JF Ptak Science Books Post 2459
Fresh from the fields of a near-victory in trying to find the first time concentration camps were mentioned in a U.S. comic book (the story quickly told yesterday, here), today the question is about the first mention of a computer. This is a little more tricky, since "computer" can mean a lot of things, including mechanical beings. And with an open-ended definition of the word, I think that you could trace the elements of a computer all the way back to Jonathan Swift's thinking engine/machine1, which for 1726 makes it about the earliest of such imagined inventions. (See here for a post on Swift and Lull.)
[Image source: comics.org]
A while ago I wrote a post here on an alphabet of names of fictional computers, though none of those machines appeared in a comic book. I did check a few likely sources, including the massive comic.org site, looking for early-ish mentions of "UNIVAC" and "ENIAC" and of course "computer". Offhand there aren't many hits before 1960, with nothing at all for ENIAC and a 1955 mention of UNIVAC ( "Scarecrow, the Human UNIVAC”, appearing in Little Wise Guys, October 1955) and again in 1955 (in Daredevil Comics, #125) some five years after the UNIVAC was installed at the Department of the Census. There is a mention of a s "super-brain" in a 12pp story in September/October 1949 issue of Superman, but I have no artwork for that.
With such slim pickings any portmanteau will do in a storm, and in this case it is "Brainiac" (ENIAC+maniac?), which was an alien computer/cyborg and Superman's chief arch-enemy, finding first light in July 1958 Superman.
There are a few scattered references that I can find that comes close, but they also feel a little late to the computer part. For example, the near-UNIVAC "ULITVAC is Loose!" appears in "Challenges of the Unknown", Showcase Comics #7, March-April 1957. ( "Synopsis:Felix Hesse, a German scientist, comes pleading to the Challengers to save him from Ultivac, "a creature of my own making... but now out of control!" He explains. Interned as a war criminal, he met Floyd Barker, a bank robber. Released, they team to build a giant machine - Suddenly a giant robot hand crashes through the window and seizes Hesse. Spouting propellers, it flies off with Hesse. The Challengers have their next job, "Track down ULTIVAC!"--comics.org)
One thing is for certain, though--the first all computer-generated artwork for a comic book appeared in the series Shatter, which ran from 1985-1988, which is an altogether different sort of comic book computer "first".
I've started a list of early appearances in U.S. comic books of odd parts of the components of the computer culture, including computer crime, dating, and other bits:
“Computer crooks”, 1965: "
- Challenge of the Computer-Crooks!" (The Atom) / Gardner Fox, story ; Gil Kane and Sid Greene, art. 13 p. in The Atom, no. 20 (Sept. 1965)
Computer Dating, 1975:
- "Sexy Computer Dating" by Bob Mende ; art, Don Orehek. p. 24-25 in Best Cartoons from the Editors of Male & Stag, v. 6, no. 2 (Feb. 1975).
--which I guess should be accompanied by:
- "I Think It's For Real This Time. He Even Told Me His Computer Password" (Windows on Work, Oct. 25, 1993) / Carol Simpsmo. -- "Romance on the Information Highway."
Rodney Dangerfield moments, 1975:
- "Only the Computer Shows Me Any Respect!" (Killraven) 18 p. in Amazing Adventures, 32 (Sept. 1975)
Crazy Computers, 1974:
- “The Computer that Went Bananas” in The Flinstones, / story by Horace J. Elias. -- Ottenheimer, 1974.
Computer Wars, 1980:
- “CPU Wars”, created, produced, directed & finally scrawled by Chas Andres. -- Westford, MA : Chthon Press, 1980.
--All data of the above list is derived from the fantastic database created at Michigan State University, http://comics.lib.msu.edu/rri/crri/compo.htm#end
Computers and Pigs, 1959
- Porky Pig Sept-October 1959 #66. ("Synopsis: Porky eats a lot of fish as "brain food" before taking an intelligence test. The electronic brain gives him a score of 301, a super genius. But there's a catch..."--comics.org
My general impression thus far is that the computer in comic books before 1955 seems to be nowhere near the interest rate of computers in speculative fiction, which is interesting.
1. Swift describes the machine so: “... Every one knew how laborious the usual method is of attaining to arts and sciences; whereas, by his contrivance, the most ignorant person, at a reasonable charge, and with a little bodily labour, might write books in philosophy, poetry, politics, laws, mathematics, and theology, without the least assistance from genius or study.” He then led me to the frame, about the sides, whereof all his pupils stood in ranks. It was twenty feet square, placed in the middle of the room. The superfices was composed of several bits of wood, about the bigness of a die, but some larger than others. They were all linked together by slender wires. These bits of wood were covered, on every square, with paper pasted on them; and on these papers were written all the words of their language, in their several moods, tenses, and declensions; but without any order. The professor then desired me “to observe; for he was going to set his engine at work.” The pupils, at his command, took each of them hold of an iron handle, whereof there were forty fixed round the edges of the frame; and giving them a sudden turn, the whole disposition of the words was entirely changed. He then commanded six-and-thirty of the lads, to read the several lines softly, as they appeared upon the frame; and where they found three or four words together that might make part of a sentence, they dictated to the four remaining boys, who were scribes. This work was repeated three or four times, and at every turn, the engine was so contrived, that the words shifted into new places, as the square bits of wood moved upside down."
- A good article (though behind a paywall) by Eric Weiss on Swift's computer appears in the IEEE: http://doi.ieeecomputersociety.org/10.1109/MAHC.1985.10017