Arriving at the Intersection of Fantasy, Science Fiction, and Classic Comic Books

What is your nostalgic pleasure, the thing that makes you hark back to a simpler time?  For me it is, and has always been, old, vintage comic books.  Since I was in junior high, these gems from yesteryear have called out to me with a song and a story I can’t resist.

 

I have always found it easy to imagine transporting myself to a time years before I was born–say, circa 1955 in a drugstore or a little corner shop, browsing through the comics rack, listening to the squeak it emits when I make it spin, and figuring out which issues to plunk my dimes on.

 

When I started collecting comics, the mid-1950s were, to me, an alien world glimpsed primarily via old, grainy, black-and-white TV shows or Hitchcock classics.  I enjoyed them, but they belonged to another era, beyond the purview of my personal experience.  Vintage comic books, however, brought the mid-20th century alive to me in ways television and cinema never could.  The culture of that period jumped off the pages, both from the stories themselves as well as from the ads and fan letters. I couldn’t afford the issues that were in tip-top condition.  I could only buy the ragged copies, with missing staples and spine rolls and water stains.  Some even had corners chewed off by rodents who had no doubt long since met their demise.  If anything, though, these imperfections just made me love these comics even more.  They were more personal this way.  More mine.

 

To this day, I still have hundreds of old comics.  I have the tried-and-true titles, such as Mitchell Brant’s favorite, The Fantastic Four, along with other stalwarts like Superman, Batman, The Avengers, and The X-Men.  But it is the science fiction comics from the 1950s, sans superheroes, that appeal to me the most.  The ingenuity of the stories, the old-fashioned and innocent tone, the crisp, imaginative artwork all inspire.

 

Perhaps more than anything, though, I respect the attempt these vintage issues made to educate as well as entertain.  Granted, it was with a light touch, but the effort was deliberate and consistent.  The authors and editors of DC’s (the same company that gave birth to Superman and Batman) famous sci-fi duo of Strange Adventures and Mystery in Space eschewed all-out, no-holds-barred fantasy in favor of hard science fiction that always managed to have one foot firmly planted in the laws and realities of science.  By approaching their work in this way, the creative team inserted tidbits of learning for their readers.  The hero would generally solve a puzzle, perhaps even save the world, through some ingenious application of a scientific principle.

 

While it’s true that many liberties were taken, nuggets of actual science were always there to be mined.  For example, in Strange Adventures number 95 (August 1958), in a little tale titled “The Boy Who Saved the Solar System,” the protagonist, a twelve-year-old son of a scientist, accomplishes what the best minds of the Solar System cannot.  (Indeed, in the story, we meet the brightest minds from Jupiter, Mars, Venus, and Saturn.  Liberties!)  The entire Solar System is imperiled by a great gaseous cloud that emits a blight, the effects of which are ruining the crops and farmlands and limiting the food supply.  As the twelve-year-old’s father tells him one evening, “”It’s slow starvation, Son–for the entire human race.”

 

The boy is interested in science himself, and while his father tries to find a remedy for the worldwide (actually, Solar System-wide) blight, he fills balloons with hydrogen gas.  When his father forgets his wedding anniversary (he’s busy trying to save the world, so the date slipped his mind until it was too late!), the boy tells him not to worry, he’ll find something to give to Mom and then offer Dad the credit.  The boy picks some roses from the backyard–from the same rosebush one of his hydrogen balloons broke on the day before.  The thing is–the roses are perfectly healthy, not a sign of the blight that has plagued virtually all other plant life on Earth.

 

That’s when the boy and his dad realize–hydrogen kills the blight!  And Dad dutifully informs us that hydrogen is the simplest element in the universe.

 

So we have a good son, covering for his absent-minded dad, and in his kind act, he accidentally discovers the cure for the worldwide blight.  A neat and tidy (and deliciously corny) tale wrapped up and delivered in six pages.

