Obscurity of the Day: Closer Than We Think

Futurist illustrator Art Radebaugh was in the waning years of an impressive career when he created Closer Than We Think for the Chicago Tribune-New York News Syndicate. He had been producing advertising art and illustrations featuring his unique visions of the future starting in the mid-1930s. His sleek air-brushed fantasies were used on magazine covers, in automobile ads, even in Coca-Cola marketing.

Closer Than We Think was a Sunday panel that ran from 1/12/1958 through 1/6/1963. Each week Radebaugh would look at some aspect of future life with a few paragraphs of text and a detailed drawing replete with arrows pointing out points of special interest. Radebaugh’s future vision was Jetsons-like, full of floating cars, flying saucers and push-button technological magic.

If only newspaper comic sections could have reproduced airbrush drawings, Radebaugh would have had a huge hit on his hands. The artist’s airbrush work was gorgeous stuff. Unfortunately, due to the limitations of high-speed color presses, Radebaugh was forced to use alternative methods. As a substitute for the airbrush he used stippling and shading techniques to supply a simulation of the depth and startling realism of the drawings he had usually produced for fine coated magazine paper stock.

The shading method was a disaster from the start. The finely drawn details turned to mud on the newspaper page, giving the feature a dark and dingy appearance. For reasons that I can’t guess, he continued using the technique despite the problem. It has to be considered a huge tribute to Radebaugh’s unique vision that the feature lasted even as long as it did.

To enjoy a much more thorough biography of Art Radebaugh, and see an eye-popping sampling of his amazing creations, be sure to visit the Palace of Culture.

5 comments on “Obscurity of the Day: Closer Than We Think

  1. Allan,

    Another reason you might mention for the failure of the feature could be that none of his predictions about the future ever came true. While the readers at the time would not have known that, the ideas mentioned are usually so farfetched that one might have felt how improbable they were.

    This is one of the reasons I like this feature so much. I have quite a large run and it is hilarious. All the ideas are supposedly based on factual reports and research… yet all of them are presented in a form or a future that never came. He might have done better if he called it Silly Inventions.

    Take the one represented here… based on the words of a general, Radebough warns about a future where the Rsussians might use psycho-chemicals. Nowhere is mentioned that gas warfare was then as it is now forbidden by all nations. I don’t even know if experimenting with them, as the general suggests, would not have let to an outrage by other nations. If done, it should have been done clandestinely… which it might have, of course. The ‘saucer gas carrier’ makes it all the more unbelievable. What’s the suggestion here? That the socalled ‘flying saucers’ are actually secret aircraft from the Russians?

  2. Hi Ger –
    I don’t think anyone was expected to take his predictions too seriously. They were utopian visions, meant for wide-eyed kids to whom the future has limitless possibilities.

    And as to gas warfare, who knows what the Bush administration will come up with next. Apparently they can delude themselves into thinking absolutely anything is okay if it is in the service of national security.

    If you like futurism in comics, what do you think of “Our New Age”? This one also goes on some bizarre tacks occasionally, but lots of their predictions were quite down to earth and have come true (I recall reading one from the sixties that said everyone would soon be using mobile telephones that bounced signals off of antennas distributed all over the world).

  3. Allan,

    What I’ve seen from Our New Age is interesting, but somehow the artstyle, whiloe intersting, just doesn’t grab me. Too slick, I guess. And while we are on the subject of sf strips… I mean to go up and look for the title all week now, but have you ever seen any samples of Warren Tufts satirical sf strip done in between Casey Ruggles and Lance? Done in a Li’l Abner style, he says in his ‘biography’ that he did the strip for half a year to give himself some time to prepare for Lance. But was it ever published?

  4. Hi Ger –
    Yes, I have seen proof that Tufts’ “Lone Spaceman” strip did run. For the longest time I too thought it just a legend. Don’t have access to my files right now, and I can’t remember what proof was found.

    As for Our New Age, I know what you mean about it being too slick. You’re probably thinking of the later Gene Fawcette material, though. Look for the early Earl Cros / E.C. Felton (same guy probably) which was more in the wild vein of Radebaugh.

    — Allan

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