Tuesday, September 01, 2015
Obscurity of the Day: Frontiers of Science
During the great space race of the 1960s, Americans suddenly took a much greater than normal interest in the wonders of science and technology. Naturally this explosion of interest paved the way for a number of factual comic strips about science. The most popular was probably the excellent Our New Age, but there were others.
One unlikely entry was Frontiers of Science, which was produced in Australia, initially for the Sydney Morning Herald. A daily strip that ran five days per week, it spent exactly one week discussing each given subject (like hurricanes in the above samples) and then went on to another. The strip was created and written by the team of Professor Stuart Butler, a theoretical physicist with a lifelong interest in making science accessible to the man in the street, and journalist Bob Raymond. Cartoonist Andrea Bresciani handled the art chores until sometime around 1970, when David Emerson took over those duties. Since the artists did not sign their work, and there are a lot of conflicting versions of the timeline, don't bet too much on that 1970 switch date.
After its Australian debut in 1961, the strip was soon offered for international syndication. It was snapped up by a number of international syndicates, and for US distribution by the Los Angeles Times Syndicate. The LA Times-syndicated version was offered here starting January 1 1962, where it met with modest success. Worldwide, however, it was claimed that the strip ran in anywhere from 200 to 600 newspapers, depending on whose version of the history you believe. Either of those numbers, if true, are impressive for a comic strip of this type.
As with most pop entertainment about technology, Frontiers of Science tended to overstate reality a little in order to impress the audience. It wasn't unusual for the strip to claim that important technological advances were right around the corner, like the 'hurricane collapser' discussed above. That minor quibble aside, the strips were apparently considered worthy of being used in schools, as a series of four books of the strips were published in the 1974 Doubleday Illustrated Popular Science series.
The series seems to have ended in the US on April 27 1979. Histories of the strip around the web contend that the worldwide end date is anywhere from 1979 to 1988. There's even one that says the strip was revamped a little and ended up running well into the 1990s.
The University of Sydney website has an extensive archive of the Frontiers of Science strip, along with bios of the creators and a history of the strip.