Twenty Years of Doc Con!

Sep 18, 2017 by

Doc Con XX (2017)In fall 1998, five Doc Savage fans gathered together in a hotel in the Phoenix area to celebrate their shared love of a 1930s and ’40s pulp hero and his 181 adventures at the first Doc Con.

This year many more fans will again gather in Glendale, Ariz., for the 20th Doc Con on Oct. 20 – 22 to celebrate the exploits of Doc Savage, the Man of Bronze. (Fifty attended last year’s Doc Con XIX.)

“I am glad that what I started in 1998 has endured for so long,” said Rob Smalley, who organized the original con. “It’s a testimony to the dedication of the core group of people, which by the way gets larger every year. The Doc Con has changed in format and venues over the years, but each and every Doc Con over the last 19 years has been tons of fun no matter where it was held or how many fans attended.”

Jay Ryan, who with Rob has attended all Doc Cons, said, “Twenty years does seem like an accomplishment. The aspect that intrigues me the most is the fact that most of us were in our mid- to late 30s when we started Doc Con. Just a bunch of 30-something guys getting together to talk about a character that we appreciated. Hopefully, Doc Con is still just that except that now it is a bunch of 50-something guys.

“The most important part is still the getting together,” Jay continued, “and apparently we still enjoy that because Doc Con has grown from one day to three and in some cases four days. The die-hards still come in on Thursday and leave midway through Sunday. Of course, Doc Con has also expanded on events and the time is filled to the brim but all of it still revolves around hanging out together.”

The Doc Con XIX (2016) group photo

The Doc Con XIX (2016) group photo

Jay, Rob, and the other Arizona Fans of Bronze who organize and put on the convention have big plans for number 20. “Doc Con XX will be special in the obvious way… a milestone accomplishment reached,” Jay said. “Of course, as special guest, author David Avallone’s attendance will be appreciated by everyone. We had the current Doc Savage novel writer, Will Murray, in attendance last year, and this year it seemed fitting to have the current Doc Savage comic-book writer, Mr. Avallone, meet everyone and have him fill us in on that medium of Doc Savage. We also have some very special things planned for this year and the pre-registration gift is going to knock everyone’s socks off.”

Doc Con XX returns to the Comfort Inn University of Phoenix Stadium in Glendale, Arizona, a suburb of Phoenix. You can register for the con at docfantasycovers.com/Doc-Con/.

“My whole intent for starting Doc Con was to get Doc Savage fans together. Too many of us enjoyed our Doc Savage experience in solitude,” Rob said. He, like other Doc fans, is looking forward to this year’s con. “Every year I enjoy the company of all my Doc friends, and I really enjoy seeing new people attending and joining in the excitement and fun.”

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3 Rivers Comicon: Putting Comics Back in Conventions

May 5, 2017 by

During the third weekend of May, a couple of Pittsburgh nerds are hoping to make comic con all about comics again. 3 Rivers Comicon — which runs May 20 – 21 in West Mifflin, Pennsylvania — is the latest addition to the many conventions in the Pittsburgh area.

New Dimension Comics owner Todd McDevitt and general manager Jon Engel launched 3 Rivers Comicon in 2016 after hearing complaints from customers about the increasing cost of conventions and how the shift to an array of pop culture has left comics in the shadows. “I felt like we were almost being challenged. No one said it, but we made it our mission to do it,” McDevitt said. “This is going to be a comic convention. If you want something else, go somewhere else.”

McDevitt and Engel both have years of experience under their utility belts, attending and also working at comic conventions. From that involvement, as well as feedback from customers, they have the knowledge for what will work at their own event.

One major goal is to make 3 Rivers Comicon affordable. Admission is $13 per day or $18 for a weekend pass. Tickets are available through the convention’s website or at any of the six New Dimension Comics locations. They will also be available at the door. Guests include KINGDOM COME and DAREDEVIL writer Mark Waid, NIGHTWING artist Scott McDaniel, and SPIDER-MAN and THOR artist Ron Frenz. Weekend events include panels, gaming, photo opportunities and costume contests for kids and adults. Sunday is Family Day at 3 Rivers Comicon, with kid-focused programming all day. There is also the very popular beer party on Saturday evening.

