Toppers: Hall of Fame of the Air

In 1935, as King Features was expanding their Sunday line-up, they plugged a big hole in their genre coverage with an aviation strip. Kids were airplane-happy in the 1930s, and King needed to be in that market. And as was the Hearst way, they jumped in with both feet. Helming the project were two famed names in aviation; famous World War I air ace Captain Eddie Rickenbacker to write, and premier aviation illustrator Clayton Knight to draw.

Ace Drummond was a Sunday-only strip, and its slam-bang aerial action was tempered with a very sober-minded but attractive topper, Hall of Fame of the Air. The topper offered capsule biographies of famous aviators and allowed Clayton Knight to show off his illustration skills on material he preferred — drawing real planes in loving detail.

Knight’s story-telling skills, on the other hand, were a tad underdeveloped. The Ace Drummond strip certainly had no shortage of action and derring-do, but Knight seemed unable to match the written excitement in his drawings. Perhaps it was because he was uncomfortable with ‘mere cartooning’, or maybe he wasn’t able to work fast enough. In 1937 the strip’s art transitioned away from Knight, and eventually, after a lot of unsigned Sundays, Royal King Cole took over for good, changing the strip to a more cartoony look. In an unusual turn of events for a Sunday comic strip, though, Knight continued producing the topper — not often you’ll see two artists sharing the same Sunday page.

Hall of Fame of the Air ran for the entire span of the Ace Drummond Sunday strip, from February 3 1935 to July 2 1939.

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