Friday, 24 April 2020

UFO Flying Saucers


Close Encounters
Of The Gold Key


Flying Saucers (Dell)
5 issues April 1967 - October 1969


UFO Flying Saucers (Gold Key)
13 issues October 1968 - January 1977 continuing as...
 

UFO And Outer Space (Gold Key)
12 issues June 1978 - February 1980


I thought there used to be a TV show which was on reruns in the very early 1970s, when I was a kid, about Project Blue Book. I’m pretty sure it was a 1960s TV programme but, looking up the info on both the shows Project Blue Book and Project UFO gives me listings on productions which aired in the late 1970s. So I’m really not sure which show I was thinking of, to be honest.

Either way, I was very interested in UFOs as a kid but never saw any of the comics I’m going to talk about today. Starting with DELL Comics’ five issues of Flying Saucers which were basically short stories telling tales which seemed to be a fusion of reported UFO incidents and flights of fancy. These aren’t great and I only found out about this run halfway through reading the Gold Key comics resurrection of the title. When their partnership with Western Publishing finished, Western formed Gold Key Comics and somehow managed to take a load of DELL’s licensed characters and comics with them. Once such was, kind of, their Flying Saucers comic, which was transformed into UFO Flying Saucers. The first four issues of the DELL version are all original tales and the fifth issue, which was published much later during the same time as the Gold Key run, which is surprising in itself, is composed entirely of reprints of one of the earlier issues. I’ll confine my thoughts about the DELL title to the Gold Key version because it’s all pretty much two similar sides of the same coin.

The things that weren’t quite the same for the majority of the Gold Key title was that a) the stories were all much shorter, usually ranging between one and three pages each (so there were obviously a lot more stories per issue) and b) they were mostly presented as real life case reports and I do believe that they were trying to present what they saw in a serious and respectful way, at least when the comic first started, as illustrated versions of actual incidents. And it’s kind of scary in some ways because each is presented with it’s own specific time stamp and you’ll get modern incidents within the same issues as things like the prophet Ezekiel witnessing early alien spacecraft in the 6th century and, I don’t know, something about the mechanism departing the Earth with a sound of powerful running water (like a waterfall) seems to me to come off as something really eerily similar to what one of our modern rockets sound like if described back then. Kind of hard to imagine something terrestrial like this in the 6th Century, I reckon.

At first, stuff like this was keeping me fairly interested and there was some scary or, more often, just intriguing stuff culled from real life case files (some of which I recognised from my own research into the phenomenon more than a couple of decades ago... until I decided to give it up as sleepless nights no longer appealed to me). However, it has to be said, after a while this was getting boring precisely because of those limitations. An average story has various witnesses seeing either a UFO or an alien creature, nothing much really happening and then having said craft or creature departing and nobody believing the various witnesses except, sometimes, those ‘in the know’ who work for the government. There’s no real excitement in these things other than something sighted, something draining power or, occasionally, some human interaction which might or might not result in the death of said human or an animal. And that’s basically it.

Also, it looks like the idea was getting increasingly difficult for Gold Key to sustain by the time they got less than half way into their run. The stories already seemed exactly the same due to, you know, being based on what little they could grab of real life incidents... so they decided to go the whole hog and start asking readers for their true encounters with UFOs or aliens, the best ones sent in getting an adaptation in the comic. So, yeah, I can’t imagine how many people they got writing in and spinning them a yarn just to see their name in print. However, after a few issues of advertising this feature, they started doing exactly that. The readers’ stories are all pretty much just one page long but they are in abundance and, just like the slightly longer stories, they are all pretty much saying the same thing.

I’m guessing, in an effort to at least make some attempt to have some stories lasting longer than about three pages (you know... like five), some of the reported case studies are, I suspect, montaged together by what the writer at the time thought was a common denominator in certain tales... at least I’m pretty sure that’s what happened because, sometimes, some of the dates quoted in the stories seem completely contradictory. For example, in a story linking the deaths of various astronauts, at least one of the recorded deaths is from a fair few years ahead of the time zone of the guy telling his colleagues about them so... yeah, they seem to screw up sometimes.

And I don’t know what was happening in an issue from 1975 when the narrative talks about the ‘late’ famous astrophysicist and extraterrestrial researcher Carl Sagan... since he didn’t die actually for over 20 years later. No idea.

Another thing the writers did to hold interest was to introduce a ‘back up’ feature, which is a strange concept in a comic which would hold maybe ten ‘stories’ anyway, much as the successful Doctor Solar - Man Of The Atom (which I reviewed here) had a Professor Harbinger strip. The back up in UFO Flying Saucers was called The Hoaxmaster and this top hatted fellow would talk directly to the audience and tell them the stupid tricks people have resorted to in order to get people to believe in UFOs. I guess it was the production team’s way of holding up the hoaxes to lend veracity to the other stories found in each issue. However, stuff like this was not enough and the magazine stopped publication for a while with issue 13 in January 1977.

However, the magazine returned with a slight name change in June 1978, continuing from issue 14 as UFO & Outer Space... the first two issues of which seem to consist entirely of reprints of stories from earlier issues. So what happened here to give Gold Key the idea to rush the magazine back onto the market after an almost a year and a half hiatus? Well, I can only speculate but I don’t think I’d be far wrong in suggesting that Steven Spielberg happened. December 1977 saw the release in America of his UFO movie Close Encounters Of The Third Kind and it was really popular (and sort of terrifying in some ways). It wasn’t as popular as Star Wars had been earlier in the year, of course but, it was taking the world by storm (we got it in the UK in 1978 and if I ever get around to reviewing it for this blog, I’ll tell of my terrifying experience after seeing that movie).

So my guess is that Gold Key saw the opportunity in the market and put the comic back out, filling it with selected reprints while the writers and artists, whoever these unsung folk were, beavered away on creating new material to capture the lightning in a bottle that was Spielberg’s film before the next trend came along. So before long we had... all the usual stuff again but also two new features. One was a two page text story each issue... the first two or three of which seem to be concentrating on paranormal investigation rather than anything else, so I suspect the first couple were filler reprinted from one of Gold Key’s horror titles. The other thing was a ‘What If...?’ story each month. The plus points on those stories were the fact that the stories could be both a little longer and, since they were being presented as a fiction, go a little further in terms of the various alien encounters in each tale. The minus points were... most of them were still pretty dull and dismal, perhaps to add to the authenticity. Oh... and there was also an attempt to have a running serial about a funny alien for light relief but... I suspect that wasn’t very well received because it vanished mid story after two or three issues (it just wasn’t funny).

By the end of the comic’s run in February 1980, reprints were once more beginning to creep in and the stories, as intriguing and worthy of exploration in real life, still seemed really dull in comic strip form... or at least they did to me. The very last issue looks like it was printed to fulfil some kind of contractual obligation and, once again, consists entirely of reprints. I suspect the comic wasn’t that much missed by anyone when it finally stopped publication.

That being said, although it felt like I was reading more or less the same stories over and over again in each issue, the comic book is something of a curio and it does hold a certain appeal... especially if you have an interest in the subject matter in the first place. It’s not really a comic I could recommend to anyone but some people would probably get a kick out of it and, as per usual with the Gold Key and DELL comics, the painted artwork covers for these things are absolutely superb. It’s just a shame the stories within those covers never really lived up to the spectacle on the front.

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