Tickets to the beer party are $50 and include both days of the convention in addition to a bunch of take-home loot including a T-shirt, exclusive comics, graphic novels and two bottles of BEEREDEEMABLE. McDevitt once again convinced Helltown Brewing to create a beer for the convention. This year’s recipe is a Russian imperial stout, a blend of young beer and barrel-aged whiskey. The name is a nod to the comic IRREDEEMABLE, whose artist Peter Krause illustrated the beer’s label.

“I always thought it would be fun to get a comic artist to do a beer label,” McDevitt said. “And if I was going to do it, I wanted it to be for one of our events.”

Krause and IRREDEEMABLE writer Mark Waid will both attend the beer party to autograph bottles.

“The beer party was the aspect we sold the most of last year,” McDevitt said. “We had people who didn’t care for comics and came for the beer, and people who didn’t care about beer, but came for the comics.”

Let’s hope that Todd and Jon save a few bottles of BEEREDEEMABLE to help us celebrate our first Pittsburgh PulpFest from July 27 through July 30 at the DoubleTree by Hilton Hotel Pittsburgh – Cranberry, just north of Pennsylvania’s “Steel City.” Although PulpFest 2017 will not have its own beer, the convention will still have a lot of great programming. Add to that a dealers’ room featuring tens of thousands of pulp magazines, vintage paperbacks, digests, men’s adventure and true crime magazines, original art, first edition hardcovers, series books, reference books, dime novels and story papers, Big Little Books, B-Movies, serials and related paper collectibles, old-time radio shows, and Golden and Silver Age comic books, as well as newspaper adventure strips. We’ll also have a con suite. So what are you waiting for? Start making your plans to join us at the “pop culture center of the universe” for PulpFest 2017.

(Our illustration is the banner for the 3 Rivers Comicon home page, featuring a New Dimension Comics’ rack in the background. New Dimension Comics has six stores in the Pittsburgh region, providing the opportunity for feedback as well as year-round promotion of the convention.)

PulpFest 2015 Begins Today!

Aug 13, 2015 by

Shadow Comics #1PulpFest 2015 will begin this afternoon at 4 PM, as our dealers begin to erect their displays for “Summer’s Great Pulp Con!” All members, dealers included, will be able to register for the convention from 4 to 8 PM, right outside our dealers’ room. They can pick up their registration packets at this time. To help things move smoothly, please bring along a completed registration form. You can download a copy by clicking here. You only need to bring the last page of the form.

There will be early-bird shopping in the dealers’ room from 6 to 10 PM for loyal attendees who help to defray the convention’s costs by staying three nights at our host hotel. The cost is $30 for those who stay elsewhere. Our full programming slate for the evening will begin at 8 PM with a rapid-fire presentation on Walter Gibson’s use of real-world counterintelligence and espionage secrets in his Shadow novels. There will also be presentations on the detective andwestern heroes of the “Thrilling Group,” Street & Smith Comics, and sports pulps. Closing out the night will be a showing of OUT OF MIND: THE STORIES OF H. P. LOVECRAFTone of the most admired films to be inspired by the master of the cosmic terror tale. We will also be featuring “Pickman’s Model,” a short film made for ROD SERLING’S NIGHT GALLERY and based on the Lovecraft work of the same title. You can find additional details about these and all of our presentations by clicking the red schedule button on our home page. Each event on the schedule is linked to a post that provides further information on that event. Just click on the event’s title.

If you have yet to book your room for this year’s convention, please do so without delay. Remember that PulpFest will be sharing downtown Columbus with Matsuricon this week. However, there may still be a few rooms available at nearby hotels. Please visit www.pulpfest.com/2015/06/16872/  and you’ll find a link to a list of hotels to choose from. Alternately, we suggest that you search for a room at tripadvisor or a similar website as soon as you possibly can. If you are not from the Columbus area and want to attend PulpFest 2015, we urge you to book your room now and not wait until you arrive.

