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Nowlan, Philip Francis

Entry updated 12 September 2022. Tagged: Author.

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(1888-1940) US author whose first sf story, "Armageddon – 2419 A.D." (August 1928 Amazing) – published in the same issue of Amazing Stories that featured the inception of E E "Doc" Smith's Skylark saga – introduced Anthony "Buck" Rogers to the world, helping to inaugurate the reign of full-grown interstellar Space Opera in American sf. This and a sequel, "The Airlords of Han" (March 1929 Amazing), were revised and put together in 1962, long after Nowlan's death, as Armageddon 2419 AD (stories August 1928, March 1929 Amazing; fixup 1962 [for further details see Checklist]) and were more heavily revised and updated by Spider Robinson in 1978. The two stories take the hero, Anthony Rogers, via Suspended Animation, to a twenty-fifth-century USA under the thumb of the tyrannous Hans, where the Americans are relegated to a nomadic existence in the forests outside the Han cities. Rogers soon becomes a central figure in the successful revolt, spurred by the successful Invention and deployment of increasingly sophisticated Weapons, including Ray Guns and more than one hand-held Disintegrator (see Toys). In the stories Nowlan anticipated such inventions as closed circuit television, walkie-talkies and credit cards.

Rogers was renamed Buck Rogers and his exploits were retold and then extended through space in Buck Rogers in the 25th Century, the first sf Comic strip, scripted and roughly sketched out by Nowlan, and drawn by Dick Calkins, which ran 1929-1967, and was first published in (truncated) book form as Buck Rogers in the 25th Century (graph 1933). The strip popularized science fiction at the time in the same way that Star Trek and Star Wars were to do decades later. Between 1934 and 1943, many of the stories were adapted as Big Little Books – each page of text faced with an illustration – beginning with Buck Rogers in the Twenty-Fifth Century (from strips 1145-circa 1300, 1932-1933 Buck Rogers; graph 1933) and ending with Buck Rogers and the Super-Dwarf of Space (1939-1940 Buck Rogers; graph 1943), the latter being an "All Pictures Comics" volume. In all cases Nowlan did the recasting of storylines, and Calkins provided illustrations.

While writing the strip, he also wrote "The Onslaught from Venus" (September 1929 Wonder Stories) under the pseudonym Frank Phillips, and "The Time Jumpers" (February 1934 Fantastic) under his own name. Nowlan parted with the newspaper syndicate in 1939 and the strip was carried on by other hands, while he returned to writing fiction. "The Prince of Mars Returns" appeared as a two-part serial (February-March 1940 Fantastic Adventures). His death in February 1940 cut short a new series he had begun. The first story, "Space Guards" appeared posthumously (May 1940 Astounding). All of Nowlan's fiction featured strong female characters and an emphasis on military strategy. But the comic strip eclipsed his other work. The first 426 daily strips were published in book form as Buck Rogers in the 25th Century, Great Classic Newspaper Comic Strips, No. 1 (graph coll 1964), #2 (graph coll 1965), #7 (graph coll 1967) and #8 (graph coll 1968). Nowlan is also credited with introducing the word "zap" into the language.

Nowlan's very occasional non-Buck Rogers sf and the two original Anthony Rogers stories were assembled as Wings Over Tomorrow: The Collected Science Fiction of Philip Francis Nowlan (coll 2005) edited by Lee Weinstein, reprinting in all cases the original magazine texts. [JC/LW]

see also: Buck Rogers XXVC; Illustration; Invasion; Radio; Transportation.

Philip Francis Nowlan

born Philadelphia, Pennsylvania: 13 November 1888

died Bala, Pennsylvania: 1 February 1940



Buck Rogers

Pop-up books are excluded from this checklist.

non-Big Little Book titles

Big Little Books

The series of 8-page pamphlets issued for the Big Thrill Chewing Gum company in 1934 is not listed below.

comic collections

individual titles


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