STARGUARDS: Nick Orion and Mary Luna in the 21st Century!

Retrofuturism science fiction

By January 1923, Henry R. (“Inky”) Grant’s career had hit the skids. A once-promising illustrator in the pulps, he had alienated numerous mentors and supporters over the years. Consequently, he often found himself banned at magazines that once welcomed his work and personally ostracized. “Off-putting personality,” his wife explained to friends.

He’d been fired by Walt Disney’s nascent silent-screen animation studio when he undiplomatically objected to the racist stereotyping in Walt’s Alice films. His reputation preceded him to Florida, where the Fleischers rejected him without even an interview.

He provoked a drunken bar fight with a man he mistook for Hemingway, thinking it would bring him some much-needed notoriety and literary credibility. As the man wasn’t actually Hemingway, Inky achieved no fame, but he wound up too injured to work for a month. As a result of his incapacitation, his initial foray into a daily comic strip, which featured a flapper whose young “nephew” could destroy whole city blocks with his mind, was canceled after just six weeks.

Worst of all, after his comic strip’s demise, Inky’s wife tired of his rampant womanizing, and she fled with their four-year-old daughter to France, where she reunited with her childhood sweetheart.

Ironically, in France Mrs. Grant would frequently hobnob with just the sorts of literary figures Inky was desperate to meet.

Inky spent months idle, despondent and drunk.

Then, in early August 1923, Inky read a lecture by the astronomer, P. M. Ryves, who deemed it “quite certain,” based on his observations, that Mars had “air, water, warmth and considerable vegetation,” which in turn quite likely supported “intelligent life” on the red planet.

Inspiration struck; Inky imagined how a solar system teeming with intelligent life and habitable planets would impact the human race a hundred years hence. He stayed up all night feverishly sketching out his ideas for his “Starguards” comic strip, which would tell the story of two young and brave officers in a solar-system-wide police force. In Inky’s vision, the strip’s action would always take place precisely one hundred years in the future. What would change, and what would stay the same? His vision of the future was relentlessly optimistic, indeed rather corny, which reflected the hope he felt at that moment for his own life.

Within several days, he completed some initial drawings, which he brought to McClure Newspaper Syndicate and a few others. But he learned with disappointment, though not much surprise, that no one would work with him. Because they didn’t like him.

He proposed to “Weird Tales” Magazine that they publish a standalone issue featuring his Starguards, something he innovatively dubbed a “comic book” or a “comic strip novel.” But the “Weird Tales” editors felt that readers preferred, and would always prefer, their comics in bite-size pieces, and they passed. Plus, they didn’t like Inky, and they didn’t want to work with him.

He wouldn’t give up, and his work continued. He had no contract, no support, dwindling cash, and no one loved him, but he completed the first chapter of his “comic book” in late September 1923, an ironically positive and heroic story, at least at the outset.

STARGUARDS, CHAPTER ONE:

AN URGENT MISSION

Read it now!

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Editor’s Note: The story of “Inky” Grant and his comic strip will appear here every week or two. Read chapter 2, here.

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