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  1. The Pixie Dust of Science

    October 25, 2011 by The Belated Nerd

    As all comic book readers in 1961 knew, Cosmic Rays are the pixie dust of science. There was  no telling what effects or uses could be attributed to the darn things. They granted fantastic powers like invisibility or controlled human combustion. They could transform a normal man into a super strong pile of orange rocks. They could enable certain speedsters to travel through time.

    I’m not going to burst any bubbles of fantasy on this page, but if you really want to know what cosmic rays are all about, checkout this Japanese educational comic book published in 2008: What are Cosmic Rays?


  2. Seacon 1961

    October 24, 2011 by The Belated Nerd

    This post is even more belated than usual since the 19th World Science Fiction Convention (Worldcon), also known as Seacon, was held September 2-4, 1961.  Held at the Hyatt House Hotel, Seattle was a fortunate site for a Science Fiction convention since a year later the city would host the future-themed Century 21 Exposition (better  known as the Seattle World’s Fair.) Only a few blocks from the hotel was the unfinished Space Needle, still missing its flying saucer-shaped top.

    The guest of honor at the 19th Worldcon was Robert A. Heinlein, who gave a speech titled “The Future Revisited”. The Toastmaster was Harlan Ellison and the convention chairman was Wally Weber.

    The following Hugo Awards (named after Hugo Gernsback) were presented for the best science fiction or fantasy works of 1960.

    Best Novel – A Canticle for Leibowitz by Walter M. Miller, Jr.
    Best Short Fiction – “The Longest Voyage” by Poul Anderson
    Best Dramatic Presentation – The Twilight Zone (TV series) by Rod Serling
    Best Professional Magazine – Astounding/Analog edited by John W. Campbell, Jr.
    Best Professional Artist – Ed Emshwiller
    Best Fanzine – Who Killed Science Fiction? edited by Earl Kemp

    Other notable attendees… You know what? Let’s skip the rest of the program and get straight to the good stuff. Fifty-year-old cosplay!


  3. The Bobby Darin Dream Car

    October 23, 2011 by The Belated Nerd

    Forget the Batmobile; I’ll take Bobby Darin’s Dream Car.

    Andy Di Dia was a clothing designer from Detroit who spent seven years and over $150,000 building a car that puts the Ford Futura concept car that evolved into the Batmobile to shame.  Di Dia’s  friend, singer Bobby Darin, bought the car from him in 1961 and drove it to the Academy Awards and in movies until donating it to the Museum of Transportation in St. Louis, MO in 1970.

    The car’s metallic red exterior is from 30 coats of paint with real ground diamonds for sparkle.  The body was made from hand-fashioned soft aluminum. There are hidden headlights and tail lights that swivel as the car turns. Inside, the seats each have their own ash tray, cigarette lighter, and radio speaker. On the dash are oversized levers that control the air conditioning, heater and defroster. The car has a 125-inch wheelbase and is powered by a V8 engine.

    Put someone like Bobby Darin behind the wheel and you’ve got nothing less than a double dose of cool!

     


  4. The Other DC (Commando & Victor Comics)

    October 22, 2011 by The Belated Nerd

    D. C. Thomson & Co. is a publishing company based in Dundee, Scotland, which in addition to  publishing newspapers like The Dundee Courier, The Evening Telegraph and The Sunday Post, also produces comic books like Beano, The Dandy and Commando.   In 1884, David Coupar Thomson took over his family’s publishing business and in 1905 established it as D.C. Thomson. Thomson and his company were (and, to an extent, still are) notable for their conservatism. Early in the century, D. C. Thomson & Co vigorously opposed the introduction of trade unions into their workforce, and even refused to hire Catholics.

    This conservatism was reflected in the extreme British nationalism on display in two fervently patriotic comic book titles introduced in 1961; The Victor and Commando. The Victor debuted in January 1961 and had an incredible run of 1,657 issues before its cancellation in 1992. Commando, which was first published in June 1961, is still being published with an astounding issue count rapidly approaching 4,500!  Here is a small sample of covers from those two books’  inaugural year:


  5. Closer Than We Think!

    October 21, 2011 by The Belated Nerd

    Arthur Radebaugh was an industrial designer who spent most of his career working  for the  automotive industry. Between 1958 and 1962 he moonlit as a futurist illustrator writing and drawing the syndicated Sunday comic strip Closer Than We Think! 

    Click the images for a larger view.


  6. Mobot the Magnificent Mobile Robot

    October 20, 2011 by The Belated Nerd

    In 1961, the Hughes Aircraft Electronic Labs introduced the world to Mobot the Magnificent Mobile Robot. Mobot had about the same mass as all of the appliances in your kitchen combined (assuming you owned two refrigerators) and was designed to automate tiresome household tasks like zipping a dress or doing your nails. The only drawback was that  an on-staff PhD in electrical engineering had to be sitting behind a nearby control board to make it work.

