Gorillas Riding Dinosaurs: Connie and the Space Pirates

Connie: Captives of the Space Pirates; Master of the Jovian MoonsWritten by Harold Godwin; Illustrated by Frank GodwinPacific Comics Club; $11.95

One of the highlights of 2009 for me was spending some time with Flash Gordon comics by both Alex Raymond and Al Williamson. Until I get my hands on Volume 3 of Checker’s Raymond reprints though, I’m done with that. Fortunately, Pacific Comics Club has been reprinting Harold and Frank Godwin’s Connie and that’s filling the void nicely.

Connie may not have a spectacular name, but the strips reprinted here are very much in the style of Flash Gordon and Buck Rogers. According to Don Markstein’s Toonopedia, Connie Kurridge (rhymes with Courage) began her comics career in 1929 as an adventuring aviator. Wikipedia quotes The World Encyclopedia of Comics as saying that Connie eventually went on to become a reporter and start her own detective agency. And of course, she also went to space, which is where this particular volume picks up her story.

If these strips are representative, Connie is the kind of comic that They don’t want you to know about; “They” being the Straw Men who claim that strong, independent women didn’t star in adventure fiction until recently. Connie does travel with a man, her friend Hugh Alden, but he’s about as useful to her as Dale Arden was to Flash Gordon. He comes through in a pinch, but Connie never has to rely on him to save the day, either physically or mentally. Nor is Connie the only powerful woman in the strip. The Dr. Zarkov of the group is Hugh’s mother, Dr. Alden.

Space dinosaurs, mushroom forests, and walrus-men after the jump.

Don Markstein writes that Connie “never did get very gripping. Though a superb draftsman, [illustrator Frank] Godwin wasn’t very good at constructing plots, writing dialog, and other storytelling crafts.” The result, he says, was that the strip never had an audience worthy of its innovation or of Godwin’s artistic ability. He may be right about the readership, but based on the strength of the ones in this volume, I’m going to disagree with him about the stories.

I’m not precisely sure how Frank’s brother Harold Godwin fits into the picture. Markstein makes it sound like Frank wrote the series himself, but though Frank’s is the only name on the front of the Pacific collections, Harold is mentioned on the back cover as the writer of the scripts. The Yesterday’s Papers blog refers to Harold’s writing “the continuity,” but I don’t know exactly what that entails. Did Frank try writing it himself for a while, but eventually brought in Harold to improve it? Was it always a joint effort? Since I don’t know what the stories were like before “Captives of the Space Pirates” or who wrote them, there’s no way to compare the quality or answer these questions, but the bottom line is that they’re a lot better than Markstein’s comments on the overall series indicate.

“Captives of the Space Pirates” picks up after a storyline in which Connie and Friends have been visiting Martians and are guests on one of their ships as they return to Earth. As the title suggests though, they’re waylaid by a band of Earth spacers who’ve mutinied and are using their ship to capture other vessels. The pirates tow the Martian ship to their base on one of Jupiter’s moons; then maroon the captives in a forest of giant mushrooms where they meet the previous owner of the pirates’ vessel, a professor who’s also been left to fend for himself.

As events progress, Connie and various members of her group battle space dinosaurs, help an underwater city fight off vicious walrus-men, and – in “Master of the Jovian Moons” – encounter a colony of Asian monks who are plagued by more giant reptiles. All the while continuing to deal with the pirates. There’s a lot going on and it’s fantastic, but it never feels episodic. The adventures flow into and out of each other, often circling back to tie off loose ends.

It’s not a perfect story – for instance, Connie calls the Martians “Venusians” once and a space ship is rather too easily converted into a submarine – but for the most part it’s very tightly put together and I was surprised at the attention given to the science. The Godwins cheat occasionally, but they take into account things like Jupiter’s increased gravity (though not the extent of it) and how one might generate enough air to supply an underwater city. There’s a lot of pulp science at work, but within that framework the logic is impressively sound.

And speaking of impressive, Frank Godwin’s artistic style is spectacular. His line work flows and curves and has that intricate look that I love about Gary Gianni and Michael Kaluta. His creatures are imaginative, yet realistic, and the ships and props all look like they would actually work. I also especially like that Connie herself – created as she was in the era of flappers – has a totally different look from the usual, busty heroines.

I’ve got a second volume of Connie sitting on my reading table and I can’t wait to dig into it. And when I'm done with that, Pacific has many more waiting for me. This ought to do just fine in lieu of additional Flash Gordon.

Four out of five walrus-men.

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