Although the first issue of Spacemen magazine was published in mid-1961 only two issues would appear on newsstands in its inaugural year. The quarterly magazine was published by Warren Publishing and edited by Forrest J. Ackerman, the same team behind Famous Monsters of Filmland.
It would be inaccurate to call Spacemen the science fiction counterpart to the horror-themed Famous Monsters since the latter highlighted any science fiction film with extraterrestrial creatures or actors in make-up, and the former ignored all but those science fiction tales set in space (Tagline: The World’s Only Space Movie Magazine!) This might explain why there was probably only enough content for four issues a year. When there weren’t enough space movies to write about, Ackerman would turn to short fiction, which brings us to a 1961 (or perhaps, 1962) submission letter sent by a 14-year-old Stephen King:
I suspect “O. Henry’s Comet” was a feature in Spacemen reserved for short science fiction stories with a twist ending. Although Ackerman declined to buy the story for Spacemen, he was not a man known for throwing anything away. He would finally publish King’s story in a 1994 issue of Famous Monsters of Filmland under the title ‘The Killer” (at the risk of spoiling a story published almost twenty years ago, it is a tale about an amnesic who doesn’t know he’s really just a robot.)
The Glob (Journey into Mystery #72) is an alien advance scout for an invasion from space. He lies in wait for years in an old Transylvanian castle disguised as a statue and can only be resurrected by the application of a special paint. An unwitting painter brings the monster to life but ultimately succeeds in defeating the Glob with a can of turpentine.
Klagg (Tales of Suspense #21) is an alien who visits Earth and becomes so upset with the war-like ways of humanity that he declares war upon all the nations of Earth. A young lay-about convinces communist agents to join forces with the free world to confront Klagg. Seeing that the various nations are able to set aside their differences and band together against him, Klagg decides that there is hope for humanity and suspends his campaign of destruction.
Robot X (Amazing Adventures #4) is a thinking robot who is the propaganda target of the editor of a local paper. Robot X builds a robot army in a secret factory and assaults the town to capture and expose the newspaper editor as a Martian in disguise. The Martians knew that they could not manipulate thinking robots and had to turn the humans against them. With the alien plot foiled, Robot X and his fellow robots deactivate themselves so that humans will not need to live in fear.
Moomba (Tales to Astonish #23) is the leader of an alien fifth column disguised as African wood carvings (I suspect he stole the idea from the Glob’s people). Moomba gives his command to strike and all the carvings get up and begin to attack their human owners. The wood they are made from is so hard that fire and bullets can’t harm them. Eventually, an African witch doctor defeats Moomba and makes him promise to leave Earth along with all of his wooden warriors.
Zzutak (Strange Tales#88) was created by magic paints supplied to a comic book artist by an Aztec elder. The artist is hypnotized by the paints to travel to Mexico and create Zzutak, but after hearing the elder’s plans, he mutters under his breath “Zzutak is your enemy” while painting a second creature. When the magic paint brings the second monster into existence, it begins a battle with Zzutak. The elder tries to get them to stop fighting, but they ignore him. During the fight, the columns supporting the temple are damaged and the whole structure soon crashes down on all three of them. The elder survives, but a blow to the head has caused amnesia and his plans are lost forever.
The Jack Kirby cover of Tales of Suspense #23 depicts a scene from a Stan Lee/Steve Ditko backup story called TheCreature from the Black Bog. Ordinarily, the cover of ToS would show a scene from the Kirby drawn first story in the book. The lead story that month (“I Entered the Dimension of Doom”) contained a number of features that would have made for an exciting cover; a two-dimensional world populated with frog-faced creatures and a giant “hypno-creature”.
Kirby’s cover is strikingly threatening compared to the rather sweet and endearing story and artwork by Lee and Ditko. (I like the way Ditko draws old people!) One aspect of the cover that is an improvement is the title. The Creature in the Black Bog makes more sense than the Creature from the Black Bog.
