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August 29, 2014

Big Little Books (BLB) have had a tremendous appeal to collectors since they first appeared featuring the likes of Mickey Mouse, Buck Rogers, Dick Tracy, Orphan Annie, The Phantom, Donald Duck, and so many others. In the course of this column, we’ll take you through a selection of them and explore some of the many nuances to collecting BLBs.

Writer Don Moore and artist Alex Raymond introduced the world to the brazen bravery of Flash Gordon in January 1934, when his King Features comic strip debuted. Calculated to compete with Buck Rogers, Flash soon became the bigger star. Polo player Flash, along with Dale Arden and Dr. Zarkov, blasted off to do battle with the dastardly Ming the Merciless of the planet Mongo as well as a plethora of interplanetary perils. Raymond was succeeded by Austin Briggs in 1944, who was in turn followed by Mac Raboy.

Flash rocketed from Sunday strips into comic books with an appearance in King Comics #1 in 1936, and soon found himself fighting the forces of evil on radio from 1935-36, and in film with three Universal movie serials released from 1936-40 and starring Buster Crabbe.

The Sunday strip also spawned daily installments that ran from 1940-44 and again briefly in 1951, this time illustrated by Dan Barry. Barry would stick with the strip for almost four decades, becoming the longest running artist for Flash Gordon’s adventures and expanding his duties to include the Sunday strip in 1967 before finally retiring in 1990.

Flash appeared in a syndicated TV show that aired from 1953-54 and comprised 38 episodes, and turned up in a Filmation cartoon series from 1979-80. He even teamed up with fellow King Features stars Mandrake the Magician and the Phantom for the 1987 Saturday morning cartoon series, Defenders of the Earth. In 1980, producer Dino De Laurentiis also offered up a campy but thoroughly enjoyable feature film adaptation featuring music by rock band Queen and starring Sam Jones as football star turned hero Flash Gordon.

In the BLBs themselves, author Don Moore himself was hired in August 1935 by Whitman to write many of the Flash Gordon?BLBs seen here. His first tale was Flash Gordon and the Witch Queen of Mongo. Whitman instructed him to tone down the sex and violence in Flash Gordon’s adventures, and?Moore went on to write them for the next twenty years.

NOTE:?The BLBs are inconsistent in their description of Flash’s vocation. In Flash Gordon on the Planet Mongo, he is referred to as a famous polo player, but in Flash Gordon in the Water World of Mongo, he is described more recognizably as a famous football player. The most recent incarnation of the Sunday strip by Jim Keefe is still seen in newspaper syndication. “Gordon’s alive?!”

If you’d like to know more about Big Little Books, check out The Big Big Little Book Book – An Overstreet Photo-Journal, which is an amazing compendium of information and images about Big Little Books and other publications associated with the form. It’s full color, 272 pages, and it’s packed with the history of these little classics. And it’s only $19.95!

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