Friday, April 17, 2015

Gold Key's Space Family Robinson Title As Inspiration For Your Old School Science Fiction Campaigns

Gold Key comics back in the 1960's had some major properties for frachising right off the bat but they also produced some damn fine comics on their own. Predating the cult sci fi classic Lost In Space by a few years, this comic book actually inspired the show and was itself a vechle for some of the classic bits of plot and family elements of the Lost In Space television show. According to wiki :
Space Family Robinson was an original science-fiction comic book series published by Gold Key Comics. It predates the Lost in Space TV series. Both are loosely based on the novel and identically-named movies, Swiss Family Robinson.
Space Family Robinson was published as a total of 59 issues, from 1962 to 1982. The first issue was published in December 1962. With issue #15 (January, 1966), the "Lost in Space" title was added to the cover. The book "Silver Age: The Second Generation of Comic Artists" by Daniel Herman explains that when the Lost in Space TV series came out in 1965, it was obvious that it was inspired, at least in part, by the comic book, but CBS, the network airing the show, had never acquired the license from Western Publishing. Rather than sue CBS or Irwin Allen, Western decided to reach a settlement that allowed them to use "Lost in Space" for the title of the comic book. Since CBS and Irwin Allen licensed shows to Western, Western didn't want to antagonize them. Also the TV show title probably helped sales of the comic book.
So how is the comic book a useful bit of old school sci fi campaign inspiration goodness? Well first we've got the basic plot outline that is a classic bit of sci fi gimmickry :
 In the comic, the Robinsons were: scientist father Craig, scientist mother June, early teens Tim (son) and Tam (daughter), along with pets Clancy (dog) and Yakker (parrot). They lived in "Space Station One", a spacious moving craft with hydroponic gardens, observatory, and 2 small shuttle craft ("Spacemobiles"). The family was selected by computer to be the most mentally and physically qualified to man the space station. They left Earth in the year 2001. In the second issue, a cosmic storm deposited them far from Earth and they have adventures while they try to work their way home.

 Besides the goregous covers and interesting classic Gold Key art, the Space Family Robinson was pure cultastic gonzo space adventure. You've got a built in party just waiting to explore the stars and with the family ties it makes things a bit more interesting when it comes to really binding the PC's together.
This is a fact that becomes evident when we look at the Lost In Space cultclassic television show.
Looking into the preview of Lost In Space as a DM you get a real feel for the classic roots of this science fiction/fantasy classic. 

The Space Family Robinson had a much more grounded baring when it came to outer space adventuring and investigation. Space Station One was one of the more perfect little classic space exploration designs from the 1960's and I've used it numerous times in campaigns over the years from Star Frontiers to a fully blown space ship for my own adventurers.

The plot lines and artwork were always slight better then some of the other science fiction or fantasy titles that were around then. From the space ships to the aliens the artwork always seemed just up to the Gold Key standards. You can see what I mean with a sample story right over on the Saved From The Paper Drive Blog HERE

The Space Family Robinson's adventures always seemed to take place in some retro space exploration golden age when mankind was taking his first steps into the black void of space and weirdness might have been the order of the day. 

Personally I've always interconnected this series with Lost In Space and Space 1999, the look and feel of some of the technology, space craft, and much more. There's a reason for this in my mind, you see the U.K. title Lady Penelope was a U.K. comic magazine for girls and my fiancee actually read the book. She's the one who turned me on to the fact that there's an alternative storyline for the Space Family Robinson in the U.K. and it was a very well comic strip. According to Wiki:
In 1966 the weekly UK publication Lady Penelope ("the comic for girls who love television") printed Space Family Robinson stories. These used the same characters and technology as the Gold Key titles but were original scripts, not reprints. Authorship is not known for certain, although there is good reason to think that some may have been written by then sub-editor on Lady PenelopeBrian Woodford[citation needed]. The artist was John Burns.
The artwork was very well done and its actually much more adult then you might expect for a kid's comic strip. This was because of the artwork of John M. Burns, an artist who would later make the jump over to 2000 A.D. with Judge Dredd & other titles as well. Read more about him right HERE
We're Lost In Space

The events of the Lady Penelope material were almost identical to the American comic book but not quite. The strip had a sort of quiet desperation about it, something that we would see in the later British sci fi show Space 1999 and its non canonical  predecessor U.F.O.  The comic strip also had some of the hallmarks of classic space adventuring with weird alien encounters, incredibly dangerous NPC style characters popping up and weird side quests . According to Wiki : 
The 52 weekly instalments, printed in black and white, told six stories:
  1. The Robinson family begin their mission and become lost when an explosion sends them far off course. This is the only story based on the Gold Key comic books.
  2. Unwittingly, they become involved in a war between two planets.
  3. The Robinsons meet telepathic tripods whilst searching for materials to repair the Station's power source.
  4. Tim and Tam are sent on a quest by aliens with the ability to restructure matter with their thoughts.
  5. An alien claims the Robinsons must pay tax for travelling through his space, and demands Tam as payment.
  6. The Robinsons land on a duplicate of Earth, mistaking it for home
Much of this material is classic adventure fodder with lots of weird opportunities for looting and salvaging by the family and all kinds of strange little side bits that could easily be recycled into an X plorers or other retroclone style campaigns.  Did I mention how much I loved the artwork? Open Capsule Showing Cylinders

There's a really nice break down of the Lady Penelope material right over HERE
And don't be put off by the fact that this material was intended for girls at all. This was grade A old school science fiction gonzo stuff aimed straight at 1960's U.K. girls. Some of whom would grow up to be engineers, physicians, and scientists. The Space Family Robinson material in my mind always seemed to have an odd Space 1999 aesthetic about it and shared many design qualities of the 2001 A Space Odyssey movie type. Because of this material coming in from the third golden age of science fiction 1960's in my mind its all inter related somehow. 
The Robinson's adventures always seemed somehow not only gonzo but larger then life and perfectly suited to be adapted to the table top science fiction adventure party's hi jink's. I've used the family connection again and again in science fiction role playing especially some of the X plorers and Star Ships and Space Men Second edition material I've run over the years. Gold key had a solid run of this title and its only now being recognized as the classic it deserves to be. 
Because of its relatively unknown status among role playing gamers, Space Family Robinson is ripe to be exploited fully for use as a classic bit of old school goodness.

There have been a number of reprints over the years for this title and with a little google magick this one should be easy to locate and get. It remains one of my favorite little pieces of go to comic book goodness that always seems to satisfy on any number of levels. 

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