    I wonder if Ed Emshwiller’s illustration for the January, 1955 cover of Galaxy Science Fiction was an inspiration for this wildly impractical household appliance.

    Whenever I’m short on ideas for this blog, I can always count on the  LIFE photo archive hosted by Google.


  7. Frankenstein (Assembly Required)

    October 19, 2011 by The Belated Nerd

    Like  rival hobby company Revell, the mainstay of Aurora Plastics’ line of model kits in the Fifties was scale-model, unassembled replicas of military hardware, although Aurora’s were generally smaller and more affordable than Revell’s. Around 1955, Aurora expanded its line to include plastic figurines of medieval knights, clowns, and traditionally dressed people from around the world (“Guys and Gals of all Nations”).

    Meanwhile, in Hollywood, Universal Pictures realized there was still money to be made off of their old monster films from previous decades. Universal packaged films featuring Dracula, the Mummy, the Wolf Man, Frankenstein’s Monster, and other ghouls for broadcast over local TV channels. The local stations created assorted horror hosts to present these films. When the local stations began getting mail from their viewers they were surprised to find that a large percentage of those watching the old monster movies were teenaged or younger. The popularity of these films with children might be explained by the extinction of the horror comic book in 1954 when public opinion and the new Comics Code Authority deemed the horror genre to be inappropriate for children. Children with a taste for horror simply switched from reading comic books to watching “creature features” on their local television stations and maybe picking up a copy of  Forrest Ackerman’s Famous Monsters of Filmland.  Knowing that their audience was largely made up of young people, the horror hosts softened the horror they presented with touches of humor and ridicule that made the genre seem less threatening to adults, while Famous Monsters gave a behind the scenes look that assured everyone that it was all just made up.

    Sometime in early 1961, it suddenly became acceptable to directly market monsters to children (TV stations and Famous Monsters could always argue that adults were the target audience). It started with bubblegum cards like Spook Stories and Horror Monsters, however toy manufacturers were still leary. A hobby company on the cusp of adult and childhood pastimes was an ideal path to full acceptance of monsters in the playroom.  Looking to expand its line of figurines beyond little Dutch boys and the Black Knight, Aurora bought the rights to manufacture models of all of the monsters who had appeared in Universal motion pictures.  The models created under this license would prove to be Aurora’s most successful line of plastic models ever.

    Aurora’s first Universal monster model was a 1/12 scale figure model of Frankenstein’s Monster in 1961. Selling for $1.00, the 7-inch tall figurine sold so well that Aurora had to temporarily suspend production of its other models to keep up with demand. Some buyers may have been disappointed when they opened the box to find the plain white pieces of plastic that needed to be carefully twisted apart before undergoing a process that involved several hours, various paints and brushes, and mind-altering glue fumes. Helping sales, no doubt, was the wonderful artwork on the box by James Bama who would do most of the  box top art for Aurora in the Sixties.


  8. What was Lois Lane up to 50 Years Ago? (Pt. 3)

    October 18, 2011 by The Belated Nerd

    Not that I ever need an excuse to revisit the goofy world of Lois Lane in 1961, but yesterday was Margot Kidder’s birthday and I feel kind of bad that I didn’t post this installment of “What was Lois Lane up to 50 Years Ago” a day earlier.  This story is one that was somehow overlooked when I posted about DC weddings a few weeks ago.

    In Superman’s Girl Friend, Lois Lane #28 (October, 1961) we find  a story called “Lois Lane, Gun-Moll”.

    “There’s an old theory that, as in the story of Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde — each person has two personalities — one good, one evil — and that they battle for control until one dominates the other! Theory…or fact? You’ll soon see for yourself, as you watch a familiar friend change from good to evil — from reporter to robber — to become known as the notorious… Lois Lane, Gun-Moll!

    Of course, Lois’ reaction to the ray is only delayed. When it kicks in, Perry and Jimmy are the first to observe Lois in her new “evil” persona. Lois’ sister and roomie, Lucy also notices a difference.

    While snooping around in Lois’ room Lucy discovers some stolen jewelry and realizes that Lois is moonlighting as Metropolis’ newest super-villainess, the Leopard Lady. Lois chloroforms her sister and (after punching Lucy’s boyfriend Jimmy Olsen in the nose) takes her back to the Leopard Lady’s secret lair where Lois and her gang are planning their next job.

    The robbery at the Daily Planet  is interrupted by Superman in his guise as mild-mannered reporter Clark Kent. Kent pretends to be knocked unconscious when Leopard Lady Lois cracks him in the head with the butt of a tommy-gun, and then follows Lois and her gang back to their hideout. Superman quickly takes out Lois’ two goons but Lois lays him low with a boulder made of synthetic kryptonite. While Superman struggles against the effects of the kryptonite, Lois informs him that she’s sick of waiting around for him to return her love and has found a new man…Lex Luthor! Lois and Luthor announce their intention to be married and make a quick exit before the synthetic kryptonite wears off.

