In September of 1965 a science fiction TV series called Lost in Space debuted on CBS television, as created by Irwin Allen, who had found success in his show Voyage to the Bottom of the Sea. The outer space series, which was originally planned to be named Space Family Robinson, ran for 3 seasons, inspired a one-off cartoon, a big budget theatrical film and a number of comicbook adaptations.
Perhaps in your collecting years you’ve come across some of these… for example the first Gold Key comic, commonly called Space Family Robinson Lost in Space. Yes, yes, folks, there’s June and Craig and the kids, Tim, that irascible scamp and, Tam the… little princess… and… wait, what? Clancy the dog and Yakker the Parrot? What the hell is this? This isn’t the Spacefaring Robinson family we know. And were is the love-to-hate-him Dr. Smith? And where, oh, where, is Robot B-9? No “Danger Will Robinson?” And where’s Penny? Everybody had a crush on Penny Robinson growing up! You can’t have Lost in Space without Penny.
So, it was a bad adaptation, right? Well, as the lawyers for the Gold Key series must have said “Not So Fast!”
Space Family Robinson debuted not in 1965 or after, but in December of 1962, while old Uncle Irwin was still splashing around at the bottom of the sea. So the TV show has to be based on the comicbook, then. Well, both sagas are obviously (and admittedly) both based on the novel The Swiss Family Robinson by Johann David Wyss and, really, replacing “Swiss” with “Space” is rather obvious enough, especially in a scifi crazed time, to have been thought up by more than one team.
Here’s where that becomes questionable, however. Gold Key was part of Western Publishing, under whose umbrella Dell and Whitman comics both thrived. Dell, of course, was famous for their Four Color series that adapted other media for one of the longest running comicbooks of all time. And one of those adaptations happened to be Voyage to the Bottom of the Sea. Western was keen on obtaining more of Allen’s properties because such fantasy and adventure stories were perfect for comics.
What’s more, once Space Family Robinson became a success for Gold Key, the film and TV rights were sold to TV writer Hilda Bohem, who worked up a treatment called Space Family 3000.
Case Closed? Again, not so fast. There was still another Space Family Robinson to contend with. Ib Melchior, author of the story Death Race 2000 was based on, began pitching his own Space Family Robinson in 1964. So, that makes three Robinson projects being volleyed before Lost in Space‘s debut.
Allen’s plot originally featured a pilot, mom, dad a girl and a boy and their older sister (almost exactly like the comicbook, excepting two characters). Although there are stories that Walt Disney pressured CBS and 20th Century Fox (the studio behind the show) to abandon the name (to avoid confusion with their Swiss Family Robinson projects), the truth is that Gold Key was already making rumblings about the similarities before the show aired. Thus the name of the show was changed to Lost in Space and, to further differentiate from the comicbook family, two new characters were added after the pilot and became perhaps the two best known, Dr. Zachary Smith and The Robot.
Still, Gold Key and Bohem filed a claim against Allen and CBS prior to the show’s airing. What did they want? Money, Wealth, Power, A Little Song, A Little Dance, Batman’s Head on a Lance? No. Well, sort of (except the Batman thing). Yes, the settlement reached with the TV show did include an undisclosed sum of money, but what Gold Key really wanted was a closer association with the successful show. Thus, the settlement included the rights to the name Lost in Space and the comic book’s title was changed to Space Family Robinson Lost in Space, although absolutely no characters or situations (beyond the basic) were shared between the sagas.
The title ran (under different variations on the name, including the occasional addition of “On Space Station One”) for a total of fifty-nine issues between 1962 and 1982, with occasional cancellations breaks. Surely the popularity of the show did help propel the (actually unrelated) comicbook, but all things must pass. Collected editions of the saga are available from Dark Horse.
Interestingly, this was not the end of Lost in Space in comics, nor was this the end of Lost in Space in the courtroom, and soon both would take on some very bizarre twists.
What was the future of Lost In Space and the Space Family Robinson in the on the gridded page and before blind justice? Watch this space NEXT WEEK for more To Be Continued… where we discuss more of what put the saga in DANGER, Will Robinson, DANGER!
We all know how critical it is to keep independent voices alive and strong on the Internet. Please consider a donation to support our work as independent cultural critics and historians. Your donation will help PopMatters stay viable through these changing and challenging times where costs have risen and advertising has dropped precipitously. We need your help to keep PopMatters strong and growing. Thank you.