Monday, January 03, 2011

 

Obscurity of the Day: Speed Spaulding







An unusual syndicate offering, Speed Spaulding retold in somewhat revamped fashion the story of the famous science fiction novel When Worlds Collide. The 1933 novel by Edwin Balmer and Philip Wylie was a real page-turner about a pair of 'rogue planets' that are hurtling toward Earth and the mad race to save the human race from the imminent destruction of the whole world.  The comic strip version injected a handsome young two-fisted hero and love interest, Speed Spaulding, into the storyline.

The series was advertised by the John F. Dille Company starting in 1938, but the comic strip did not begin appearing until January 8 1940, so apparently it took a long while to line up enough clients to make the strip a paying proposition. The strip was numbered so that papers could start the series late, and many did.

The strip was unusual in that most novel adaptations tend to adapt either classics (like Dickens and Poe) or current hot off the press properties (like Book-of-the-Month). Another unusual aspect is that Speed Spaulding was a daily and Sunday strip; for whatever reason this is a rarity for adaptations. The Sunday began on January 14 in papers that started the strip on time.

Speed Spaulding, even with two years of advertising behind it, was by no means a strip that ran in a lot of papers. As Ron Goulart points out in The Encyclopedia of American Comics, the plot about global catastrophe "wasn't as fresh as it had once been" and the story was quite depressing and bleak. In the original novel mankind doesn't exactly comport itself nobly in the face of extinction, and the authors focused on that aspect in the original story. That dim view of humanity is if anything enhanced in the strip, which is supposedly adapted by the original authors (take that with a grain of salt), and makes for a very dark read.

The art by Marvin Bradley, later to spend almost forty years associated with Rex Morgan MD, is pleasant enough if a bit stiff. Bradley seems to have been trying to emulate Caniff in this series, but only succeeded in drawing Terry and the Pirates-style faces -- he didn't even make a half-hearted attempt at the chiaroscuro technique. Alberto Becattini says that Dille syndicate regulars Len Dworkins and Bill Juhre ghosted some of the art.

In the original novel, a spaceship does end up getting away from Earth just in time and succeeds in landing on one of the rogue planets. The small band of survivors finds the new world reasonably welcoming and ends on the encouraging note that humanity has a chance to start over. In the comic strip version, which took 384 numbered daily strips (and presumably 63 or 64 of the rare Sundays) to come to its conclusion on March 29 1941, we get no such closure. In the final daily strip the spaceship lifts off, the Earth explodes and we never learn whether our hero and his entourage will live happily ever after. Perhaps there is a final Sunday after that daily that wraps up the story, but I haven't seen it.

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