Toy ray guns and spaceships, cereal premiums, and radio shows spun off from Buck Rogers’ phenomenal popularity in the 1930s. The property was tailor made for merchandising and licensing, of course. Gadgetry was the strip’s core appeal. A number of comic strip’s created kid clubs around their heroes. Dick Tracy had his Detectives Club, and later the famous Crimestoppers. Little Orphan Annie’s radio show had its own Secret Society with a toy decoding device for over-air messages (famously depicted in the film A Christmas Story), and the strip enlisted her fans into Junior Commandos during World War II. In addition to servicing fans, keeping audiences engaged, these clubs were also early examples of marketing data collection, See for instance Buck Rogers’ Space Scouts application above. While some of the data inputs were tongue in cheek, of course, club applications
(“previous rocket ship experience”?), the club members promotions worked much like sweepstakes for other consumer product manufacturers, a way of getting first part data on their audience.
Solar Scouts got their own manual and lapel pin.
More noteworthy perhaps is the moral steadfastness of these clubs. Annie was recruiting grade school patriots for her tribe. Tracy’s Crimestoppers democratized crime detection by giving fans weekly tips for sniffing out criminal activity. And Buck’s Scouts were required to maintain a certain GPA (not sure of the verification for that) and to fly straight for God and country as well. Mimicking the Boy Scout Pledge, Space Scouts apply be swearing to principles. “I hereby apply for membership in BUCK ROGERS SOLAR SCOUTS, and promise to do my duty to God and Country. To be true to others and to myself. To be upright, honest, clean in mind and body, helpful to the weak and aged, and ever try to better myself in all ways, that I may be an asset to my PARENTS, my COUNTRY, the SOLAR SCOUTS, and myself.”
When I was six years old my family visited DC. At the Air & Space Museum store I purchased The Collected Works of Buck Rogers in the 25th Century as I had just watched and adored the tv pilot with Gil Gerard in its theatrical release. I joined the Solar Scouts immediately, lol. Wish I still had the pin and manual.
At another Smithsonian museum I purchased Bill Blackbeard’s Smithsonian Book of Newspaper Strips. I had already been reading every comic I could get my hands on for years crossing all genres with reprints of Barks’ Uncle Scrooge probably my favorite. That Smithsonian book became my bible, introducing me to Segar, Herriman, McCay and so many others. I still have and treasure it.
The Smithsonian did right by comics and me.
Thanks for the memory, Christian. We followed a similar path. That Collect Buck was also one of my introductions to great old comic strips, along with the Celebrated Cases of Dick Tracy. The image at open of this piece was taken from that Buck collection. And Blackbeard’s Smithsonian collection opened the world of comics history to me too. I think it is up to us now to spark that same spirit in the next generation.