Sunday, May 31st, 2015

Is There Life Beyond Mars?

canwellposted by Bruce Canwell

That's not exactly how David Bowie phrased it on his classic 1971 album Hunky Dory—but fracturing Bowie's lyric seemed the perfect way to create the title for this announcement that in the second half of 2015, The Library of American Comics will be releasing the classic 1950s science fiction Sunday strip, Beyond Mars.

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The product of artist Lee Elias and science fiction author Jack Williamson, Beyond Mars is fondly remembered by historians of science fiction and comics in general, and science fiction comics in particular. Launched (no pun intended) a full seventeen years before the Apollo 11 mission put men on the moon, in the days when most Americans had never flown in an airplane and science fiction was "ghettoized" in magazines and sporadic hardcover reprints by small publishers such as Gnome Press, Beyond Mars has more of a "hard SF" feel than the science fantasy of Buck Rogers and Flash Gordon. That's only fitting, since the Sunday series shares concepts with Williamson's "seetee" prose fiction that began appearing in the magazine Astounding Science Fiction with its July, 1942 issue. What does "seetee" mean? If you haven't previously read Beyond Mars or its prose-fiction cousins, I'll let you check out the strip to discover the answer for yourselves.

Lee Elias was the artist on Beyond Mars, and the series benefits from his previous time spent drawing comic books for publishers like National/DC, Timely, and Fiction House, as well as his study of Milton Caniff's work. (Elias worked on the Terry and the Pirates and Steve Canyon comic books, which allowed him to bring his Caniff-influenced art style to bear on the Rembrandt of the Comic Strip's signature characters.)

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Personally, I came to both Williamson and Elias in the 1970s: at that time the artist had returned to comic books and I was introduced to him through his output for Marvel, while the writer continued to publish well-reviewed new science fiction and would continue to do so into the early years of the 21st Century. But in the late '70s I read and enjoyed his cycle of stories from Analog that was later released as the novel Brother to Demons, Brother to Gods. Afterward I went back to several of his earlier works. To support our Beyond Mars release I've researched both these men and hope to offer you a few surprises when you read my introductory text.

Finally, our Beyond Mars project marks a renewed commitment from LOAC to reprint science fiction comic strips. Keep watching this space for further announcements as we blast off for sectors of space that have charted by some of the best-loved and most-respected names in popular culture!

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