For those of you who have not yet registered for PulpFest 2015, Thursday evening will be an ideal time to do so. Four-day memberships will be available for $40. There will be no single-day memberships available for Thursday only. Children who are fifteen and younger and accompanied by a parent, will be admitted free of charge. Please visit our registration page for further details. Members will also be able to register for the convention on Friday morning, beginning at 9 PM, and at any time during regular dealers’ room hours. Single day memberships will be available for $20 for Friday or Saturday and $10 for Sunday.

Thrilling Detective 1943-11From 4 PM to 11 PM on Thursday, the dealers’ room will be open for exhibitors to set up their displays. At this point, we urge all of our dealers to take full advantage of our generous load-in and set-up period. While unloading and transporting your goods should be very easy – there’s a back entrance to the hotel for loading and we have been granted exclusive use of a freight elevator – there is bound to be a certain amount of disorientation as folks negotiate their way around the Hyatt. Remember that we’ll also be offering early-bird shopping in the dealers’ room from 6 to 10 PM on Thursday evening, an extra four hours of selling opportunities to people who are ready to buy!

Although the focus of PulpFest is pulp magazines and related materials, digests, vintage paperbacks, men’s adventure and true crime magazines, first-edition hardcovers, series books, dime novels, original art, Big Little Books, B-movies, serials and related paper collectibles, old-time-radio shows, and Golden and Silver Age as well as pulp-related comic books and games are also allowed.

(Street & Smith entered the comic book market in January 1940 by publishing an anthology title called SHADOW COMICS. The first issue featured cover art by George Rozen. Beginning tonight at 9:20 PM, Anthony Tollin, Tony Isabella, Will Murray, and Michelle Nolan will explore 75 Years of Street & Smith Comics in PulpFest‘s second floor programming area at the Hyatt Regency Columbus.

Tonight at 8:40 PM, John Wooley and John Gunnison pay a visit to some of the continuing characters from the Thrilling line of detective pulps including their flagship title, THRILLING DETECTIVE. Pictured here is the November 1943 number of the magazine, also featuring cover artwork by George Rozen.)

Thrilling Comic Book Heroes

Jun 21, 2015 by

Thrilling Comics 1939-1Since late May, we’ve primarily been exploring the pulp magazines of the Thrilling Group on the PulpFest home page. We’ve discussed the Standard sports pulps, western hero pulps, thrilling detectives, and the pulp heroes of the thirties and the forties. We’ve even found time to explore the lives and careers of Standard’s managing editor Leo Margulies and his assistant Mort Weisinger, prolific author Norman Daniels, equally prolific cover artist Rudolph Belarski, and more. Today, we will turn our attention to the Standard Comics line.

Ned Pines was primarily a pulp publisher with nearly four-thousand issues produced from 1931-1958, along with RANCH ROMANCES through 1971. However, Standard was also a second-tier comics firm from 1940 through 1959, with the circulation of the company’s comic books being somewhat limited on the West Coast. When they started hunting for them, comic book collectors found the Standard Comics to be much scarcer than pulps from Standard, especially given the firm’s prolific publication of science fiction and western pulps.

The firm’s costumed heroes were published only from 1940 through 1949, then made no appearances anywhere–except in fanzines–until a few AC reprints began popping up in the 1980s. Not counting westerns, science-fiction, magicians and jungle characters, Standard/Better/Nedor/Four Star/Pines/Visual Editions published only seventeen strips with costumed characters, most of them beginning during the first half of the 1940s. The only two names commonly recognized today are The Black Terror and The Fighting Yank. Therefore, as colorful as they were, the Standard heroes were far less known among Golden Age comic book collectors than were the super heroes from the likes of top-tier publishers DC, Timely, Fawcett, and Quality.

The company’s flagship character was ostensibly Doc Strange, who appeared in 88 stories beginning with THRILLING COMICS #1, dated February 1940, and running through #64, dated February 1948, and in the anthology title AMERICA’S BEST COMICS #1-23 and #27. Created by writer Richard Hughes, later the editor of the American Comics Group, and artist Alexander Kostuke, Doc Strange gained his powers from a magic elixir and was basically a super-powered Doc Savage. He soon began to resemble a weight-lifter in t-shirt and khaki pants. Doc never had his own title, but he was popular enough to hang around longer than most superheroes of the early forties, lasting almost to the end of the decade.

