SKYROADSMedium: Newspaper comics
Distributed by: John F. Dille Co.
First Appeared: 1929
Creators: Lester J. Maitland (writer) and Lt. Dick Calkins (artist)
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Following the famous 1927 flight of Charles Lindbergh, aviation became a popular topic in all media. In comics, this tendency manifest itself in Brick Bradford, Barney Baxter in the Air,
Scorchy Smith and a host of other high-flying adventurers. One of the early air adventure strips (not quite the very first — that would be Tailspin Tommy) was Skyroads, a daily-only that began in 1929.
Skyroads was written by real-life aviator Lester J. Maitland, who flew nonstop from California to Hawaii just a month after Lindbergh flew to Paris, and who later distinguished himself in World War II. It was drawn by Lt. Dick Calkins, also an aviator, whose title (which he never stopped using even decades after the fact) referred to his work with the Army Air Service during World War I. The syndicator was John F. Dille, who was also (like Calkins) involved in the adaptation of Buck Rogers into comic strip form. Two of Calkins's early assistants, Zack Mosley and Russell Keaton, went on to create similar strips of their own (Smilin' Jack and Flyin' Jenny, respectively).
Skyroads differed from most comics, in that it didn't have a regular star — it was more like aviation itself was the central "character". In the beginning, the protagonists were Ace Ames and Buster Evans, owners of a transport company called Skyroads Unlimited. Later, the star was one Hurricane Hawk, and after him, Speed McCloud. Then the hero was Clipper Williams, who had a kid sidekick named Tommy. Clipper was a member of an outfit called The Flying Legion, which eventually de-emphasized him to become the strip's focus as a group.
The lack of personal focus may have had something to do with the failure of Skyroads as a radio show. It started on Mutual Broadcasting on Feb. 13, 1939, and ended May 19 of the same year. It fared only a little better in Big Little Books, of which two were published, one in 1936 and the other in '39. Like many of its contemporaries, the strip was reprinted in a few issues of Famous Funnies, but it never appeared on the cover.
Maitland and Calkins left the strip in 1933 — or at least, that's when they stopped signing it; the assistants had probably been doing it for some time by then. Keaton handled it until 1939, when it was taken over by "Leon Gordon" (a pseudonym of Leonard Dworkins). The strip seems to have ended in 1942, but actual published copies of its last few years haven't been spotted.
In the 1960s, Edwin Aprill Jr., who pioneered in fan-driven comic strip reprints, made Skyroads his second project (after Buck Rogers). Only one volume came out. The strip has been virtually ignored for decades.