In the last few months I’ve written a couple posts on the world of plastic models in 1961 and one thing that struck me was how important it was for companies like Revell and Aurora to have impressive artwork on the boxes that contained the less than awe-inspiring unassembled and unpainted pieces of plastic inside. That’s when I discovered the artwork of Shigeru Komatsuzaki (1915-2001). The first pieces I discovered were for two plastic models by the Japanese company Nichimo depicting floating automobiles. I can’t tell you why, but I really like the way Komatsuzaki draws cars.
Although Shigeru Komatsuzaki’s art apparently dominated science fiction publishing in Japan during the 1950s, there is precious little of his early work available online. Almost all of his prewar work, including his personal collection was lost to wartime firebombing and the paper used for domestic printing for a decade after the war was done on the most perishable of paper. A fire at Komatsuzaki’s home in 1995 destroyed much of his remaining archives.
The format of his most renowned work in the Fifties was a double-page tableaux with some descriptive text portraying a variety of monster attacks, natural disasters and futuristic inventions. These works were not comic books nor were they any sort of proto-manga although the influence of his style is readily apparent in modern Japanese sequential art.
Starting in the late Fifties Komatsuzaki worked as a production designer on several Japanese films, including The Mysterians (1957) and Battle in Outer Space (1960) designing futuristic vessels and monsters. While Manga was undergoing a huge boom during the early Sixties, Komatsuzaki stuck to single-image paintings, mostly as the artist of hundreds of dramatic box illustrations for plastic model kits of subjects as varied as floating cars, giant robots, spaceships and the entire fleet of craft featured in Gerry Anderson’s Thunderbirds.
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.
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.
Inside dozens of comic books in 1961 could be found the following advertisement:
“Brand New – Created Just for You – the Most Amazing Half Hour on Record as FORREST J ACKERMAN himself time-travels to the 21st Century to bring back Music for Robots. FJA talks to YOU for 18 minutes in a thrilling narration about RUR, Tobor, Gort, Robby…the automatons of Jules Verne, Edgar Allan Poe, Isaac Asimov, Leonardo da Vinci…the metalic Frankenstein…Hear weird vibrational multisonic effects, electronic melodies created for the ears of androids! ONLY $1.98″
From all accounts the Ackerman narration on side one was the selling point of this LP. Side two is made up of a fifteen minute composition by a man named Frank Coe. I’m pretty sure this Frank Coe wasn’t the same one who rode with Billy the Kid in the 1880s, but there is the slight possibility that he was the same Frank Coe who is notable for being the first disgraced director of the IMF (for being “commie”, not “rapey”) in 1952.
Have a listen to Coe’s Tone Tales of Tomorrow and then as an extra treat I offer the first song ever sung by a computer (the versatile IBM 7094).
Daisy, Daisy Give me your answer do! I’m half crazy, All for the love of you! It won’t be a stylish marriage, I can’t afford a carriage But you’ll look sweet upon the seat Of a bicycle made for two.
I’ve only cried at the movies three times in my life. The first time was at the end of a Japanese film called Voyage Into Space when Johnny Socko’s giant robot sacrifices himself to save the world (“Come back, Giant Robot! Come back”). The next time was at the end of a Bruce Dern movie called Silent Running when the last surviving robot drone, Dewey, is left to tend Earth’s last forest (in space!) while Joan Baez sings over the closing titles. And most recently, near the end of the animated feature, Iron Giant. I can suck it up and keep my cheeks dry during any screening of Old Yeller or Where the Red Fern Grows but if Yeller was a stop-motion flying robot, or if Old Dan and Little Ann were played by double-amputees in drone costumes, I’d be blubbering like an idiot.
Maybe it was because I didn’t have a dog when I was a boy. But I did have toys. And, oh, what wonderful toys we children of the Sixties had.
Robot Commando, made by Ideal, hit toystore shelves in 1961. It could move forward, turn right or left, shoot marbles from his swinging arms and a rocket from his hinged head…using voice commands! How cool is that for something made for children fifty years ago!
The Great Garloo by Marx also came out in 1961. I’m not sure if it was technically a robot theme-wise but the fact that you could make it do your bidding gave it a robot vibe. The interesting thing about the commercial is the schizophrenic attempt to convince boys that Garloo is a violent city-wrecking monster and then go on to reassure parents that Garloo is no more than a benign servant.
Here are examples of some other toy robots from 1961. Make sure you turn up your speakers!: