Thursday, February 12, 2009

Tom Corbett Viewmaster

Friday Comic Book Day.

As a property, Tom Corbett Space Cadet was widely exploited. It was started by editor at Grosset and Dunlap called Joseph Lawrence Greene. According to the Wikipedia entry on the suject (a quite complete one), he had tried to sell a similar concept as a radio series, but when Robert Heinlein's juvenile science fiction book The Space Rangers was succes, he managed to sell Tom Corbett as a television show to sponsor Kelloggs. It ran from 1050 to 1955 on all four major networks: CBS, ABC, Dumont and NBC. The ABC version even added a radio version with the tv cast (most of which are still available as Old Time Radio). One
constant in all of the spin-off that followed sems to have been advisor Wily Ley who took care that the 'science fact' of the science fiction didn't get too silly. He probably didn't work on the viewmaster version, which is supposed to have been pretty good, but looks quite sily to me.

For a while the juvenile science fiction genre was pretty hot. There were several such shows, of which Captain Video is the most well known to me because of the delicious parody Jack Davis and Harvey Kurtzman did in the early comic book version of Mad. But there also was a serialized story in the early issues of Boy's Life which I should show one of these days as well as the supposedly more factual Space Conquerors by Al Stenzel and a host of ghosts. There also was a newspaper strip version, which I have been showing here for some weeks and a comic book version. It first appeared as a series with the king of all media adaptation publishers Dell. I am not big fan of that version, which can easily be bought on e-bay as there are so many (and so many sold). The style is wooden and the production values (apart from the covers) is not the best.

When the Dell run ended, the series was picked up by Prize comics, who gave the assignment to Mort Meskin. Mort Meskin is one of the great unsung heroes of the fifties. Much has been written about him on the web (not in the last place on the website about his life which was set up by his sons), although mostly to show how much he influenced Steve Ditko. Thankfuly I am not the only one who feels he merits some attentions for his own accomplishments and I am glad to say that a book about hsi life and career is in the making. Today I am shwoing the cover and the first of three stories from the first issue of this book.

Here's the first of three stories in this issue. It seems Meskin used a style that is more similar to Ray Bailey's Caniff look. His own style at that time was geting more and more economical. In the early sixties he waa hardy using anymore black. The result is very pleasing and it is a shame the comic was cut short by the cancellation of the tv show.


Harry Mendryk said...

Tom Corbett is certainly one of the more unusually titles that Mort Meskin worked on. I wonder if the television show had any influence on the comic book scripts. Surprisingly the comic book seems to be predominately talking heads.

While Meskin would provide the rest of the Corbett art, I believe the cover for the first issue was done by Marvin Stein. Stein would also provide some backup stories in the Corbett books.

Smurfswacker said...

I just discovered your comments on my old favorite, Ray Bailey. Bailey did indeed assist Caniff. I'm sure many of the backgrounds on the 1944-45 strips are his; he had a distinctive background style.

I have several Corbett Sundays and am intrigued by the way Bailey would suddenly present a beautifully-rendered head completely outside the Caniff style. It showed he was capable of more than aping the master.

Bailey's work didn't deteriorate over time; rather he simplified his style and stopped experimenting. Some of his later work (e.g. the first couple issues of Tower's "Undersea Agent") is quite good.

P.S.: Looks to me like Meskin (another unsung hero) may have been inked by George Roussos in your samples.

rlegro said...

Tom Corbett fan, here, but wanted to focus on your passing reference to Al Stenzel's "Space Conquerors" strip in Boy's Life. I read that strip with rapt attention as a 10-year-old.

I still have a few tattered, yellowing issues of the mag containing a few panels. Well considered and, like Corbett, somewhat scientific after Heinlein's example (I remember Stenzel drawing cutaway diagrams of ships and other constructs). Thrilling stuff. That hit me about the same time as "Rocky Jones: Space Ranger," which was thrilling in its own right. Unfortunately, TV was spotty in our area during the early '50s so I didn't get to see much of Corbett, but DVDs now exist of some eps.

I would love to see complete panels from "Space Conquerors," if anyone has them to share.

disa said...