Friday, July 6, 2012

The True Story Behind "Alan Worth: Space Explorer"

So, Rift Jump is available to buy in print and electronic version. I've gone on at great lengths about its origins in my teenage fantasies, but there's another story, hidden within the pages of Rift Jump, that also holds a very special meaning for me and deserves just as much--if not more--attention.

As you will read in the story, the character of Sara loves books. And her favorite is a series called "Alan Worth: Space Explorer". Alan Worth is actually not my creation. He belongs to my great-uncle Robert O. Henry--"Bobby" to his family.

Bobby died many decades before I entered the world. In my childhood, my family would visit my grandparents in Olney, Illinois and, every once in awhile, they talked about Bobby. He had served our country in World War II and died protecting our freedoms. That's all I knew about him for the longest time, and then, when I was in high school and first writing on the original Rift Jump stories, my grandpa noticed me doodling my renditions of Michael and Sara (the heroes from Rift Jump). Taking interest, he mentioned that Bobby used to draw "cartoons" too. I said, "Oh really?" Then my grandpa, who never spoke a lot, started telling me that Bobby--when he was fifteen--began writing and drawing his own comic strip entitled Alan Worth A.D. 2041. It told the exploits of daring space explorer Alan Worth, his plucky sister Ellen, and his best friend Karl as they did battle with deadly cults, discovered alien civilizations, and had any number of high-flying pulpy adventures.

At that moment, I told him I had to see those comics. I had never met another member of my family who liked to draw or write stories. I felt as though I'd met my kindred spirit.

I'll tell you, it took a lot of doing to find Bobby's old comics. If I recall correctly, he drew them in this gigantic newspaper sized book with wood covers, leather stitched together. For decades the book rested, wrapped in plastic, in the closet of another of my grandpa's brothers. After a phone call was made, I was taken over there and ushered into storage, where Bobby's comics lay, undisturbed. It was a pretty powerful moment to me. I was watched like a hawk as I pored over the pages--you'd think I was reading the Dead Sea Scrolls, but they were important to my family, and I get that. Respectfully, I turned each page, blown away by the scope of the story and amount of detail that Bobby put into his comic strip. He detailed maps of the alien worlds in an Appendix in the back and I read every single thing. I came away from that afternoon feeling re-energized in my own creative pursuits.

But there is also a sadness to Bobby's tale. Alan Worth was never published. In fact, I don't think anyone outside of the family has ever seen all the hard work he put into his Alan Worth serial. Over the years, I've tried to get a look at the manuscript again, but haven't had the chance yet. A couple years ago, when my grandpa died, as we were sifting through his stuff I found a small collection of some of the Alan Worth strips, scanned from the originals, and bound. I snatched it and read it with glee all over again. I brought that comic home and it has a place on my shelf. I cherish that comic. Had Bobby lived through the war, I wonder if we'd be seeing Alan Worth comic revivals even today.

It was important to me to make an Alan Worth mention--no matter how small--in Rift Jump. I respect Bobby's work too much to try and retell Alan Worth in my own way. But, at a time when I was young and misunderstood, it was really special to meet one of my ancestors who shared my passion.

Below is an abbreviation of a piece written about Bobby that has been circulating in my family for some time. Meet the man who created Alan Worth--and below that, see one of the actual strips, dated 1938. It was nearly impossible to make a selection on what to show you guys. The comic is chock-full of cliffhangers, two-fisted action, dogfights, and near-misses. There's humor, warmth, and a lot of science talk that has got to be ahead of its time. Finally, I decided on the offering below--an especially exciting sequence where Alan Worth shows those enemy fighters how it's done. I can only hope that one day Alan Worth will be shared with the world in its entirety.

Robert Osborn Henry was born on March 19, 1923. When Robert was four years old, his family moved to Washington D.C. After graduation, Robert got a job at the Navy Yard in Washington as a machinist working on top secret projects. His hobby was as an artist, and he became very proficient. He wrote and drew a comic strip called "Alan Worth". He also wrote and illustrated a small story about a good gnome called Gruggle. A short time later, he enlisted in the Army and was stationed in England. He was a member of the 2nd Battallion, 310th Infantry, 78th Division. The division worked its way toward Germany and "The Battle of Bulge". On December 13th, 1944, in the vicinity of Rollersbroich, Germany, Robert and his squad were killed when one of the members stepped on a mine. He was interred in Henri Chapplle, a military cemetery in Belgium. Then, in 1948, was disinterred and reburied in Haven Hill Cemetery in Olney, Illinois. He was 21 years old.

Alan Worth Created, Written, and Illustrated by Robert O. Henry

1 comment:

Phy said...

That's incredible. Brought a smile to this jaded Overlord's face.