DON DIXON AND THE LOST EMPIREMedium: Newspaper comics
Distributed by: Watkins Syndicate
First Appeared: 1935
Creators: Bob Moore (writer) and Carl Pfeufer (artist)
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Comic strip star Don Dixon has frequently been compared to Flash Gordon, complete with the allegation that it's a direct imitation of Flash (tho most of the allegators neglect to mention that King Features originally launched Flash in hopes of tapping into Buck Rogers's audience). And indeed, through most of its less-than-six-year existence, artist Carl Pfeufer made it look a lot like Alex Raymond's rendition
of Flash Gordon. But the flaw in any comparison of Don Dixon with either Flash or Buck is that at no time did Don Dixon leave his home planet.
Don Dixon & the Lost Empire was the name of the comic originally whipped up in 1935 at the offices of Brooklyn's newspaper, The Daily Eagle. The small paper had a little experience with national syndication, with its Believe It or Not imitator, Stranger than Fiction, by cartoonist John Stuart, which had started the previous year, but their Watkins Syndicate did little of note afterward. It did distribute Ken Ernst's Gabby Flynn years before Ernst achieved prominence with Mary Worth, and was involved in an apparently fruitless attempt to market several Centaur Publications comic book properties, such as The Masked Marvel and The Fantom of the Fair, to newspapers, but Don Dixon was the most noteworthy thing it ever did.
Bob Moore wrote the series, and Carl Pfeufer drew it. Both were subsequently involved in several newspaper comics that drew even less attention, but made more of a mark outside of newspaper comics. Moore worked as an animator for Disney and had credits in Fantasia and Dumbo. Pfeuffer worked for Marvel, mostly on The Sub-Mariner, and much later co-created Tod Holton, Super Green Beret, for Lightning Comics (Fatman the Human Flying Saucer).
The Don Dixon story opened as a Sunday page on October 6, 1935 (tho some sources say it didn't start until the 20th). The title character was a not-yet-grown teenager, and would never be mistaken for Flash Gordon (tho he was, like Flash, blond and handsome). He and his adult sidekick, Dr. Lugoff, while adventuring in an exotic part of the world, arrived in Pharia, an empire that doesn't appear on any maps the reader would be familiar with. They were soon involved in the local political goings-on, and Don became particularly involved with young Princess Wanda (no relation). To take complete enjoyment in their relationship, he and Wanda quickly grew up. Within a few months, they were full-grown lovers.
In roughly the same span of time, Don reached a point where he could be mistaken for Flash Gordon. Pfeufer wasn't as good as Raymond, but he was no slouch, and before long was deliberately making his work look a lot like Flash adventuring in the exotic byways of the planet Mongo. Don and Wanda got lost in the equally-unmapped Pharia environs, and spent years trying to find their way back, getting into one melodramatic situation after aother along the way.
Meanwhile, their adventures were reprinted in comic books, as were those of their topper, Tad of the Tanbark. also by Moore and Pfeufer. Thus series started out taking place around a circus (the word refers to bark used in tanning, which is also used to cover circus rings) but later moved to a jungle setting, like that of Flash's topper, Jungle Jim. Their first comic book venue was Dell's Popular Comics, where at least at first the majority of other strips, such as Little Orphan Annie and Dick Tracy, were licensed from The Chicato Tribune Syndicate. Then they switched to Dell's The Funnies, where they started in the very first issue (October, 1936), along with Our Boarding House, Out Our Way and various other newspaper comics.
Next, they were licensed by Centaur Publications, which ran them in a few issues of Amazing Mysteries Funnies, dated August, 1939, through January, 1940. This roughly coincided with the time Watkins Syndicate offered Speed Centaur, Skyrocket Steele and the publisher's other properties for syndication. Watkins's Stranger Than Fiction also appeared in Amazing Mystery Funnies.
Then it was back to Dell, where they once again anthologized in Popular Comics, alongside less syndicate-specific fare such as Tailspin Tommy, Toonerville Folks and other comics licensed from newspaper feature distributors. Finally, they were licensed to appear in a few 1941-42 issues of Reg'lar Fellers Heroic Comics, where Hydroman was the cover feature and the back pages were full of things like Flyin' Jenny and Bill & Davey.
By that time, Don Dixon and Tad were both gone from newspapers. They ended March 6, 1941. Don's final words, as he returned from the latest adventure, were "It will be good to get back to where everything is normal."