Betrayal on Venus: Starguards, Chapter Four

[Editor’s Note: The story of “Inky” Grant and his comic strip will appear here every week or two. Read the whole saga from the beginning, if you wish.]

In Fall 1923, writer and illustrator Henry R. (“Inky”) Grant had no job, and he was running low on money. But he felt as though his luck were changing for him, and that it was about to change more. He was working productively on his “Starguards” comic strip, which he envisioned as a book-length opus on the wild, optimistic future world of 2023, in which mankind colonized the solar system and made peace with alien life, and he looked forward to a meeting with an editor at the George P. Brett & Co. publishing house, which had expressed an interest in his work. What’s more, he had struck up a tentative romance with the well-known moving picture starlet Barbara La Marr, the “Girl Who is Too Beautiful,” and a friendship with moving picture star John Gilbert, which he thought would open the gates to Hollywood.

The night before his meeting with the publisher he drew several frames of the fourth “Starguards” entry, in which Mary Luna and Nick Orion, the two Starguards officers, meet the heiress they are to chaperone to Venus, and settle comfortably into their rocket ship accommodations, with nothing more controversial than a bit of futuristic sexiness, and Nick Orion’s unusual pajamas. Inky’s notes indicate that he intended the adventures to unspool a bit farcically; Orion and Luna would lose their charge temporarily when she runs off with a dashing Venusian; the Starguards discover that, while the planet is indeed emitting a strange energy that is “similar to Zygon, but with higher levels of kronite,” it’s a harmless variation that makes tourists even happier when they visit. “The world of 2023 is strange and crazy and not without minor dangers” Inky wrote in his notes, “but I must always remember that I am creating an optimistic view of the future, an era that preserves those best aspects of our age, and jettisons what deserves to be jettisoned.”

The next day he arrived at the George P. Brett & Co. offices, where Brett kept him waiting for an hour and half. When Inky finally gained admittance to the sanctum, where Brett sat at an imposing desk with a view of Madison Avenue behind him, “the bald bastard,” Inky wrote in his diary, “was eating grapes, he looked like Caligula or Nero or some other villain of history.”

Brett told Inky that Editorial was enthusiastic about the concept of a week-by-week dramatization of the world a hundred years into the future, but added that, “Your comic has a Jew, a man who has something of a Hebrew physiognomy, hooked nose, shifty eyes and so on, working closely with an Asiatic female. No normal human is involved in the adventures. So I would wonder about the audience for this, Marxists, Jews, deviants?”

Inky had not intentionally drawn Nick Orion with Jewish features, nor had he intended to draw Mary Luna to look as though she hailed from any country in Asia. He noted in his diary that Orion was to be “a bit rough.” Luna was to be merely “futuristic” looking. But he didn’t feel that this was an argument he would win, so he kept silent on this point.

But then Brett added the comment that dealt the death knell to their possible collaboration:

“Also,” the publisher added, “the Jew is apparently entirely ethical, and the Asiatic seems intelligent, which seems unrealistic. I don’t think Americans will believe it.”

Inky “read the room,” as we would say today, and he knew that if he argued to Brett that “Jews can be ethical, and Orientals can be intelligent,” the meeting would be over.

So I suggested, Inky recalled in his diary, that in the Utopian future, the lesser races receive some type of brain augmentation to correct their racial defects. So perhaps the Jew might have had a brain implant to change his nature, to make him ethical, and the Oriental might have had her brain artificially augmented to make her intelligent. But the bald bastard shook his his head aggressively before I had even finished speaking.

“No one could possibly believe,” Brett exclaimed, “that an ethical Jew or an intelligent Oriental could ever be possible, even with the most advanced sort of medical technology!” But he added that he liked the brain augmentation idea in general terms, and so, he suggested, “perhaps a talking dog and cat? No one would ever believe that in only a hundred years technology could be developed that could make a Jew ethical or an Asiatic intelligent, but a talking dog and cat is highly feasible.”

Inky would have had no problem making Mary Luna and Nick Orion both Lutherans “and painting them white as a fence post,” but a talking dog and cat enraged him. The cartoonist “imagined Buster Brown’s Tige flying through the universe with Felix!”

Inky blew his top, spewing a flood of profanities at the perplexed publisher. Inky thus found himself banned at George P. Brett & Co. as he had been banned at Disney’s studio, “Weird Tales” magazine, McClure Newspaper Syndicate and everywhere else.

He went home, still livid, indulged in too much alcohol, then indulged in his remaining cache of cocaine, after which he drew more panels of his comic strip, scenes of dialogue-free violence that made it clear that suddenly the future world of 2023 was not as optimistic as Inky had once predicted.

Chapter 4: Betrayal on Venus!


In 1923, Inky thought things were looking up. He was terribly wrong. And the future world of 2023 also took a turn for the worse.


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