Monday, June 18, 2018

Alden McWilliams' "Twin Earths" Artwork

The first, and perhaps the most famous, science-fiction comic strip was Buck Rogers which debuted in January 1929. Others of that genre followed, the best-known of these was Flash Gordon which featured the highest quality artwork of the lot, certainly in its earliest years when Alex Raymond wielded his pen and brush.

The only other American sci-fi strip with top-notch artwork that I'm aware of off-hand was Twin Earths (1952-1963), created by publications maestro Oskar Lebeck (1903-1966), who did the writing in the early years and Alden McWilliams (1916-1993), who did the art. I will probably write more about McWilliams in another post, but shall focus on Twin Earths here.

The concept of Twin Earths was that there existed a totally Earth-like planet that shared Earth's orbit but at exactly the opposite side -- 180 degrees away. This meant that, as of 1952 when the strip started, there was no way we on Earth could detect Terra, as it was called. Terrans were a few hundred years ahead of Earth technologically, so could visit here using their flying saucer spacecraft. Another quirk was that their population was 90 percent female. Yet another was that they had lifespans exceeding 150 years, yet preserved youthful appearances over most of that time.

The opening few months of panels can be found here. A Terran female agent reveals her identity to an FBI agent, the male hero of the strip. Then things flow from there.

The Seattle Times newspaper suffered a strike in 1953, and when it ended the paper published special sections displaying all the comics that would have been printed during the time of the strike. I recently made scans of these for Twin Earths, and two of these are displayed below. At this point in the strip's development, the plotting wasn't very interesting. Mostly it was presenting the futuristic marvels of Terra, contrasting them with 1953 Earth. There was a bit of romance-related activity, but no space wars or bug-eyed monsters.

I'll comment further in the captions, but want to stress McWilliams' artwork. Grinding out comics panels day after day can make corner-cutting tempting. Yet McWilliams didn't seem to fall into that mode very often, maintaining a commendably even strain.

Click on the images to enlarge.


I don't think the dialog regarding electromagnetism set readers' hearts to beating faster. But Ah! the artwork. The compositional variety. The poses of the characters, the shifting points of view. And those seriously attractive women. McWilliams could do it all.

This set deals with Terra's contact with a planet from another solar system.


Unknown said...

Dear Mr Pittenger: I was pleased to find your website, praising the artwork of Alden McWilliams. I read "Twin Earths" as a boy while living in California (I have lived in New Zealand since 1971), and was so pleased to see the Susor reprints of both the Daily and Sunday Pages. Through Mr Susor, I was able to exchange a few letters with Alden McWilliams, and I sent a complete set of the covers of the Australian comic book reprints of Twin Earth (29 in all) to Mr McWilliams, who was amazed - he had no idea that both series were reprinted in Australia. I have had a life-long interest in the artwork of comic strips and comic books, and I have long thought that Alden McWilliams deserves more credit than he receives for his skilled and imaginative art. Many thanks for your article. Sincerely, David Lee-Smith, Lower Hutt, New Zealand

Donald Pittenger said...

Unknown -- Thank you for your information. I hadn't known that Twin Earths had been reprinted in comic book form. I happen to have a couple Space Cadet comic books with his artwork, and might post about those before long.

Unknown said...

Dear Mr Pittenger: Thank you for your email. You might be interested to know that "Twin Earths" was widely reprinted in comic book form in Britain (in the "Tarzan Weekly") and mainland Europe, and in newspapers in South America (I have a few strips in Spanish). McWilliams did change his style about half-way through the Dailies, drawing more in the fashion of Alex Raymond in "Rip Kirby." He also began to make some shortcuts, using the last panel of one strip as the first panel of the following strip. Personally, I prefer what I consider to be the "Golden" period of the "Twin Earths" Dailies, which ended with the death of the Terranian leader Granit on Venus. I would be pleased to see McWilliams' work on "Space Cadet." I also have some Gold Key 'Star Trek" comics with his artwork, as well as some other comics on which he worked. With good wishes, David Lee-Smith

Donald Pittenger said...

David -- I just drafted a post with some scans I made from 2 Space Cadet comic books in my possession. Only a few pages so as to show McWilliams' technique in that setting. Will post it fairly soon.