In addition to the stories, there were other methods of sharing scientific information with the audience.  Take this same issue, Strange Adventures number 95.  In a page called “Amazing Ratios,” we learn that the weight of the earth in tons is equal to the number of atoms in a single drop of rain–6,000,000,000,000,000,000,000!  And that Phoebe, the outermost of Saturn’s moons, takes longer to revolve around the planet it orbits (550 days) than Earth does to revolve around the sun (365.25 days).

 

There is even a “Spotlight on Science” letters page, where readers ask science questions for the editors to research and answer.

Likewise, in both The Eye-Dancers and its sequel, The Singularity Wheel (scheduled for release this fall), an attempt is made to tether the far-out and the mind-boggling with some semblance of scientific explanation.  And the primary vehicle for achieving this, in both novels, is Marc Kuslanski, the science wiz, who is, in some respects, the scientific mouthpiece for the unfolding events.  When Mitchell or Ryan or Joe stray far afield in their speculations, Marc is there to reel them back in, often with a theory or a hypothesis grounded in quantum mechanics or cold, hard logic.  And does he ever have his work cut out for him in The Singularity Wheel--which takes the concept of parallel worlds from The Eye-Dancers and expands it exponentially.

 

At the outset of The Singularity Wheel, Monica Tisdale, “the ghost girl” from The Eye-Dancers, is five years older and five years more advanced in her ability to bridge the chasm between dimensions.  And she wants to explore.

From the opening scene of The Singularity Wheel:

 

“She was endless.  Infinite.  She knew that now.

Monica Tisdale smiled.

With her eyes tightly closed, she sent out a mental thought-wave to . . . herself.

No.  That wasn’t right.  Not to herself.  To herselves.  She was more than one—far, far more.

She had practiced religiously, diligently, ever since she’d contacted the boys who had rescued her.  The boys who had come here from another world.  That knowledge had awakened a thirst in her, a quest to learn and discover.

And connect.

She was not like other girls.  The day-to-day happenings in Colbyville, New York, bored her.  Sure, she loved her mom and dad, liked a few of her classmates at school, and sometimes just wanted to have carefree fun.  But she had always been different, attuned to phenomena most people didn’t recognize and didn’t see.  As the weeks merged into months, and the months to years, her awareness of these things had sharpened.

She was ready.”

 

And in so doing, Monica sets off a chain reaction that will push her to the brink, as she sees and experiences her life in an infinite number of worlds, remembering things from a billion places, unable to know one world from another, one self from another.

 

Marc will be there, of course, to try to make sense of it all–if he can.

So while The Singularity Wheel will be as much fantasy as sci-fi, it will, hopefully, in the tradition of the classic sci-fi comic books from decades ago, keep its eye on the factual and the actual as it ventures off into the shifting, capricious landscapes of the unknown.

 

Thanks so much for reading!

–Mike

35 Comments (+add yours?)

  1. foodinbooks
    Jul 31, 2017 @ 20:04:34

    Very interesting post. I’ve always thought modern-day comics acted in a similar fashion as fables and fairy tales from older times, designed to teach lessons and the difference between good and evil. I don’t know if you’re into podcasts at all, but your post reminded me of a podcast called Rabbits which incorporates gaming and comic books and virtual reality. It’s pretty interesting.

    Reply

  2. joannerambling
    Aug 01, 2017 @ 00:08:11

    I found this interesting and it mad me think of my daughter Jessica

    Reply

  3. Donna Gwinnell Lambo-Weidner
    Aug 01, 2017 @ 03:05:15

    I’m looking forward to tagging along. Do you have an approximate idea as to when, Mike?

    Reply

    • The Eye-Dancers
      Aug 01, 2017 @ 16:47:56

      Hi Donna! Yes, it has been something of s shifting timeline.:( But as of right now, I can fairly confidently state that The Singularity Wheel will be released in November–which is fitting, because The Eye-Dancers was also released in November . . .

