The Visionaries, Madmen, and Tinkerers Who Created the Future That Never Was
FUTURE WORLD COMICS
See also Marvels of Science for another 1946 science comic.
Marvels of Science wasn't the only science comic that spawned in 1946. Future World Comics had a better title and a better cover with a nifty flying car soaring over ancient autos and airplanes. The future? Only if you didn't knew this was a swipe from a publicity photo put out by the Southern Aircraft Company of Garland, TX, earlier that year. The comic scraped by on a technicality. Southern had no plans to put the prototype into production, so no three-wheeled flying cars in any reader's immediate future. Fortunately. The cover is signed Ulmer, who is probably Allen Ulmer. He started in comics and went to an award-winning fine art career.
Future World Comics was published by the wildly obscure George W. Dougherty Publishing Company of Meriden, CT. Meriden is only 30 miles northeast of Derby, CT, where Charlton, the publisher of Marvels of Science and many other comics under various publishers' names, was based, but we don't have to wade through that murk again. There's no connection at all.
George W. Doughtery was born in 1921. He enrolled at Columbia University but enlisted in the Army Air Corps when World War II broke out and survived literally hundreds of combat missions. His 2012 obituary says, "He took over a small printing brokerage business following his father's death in 1947. The Dougherty Co. developed an expertise in printing comic books..." He must have already been working at the family business before then because the three known comics the company released are all dated 1946. The company went into the magazine business even more heavily, "leading to a 30-year partnership with an upstart adult comic book: Mad Magazine. Later, the company acquired Road Test and Cycle Guide (motoring enthusiast monthlies) and launched Cyclist, a bicycling monthly sold to Rodale in 1996." The other two comic book titles were kid stuff, Puzzle Fun Comics and Puppet Comics. They were ephemeral, lasting one and two issues respectively.
The good stuff in Future World #1, dated Summer 1946, starts right on the inside front cover, with a page called "What in the Future World," a title that would pop up seven-and-a-half times over the lifespan of the comic.
Compared to flying cars that's a pretty lame future. Prop jets would appear but that design makes me nervous. Just as in Marvels of Science, a future with satellites was so impossible to imagine that imaginative workarounds had to take their place.
The brand new marvel of radar, then part of the big three war developed wonders with atomic bombs and rockets, made for a continuing theme through the issue. One of the two inside colored pages of "What in the Future World" was renamed "What's the Future Fuze?" (There's the seven-and-a-half.)
What we now know as Silly Putty had been accidentally developed in, surprise, World War II research but didn't reach the market until 1949 and didn't became a huge hit until years later. So, the future, sorta. But "lazy molecules"? Really? I can find no credits for the script, but the second page's art is credited to Chu Fook Hing, one of the few Chinese-American artists in the field at the time.
Much more futuristic - and, oddly, much more realistic - is the page on Where Is Atomic Energy Going? Every science publication had to have a page on the coming wonders of atomic power. This is one of the very few to address the issue of bringing down the cost. It's probably the best page in the issue. Signed Seymour, for Seymour Pearlstein.
The second issue of Future World , dated Fall 1946,had an even more magnificent futuristic image: a supportless subway car zooming through an undersea tunnel at thousands of miles an hour. Too bad there's nothing inside that refers to the cover even indirectly. It's signed H. C. Kiefer, who was Henry C. Kiefer, veteran of a decade of comic book work.
Future World Comics #2, Fall 1946
The concept is a real one, a so-called "gravity tunnel." Any two spots on the Earth (or any globe) can be connected by a straight line underground. (Imagine one bored by a laser.) From the point of view of an observer on the surface, the tunnel dips down from the ground to a low point inside and then curves up again, marking out a hypocycloid. Drop something into the tunnel and gravity pulls it down, giving it a momentum at the middle point that allows it to zoom back up to the surface and stop there. Travel time can be easily calculated from the known pull of gravity. That turns out to be 42 minutes in an ideal Earth. Amazingly, the same time is needed for a tunnel of any length, even one going directly through the center of the Earth. The time is also half the minimal time for an object to orbit the Earth at ground level. The principle has been known since Robert Hooke discovered it in the 17th century. Building such a tunnel is way beyond any known technology and the subway car has to travel through a perfect vacuum to prevent friction burns and slowing. Even so, the idea keeps popping up.
It's anyone's guess where the Future World artist and writer got the idea, so here's mine. The Tunnel was a 1935 British movie by Curt Siodmak, later to write any number of noted science-fiction and horror films. The Italian poster is by far the best, translating the title into Transatlantic Tunnel as would the U.S. release. This isn't a gravity tunnel but a Chunnel Tunnel write large, one that spans the Atlantic. So probably not. Any excuse to show off this lost image, though, is fine with me.
The second issue copied the first issue's structure, unsurprisingly. Most of the contents were fictional stories that taught science around lots of action. The first issue concentrated on radar, the second on radio. I doubt that you're any more interested in pulse-beamed modulation than I am, so let's go back to the future. Sorry.
Issue #2 had no fewer than five pages devoted to "What in the Future World," including again the prestigious inside front cover, still in black and white. One of the pages is signed R. Johnson, but comics.org guesses that was a pseudonym for Dick Briefer, another comic book veteran. Again, all the scripts are a mystery.
The projections are the usual mixture of wild guesses and extrapolations off of current technology, some coming to pass, others eye-blinking today. Whose future wonderland ever included a suction-cup soap dish? But conveniences for the home seemed to be on inventors' minds, from non-shrinking clotheslines to wireless induction irons to house numbers that glowed in the dark - and houses, too.
I have house numbers that glow in the dark, and they're exceptionally readable in emergencies. Other hits include automatic pinsetters - which already existed but didn't come into wide usage until the 1970s, printed circuits, and roofed stadiums, which burst upon the world with the Astrodome - the eighth wonder of the world - in 1965.
Newspaper vending machines were frequently predicted but never practical, and neither was glued clothing. Sadly, still no cures for cancer.
Future World Comics vanished almost without a trace after that second issue. One will cost you big bucks if you ever see a copy for sale. People wanted wilder and more optimistic futures than their writers could offer.
Future World Comics and Marvels of Science were beat to newsstands by Science Comics, which came out in January 1946. Science Comics was a bland series of histories of discoveries. Issue one featured Alexander Fleming, Daniel Bournelli, and Marconi, no first name. Guess Guglielmo was too difficult a name for comics. Science Comics is one of the standard nightmares for bibliographers. Ace Comics, one of the early also-ran companies, had already released another book called Science Comics back in 1940. I didn't find it in time to add it to Ray Guns in Early Comic Books, but it was almost completely a science-fiction adventure book, with titles like "Dr. Doom, The Mad Scientist," who had a ray that would slow the earth's rotation by five minutes. He menaced the planet in issue #7 but rays were so thick on the ground in those days that an entirely different ray made the cover. That first edition ran for eight issues; this later relaunch managed only two. Admit it. If you were a kid, even a nerdy one, which cover would you choose?
January 5, 2022