Exciting Comics #9The real flagship, of course, became the colorful Black Terror, who debuted in EXCITING COMICS #9, dated May 1941, running through the last issue, #69, dated September 1949. Along with Tim, the teen partner he acquired, he was essentially a Batman knockoff and gained his powers through drugs — fitting because he was a pharmacist in civilian life. Unlike other publishers, Standard almost never used recurring villains, instead presenting the most generic of all generic super-hero stories. Also created by Hughes, as well as artist Don Gabrielson, The Black Terror was one of two Standard super heroes with his own title, running in #1-27 from 1942 through 1949. He also appeared in all 31 issues of AMERICA’S BEST COMICS, concurrent with his own title, for a total of 174 stories. All three of the comics that ran The Black Terror were canceled in 1949, and a few years later, the company largely departed the comic book market.

The other Standard character with his own title, The Fighting Yank, first appeared in STARTLING COMICS #10, dated September 1941. His adventures ran through STARTLING #49, dated Jan. 1948, along with FIGHTING YANK #1-29 and AMERICA’S BEST COMICS # 9, 11 and #13-25, for a total of 141 stories. A supernaturally created character, he was Standard’s answer to Timely’s Captain America and the many other mainstream Golden Age patriotic heroes. Likewise created by Hughes, along with artist Jon Blummer, the Yank was in “real life” Bruce Carter III, who had an identical ancestor — also named Bruce Carter — in the War for Independence. In times of crisis, the earlier Bruce would manifest himself in spirit form, and help out. It was the Revolutionary War Bruce who showed the World War II Bruce where to find a magic cloak able to protect him from harm and impart super strength. In addition to this green cloak, Bruce III’s Fighting Yank outfit included several 18th century fashion motifs, such as a tri-corner hat and square buckles, and a modern-style American flag on his chest. The series ended in 1949.

Startling Comics #1Standard’s other primary super heroes were Captain Future and Pyroman. Even though he had the same name as an existing Standard pulp hero, Captain Future resembled Superman and Captain Marvel. The character’s adventures ran from STARTLING COMICS #1, dated June 1940, through #40, dated July 1946. He also appeared in AMERICA’S BEST COMICS #1-3, 5 and 22, for 45 stories. The Captain was created by Pines editor Mort Weisinger, whose contribution seems to have been suggesting a hero who would have adventures under that name. Although the author is not known, the original Captain Future story was drawn by Kin Platt, who later co-created Supermouse, the first ongoing funny-animal superhero in comics.

After scientist Andrew Bryant bathes himself in a mixture of gamma and infrared radiation, he can fly, emit bolts of energy from his hands, and perform prodigious feats of strength. Calling himself Captain Future, he wasn’t invulnerable and needed to be recharged from time to time. So he usually kept his radiation machine relatively handy. Although featured on the covers of the first nine issues of STARTLING COMICS, Captain Future was demoted to the back pages of the comic book following the introduction of The Fighting Yank in the tenth issue of the comic magazine.

Pyroman, a quasi-Human Torch with electrical powers, ran in STARTLING COMICS #18-26, 28-43 and in most issues of AMERICA’S BEST COMICS for a total of 43 stories. Created by an unknown writer and artist Jack Binder, Pyroman never had his own title, but did take the cover away from Fighting Yank in December, 1942, when his origin story appeared in STARTLING #18. Dick Martin had been a student of electrical engineering before being framed for arson. Sentenced to die in the electric chair, he got super-powered instead. Pyroman’s powers weren’t exactly flame-based, like The Human Torch’s. Instead, he was crackling with electricity, which he could hurl at his foes in the form of lightning bolts or form into a sort of force field. The character stuck around in STARTLING COMICS until 1947 when he was replaced by Lance Lewis, Space Detective.

Wonder Comics #1There were five other patriotic strips — Standard rivaled Timely for the most involvement in World War II by its super heroes. These were The American Eagle (34 stories, mostly in EXCITING), The American Crusader (22 stories, mostly in THRILLING), The Liberator (22 stories, mostly in EXCITING), The Four Comrades (a kid group who appeared only in World War II era issues of STARTLING) and The Grim Reaper (19 stories, all but two in WONDER COMICS #1-17).

