In fact, it was worse than that. Comics were an infection in science fiction; only slightly less worse than Venusian snot plague. Many SF writers wrote comics, but they didn't brag about it. Henry Kuttner, Manly Wade Wellman, Alfred Bester, Eando Binder, Edmond Hamilton, and Harry Harrison who started out as a comic artist and became a famous SF author. But of all the science fiction comics, there is one that is different. Perhaps especially hated or simply ignored, but unusual. I'm talking about "Zarnak."
"Zarnak?" you ask. Wasn't he a villain in Superman's Girlfriend, Lois Lane? Nope. Wasn't he a tentacular space monster in Planet Comics? Uh-uh. Wasn't he a Soviet spy who tried to blackmail J Jonah Jameson in Amazing Spider-Man? Never. Zarnak was the only comic character to appear in a science fiction pulp. Not to be inspired by a pulp or to get a comic from a pulp company, but to actually appear in one.
Lester del Rey explains the change in his The Worlds of Science Fiction: The History of a Subculture (1977):
"The magazine was no longer the same. It was deliberately slanted to a lower age group, far more frankly designed to use action stories than Astounding had ever been, and it included a comic strip inside it. The comic insert was soon dropped, but it had already helped to give the magazine a bad reputation with the older readers."First off, you can literally hear the contempt drip off Del Rey's tongue at the words "comic strip." Secondly, you notice that he quickly brushes the strip aside, unnamed, and moves on. Granted he was writing a history of science fiction but the abruptness is as typical as his comparison to the holy grail, John W Campbell's Astounding.
I plan to rectify Mr. Del Rey's omission. That "comic strip" was called "Zarnak" by Max Plaisted, a pseudonym of Jack Binder. (Both Binder and Weisinger have big things to do in comics, but more on that later.) Jack Binder was Earl and Otto's older brother (Jack 1902, Earl 1904, and baby Otto in 1911). Jack was the one who spearheaded the brothers' involvement with comics. Earl and Otto formed "Eando Binder" and went on to write such pulp classics as "I, Robot" before Otto eventually joined the Fawcett Comics team and wrote Captain Marvel and later moved to DC to help create Supergirl. Let's just say that Binders and comics went together.
But back in 1936, with a new juvenile pulp to launch, Mort Weisinger had Jack Binder produce "Zarnak," a cliff-hanger strip modeled on Buck Rogers (that had started in 1929) and Flash Gordon (1934).
The strip was dropped and the next installment never appeared.
Also to be noted: twenty-one-year-old editor Mort Weisinger would end up at DC in 1941. After a stint in the army, Mort became the man behind Superman and Batman, along with Julius Schwartz. It was Mort and Julius who would lure so many of those old SF writers into the DC fold, having first known them as fanboys publishing fanzines and semi-prozines and finally real pulp titles. Zarnak had come and gone, but the authors of Thrilling Wonder still had much to offer comics, bringing in the better science fictional content we take for granted as part of the DC universe.
GW Thomas has appeared in over 400 different books, magazines and ezines including The Writer, Writer's Digest, Black October Magazine and Contact. His website is gwthomas.org. He is editor of Dark Worlds magazine.