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Comparing Buck Rogers and Anthony Rogers (Comic Chronicles)

In August 1928, Philip Francis Nowlan published a short story called “Armageddon 2419 A.D.” in the science fiction magazine Amazing Stories. Six months later, in March of 1929, he published a sequel, “The Airlords of Han”. The hero of both of these novellas was a man named Anthony Rogers.

In between those two pulp stories Philip Nowlan teamed with artist Dick Calkins to create
the Buck Rogers comic strip which first appeared in newspapers on January 7, 1929.

The pulp tales were written in a dull but workmanlike fashion, and should have been forgotten even by aficionados of early science fiction, save that from this inauspicious seed grew the first and perhaps most famous of fictional space-adventure heroes, namely, Buck Rogers, whose name, in many ears, for many years, was synonymous with science fiction itself.

Last month John C. Wright, at Bleeding Fool, reviewed the science fiction stories featuring Anthony Rogers and then compared those to the sequential newspaper adventures of Buck Rogers.

In terms of literary merit, the Anthony Rogers stories of Phillip Francis Nowlan are far inferior to the work of contemporaries, such as A. Merritt, Jack Williamson and E.E. Doc Smith. Ironically, they are also inferior to the Comic Strip penned by Phil Nowlan and drawn by Dick Calkins.

This is one of the rare occasions where adapting a work to a new medium improves it.

In the pulp version, when he first meets Wilma and explains his origin, she listens patiently, incredulously at first, then thoughtfully. In the comic strip version, she pulls a gun on him and accuses him either of being a madman or a spy.

The first one is a realistic if bland and forgettable reaction as one might expect from a written story. The second is overly melodramatic, visually striking, brief, and memorable, as one ought to expect from a comic strip panel. I know which I would prefer.

Read Wright’s comparison of Armageddon 2419 A.D. to Buck Rogers 2429 A.D.

Spoiler:

It is a fun comic strip, fast-moving, simple, poorly drawn[*], pitched at a childish reading age, but telling a simple story in a concise and elegant fashion. It has none of the story telling elements that would interest an allegedly sophisticated readership[**], and certainly no draftsmanship or illustrative interest for fans of graphic arts, but there is a mesmeric ongoing allure to the endless cliffhanger thrills, like a tale told one paragraph at a time.

[*] I prefer the more polite description of “charming.”
[**] Yet better than the Flash Gordon storytelling of the 1930s and ’40s.

 

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