      Reply

  4. evelyneholingue
    Aug 02, 2017 @ 10:46:26

    I don’t collect comics but my husband did collect BD (bandes dessinées in French). They are not necessary science fiction and it is still a popular genre in France and Belgium especially. Our son in fact taught himself how to read in French when browsing through his dad’s huge collection. So yes to comics!
    And cheers to the future publication of The Singularity Wheel!

    Reply

    • The Eye-Dancers
      Aug 02, 2017 @ 16:38:07

      Thanks so much, Evelyne! I just looked up BDs online and they look very interesting.:) And thanks for the well-wishes regarding The Singularity Wheel. It has been a LONG road to get to publication, but it is finally coming in to view.:)

      Reply

  5. Karina Pinella
    Aug 04, 2017 @ 03:28:23

    This reminds me of years back when newspapers delivered to our door and a whole page of comic strips were included.

    Reply

  6. Daisy in the Willows
    Aug 05, 2017 @ 03:54:47

    I’m a huge fan of Archie comics, Casper, Wendy etc .

    Reply

  7. wildsoundreview
    Aug 11, 2017 @ 14:20:52

    Reply

  8. Ste J
    Aug 16, 2017 @ 11:56:15

    I’ve never been a comic collector but I read a wonderful passage in memoir of a book collector about his affair with comics. His friend had a shed filled with comics, thousands of them and he used to go and read them randomly and got so much out of them. I realise I must be missing so much. Those covers are just fantastic!

    Reply

    • The Eye-Dancers
      Aug 16, 2017 @ 17:53:07

      There is nothing quite like those old classic comics! Pretty corny stuff, but a lot of very rich and imaginative ideas that were ahead of their time. And yes, those covers are spectacular!

      Reply

  9. Lyn
    Aug 23, 2017 @ 00:06:32

    Don’t forget I’m here, Mike, if you need a beta reader 😉

    Reply

  10. Deborah Hawkins
    Aug 27, 2017 @ 05:51:59

    I read and reviewed EyeDancers (5 stars) back in 2013. So glad to hear your sequel is on the way. Have wondered if you planned one and when. Best of luck!

    Reply

  11. renxkyoko
    Aug 28, 2017 @ 19:27:00

    I have to comment, and check the box ” Notify me ofnew comments via email. ” The box for notification for new posts is not here. I guess I’ll be getting emails of numerous comments in my email folder, ha ha ha.

    Reply

  12. The Eye-Dancers
    Aug 28, 2017 @ 19:54:09

    🙂 Hopefully the posts will be there as well.:) WordPress surely has its quirks!

    Reply

  13. reocochran
    Sep 13, 2017 @ 01:11:42

    This amused me since I was born in that faraway, long distance time frame of 11/1955. I like the way all those corners of fantasy, science fiction and illustrated detail stories (comic books).
    Heroes and heroines need apply.
    I liked Monica’s story excerpt. ✨🎆

    Reply

  14. Chlohemian
    Sep 15, 2017 @ 17:01:56

    Hey thanks for your follow at Chlohemian! 🙂 I’m a huge sci-fi/fantasy fan so I’m excited to check out your site. I think a lot about the intersection of these as well, considering that a lot of people I know are either sci-fi or fantasy fans, without realizing there is a lot of in-between.

    Reply

    • The Eye-Dancers
      Sep 16, 2017 @ 01:10:08

      Thanks so much! And you’re definitely right–there is a lot of sharing and cross pollination between sci-fi and fantasy. I guess the Eye-Dancers and the upcoming sequel is like that, too:)–combining both elements/genres. Thanks again, and I’m glad we’ve connected!

      Reply

  15. ellie894
    Sep 18, 2017 @ 02:35:49

    What a good read! I learned some new science things too. Vintage comics are wonderful aren’t they. Thank you. 😊

    Reply

  16. John Calligan Writes
    Oct 06, 2017 @ 15:08:10

    Great post. I really love old science fiction. The stories you’re discussing sound awesome.

    Reply

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