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.
I think my favorite art on the strip was the Tuska run and then the Gray Morrow run. BTW – Gray did a BUCK ROGERS story for HEAVY METAL and it is included in the book about Gray – GRAY MORROW VISIONARY. And I would love to see the Tuska BUCK ROGERS collected into a book.
My favorite of the old Buck Rogers artists is Rick Yager. He was the first real cartoonist I ever met. Growing up in a small town in Michigan, I was lucky enough to have a library with lots of books on comics or reprinting them. The librarians noticed this 10-year-old kid checking out every book on comics and sitting there reading the ones that were reference-only, so they asked if I wanted to meet a real cartoonist and they arranged it. Rick lived in a nearby town. I still have the drawing of Buck he did for me on my blue-lined paper that day. He put up with a number of phone calls from a pesky kid with lots of questions in the following years. Probably got my work-ethic from him, more than any stylistic influences. So, he's my favorite. He did more work on the strip than any other artist, but for varrious reasons has been the least-reprinted of all. Sure would like to see that change.
Interesting bit on the secret origins of Mike Gold. I hope Dynamite will do some, perhaps a comprehensive collection of the Buck Rogers newspaper strips. The early Calkins stuff is just great and I'd love to see a collection (or two if there's enough material) of all the Murphy Anderson strips. I'm sure Murphy would as well! Buck was on my short list of comic strip reprint series I'd like to see!
I love Mike's stories behind the stories.Sadly, I actually remember bits and pieces of the Gil Gerard 70s television series and the action figures I had more than any books or comic strips.There was an episode where Buck told one of these people from the future "there's something wrong with your Funk and Wagnalls" and I asked my mom if he had just cursed on television. I was 9 or 10. ;-)
I read that Ace edition of "Armageddon 2419 A.D." around 1970 and I just loved it. During that same period, I was voraciously reading at an alarming rate similar paperbacks by Edgar Rice Burroughs, Robert E. Howard, Andre Norton, and John Norton — sometimes staying up school nights into the wee hours of the morning because I just couldn't put them down.That said, when the Buck Rogers TV show aired about 10 years later, I was positively mortified with its campy interpretation of Nowlan's material. It was nearly as embarrassing to me as was the big-screen version of Doc Savage a few years earlier, where I found myself instinctively shrinking lower and lower in my theater seat, hoping no one in the audience knew I was a Doc Savage fan.
In my high school days, i.e. the 70s, I too devoured every pulp-like fiction paperback I could get my hands on that was in or out of print, Edgar Rice Burroughs, Robert E. Howard, Doc Savage, The Spider, Armageddon 2419 A.D., Phillip Wylie's Gladiator, H.P. Lovecraft, John Jakes and more than my aged brain can remember. I must have gone through one every 1-2 days just in study hall alone! Now if I get through the daily paper, its a miracle! Too much time reading online to want to do it in my down time I guess!
I meant "John Norman," of course…
Then you mean Jack Lang – John Norman was his pen name.
No kidding? Didn't have a clue.But what strikes me as funny about that fact is "Jack Lang" sounds like a pen name in its own right!In that regards, Lang was obviously not looking for a more punchy popular culture name, ala Jozef Teodor Konrad Nalecz Korzeniowski (Joseph Conrad), Henry John Deutschendorf Jr. (John Denver), or Benjamin Kubelsky (Jack Benny).
Yeah – First – I got it wrong – it is John Lange – and another Jack Lange was writing mystery novels when "Norman" started his GOR novels. So he just needed a different name.