Yes! Another puppet post! This one is about a TV show that debuted in 1961 called Supercar. Supercar was produced by Gerry Anderson who, with his team of puppeteers and model builders, would later create Thunderbirds. Like Thunderbirds (1964) and Four Feather Falls (1960), Supercar utilized Anderson’s signature “Supermarionation”.
Supermarionation used marionettes suspended and controlled by thin wires. The fine metal filaments doubled as both suspension-control wires for puppet movement, and as electrical cables that took the control signals to the electronic components concealed in the marionettes’ heads. The heads contained solenoid motors that created the synchronised mouth movements for dialog and other functions. The voice synchronisation was achieved by using a specially designed audio filter which was actuated by the signal from the pre-recorded tapes of the voice actors; this filter would convert the signal into a series of pulses which then travelled down the wire to the solenoids controlling the puppet’s lips, creating lip movements that were precisely synchronised with the dialogue.
The one flaw in the system was that its simulation of walking was rather ridiculous looking. This weakness was likely the inspiration for a show where the hero spent most of his time sitting in a car. The hero is pilot Mike Mercury who lives in a secret base in Nevada with two scientists (Prof. Popkiss and Dr. Beaker), an orphan boy (Jimmy Gibson) and a weird monkey-like creature named Mitch.
The show aired on ITV in the UK and was syndicated to local channels in the US. The show spawned a comic strip in the British magazine TV Comics that outlasted the show itself by two years. In the US Gold Key published a Supercar comic book that lasted four issues.
Here is episode one (in two parts) in which Mike and the Supercar rescue young Jimmy and his monkey Mitch. Even if you’re not inclined to watch the entire episode be sure to, at least, treat yourself to the opening titles and the theme song sung by Mike Sammes.
When I originally posted the photo on the left in a post about Disneyland’s forgotten ride, Flying Saucers I assumed that the Spaceman and Spacegirl were there only for the grand opening of the ride in 1961. I have since learned that the space couple were regular features in Disneyland’s Tomorrowland from the mid-Fifties to the late Sixties The couple performed the same function as those in Mickey Mouse, Goofy and Snow White costumes; greeting guests and posing for pictures with them. They would sometimes be put to work selling balloons. One of those guests in 1959 was Vice President Richard Nixon. Various “cast members” filled the spacesuits over about a decade. The suits themselves evolved only a little over the years.
There were several comic books in the early Sixties that included tales of both magic and science fiction, but the two genres were rarely combined into an individual story. An exception was the DC title House of Secrets which between 1959 and 1965 featured a magician named Mark Merlin. Mark Merlin was a supernatural sleuth (think Doctor Strange, except more sensibly dressed) who lived in a mansion he inherited from his stage magician uncle. The mansion was located on Mystery Hill and contained a vast collection of occult books and artifacts. Defying all expectations from an expert in the supernatural, Merlin would use these tools to battle extraterrestrial threats to Earth far more often than he used them to thwart villains with an occult bent. Along for the ride was Merlin’s beautiful blond secretary and girlfriend, Elsa Magusson.
Mark Merlin was created and drawn by Mort Meskin, however, as with My Greatest Adventure, the covers were all done by the prolific Dick Dillin. Here is the 1961 cover gallery for House of Secrets:
The magazine clipping on the left has been in my in box for a couple of months and until now I knew little more about the depicted mechanical man than what was in the attached text. Thanks to CyberneticZoo.com I not only discovered more details about this 50-year-old robot but also learned that it is on display in an Austrian museum.
The MM7 (not MM47 as identified in the clipping) was designed and built by Austrian scientist Clause Scholz in 1961 as a means of studying cybernetic movement. With its feedback stepping switches and visual receptors, the MM7 is regarded as the predecessor of today’s industrial robots. MM stands for “Maschinen Mensch” - mechanical man.
The MM7 is now on display at the Technical Museum of Vienna. It’s unclear whether the fiberglass exoskeleton was built without a back or if the back has been removed for display purposes. Regardless, its absence provides a fascinating peek into the workings of this incredible machine.
