History-making music group for UMM - morris mn

History-making music group for UMM - morris mn
The UMM men's chorus opened the Minnesota Day program at the 1962 Seattle World's Fair (Century 21 Exposition).

Thursday, August 15, 2013

"Space Family Robinson" a precursor to big-time sci-fi

A science fiction researcher might well be confused by "Space Family Robinson." Is it the same as "Lost in Space?" If it's a relative, how close a relative? And if it's a relative, can we expect the essential qualities to be the same?
"Space Family Robinson" has an undeserved obscure place in sci-fi history. I consumed the comic book in the 1960s in my elementary school years (maybe into junior high).
I probably obtained most of my copies at the old Stark's Grocery Store, a classic neighborhood grocery store in the days before "convenience stores." That store was down the hill from the old east side school in Morris. We have seen that abandoned school come under the wrecking ball in just the last couple weeks.
The Stark's building still stands, now occupied by a cemetery marker company (you know, tombstones). I also acquired many of my baseball cards at the old Stark's. Most kids looked for a nice little snack like an ice cream sandwich.
The comic books were a source of wonder for me. This was reading material of choice for me and countless other kids.
I have previously paid tribute to "Turok, Son of Stone" and "Magnus, Robot Fighter" in my online writing. I could have started out with "Space Family Robinson" because it was as good as any. I would argue it's extremely important in sci-fi history. It was an unmistakable precursor for much of the sci-fi entertainment and enrichment that awaited my boomer generation as we grew older. It was escapism in the cauldron of troubled times in which we matured. It was the era of unrest over the Viet Nam War and other issues like civil rights.
Us kids couldn't have much of an impact on anything. We'd retreat into such fascinating storytelling, imagination and futurism as represented in comic books. We dreaded much of the "required reading" from our school classes. John Steinbeck was a bummer. His writing was already dated. The Great Depression and its suffering were long behind us. We were into a new kind of suffering. We knew where our next meal was coming from. What we didn't know was whether our older brother would receive a draft notice ("Greetings") that would send him to the hell hole of Southeast Asia - why the hell were we there? - and have him possibly never returning.
I attended the funeral for a war casualty in Brainerd in 1966. It should have been a closed casket. I have been haunted by that scene.
"Space Family Robinson" was about a family on a spaceship. Right away you might think this wasn't 100 per cent serious science fiction, because you'd expect a professional crew, not a simple family with two early-teen children. Oh, and there were two pets: the dog ("Clancy") and parrot ("Yakker"). But I assure you the comic book was 100 per cent serious sci-fi storytelling.
We see a similarity with the title "Swiss Family Robinson." The "Swiss" story (the novel and movies) was in fact inspiration for both Space Family Robinson and Lost in Space. There were 59 issues of Space Family Robinson, spanning 1962 to 1982.
In 1965 we saw the "Lost in Space" TV show come out. It seemed there was an obvious connection. This is the kind of thing lawyers can hash over. The TV show had no license to be derivative from the comic book. But just how derivative was it? People like me who remember both would cringe at the suggestion they were essentially identical. The TV series, especially toward the end, became a campy presentation drawing young kids as fans. Campy or farcical entertainment has its place (e.g. the "Mary Hartman" TV series), but Space Family Robinson was serious, artistic and intellectual. It never deviated from that.
Irwin Allen gave us the TV show. The comic book enterprise, rather than try to sue him, ended up in a settlement whereby the "Lost in Space" title could appear on the comic book, boosting sales because of familiarity.
TV had awesome power. "Space Family Robinson" might well have planted seeds for what would become the huge sci-fi franchise known as "Star Trek." The premise was the same. Our heroes were traveling through space and finding "new life and new civilizations."
The comic book lasted through the 1960s. It was canceled but then brought back because of the popularity of Star Trek. You all remember how Star Trek itself got cancelled. Mass-appeal TV was a difficult environment in which for edgy or imaginative new shows to try to survive. You probably remember the old "Saturday Night Live" satire on how Star Trek was cancelled. Elliott Gould was the network executive, remember? The fazers didn't work on him. He appeared on that big observation screen in his "1968 Chrysler" or whatever it was.
