When I was a kid, my local library had this enormous book, bound with mustardy yellow covers and weighing a ton; I carried The Smithsonian Book of Comic Strips around with me for the allotted two weeks I’d checked it out for. I was in eighth grade, and this massive tome introduced me to The Katzenjammer Kids, Krazy Kat, Little Nemo, and dozens of other strips.
It was edited by Bill Blackbeard, who single-handedly led the charge in preserving countless old comic strips. The Comics Journal has a lovely write-up on Blackbeard, who unfortunately passed away recently.
As far as comic strips historians go, Bill was the best.
After going cross-country to Hollywood, the Lithuanian strongman went on
and became a silent serial cowboy star. It suited the strapping Tyler: he was always self-conscious of his thick Lithuanian accent and didn’t have to worry about it betraying his performance. However, as with many of the silent era stars, the advent of the talkies wasn’t good for him, and work became scarce for the wooden Tyler.
Tom did have a few high points, however—not in terms of big gigs, but in terms of pop culture—he played John Wayne’s arch-nemesis in the final part of The Duke’s breakout movie Stagecoach, and Captain Marvel in Republic’s 1941 serial The Adventures of Captain Marvel:
And, he played The Phantom in Columbia’s live-action take on the Ghost Who Walks. Produced in 1943, before Lee Falk gave his crimebuster the “Kit Walker” handle, Tyler plays Geoffrey Prescott, who returns to the jungle to inherit the mantle of The Phantom from his dying father. Despite the relatively low budget Columbia saddled director B. Reeve Eason with, The Phantom does its damnedest to keep the look of the comic strip, from Prescott’s hat and dark glasses, to the Phantom suit itself.
Columbia tried to make a sequel to The Phantom in 1955, as television was looming as a threat to the weekly serial format. Halfway through filming, they lost the Phantom license, and salvaged the serial by putting jodhpurs and a leather aviator’s cap on The Phantom and splicing it in with long shots from the first serial.
The new title? The Adventures of Captain Africa.
The unfortunate actor taking the twin automatics from Tyler? John Hart, who briefly and unsuccessfully wore the mask and hat of The Lone Ranger in 19, after Clayton Moore left over a salary dispute.
He got even less credit than Tyler, but that’s another story…
While obviously influenced by Star Wars, it just seemed a little more…groovy, from white space/jumpsuits to silver robots. The Buck TV show launched as a theatrical film in ’79, and soon made its ways to the airwaves. Like a lot of genre shows, Buck Rogers was a victim of a necessary big budget, and only lasted a couple of seasons. But it did result in a revival of the then-defunct comic strip, now drawn by the brilliant Gray Morrow, who would later enjoy a run on another iconic strip hero—Tarzan.
We did a panel with stars Gil Gerard and Erin Gray at San Diego a couple of years ago, accompanied by Flint Dille of the Dille Estate that owns Buck. This was a multi-faceted experience for me: Gerard was charming and hell, reminding me of how his Buck Rogers was a cross between both Luke Skywalker and Han Solo. Erin seriously ranks as one of the most beautiful and lovely women I’ve ever met. But Flint was the one I was most psyched about meeting, for his script work on both the G.I. Joe and Transformers cartoons in the 1980s. I talked with Flint recently, so keep an eye out for the interview in the coming weeks.
Because, when the Star Wars generation didn’t have sequels or Buck Rogers to watch, we were usually glued to the tube watching one or both toy-based cartoons.
HERMES PRESS TO CELEBRATE “BIG” JOHN BUSCEMA AT WONDERCON
To celebrate the release of John Buscema: Michelangelo of Comics, a biography and artistic appreciation of the legendary Marvel Comics artist’s work, Hermes Press is holding a panel at Wondercon. Guests include artist Ernie Chan, author Brian Peck, publisher Daniel Herman, and special guest inker Joe Sinnott, attending via special teleconference.
The panel is held on Saturday at 2:00 PM in room 236.
Please contact Hermes Press Publicity Coordinator Christopher Irving at email@example.com for additional information and interview requests.