One of the stars of the 1950s pirate era of comic publishing, Norman Light‘s Captain Future was the star of the comic Spaceman, which Light published in 1953-54. One of the most successful titles from the minor publishers of the era, it ran for 15 issues before disappearing. But ‘Captain Future’ lived on, briefly, in reprints, after the rights to the strips were picked up by former Hank Janson publisher Reg Carter.
Now, over 60 years after their original appearance, Bear Alley Books has gathered this action-packed series of pulp sf strips together for the first time and it will be released later this week. In a packed 200-page volume, all of Captain Future’s comic strips are reprinted and, as a bonus back-up, they’ve included three short stories by Tom Wade (a prolific writer for the infamous John Spencer quartet of SF magazines under multiple pseudonyms) featuring the Space Patrol.
The Buccaneers of Space are introduced in a revealing special feature about the history of the Spaceman comic, its lead characters and the creative force behind them: Norman Light.
Enthusing about Norman Light’s work, the collection’s editor Steve Holland notes in passing, on his excellent resource about the work of Frank Richards, that his earliest known work was for Martin & Reid shortly after the war, illustrating magazines and providing filler strips for their Jolly Western comic.
Light’s westerns became his main output in comics for some years; apart from one-off back-up strips for Commando Craig and Prairie Western. “He drew nine ‘Five Star Gentry’ strips for Scion’s Five Star Western in 1951-52,” Steve documents. “For Scion he had already written and drawn ‘Commando Craig’, about a crime-fighting adventures of Craig and his two companions, ex-Navy type ‘Dusty’ Miller and pilot ‘Rocky’ Rockwood. Trying to cram 13-16 frames of story into a page didn’t allow Light to put in his customary detail, and his early comic work suffered in comparison to his covers.
“Light’s first science fiction strips appeared from Scion in 1952, but it was with his self-published Spaceman: Comic of the Future that Light really came into his own. This was the first publication from Gould-Light, published in around March 1953, and from the full-colour cover through the 24 pages of comic strips, everything was written and drawn by Norman Light.
“The main star was Captain Future of the futuristic Space Patrol, and these adventures are still something of a Holy Grail to some fans of SF comics; they might not be the best SF published in that era or even the best drawn SF comics, but original copies are extremely scarce and there’s a delightful naivete about the stories, full of pulp cliches and post-war exuberance at mankind’s recent entry into the rocket age. Light’s breathless adventures carried the title through 15 issues between the Spring of 1953 and early Summer of 1954, a creditable run for an independently produced comic.”
(Steve notes the launch of Spaceman: Comic of the Future was followed by Ace High Western Comic, which appeared around January 1954 and followed the same formula as Spaceman, with a lead strip in each issue – in this case Light’s own ‘Gunfighter’ strip starring Johnny McBride, plus a continuing back-up strip (‘Sam Bass’, drawn by Jim Holdaway, later of ‘Modesty Blaise’ fame), various one-off strips by Terry Patrick, and a series of short text stories by Frank Richards. These featured Slick Dexter, although he was often mistakenly referred to as Slim Dexter on the covers. It ran for six issues).
“For some reason, outside of Eagle and The Beano, postwar and 1950s British comics are sometimes overlooked by collectors but it was an important decade for the industry,” notes Lew Stringer in his news item about this new Captain Future collection. “It was a time when comics broke free of the traditional formulas and more independent companies surfaced. Adventure comics began to hold their own instead of being a back up to the funnies, and the influence of American comics encouraged UK artists to create more dynamic page layouts.
“Basically, that postwar/1950s period set the scene for decades to come. Captain Future is a perfect representation of those times.”
“My fascination with the science fiction of the 1950s began in around 1978, inspired by a school project that I was planning to do about sf magazines,” says editor of his reasons for the collection in his foreword to the new book. “Key to this project was Mike Ashley’s The History of the Science Fiction Magazine and trips made to the Science Fiction Foundation, then a smallish room at Northeast London Polytechnic in Dagenham where I spent two very long days cribbing notes from Walter Gillings’ ‘The Impatient Dreamers’ and reading copies of Tales of Wonder, Fantasy and the early New Worlds — the first pulp magazines I had ever seen.
“In this shelf-packed Wonderland, I also found copies of Futuristic Science Stories, Worlds of Fantasy, Tales of Tomorrow and Wonders of the Spaceways, four tawdry, paperback-sized compilations which laughingly called themselves science fiction magazines. They had been damningly described in Ashley’s third volume as part of an unwelcome phenomena that sprang up in the early Fifties: cheaply printed, low quality SF written by authors with no background in the field…
“It was during my trip to Dagenham that I first caught sight of these lurid magazines and their gaudy companions, novels by Vargo Statten, Volsted Gridban, Vektis Brack, Bengo Mistral and a dozen other guttural-sounding science fictional pseudonyms. I had heard that the Vargo Statten novels were not so bad and, being a member of the British Science Fiction Association, I was able to borrow titles from the Foundation’s library.
“Despite the warning of librarian Malcolm Edwards that “They’ll rot your brain,” I rather enjoyed the lively, no-nonsense pulp action of Vargo Statten and began reading others of that ilk, only to find that most of these cheap publishers had no quality threshold at all. But I was drawn to them by their vibrant, colourful covers, and amongst the stand-out talent was Norman Light, second only to Ron Turner when it came to depicting thrilling space battles or alien invasions.
“Light’s action-packed artwork became the focus of my first published article, which drew parallels between the paperback publishers and the ‘pirate’ comic strip publishers of the era. Norman Light was a key figure in the piece because he was not only an artist but also a publisher.
“Thirty-three years later I’m still a fan of Light’s artistry. Not for its quality—there were better artist/writers on a technical level and Light’s figurework tended to be what Denis Gifford described as “asymmetric”—but for its enthusiasm, vivacity and the artist’s obvious passion for good old pulp-style action.”
“Here, then, are the complete adventures of Captain Future and the Space Patrol crewmen known as the Buccaneers of Space, one of Light’s finest creations. I hope you enjoy their outlandish adventures as much as I did when I first discovered them.”
If you like your spaceships to soar, your galaxies to collide and your BEMs to be bestial, this is the thrill-filled collection for you. We have some sample pages below…
Special thanks to Steve for permission to reproduce his foreword on downthetubes