Sci-fi would have some bumps in the road as it evolved. Remember, us boomers had parents who were pretty one-dimensional in their entertainment consumption. It was the days when kids like me derided "Lawrence Welk" as the epitome of the kind of tripe our parents enjoyed seeing. At least, it was tripe in our eyes. Those were the days of the "generation gap."
The nursing home scenes in the movie "Mars Attacks!" showed Lawrence Welk on the TV screen. By then it was a stereotype. Welk's time had long passed.
Us kids were looking for TV shows that had imagination and sub-plots. Sci-fi opened unlimited vistas for us. And, many of us were guided into this by the "Space Family Robinson" comic book. I think it's a shame no movie was ever made on the specific "Space Family" storyline. We could see "Tim" and "Tam," the kids. And the parents, scientists Craig and June. "Clancy" and "Yakker" would lend their presence. All rode aboard "Space Station One" with its hydroponic gardens, observatory and two small shuttle craft ("Spacemobiles").
In the second issue, a cosmic storm deposits the family far from Earth, and they have adventures while trying to work their way home. The story was created by writer Del Connell and artist Dan Spiegle. Eventually Gaylord DuBois took over as writer.
I was amazed at the high quality of cover art for this and other comic books. I suggested in my "Turok" post that much of this art could have stand-alone value. My compliments are extended to "Turok, Son of Stone" and "Magnus, Robot Fighter." All such cover art was painted, most often by George Wilson.
Gold Key published "Space Family" in the time when I consumed it. Gold Key had comic book tie-ins for nearly all of Irwin Allen's major 1960s sci-fi TV series (e.g. "Voyage to the Bottom of the Sea" and "Time Tunnel"). Gold Key had already established the seminal "Space Family Robinson." Should the comic book be changed to ape the TV series? Oh, no. The model established in "Space Family Robinson" kept on. In 1966 we saw the "Lost in Space" title placed on the cover. Confusion, yes.
Sci-fi historians will note only a weak tie-in between the comic book and TV show. Confusion is enhanced by the "Robinsons" name used in both. "Dr. Smith" and that silly robot are not in the comic book.
Remember how comic books in those days had "letters to the editor?" Such letters truly promoted a feeling of community among fans of a comic book line. Us boomers really wanted a sense of community with our tastes. As adults the Internet has given us a perfect platform for this. In the '60s we were navigating in a world in which the Lawrence Welk generation still set the rules and parameters. We were outliers but we were prescient. In the end, we'd like to think we "won." History hasn't rendered a judgment yet.
A letter in issue #14 of Space Family Robinson suggested the story would leap to TV quite well. It was in the very next issue that the comic's title was modified to "Space Family Robinson: Lost in Space." This was in January of 1966. (The Viet Nam War was spiraling toward its ugly apex, which most historians would say was 1967. Us young boomers were still sheltered, wondering what sort of hell might await us if the war didn't end. Today's youth cannot relate to such anxiety. Sci-fi stories gave us a feeling of escapism.)
The TV industry could be brutal canceling shows in those days. "Lost in Space" met its fate. June Lockhart played the mother as she had in "Lassie." A Mad Magazine satire had her getting confused about which series she was in.
After the TV show's cancellation, the resilient comic book was re-named "Space Family Robinson, Lost in Space on Space Station One." The characters did begin to evolve a bit to reflect the TV show, unfortunately. It has been said Gold Key had "a de-facto tie-in with the TV series." Also, "smart Lost in Space collectors are appreciating the historical connection."
I appreciated everything about the "Space Family Robinson" comic series. Reading material of this type developed my literacy more than anything else, certainly more than what our schoolteachers foisted on us. Those teachers and academia in general would have cussed about comic books. A pox on them.
Let's close our eyes and take a voyage on "Space Station One." Yes, "new life and new civilizations." New civilizations that would never court anything like the Viet Nam War.
- Brian Williams - morris mn minnesota - bwilly73@yahoo.com

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