Tuesday, April 03, 2018

 

Obscurity of the Day: Jet Swift and his Science Stamps




Art Radebaugh has in the past decade or so come in for a little long awaited acclaim for his sometimes bizarre but always absolutely delightful feature Closer Than We Think, which was distributed by the Chicago Tribune syndicate from 1957-63. I think that you could fairly call the feature a cult classic at this point -- a filmmaker has even created a documentary about the strip and its creator.

While Closer Than We Think has now registered a blip on the cultural radar, Radebaugh's next project, Jet Swift and his Science Stamps, continues to languish as a bona fide obscurity. In this instance, perhaps that's as it should be. After Closer Than We Think was cancelled on January 6 1963, Radebaugh was right back in the Chicago Tribune Sunday funnies section after just a single week off. The new feature, Jet Swift and his Science Stamps, covered science past, present and future, thereby opening the focus from pure science fiction.

Presumably someone in charge at the Tribune either thought that Closer Than We Think was too far out, or that the Tribune should have a 'me-too' offering to counter the successful Our New Age science strip. Perhaps to distance his new feature from Our New Age, Radebaugh came up with two 'innovations'. First, he added a narrator; unfortunately Jet Swift does absolutely nothing but take up a little space in each panel, pointing or gesturing in a complete vapid and useless manner. Second,  he formatted the panel outlines as if they were postage stamps. Both of these novelties are utterly pointless, and worse, take away valuable space from the art.

Jet Swift and his Science Stamps was not only ill-conceived but also exceedingly clunky and scattershot. Each panel stands on its own, so with no continued narrative it is impossible to actually explain a scientific concept. By design of the feature, Radebaugh can offer little in the way of real scientific information, so his panels are much more in the vein of Robert Ripley factoids than of Isaac Asimov explanations. His future material is still thought-provoking, but is now limited to one small panel.

Not surprisingly, the new feature failed to find an enthusiastic audience. The Chicago Tribune itself dropped it with the installment of August 11 1963, while in syndication Jet Swift lasted until at least October (has anyone seen it later than that?).

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