My Greatest Adventure was a DC science fiction and fantasy anthology series similar to the ones that dominated the Atlas/Marvel line in the early Sixties. Along with two other DC titles, Tales of the Unexplained and Strange Adventures, MGA‘s covers were filled with alien and supernatural menace. Although he drew none of the interior artwork (that was done by Will Ely, George Roussos, Lee Elias and others) every MGA cover in 1961 was drawn by Dick Dillin. Dillin cut his teeth on titles like Blackhawk (Quality Comics) in the early Fifties. After Quality Comics went out of business he was delighted to find that DC had bought the rights to Blackhawk and were looking for an artist. It was while performing the duties of full-time artist for Blackhawk (covers and interiors) that Dillin added a few bucks to his paycheck by drawing the covers below. Dick Dillin would gain fame a decade later with his unprecedented run on Justice League of America between 1968 and 1980.
The September 1961 cover of Analog Science Fact-Fiction would be the last that H. R. van Dongen would paint for John Campbell’s Astounding/Analog. van Dongen made his first pulp magazine sell to Super Science Stories in 1950, and except for a few paperback covers, all but disappeared after this issue of Analog was published. Little is known of van Dongen’s personal life and one suspects his name may have been a pseudonym borrowed from Dutch avant-garde artist Kees van Dongen. The illustration depicts a scene from the first installment of Harry Harrison’s “A Sense of Obligation” (aka Planet of the Damned) which would be nominated for a “best novel” Hugo in 1962.
The Magazine of Fantasy & Science Fiction that month had another cover by the prolific Ed Emshwiller (Emsh would paint eight of F&SF’s twelve covers in 1961). I’m uncertain which story is being depicted on this cover. It is dominated by the woman in the foreground, distressed perhaps by the alien structure or creature in the lower left corner. Her rescuers are barely discernible on the horizon.
Amazing Stories‘ cover sported one of those Alex Schomburg paintings one would expect to see on the cover of Popular Mechanics. This cover depicts a scene from Philip Jose Farmer’s “Tongues of the Moon” in which American and Soviet colonists on the Moon go to war with each other.
Schomburg spent the 1940s working in comic books for companies like Marvel’s precursor Timely Comics. Stan Lee called him the Norman Rockwell of comic books. Before he left comic books for magazines in the early 1950s, Schomburg had drawn almost 600 covers for comic books featuring characters like Captain America, the Sub-Mariner and the Human Torch. The amount of detail he put into even the most ephemeral of media was matched by only a few other artists of the time (like George Evans with whom Schomburg shared cover duties on Aces High ).
Despite his reputation for detail, Alex Schomburg wasn’t above knocking out an occasional uninspired clinker like the rather boring cover that month for Amazing‘s sister magazine Fantastic Stories of Imagination. The van Vogt story has an “and-those-sole-survivors-were named-Adam-and-Eve” denouement which Schomburg does nothing to conceal with his cover.
Brian Lewis of Jet-Ace Logan fame illustrated the cover that month for the British science fiction magazine, Science Fiction Adventures. His work in color is startlingly different from his clean and detailed work in black and white comic strips. Influenced by surrealists like Paul Klee, Max Ernst, and Richard Powers, Lewis’ non-strip art utilized strong colors laid on thick. This style is on display in this cover featuring out-sized garden produce and a distant ruin of some lost civilization. He painted about one hundred covers for British science fiction magazines between 1954 and 1962. He then moved into animation where he worked on projects like Yellow Submarine. Throughout his career he never strayed far from the weekly comic strips, working on characters like Vampirella (Warren) and Dan Dare (in 2000 AD)
When I posted last month about Leaf’s Spook Stories series of trading cards, I apparently only scratched the surface of a rather prolific and competitive industry that was exploiting a craze for monsters in 1961. Studios at the time were packaging up their old horror movies and syndicating them to TV stations as Creature Features. The local hosts presenting these films may have had more to do with the craze than the films themselves, but there was enough enthusiasm generated to make a profit selling nickel packs of monster cards. The ones below, made by Nu-Cards, didn’t even come with a stick of gum! Like the Spook Stories cards, these included “horrible” jokes on the back.