Cover of the second issue. Artist: George Wilson.

SPACE FAMILY ROBINSON

Original medium: Comic books
Published by: Gold Key
First Appeared: 1962
Creators: Del Connell (writer) and Dan Spiegle (artist)
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Gold Key Comics subsisted almost exclusively on familiar characters licensed from other media. It licensed the properties of Walt Disney, Sid and …

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… Marty Kroft, Warner Bros., Walter Lantz's studio … But it did have a few series of its own, such as Doctor Solar, Mighty Samson and The Close Shaves of Pauline Peril. One of the longest running and best known was Space Family Robinson, which debuted with a December, 1962 cover date — just a couple of months after the publisher itself was launched.

According to a popular legend, it was Carl Barks, creator of Uncle Scrooge and Gyro Gearloose, who had the basic idea of transplanting Swiss Family Robinson (which had greater name recognition than usual just then because of the recent Disney movie version) into outer space. As the story goes, he mentioned it to editor Chase Craig (Looney Tunes, Tarzan), who liked the idea and put a series of that description on the schedule.

What is known is that the concept was fleshed out, and the first issue written, by Del Connell (whose credits range from Ferd'nand to Super Goof). It was drawn by artist Dan Spiegle (Crossfire, Blackhawk). Their view of the year 2002, from their 40-year perspective, was considerably different than ours. Theirs included space stations that could approach the speed of light on a straight run and yet maneuver through a planet's atmosphere, and which were also designed to be inhabited by entire families.

Or one space station of that description, at any rate — Space Station One (aka K-7), which the Robinson family called home. The Robinsons were Craig (scientist dad), June (scientist mom), Tim (early teen son), Tam (early teen daughter), Clancy (dog) and Yakker (parrot). In the spacious environment of their space station (which included an observatory dome, hydroponic gardens, a solarium and other amenities), they set out in 2002 to cruise among nearby stars and have adventures. In the second issue, they were caught in a cosmic storm and deposited far, far away. They spent the rest of the series trying to find their way back to Earth, but continuing to have adventures along the way.

In the 14th issue (October, 1965, which, comic book dating being what it is, probably went on sale during July or August), the letter column contained a note requesting that Space Family Robinson be made into a TV show. The reply vaguely speculated that maybe that would happen someday. In reality it happened on September 15 of that year, only not quite, when Irwin Allen's Lost in Space debuted on CBS.

The Robinsons of Lost in Space had different first names than those of the comic book, and they got around in very different conveyances. (Spiegle later said the comic book's landing craft were modeled after electric shavers.) Also, the TV version added a pair of show-stealing characters — onboard enemy Dr. Zachary Smith, and an appealing if sometimes annoying robot. Otherwise, the set-ups were very similar. Coincidence? Maybe — but the fact that Allen's production company even used "Space Family Robinson" as a working title before the show actually debuted argues otherwise. Also, Allen was likely to be familiar with Gold Key comics, since his TV series Voyage to the Bottom of the Sea had been licensed by the publisher a year earlier, and was at that time coming out in comic book form on a bimonthly basis.

Gold Key didn't sue, because it had some very lucrative licensing deals going with various TV producers and didn't want to upset any apple carts. It did, tho, change the title of Space Family Robinson to Space Family Robinson Lost in Space with its 15th issue (January, 1966), and it printed the last three words much larger than the first three. No hard feelings — in fact, Gold Key later licensed two more Irwin Allen productions, The Time Tunnel (1967) and Land of the Giants (1968).

Under the new title, the comic book Robinsons continued for years — in fact, the comic outlasted the TV show. Dan Spiegle continued to draw it, tho Gaylord DuBois (who scripted Tarzan, The Lone Ranger and dozens of other series for Dell and Gold Key) had taken over the writing early on. A back-up feature, Captain Venture (a space ship commander who later had his own comic for a couple of issues), also by Connell and Spiegle, began in #6. It went on hiatus with its 36th issue (October, 1969), but was brought back four years later under the name Space Family Robinson on Space Station One (since the TV show title no longer had any drawing power). Captain Venture was not revived with it. This time it ran until November, 1978. It was revived again in 1981-82, but this time it was all reprints. A total of 59 issues were published, in addition to which four issues of March of Comics (the shoe store giveaway) were devoted to the series.

Western Printing and Lithographing, Gold Key's parent company, got out of the comic book business in 1984, ending the likelihood of another revival. When Valiant Comics licensed the Gold Key characters from Western, it brought out new versions of Doctor Solar; Magnus, Robot Fighter and Turok, Son of Stone. But it didn't use Space Family Robinson.

But another comic book publisher sort of did. Innovation Comics (an odd name, since it was best known for comics based on old TV shows) licensed Lost in Space, and brought out a comic book version in 1991. This series ran until 1993, and gave scarcely a nod to the comic book where the first Robinsons first appeared.

— DDM

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Text ©2002-07 Donald D. Markstein. Art © Western Printing and Lithographing.