Small House of Everything

Small House of Everything

Saturday, September 1, 2018


After Charles Lindbergh made his historic flight across the Atlantic in 1927, public interest in aviation soared.  Responding to that demand, comic strip artist Hal Forrest created Tailspin Tommy the following year, the first aviation adventure comic strip to appear following Lucky Lindy's flight.  Forrest was no stranger to aviation comic strips; earlier he had created Artie the Ace, which -- although short-lived, helped Forrest to create the more popular Tailspin Tommy.

The hero of this strip was Tommy Tomkins* was raised in a small Colorado town and was mesmerized by airplanes, so much so that he earned the nickname Tailspin Tommy before he had even been in a plane.  A lucky coincidence got Tommy a job as an airplane mechanic and soon he had his pilot's license.  Along the way he gained a girlfriend, Betty Lou Barnes, and a best friend, "Skeeter" Milligan.  The three eventually became part owners in Three Points Airlines, based in Texas.  Many airborne adventures followed.

Tailspin Tommy began on April 30, 1928, appearing in four newspapers.  Syndicated by Bell Syndicate, the strip reached over 250 papers by 1931 with both daily and Sunday strips.  Tailspin Tommy hit the movie theaters in 1934 with a 12-part serial.  Another followed in 1935, and in 1939 a number of hour-long films were released.  From 1933 to 1941, ten Big Little Books were published, most of which were adapted by Gaylord DuBois.  Two other Tailspin Tommy books were published -- one by Dell and one by Grossett and Dunlop.  And a magazine, Tailspin Tommy Adventure Magazine, appeared in 1936 and lasted for two issues.  Thirty Tailspin Tommy 8-page booklets were issued to promote Big Thrill Chewing Gum.  Tommy was a hit.

At the beginning, Forrest drew the strip and Glenn Chaffin wrote the script.  In 1933, Forrest also took over the writing duties and continued producing the strip solo for the next three years.  In 1936, Forrest hired Reynold Brown to ink over Forrest's penciled artwork, improving the look of the strip greatly.  By 1940, Tailspin Tommy began to lose readers.  A change of syndicate to United Features did little to slow the downward slide and the strip ended in 1942.

United Features also published Single Series, a comic book featuring reprints of one of their comic strips in each issue.  Tailspin Tommy was featured in two of these issues, in 1940 and 1946.

In the issue linked below, Betty is aboard Mr. Duane's yacht; they are hoping to find a lost, sunken treasure.  A henchman of the villainous Guilford has sneaked aboard and had found the treasure map when Betty interrupted him.  Betty grabbed the map.  A struggle ensued and Betty and the thug fell overboard into shark-infested waters.  The ravenous beasts attacked the neer-do-well first, the set their sights on Betty.  But wait!  There in the air are Tommy and Skeeter.  Tommy brings his plane down for a water landing and rescue while Skeeter tries to shoot the sharks with a pistol.  Will they save Betty? I ask rhetorically.

Things move quickly.  Duane's ship gets stuck in the Sargasso sea, the place of lost ships.  The giant apes attack Tommy and Skeeter; one ape gets aboard their plane as it takes off.  Guilford and his crew of pirates attack, holding Tommy and company prisoner.  A giant octopus attacks.  The pirates make Betty and the other prisoners walk the plank.  Will Tommy be able to save them? I ask rhetorically.

Gosh, all ended well.  Now Tommy and Skeeter are piloting a plane with ten passengers, headed to San Francisco from Vancouver.  Betty is aboard a the stewardess.  A violent storm.  The plane loses power.  An emergency landing in an isolated and unknown valley surrounded by mountains.  A passenger goes missing.  Tommy suspects murder.  Someone sabotages the plane's engines.  The passenger list reads like a suspect list from an Agatha Christie novel.  Can Tommy, Skeeter, Betty, and the remaining passengers be rescued?  And whodunnit? I ask sincerely, because I don't know -- the comic book ends abruptly.

Enjoy this blast from the past.

* Sometimes spelled "Tompkins."