    True to their promise, the next day, the self-proclaimed King and Queen of Crime are married on the steps of city hall where a force field prevents the police or Superman from doing anything about it. As the justice of the peace asks if anyone objects to the union, Superman pounds on the force field screaming, “I object! I do! If only I could batter through!” After the justice proclaims Mr. and Mrs. Lex Luthor man and wife, Lois turns to Superman and sneers, “Hear that, Superman? That makes it official! You had your chance to marry me, but you muffed it!” The force dome explodes and the newlyweds make their escape. Superman is so dejected, even Lana Lang doesn’t want to exploit the mopey superhero’s new relationship status.

    Meanwhile back at the hideout Lex Luthor and his gang are yucking it up over the look on Superman’s face at the wedding.  The merriment is short-lived as Superman bursts through the door and turns to Lois still in her bridal gown and proclaims, “There is evil in you Lois, an evil that must be destroyed — burned out!”  Superman then uses his heat-ray vision to…reduce Lois Lane to a pile of ashes!

    Relax! It was a robot Lois Lane all along!

       


  9. Dartford Station

    October 17, 2011 by The Belated Nerd

    Model of a planned statue for Dartford Station to commemorate the first meeting of Jagger and Richards.

    On the morning of  October 17, 1961, Mick Jagger, then 18, arrived at platform two of Kent’s Dartford Station on his way to the London School of Economics where he was studying. A few minutes later, 17-year-old Keith Richards arrived on the same platform to catch the train to Sidcup Art College. Jagger was carrying several old blues records and Richards had with him his hollow-body Höfner cutaway electric guitar.

    The two recognised each other from when they both attended Dartford’s Wentworth Primary School. That recognition and the presence of the records and guitar sparked a conversation that would lead to Jagger joining Richard’s band, Little Boy Blue and the Blue Boys. By the following year the two moved to London where they would share a flat and join a band being put together by Brian Jones and Ian Stewart. The Rolling Stones were born in 1962, but not yet the songwriting team of Jagger/Richards.

    It wouldn’t be until 1964 that the bandmates would begin their amazingly prolific and successful songwriting collaboration with the song, “As Tears Goes By”. 

    Jagger and Richards have different recollections about their first songwriting endeavours, but both credit manager Andrew Loog Oldham for suggesting a collaboration.

    KEITH RICHARDS: “ So what Andrew Oldham did was lock us up in the kitchen for a night and say, ‘Don’t come out without a song.’ We sat around and came up with ‘As Tears Go By’. It was unlike most Rolling Stones material, but that’s what happens when you write songs, you immediately fly to some other realm. The weird thing is that Andrew found Marianne Faithful at the same time, bunged it to her and it was a fuckin’ hit for her – we were songwriters already! But it took the rest of that year to dare to write anything for the Stones.”

    MICK JAGGER: “Keith likes to tell the story about the kitchen, God bless him. I think Andrew may have said something at some point along the lines of ‘I should lock you in a room until you’ve written a song’ and in that way he did mentally lock us in a room, but he didn’t literally lock us in. One of the first songs we came out with was that tune for George Bean, the very memorable ‘It Should Be You’.

     

    Little Boy Blue and the Blue Boys, 1961

     
     


  10. Black Magic

    October 16, 2011 by The Belated Nerd

    Black Magic was a horror anthology comic book created by Joe Simon and Jack Kirby for the Crestwood imprint Prize Comics in 1950  The contents of the book were tame enough to endure little change when the Comics Code was imposed in 1954, although it’s quite surprising that the CCA didn’t demand a title change.  A total of fifty issues were produced by the time the book ended in 1961. The numbering system used by Black Magic was reset at the beginning of each year, so the final six issues published in 1961 have cover numbers of 1-6 although they are, in fact, issues 45-50.

    By 1961, Kirby and Simon had parted ways. While Kirby was laying the foundations of the Marvel Universe with Stan Lee over at Marvel, Joe Simon still had a hand in editing Black Magic (although most of his attention was given over to his humor magazine, SICK.) Joe Simon is credited as the cover artist for all of the issues of Black Magic in 1961, although it looks like most of the work was done by inker Dick Ayers who not only inked much of the interior art but also the original pencils.  Along with Ayers, Ted Galindo and Bob Powell were responsible for drawing most of the five or six stories found in each issue. Steve Ditko makes an appearance in #47 with the 6-pager “The Black Fog” (Detail on right).

    One sign that the end was near for Black Magic is that a half-dozen or more stories (but not art) that appeared in its final year were lifted from EC’s pre-code comic book, Weird Fantasy. The cancellation of Black Magic marked the beginning of a five-year hiatus away from comic books for Joe Simon who focused his efforts on SICK and freelance work in advertising. He wouldn’t return until 1966 when he was hired to create a line of superhero books for Harvey Comics.

    Black Magic would be briefly resurrected by DC in the 1970s, reprinting the original stories from the Fifties and early Sixties.