« Skepticism is the highest duty and blind faith the one unpardonable sin. » — Thomas Henry Huxley
Plot-wise, this one’s a trifle, a frothy bit of nonsense, I’ll happily concede. But it’s ornately illustrated by Joe Maneely, in that busy-but-clear, rough-but-assured, scratchily cartoonish fashion of his.
Hey, you know who our protagonist reminds me of? Marshall Teller’s sidekick, Simon Holmes, from outstanding early ’90s TV show Eerie, Indiana. See what I mean?
While our featured tale is saddled with the hoariest of plots, what lends it some flavour, in my book, is its rampant self-referential hucksterism (hello, Stan!), to the point that it’s practically a five-page commercial for Atlas’ supernatural titles. Still, I like it — it’s a bit of novelty.
« I have argued flying saucers with lots of people. I was interested in possible. They do not appreciate that the problem is not to demonstrate whether it’s possible or not but whether it’s going on or not. » — Richard P. Feynman
You can follow the rising pitch with the publishing frequency of Gold Key’s UFO Flying Saucers: after its premiere issue hits the stands in 1968, two full years elapsed until the second, then another two until the third… and again to the fourth. It’s fair to presume that the title had been intended as a one-shot, and that encouraging sales led the way to a regular, if sparse schedule. Then the pace picked up after issue four (Nov. 1974), and so ten issues appeared in the span of just over three years. There was a brief hiatus, a retitling to UFO & Outer Space and a further dozen issues saw print, two of them reprints. By late 1979, the series sputtered to a halt.
They may not have been to everyone’s taste, but Gold Key comics provided their audience with a soothing respite and change of pace from Marvel’s endless manic brutality and insipid crossovers. Even amidst the GK line, UFO Flying Saucers stood out. It did a stellar job of covering the flying saucer craze of the Cold War years, thanks to a sober, documentary-style narrative tone and strong artwork, led by Frank Bolle, who fit the template to a T. The tone was surprisingly even-handed (far more so than most modern media; j’accuse, History Channel!) They even tossed a scrumptious pinch of skepticism into the mix now and again, and it’s this delicacy that we’ll be sampling.
The modern skeptical* movement was spearheaded by the 1952 publication of mathematician and science writer Martin Gardner‘s fascinating In the Name of Science (thereafter better known as Fads & Fallacies in the Name of Science), answering the need for an organised response to a (still) rising tide of irrationality, superstition and scientific illiteracy. When UFO Flying Saucers introduced its series featuring The Hoaxmaster, the skeptics’ flagship publication, The Skeptical Inquirer, was still a couple of years away from being launched. That auspicious occasion came in the fall of 1976, under its original title of The Zetetic: Journal of the Committee for the Scientific Investigation of Claims of the Paranormal.
Sadly, The Hoaxmaster series bears no writing credit. The only writer ever credited in the title is Western Publications staffer Patricia Fortunato, a former story editor of The Golden Magazine. If that’s your work, Pat, take a bow!
In comparison, artist identification is a cinch: the steady hand of Frank Bolle, who left us just last year, at the most venerable age of 95, is instantly recognizable. Artistically active right to the wire, he drew the final leg (1999-2015) of soap opera comic strip Apartment 3-G‘s 54-year-run. Over the course of his singularly long career, he worked for just about every comics publisher… and then some! His reliable proficiency at providing just the right tone to illuminate that delicate borderline between science fact and science fiction made him the ideal choice to adapt John Christopher‘s early young adult post-apocalyptic The Tripods trilogy (The White Mountains, The City of Gold and Lead,and The Pool of Fire), serialised in Boys’ Life magazine in the 1980s. Check it out here!
Well, that’s roughly half of the Hoaxmaster strips. If you’d like to see the rest, let us know… I can probably time it with the next edition of World Contact Day. To sign off on a musical note, here’s its catchy, Canadian-made anthem. Remember, “we are your friends“.
*as opposed to ‘denialism’, of course. It’s a crucial distinction: know the difference!
« It is Friday the 13th and you are right on time — ten minutes to midnight! »
As the thirteenth fatefully falls on a Friday this month, I’m inspired to trot out a story from my very favourite issue of Gold Key’s Grimm’s Ghost Stories no. 26 (Sept. 1975). So what elevates this particular entry above its brethren? Admittedly, the competition from other issues is pretty tepid. Truth be told, though, all comers are swept out the door by a winning pair of yarns from the great Arnold Drake (1924 – 2007, co-creator of The Doom Patrol, Deadman and the original Guardians of the Galaxy): The Servant of Chan (illustrated by Luis Dominguez) and this one, the bracingly skeptical The Anti-13 (illustrated by John Celardo).