, but Buck was still shrouded by the mists of history.
Barrucci has had quite a nice track record with reviving lapsed icons. I’m looking forward to seeing what they do.