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Cartoonist Bert Christman Did Not Survive War

The nationally syndicated comic Scorchy Smith portrayed the derring-do of an American flyboy and was already running in 250 newspapers across the country in Fall 1936, when a young graphic illustrator from Fort Collins, Colorado, took it over and pushed the aviation adventure strip to new heights.

It was everything Christman loved: drawing and airplanes.

By 1937, as Christman settled into writing and drawing Scorchy Smith, conflict roiled overseas in the run-up to World War II. Thirst mounted stateside for tales of heroes and villains, and comics became a front-line source. The 22-year-old artist – to improve his aircraft illustrations – started flying lessons on Long Island and soon had a pilot’s license.

It wasn’t enough for Christman to fly airplanes; he wanted to become a U.S. Navy dive-bomber pilot and aerial gunner. So in early 1938, he drove from New York to Pensacola, Florida, to start naval aviation training.

He turned over the strip to another artist in late 1938, was commissioned as an officer, and in 1939 was assigned to Bombing Squadron 4 on the aircraft carrier USS Ranger.

When the ship returned to its base in Norfolk, Virginia, in Spring 1941, the three fliers were recruited to join the new American Volunteer Group of the Chinese Air Force. The proposition could have come straight from Three Aces: Join a covert team of 100 pursuit pilots who would help keep China in the war; earn $600 a month, with a $500 bonus for every Japanese plane destroyed for the Allied cause. Christman and his buddies quickly signed on with the group, better known as the Flying Tigers. Under the command of a daring tactician named Claire L. Chennault, its pilots flew Curtiss P-40 Warhawk fighter planes, their noses painted with an exaggerated shark-mouth design. The goal was to thwart Japanese attacks on the Burma Road, a critical wartime supply route through Burma (now Myanmar) into China.

Above excerpts from Colorado State University.

Below news of Bert Christman’s death reaches home, February 1942

   

Bert Christman’s last letter home:

                  

                 

 

Community Comments

#1 Kip Williams
May/31/2021
@ 1:54 pm

What appealing, clean art! I’m sorry that this is the first time I’ve heard of this guy from my home town. Thanks for the feature. (I also read about Gregor Saunders, over at Hogan’s Alley.)

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