As we forecast in our recent extensive feature covering the 2019 science and technology auction year, science fiction memorabilia is hot and getting hotter, regardless of COVID-19. This was validated with the US$512,000 sale last week of the original Sunday comic strip artwork for Flash Gordon #1 – the first appearance of the most influential of all American space opera comic strips. The comic strip artwork sold for $512,000 at Profiles in History, with the original artwork for the first comic strip featuring Jungle Jim, another of Alexander Raymond’s creations, fetching $96,000.
The space opera genre began in 1928 when Buck Rogers made his first appearance in Amazing Stories, a science fiction magazine, in August 1928, when he featured in a story entitled Armageddon 2419 A.D. by Philip Francis Nowlan. Buck went on to stardom, at first in a syndicated newspaper comic strip (1929) then a radio program in 1932 and finally a television series. The popularity of the Buck Rogers comic strip meant rival newspaper comic strip syndicates had to produce their own space operas in order to compete.
In late 1933, King Features Syndicate assigned Alexander Raymond to create a Sunday comic page to compete against Buck Rogers and the result was the visually captivating science-fiction epic adventure Flash Gordon that quickly developed an audience far surpassing that of the Buck Rogers franchise.
Raymond’s first Flash Gordon strip debuted on January 7, 1934, introducing the handsome “Flash Gordon, Yale graduate and world-renowned polo player” and his lovely companion, Dale Arden, who parachute out of a crashing plane and are Shanghaied by Dr. Hans Zarkov aboard his rocket ship launched to intercept the threatening planet Mongo hurtling towards Earth.
Thus began the fantastical space opera that, by the late 1930s, was published in 130 newspapers across the globe, translated into eight languages, and read by over 50 million people each week. Quite soon, Flash Gordon was the star of novels and comic books.
As media evolved, so too did Flash Gordon. In 1935, the weekly comic strip was adapted into a 26-episode weekly radio serial entitled The Amazing Interplanetary Adventures of Flash Gordon, a 26-episode weekly radio serial. In late 1935, a daily Flash Gordon radio show began, running four days a week for 60 episodes.
As previously mentioned, the very first appearance of Buck Rogers in a 1928 science fiction magazine entitled Amazing Stories began the entire space opera genre. A copy of the magazine sold at auction last year for $1250.
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