|Zack Mosley was not the first to create an
adventure strip about flying, but his SMILIN' JACK was one of the most
popular, and the longest-lived example of the genre in American comics. Mosley (whose full
name was Zack Terrell Mosley) kept the strip in the air from a 1933 takeoff until 1973.
His love for airplanes went back to his childhood in Hickory, Oklahoma, where he was born the year before that Indian Territory became a state. The sight of a plane that crashed there when he was seven years old so seized his imagination that he never lost his fascination, and when an Army "Jenny" landed nearby four years later, he began the habit of sketching planes that was to continue throughout his professional life. At the age of 20 he took his savings and enrolled at the Chicago Academy of Fine Arts. Three years at the Art Institute of Chicago prepared him to get a job, along with his roommate Russell Keaton, assisting cartoonist Dick Calkins with BUCK ROGERS and SKYROADS, the pioneer aviation strip. In time, he and Keaton came to do most of the drawing of SKYROADS, and Mosley began to write some of the episodes.
Mosley's early style was somewhat crude, but his lively imagination (and his friendship with popular cartoonist Walter Berndt) enabled him to sell Joseph Medill Patterson, an aviation buff and owner of the Chicago Tribune-New York News Syndicate, his own strip in 1933. The Sunday feature ON THE WING, a comedy-adventure strip about three terrified student pilots, left the runway on October 1; 14 Sundays later, on December 31, Patterson ordered the named changed, and as SMILIN' JACK, it was to remain aloft (with dailies added three years later) for the next four decades.
Mosley's expertise on matters aeronautical derived from first-hand experience in the field. Along with fellow-cartoonist Keaton (who had taken over SKYROADS and was to create his own aviation strip, and so had an equal reason for knowing the subject), he had taken flying lessons since 1932, and was licensed to fly in 1936. He was very active in aviation throughout the 1930s and 40s: A founder of the Civil Air Patrol in 1941, he flew over 300 anti-sub patrols during World War II, and as a wing public realations officer for Florida he held the rank of colonel and won the United States Air Medal. In 1976 he was inducted into the United States Air Force Hall of Honor. He cheerfully lent his talents to illustrating aviation material and designed many squadron insignia for units of all branches of the armed services. He owned nine planes and flown over a million miles.
ZackMosley went into semi-retirement with the grounding of SMILIN' JACK in 1973. He issued two books with episodes from the 1930s and 40s, HOT ROCK GLIDE (1979) and DE-ICERS GALORE (1980), as well as his memoirs, BRAVE COWARD ZACK.
Zack Mosley, who mixed humor with aviation in his "Smilin' Jack" comic strip, Lived until the age of 87. He created a comic strip full of characters based on real people and detailed drawings of aircraft. The biggest fans of his syndicated strip were those who had lived through World War I and World War II. "Smilin' Jack" appeared in more than 300 newspapers from 1933 to 1973.
"It was the most popular aviation adventure strip in the country in the 1930's and 40's," said Ron goulart, editor of the Encyclopedia of American Comics. "This was a time when flying was literally by the seat of the pants. There was a romance to aviation, and Mr. Mosley got in on that."
Source: The Encyclopedia Of American Comics.
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