Science in All the Wrong Places
(c) 2016, Arthur L. Lortie
Blog : Amazing Stories
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In his biography I, FELLINI, the famed Italian director Federico Fellini said that, when he was a child, "I wanted to meet FLASH GORDON. When I was a boy, he was my hero, and he has remained my hero. I could never, never believe that he wasn't real."

In the very next paragraph, he relates an anecdote about science-fiction author Ray Bradbury having told him the same thing about BUCK ROGERS when he was a boy.

I found this incredible to say the least, even taking into consideration that Fellini lived in Italy and suffered US-envy and Bradbury was only 8. Both are smarter and more creative than I -- but I'm better looking -- but even l'il ol' me could tell the difference when Julie Schwartz was editorially pulling my leg dispensing STAR TREK level pseudo-science and simultaneously turning serious by hitting me over the head with a physics lesson in the same issue of MYSTERY IN SPACE.

But every once in a while, comics WANT to be taken seriously. In fact, I recall a time when some comic strips were more informative than the texts I was forced to use in school. I pointed this out a while back when MANDRAKE THE MAGICIAN, OUR NEW AGE and OUR EVER CHANGING WORLD decided to educate us on the future of solar sails -- see ; in fact Julie Schwartz a couple of decades earlier used the idea of "sunlight pressure" to explain away Otto Binder's obsession with Space Rocs (or Dragons) in his SF stories!

In the following 10 strips, the presenters really REALLY want to educate the masses.

Conquest of the Air (July-August, 1927) satisfied the 'tween war obsession with manned flight and is the earliest example I found that proclaimed science was fun for both children and their parents. Russian refugee Nicholas Afonsky, best known for his work on the comic strips LITTLE ANNIE ROONEY and MING FOO, follows the history of aviation from the mythologies of the past and future in 48 well illustrated and informative installments.


Adventures in Space (April, 1946) is the first real space age strip, by science journalist and Pulitzer Prize winner David Dietz and artist Vic Donahue.
The strip is subtitled The Story of Radar and, in 12 installments, tells us how several war inventions will eventually let us explore the planets.
Wings of Tomorrow (October-November, 1946) is the NEA followup, using the same artist, Donahue, and the Cleveland Press' aviation editor Charles L. Tracy.
The story ranges from the Wright Brothers to landing on the moon.

Trip to the Moon and Back (February, 1947) is when post-war America gets serious about space travel and declares "The Moon or Bust!" in no uncertain terms. Some scientists, overlooking our ignorance of the real problems presented by this goal, felt it could be accomplished by an armada of ships in as soon as 5 years. It actually took 21 years -- but only because the public wouldn't accept human sacrifice by strapping pilots to untested flying bombs.
This is yet another Donahue production, adapted from a Henry A Erikson science paper published in the American Journal of Physics 14, 374 (1946). The first page, at least, of this article is online. Surely someone out there has library access to the full 3-pages?
Erikson's papers are archived are at the University of Minnesota which also provides a brief bio.

By 1952, the public was concerned enough about another war invention, the atomic bomb, that its escalation to a Hydrogen Bomb was causing new concern and dubbed 'The Hell Bomb'. A major US magazine, COLLIER's, had even described, with graphic art by Chesley Bonestell, what would happen If The Bomb was dropped on New York.
Hell Bomb (October, 1952) carries this over into newspapers, retaining the graphic and frightening elements while explaining the science. Its by Jay Heavilin and artist Ralph Lane.
Heavilin, who surprisingly lacks a definitive online biography, was an NEA writer who also scripted VIC FLINT, EINSTEIN (not the scientist) and SANTA'S SECRETS for syndication. Lane was often Heavilin's collaborator and NEA's go-to guy on their short run non-fiction strips.

Post-Sputnik writers and artists were literally tripping over themselves to teach us about rockets, satellites and the space program.
First up was Earth Stars and Man (October, 1960), by John Lane (the son of Ralph, taking over his dad's job) and Don Oakley, covers neatly a whole bunch of science topics and goes all the way from the birth of the earth to exploring the universe. Whew!

Sputnik Plus Five (October, 1962) by the dynamic duo Lane and Oakley, fills us in on how the good ol' US of A has taken the lead over the gawdless Commies since Sputnik and yes, indeedy, we will beat them to the moon! Because our German scientists are better than their German scientists! :)

The Wizards of Space (June, 1963) is basically an update of 1946's Wings of Tomorrow extended through the early Space Race and beyond, again by the Oakley-Lane team.

Mission of Mariner (June 1965) focuses solely on Mariner IV, America's first attempt to reach the Red Planet Mars and the first successful fly-by. This was a very big deal at the time (and still is). Its by -- oh never mind; you can probably guess!

And, finally, we have Myth to Moon (1967), a more whimsical look at the history of getting to the moon (which is still two years away) by Lane and old friend Russ Winterbotham, who thrilled us with the adventures of FLASH GORDON-clone CHRIS WELKIN and many, many pulps science fiction stories in the pulps. Take a peek at my look at Russ' output and CHRIS WELKIN.


Did I miss any short-run looks at space and the sciences? Let me know!