The Comic / Science Fiction Connection
What came first, the comic adaptation or the novelization? by Karen Ann Yost
Comic book fandom and media/science fiction fandom have closely tracked each other
throughout their histories. Though the fans of each hold themselves as separate groups,
the fandoms mirror and complement one another to their mutual advantage. The two genre
borrow freely from each other; books and movies spawn comics and comics give birth to
movies and television shows.
In the beginning . . .
In 1929, science fiction (or SF) writer Raymond A. Palmer created the first SF
organization, the Science Correspondence Club. One year later, he published Comet,
the first fan publication (or fanzine). Meanwhile, Buck Rogers, created by Phil
Nowlan in 1929, made his appearance in two Amazing Stories comic strips, Armageddon
2419 A.D. and Airlords of Han. The first SF convention was held in 1937 when
New York fans visited their counterparts in Philadelphia. One year later, Superman
appeared in Action Comics #1.
Other interesting patterns appear when you examine how these two fandoms continued to
intertwine through the years. Take the character of Doc Savage, created by Kenneth Robeson
in 1933. The "Man of Bronze" first appeared in the pulps (magazines, made from
cheap wood pulp, that enjoyed a huge market during the 1920s and '30s). Then came
paperback book reprints in the 1960s, next a comic book series by Gold Key in 1966, and,
finally, a George Pal film in 1975.
From Screen to Comic : Star Trek, Star Wars, and more
A more recent example is the
SF phenomenon, Star Trek. Gene Roddenberrys SF series originally aired on
television from 1966 through 1969. Gold Key began publishing a Trek comic book series in
1967. The success of these comic books, as well as the televised animated series, a
successful run in syndication, and continued fan support, helped launch Star Trek: The
Motion Picture in 1979. And by no means is the Trek phenomenon over. Marvel Comics
Group has produced movie tie-in comics with each subsequent Star Trek film. Also,
DC Comics premiered its TV tie-in comic, Star Trek: The Next Generation in
Many major SF television series and big-screen movie releases inspire comic books.
Charlton Comics featured Steve Austin as the Six Million Dollar Man from 1976
through 1978. Less successful on television and in the comics industry was Mark Harris, The
Man From Atlantis. The television series lasted two seasons; Marvel published only
eight issues of the comic book series in 1978.
In 1977, creator George Lucas brought to the big screen Star Wars, the first
film of his proposed nine-part epic. Among the merchandise explosion that followed, Marvel
Comics Group introduced a movie tie-in series. This comic series has been so successful
that Marvel has reprinted it seven times! Battlestar Galactica, televisions
answer to Star Wars, hit the news stands and book stores in comic book form in
1979. Marvel Comics Group published twenty-three issues through 1981.
From Comic Book to Screen : Batman, Superman
At times, instead of the television and movie media inspiring comic books, comic book
characters force other media to sit up and take notice. The best examples are the comic
book characters of Superman and Batman.
In 1938 Action Comics introduced the world to Superman, created by author Jerry
Siegel and artist Joe Shuster. Who could have imagined that a superhero born from unsold
newspaper comic strips would later become a successful television series and, in 1978, a
major motion picture. Today another television series, Lois and Clark: The New
Adventures of Superman, continues the exploits of the "Man of Steel" from
the planet Krypton.
Bob Kane created Batman for Detective Comics in 1939. His creation has protected
the citizens of Gotham City ever since. Batman, his side-kick Robin, and his arch enemies
were spoofed in a television series from 1966 through 1968. The "Dark Knight"
returned to his true, brooding form in the 1989 box-office smash Batman, starring
Michael Keaton as the masked superhero and Jack Nicholson as the Joker. Today, fans still
enjoy reading the comic books, the graphic novels, and watching the syndicated animated
series on television.
SF Fandom and Comics Fandom
The two fandoms are also similar in the way their fans disagree. This paradox comes in
the form of fan squabbles and snobbery. In comics fandom, conflicts arise concerning the
"Golden Age" and the "Silver Age" of comic books. Some experts argue
that the Golden Age covers the first era of comic book publishing, the 1930s and '40s.
Others will try to narrow it down to the time between the publication of Action Comics
#1 (1938) to the end of World War II. The Silver Age debate follows the same lines: did it
begin right after World War II, or with DCs Showcase in 1956, or with Marvel
Comics Fantastic Four in 1969?
In SF fandom, fans love to argue the question of "just who is a true SF fan?"
Literary fans tend to dismiss media SF fans; media fans tend to think literary fans are
snobs. And the poor costumers and filkers (SF singers/musicians) are still trying to gain
respect at conventions.
SF and comics fandoms remain somewhat segregated. Though they are part of one another,
both fandoms are large enough to stand alone. There are comic fans who do not care for SF
author Robert Heinlein and those who will not watch Star Trek. In turn, there are
SF fans who have never read a comic book. Therefore, different conventions exist for the
different fandoms. SF conventions geared towards the literary or media SF fans are often
separate from conventions for the exclusive comic book collector.
But through all the similarities and differences, one bit of advice I would give to
both SF memorabilia and comic book collectors: buy your respective memorabilia for
enjoyment, not investment. If your book, toy, or comic turns into a valuable
collectors item, consider yourself lucky. In the meantime, enjoy!
Ron Goulart, The Comic Book
Readers Companion, Harper Perennial, 1993. (Also see his Comic Book Culture, An Illustrated History,
Collectors Press, 2000.)
James Gunn, New Encyclopedia of Science
Fiction, Viking Press, 1988.
Robert Overstreet, Comic
Book Price Guide, House of Collectables, 1991-92.
Roberta Rogow, FutureSpeak: A
Fans Guide to the Language of Science Fiction, Paragon House, 1991.