ZACK MOSLEY, the American strip cartoonist, created the aviation adventures of 'Smilin' Jack', who flew through over 300 newspapers for 40 years. As much admired for its delineation of contemporary aircraft as for its pretty girls - Mosley called them 'de-icers' - the strip inspired many young male readers to become air-minded during the depressed Thirties and war-torn Forties, and received honours and citations from both the United States Air Force and the Civil Air Patrol.
Mosley was born in 1906 in Hickory, Oklahoma, before the Indian Territory became a State of the Union. He was seven years old when a primitive aeroplane crashed nearby, much impressing the boy who was already showing artistic ability by copying the famous 'Katzenjammer Kids' from his father's Sunday paper. He was 11 when an Army pilot crash-landed in his home town, and this time the boy took pencil and paper to the site for some on-the-spot sketches. Later he took a correspondence course in cartooning, and by 1926 was in Chicago, studying at the Academy of Fine Arts. He financed this by waiting on tables at the Harding Restaurant, a job he called 'greetin' and seatin': it lasted until his arches fell.
Together with his room-mate Russell Keaton, Mosley found his first cartooning job with the John F. Dille Syndicate. The two friends were employed as assistants on two daily adventure strips, both of which were devised by Dick Calkins, an Army pilot from the First World War. It was 1929, and flying was very much in the public air. So were the strips, one being 'Skyroads', a story of two buddies who set up a civil aviation line, the other 'Buck Rogers', a tale of the faraway future set in the 25th century.
It was in 1933 that Zack Mosley felt confident enough to take a flier on his own. This was 'On the Wing', starring Mack Martin, pilot, his pal Bumpy, and his 'gal', Mary Miller.
It was one of eight new strips selected from over 400 by Captain Joseph Patterson, owner of the Chicago Tribune, for his Sunday comic section. Mosley was given one day to convert his daily strips to a Sunday page, complete with colour overlays. Nothing is impossible to a hopeful cartoonist, and with help from a buddy from his art school years, Frank Engli, Mosley managed it. The strip was launched on Sunday 1 October 1933, and in December changed its title to 'Smilin' Jack'. This sudden switch was at the wired request of Patterson, who was fond of tinkering with his strip stable. 'But the hero's name is Mack,' Mosley protested. 'Then change his name', Patterson replied. Mosley did so, expecting an avalanche of complaints from his fans: he received not one. 'I guess the public wasn't reading it, or didn't even give a damn]' he later wrote.
But give a damn they did, and soon, despite Patterson's misgivings about the quality of Mosley's artwork, it was so popular that a daily strip was added from 15 June 1936.
Although the dailies expanded Smilin' Jack's horizons, it was in the roomier and colourful Sunday pages that Mosley's eye for aircraft stole the reader's attention, with enough swooping and zooming to almost fly off the page. The cast was now fully set: the handsome hero Jack Martin with his sideways grin and his Clark Gable moustache; Pinfeathers, his young pal (and hook to catch the boy reader); Fat Stuff, a former headhunter from the South Seas, whose pet duck fed on the buttons popped from his shirt as it failed to contain his big belly; Downwind Jaxon, the ladykilling co-pilot who was so handsome that he could only be depicted from a quarter-profile.
The 'gals' included Mary, Dixie, Hellcat Cindy the Incendiary Blonde, and his employer Joy the Coral Princess, whom Jack eventually married. The result was a boy called, in Mosley's characteristic way, Jungle Jolly. He, in a way almost unique in strip cartoons, gradually grew, until as handsome Jack Junior he wed his true love, Sizzle. The strip was eventually retired on 1 April 1973.
Mosley, originally afraid of flying, forced himself to take lessons, and qualified as a pilot in November 1936 - on Friday the Thirteenth, as he was always fond of saying. In his flying life he owned nine aeroplanes, and was one of the volunteer founders of the Civil Air Patrol, which became the United States Auxiliary Air Force just six days before the attack on Pearl
He flew over 300 hours in bomb-laden civilian planes during the Second World War, and was awarded the USAF Air Medal, and in 1976 was inducted into the Auxiliary USAF Hall of Honor.
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