Standard had two early non-powered costume heroes — The Mask (only in EXCITING #1-20) and The Woman in Red (primarily in THRILLING). The Mask was the comic book version of The Black Bat, a pulp hero created by writer Norman Daniels for Standard’s BLACK BOOK DETECTIVE. Due to the resemblance of the character to Batman, Standard decided not to do a Black Bat comic series; instead it introduce The Mask, a series based on The Black Bat, but with the names changed. Later, a version of The Phantom Detective from the pulps appeared in most issues of THRILLING #53-70. The other noteworthy non-powered costume hero was Miss Masque, who appeared in sixteen stories in four titles, beginning with EXCITING #51 (Sept. 1946). The Scarab and The Cavalier also made a handful of appearances, but were strictly back-of-the-book characters.

Wonderman, a science-fictional super-powered character, debuted in the short-lived MYSTERY COMICS #1-4 (all 1944) and continued in WONDER COMICS #9-20, along with two stories in the giant COMPLETE BOOK OF COMICS AND FUNNIES (a 1944 one-shot). William F. Wise sub-published several comics for Standard during the era of wartime paper restrictions, including MYSTERY COMICS and two giant square bound one-shot titles in 1944.

Not counting the William F. Wise issues, Standard published only seven titles with costumed heroes. All were at least reasonably successful, including the twenty issues of WONDER COMICS from 1944-1948. The cover art, almost entirely by Alex Schomburg, doubtless had much to do with selling the comics, as most of the interior art was unremarkable. All titles ran bi-monthly or quarterly during most of the 1940s, with a short run of monthly issues for THRILLING, STARTLING, and EXCITING until paper rationing took hold.

Supermouse #1The only super heroes Standard published in the 1950s were mighty mice — the original World War II creation Supermouse, who ran through 1958, and Paul Terry’s Mighty Mouse. Standard acquired the license from St. John in the mid-1950s.

As part of its celebration of the Thrilling Group, PulpFest 2015 is proud to welcome Altus Press publisher and 2012 Munsey Award winner Matt Moring; 1979 Lamont Award winner and author of “The Wild Adventures of Doc Savage and Tarzan” Will Murray; pop culture expert and 2014 Inkpot Award winner Michelle Nolan; and popular culture Professor Garyn G. Roberts, who was awarded the Munsey in 2013, for a presentation entitled “Thrilling Heroes of Standard’s Pulps and Comics.” Scheduled for Friday evening, August 14th, at 10:40 PM, it will examine the evolution of the Standard hero in both pulp magazines and comic books. Thrilling’s heroes of the detective and western genres will be dissected on Thursday, August 13th.

Our discussion of Standard’s heroes began on Friday, June 19th, to call attention to this “Thrilling Presentation!!!” You can read our previous posts about the Thrilling pulp heroes of the thirties and forties by visiting  www.pulpfest.com.

(Doc Strange, a super-powered Doc Savage, headlined the first issue of THRILLING COMICS, dated February 1940, and featuring cover artwork drawn by Alexander Kostuk.

The Black Terror was introduced in the ninth issue of EXCITING COMICS, dated May 1941. The front cover was drawn by Elmer Wexler. The character was created by writer Richard Hughes and artist Alexander Kostuke. The Black Terror was one of two Standard super heroes with his own title. The other was The Fighting Yank, likewise created by Hughes, along with artist Jon Blummer.

That’s the comic book Captain Future on the cover of STARTLING COMICS #1, dated June 1940. The cover artist was Kin Platt, who also drew the first Captain Future comic book story. A character who resembled Superman and Captain Marvel, the comic book version of Captain Future was nothing like the character found in the pulps, created by Edmond Hamilton.

Created by writer Richard Hughes and artist Al Camy, The Grim Reaper was one of a seeming army of non-superpowered masked mystery men who fought crime and the Axis during the forties using only their wits, fists, and, in the case of The Grim Reaper, two .45 automatic pistols, knives, swords, and occasionally machine-guns. Alex Schomburg was the cover artist featured on the first issue of WONDER COMICS, illustrating The Grim Reaper story that headed the issue. Debuting in FIGHTING YANK #7, dated February 1944, The Grim Reaper had to wait until the second issue of WONDER COMICS to have his origin story told.

Ned Pines was one of many pulp magazine publishers who got into comic books the minute he saw what success DC Comics was having with Superman. Like most, he entered the field with a bunch of anthology titles anchored by super heroes. He started diversifying the minute it began to look like the public might be getting tired of that genre. In 1942 and 1943, he introduced a couple of humor titles for kids, HAPPY COMICS and COO COO COMICS. It was in the first issue of the latter, dated October, 1942, that Supermouse made his debut. Supermouse went on to become one of the most successful funny animal superheroes to come out of comic books. Although COO COO fell by the wayside in 1952, Supermouse had gotten his own comic in 1948 and kept at it until Fall 1958, about a year before Pines completely dropped his line of comic books. Among the writers and artists to work on the character were Dan Gordon (creator of The Flintstones), Richard Hughes (creator of Herbie), Gene Fawcette (who worked for Quality Comics, Dell and many other publishers), and Milton Stein (who worked as an assistant animator for Fleischer in the 1940s). The cover art for SUPERMOUSE #1, dated December 1948, was drawn by Carl Wessler.

Many thanks to Michelle Nolan, Don Markstein’s TOONOPEDIA, Comic Book +, and Comic Vine for their help with this article.)

 

Hey!! Kids Comics

May 31, 2015 by

Shadow Comics #1When Street & Smith got around to releasing its first comic book in January 1940, the four-color industry was six years old. Started by the Eastern Color Printing Company in 1934 and strengthened by Major Malcolm Wheeler-Nicholson in the next year, the comic book market exploded following the introduction of Superman in 1938 and Batman in 1939. Although its iconic pulp heroes–Doc Savage and The Shadow–helped to inspire the creation of these superheroes, the pulp magazine powerhouse waited to join the fledgling industry. Although it would never become a leader of the industry–producing only 351 issues of comic books–the Street & Smith four-color line would create some of best-selling books of the Golden Age of comics, racking up nearly three million issues a month in 1943.

PulpFest 2015 will mark the 75th anniversary of Street & Smith comic books on Thursday, August 13th with a multimedia presentation showcasing work by Walter Gibson, Theodore Sturgeon, Jack and Otto Binder, Edd Cartier, Bob Powell, George Tuska and Joe Maneely from some of the rarest comic book issues of the Golden Age of Comics. Panelists Will Murray, Tony Isabella and Michelle Nolan will join moderator Anthony Tollin to celebrate the 1940 comic book debuts of The Shadow, Doc Savage, Nick Carter, Bill Barnes, The Avenger, Iron Munro, Carrie Cashin and The Whisperer.

The panel will also discuss the 1942 Bill Barnes comic story that predicted the U-235 atomic bombing of Japan, the most successful sports comic book of all time–TRUE SPORT PICTURE STORIES–and original Street & Smith comic book features including Blackstone: Super Magician, Supersnipe, Red Dragon, Ajax the Sun Man, Hooded Wasp and the adventures of Little Nemo in Slumberland by Otto Binder and Robert Windsor McCay.

Tony Isabella is an American comic-book writer, editor, artist and critic, best known as the creator and writer of DC Comics’ first major African-American superhero, Black Lightning; and the co-creator of Marvel’s Misty Knight and Tigra. He is the author of 1000 COMIC BOOKS YOU MUST READ, a history of the American comic book industry wrapped around commentaries of more than a thousand comic books from 1938 to present. The first in a series of memoirs of sorts will be published later this year. His latest views and reviews can be found at the nigh-daily Tony Isabella’s Bloggy Thing.”

Will Murray is a noted scholar of American popular culture, having written hundreds of essays on the pulps, comic books, motion pictures, and more. He is the author of “The All-New Wild Adventures of Doc Savage” and co-editor to Sanctum Books’ very successful pulp reprint series.

Michelle Nolan has been a newspaper and magazine feature writer for fifty years. She has written more than five hundred comics-related features for magazines such as COMIC BOOK MARKETPLACE, COMICS BUYER’S GUIDE, ALTER EGO, and COMIC BOOK ARTIST.

Anthony Tollin is an authority on comics, pulps, and old-time radio. A former colorist and assistant production manager for DC Comics, he is the editor-publisher of Sanctum Books, responsible for hundreds of authorized reprints of Street & Smith’s Avenger, Doc Savage, Nick Carter, The Shadow, and The Whisperer. Winner of the 2011 Munsey Award, Anthony will soon be publishing a deluxe hardcover edition reprinting the entire two-year run of The Shadow newspaper comic strip.

“75 Years of Street & Smith Comics” will take place on the second floor of the Hyatt-Regency hotel in beautiful downtown Columbus, Ohio, beginning at 9:20 PM on August 13th. Register for “Summer’s Great Pulp Con” to be sure to be first to the spinner rack by clicking here.

(Street & Smith entered the comic book market in January 1940 by publishing an anthology title called SHADOW COMICS. In addition to the title character, the book also featured such pulp favorites as Doc Savage, Bill Barnes, Iron Munro, and Carrie Cashin. Dime novel stalwarts Frank Merriwell, Nick Carter, and Diamond Dick also appeared in the issue. The front cover art, created by George Rozen, originally appeared on the November 15, 1932 issue of THE SHADOW MAGAZINE, illustrating Walter B. Gibson’s novel, “Dead Men Live.” SHADOW COMICS would run for a total of 101 issues. It was cancelled in 1949 when Street & Smith pulled the plug on all of its pulps and comic books.)

Space Operas in the Sky

Jun 6, 2014 by

Planet Stories 39-WAlthough Fiction House had been around since the 1920s, it waited until 1939 to enter the science-fiction field. A year before, it had joined the comic book industry with Jumbo Comics, home to Sheena, “Queen of the Jungle.” Perhaps trying to hedge its bets, Fiction House launched a science-fiction pulp, Planet Stories, and a science-fiction comic book, Planet Comics, at the same time.

Over the years, Fiction House had developed a reputation for offering action-packed stories of adventure in its pulps. Planet Stories would prove to be no exception to this rule. Over its 71 issues, the rough-paper magazine would be home to countless science-fiction adventure stories called “space operas.”

In her introduction to The Best of Planet Stories #1, acclaimed author and screenwriter Leigh Brackett writes: “Planet, unashamedly, published “space opera” . . . . a story that has an element of adventure . . . . of great courage and daring, of battle against the forces of darkness and the unknown . . . The so-called space opera is the folk-tale, the hero-tale, of our particular niche in history . . . . These stories served to stretch our little minds, to draw us out beyond our narrow skies into the vast glooms of interstellar space, where the great suns ride in splendor and the bright nebulae fling their veils of fire parsecs-long across the universe; where the Coal-sack and the Horsehead make patterns of black mystery; where the Cepheid variables blink their evil eyes and a billion nameless planets may harbor life-forms infinitely numerous and strange.”

Running from 1939 – 1955, the early issues of Planet Stories featured writers such as Eando Binder, Nelson Bond, Ray Cummings, Ed Earl Repp, and Ross Rocklynne. By the middle-forties, Leigh Brackett and Ray Bradbury reigned supreme with the former offering seventeen “science fantasies,” while the latter introduced readers to The Martian Chronicles. They were joined by less-acclaimed authors such as Alfred Coppel, Gardner F. Fox, Henry Hasse, Emmett McDowell, and Basil Wells. The late forties and early fifties found the magazine publishing work by Poul Anderson, James Blish, Philip K. Dick, Chad Oliver, Mack Reynolds, and other greats who would go on to develop science fiction’s modern era.

Planet Stories 42-WPerhaps it was Planet Stories’ emphasis on cover art with a strong dose of sex—usually imagined by Allen Anderson or Frank Kelly Freas—that helped turn “space opera” into a pejorative term. Per Leigh Brackett, “It was fashionable for a while, among certain elements of science-fiction fandom, to hate Planet Stories. They hated the magazine, apparently, because it was not Astounding Stories.” For seventy-one issues, rather than aiming for the cerebrum, it aimed for the gut. Who is to say that one target is more valid than the other?

To learn more about the images used in this post, click on the illustrations. Click here for references consulted for this article.