In May 1927 Charles Lindbergh gained sudden and intense international fame as the first pilot to fly solo across the Atlantic Ocean. People were quick to see aviation as a source of exciting adventure in far-off places.
Skyroads, a comic strip centered around aviation, cashed in on this interest and enjoyed an intense burst of popularity during the last years of the 1920's. Skyroads was written by Lester J. Maitland and drawn by Richard 'Dick' Calkins under the tutelage of the John F. Dille Company. This was the same organizational form and nearly the same people as lay behind the Buck Rogers graphic series. It was John Dille that sought out popular themes and assembled winning teams around them.
Both Maitland and Calkins were officers in the U. S. Army Air Force Reserve (this was before the Air Force had been separated from the Army). Both of them used their ranks as lieutenants long after they had left active duty in the First World War and many of the strips here list the two lieutenants as their creators.
The popularity of Sky Roads was rather short-lived. The reason was surely a lack of clear focus. Both Maitland and Calkins seemed to lose interest and left after a rather short time. During the course of their involvement the series became more and more imaginative. Initially, Sky Roads was a more or less realistic description of aviation as it was at the time. But after the first year, 18 months, the story began to include arch villains with colorful names as well as death-defying acts such as leaping from the wing of one airplane to another. Maitland and Calkins were replaced by authors and illustrators of still other styles. The fact that the protagonists of the story changed over time also contributed to a lack of focus. Much of the action took place on the ground, taking attention from aviation. Additionally, quizzes and educational explanations of the flight technology of the time were mixed in with the exciting aviation adventures - something that could easily irritate both adventure seekers and technology buffs. But as an historic documentation of popular culture in the late 1920s the series is still of interest.
These comic strips were collected by Roland N. Anderson (1916-1982) while working as a paperboy for the Worcester Evening Gazette and the Worcester Evening Post, newspapers in Worcester, Massachusetts. The strips appeared six days a week, from Monday to Saturday. Roland collected the Skyroads strips for a little more than one and a half years. Daily strips 428 and 434 are missing from his collection. This material is is being made available on the internet because of its historical interest and to help maintain the memory of the people behind it.
The narrational structure of the Sky Roads comic strips is like that of a soap opera - a slow evolution in the story with occasional points of more radical change. Below is a synopsis of the available Sky Roads strips. Each sentence describes some escapade in the series, summarizing on the average about five daily strips. By clicking on a sentence a reader is carried to point in the story where the adventure takes place.
Somewhat oddly, until strip 180, every strip was subtitled, "For Passenger and Pilot". Starting with strip 181, each strip got an individual subtitle summerizing the content of the day's strip. Each comic strip has a number written somewhere in the lower right hand corner of each strip. The collection begins with strip 120. There are several mistakes in the original numbering. Some numbers are missing and some appear several times in order to bring the series back into sequence. Additionally, the numeration begins anew after strip 450. To overcome these errors the strips have been renumbered consecutively from 120 to 622. Some browsers will display this renumbering in the lower left hand corner of the window frame. If someone quits reading some segment of the Sky Roads narration before having read it all and then at some later date wishes to return to where he left off, this can be done by entering the number of that particular comic strip here. In order to maintain legibility the strips are displayed here at a close to actual size. This, together with the typical comic strip format means that the images are best viewed on wide monitors greater than 1400-1500 pixels in breadth.
The beginning of the collection, strip 120, finds one of the heros of the story flying through a thunderstorm over Brazil. Ace and Buster get a message that they must bring Peggy back to the United States, but run into mechanical trouble over Barbados. Overcoming some difficulties on Barbados, they continue on towards Florida, but off the coast of Florida they discover a boat in distress and manage to save Zack. Zack invites Buster to stay awhile in a Florida town while Ace continues on with Peggy. Ace and Peggy are forced to land in the Alleghenies and get taken capture by moonshiners. Buster and Zack take off from Florida to find their lost friends. Ace and Zack meet the boy scout Spider Webb and they join forces to form the "Hooded Hawks" who manage to rescue Ace and Peggy with help from the Army. Upon learning that Ace and Peggy have disappeared the army sends out some planes to help the Hooded Hawks rescue them.
Buster's father decides to make a trip to the Sudan and he wants Buster, Ace and Zack to accompany him. At the British military outpost in Khartoum, they detect smoldering rebellion and Buster is taken prisoner by Lefty Burk, a renegade Englishman also known as Yahid ben Hamis. Flying over the desert, Zack and Spider rescue a man named Abdul who reveals to them that Yahid ben Hamis has taken Buster to a native village. Zack, Spider and Abdul set about trying to rescue Buster but Spider becomes separated from the others and discovers a girl, also imprisoned in the village, but he is caught trying to rescue her. Spider and the girl, Joan Mason, are taken to Sidi El Krim by a renegade Arab to be sold as slaves. Mowbi, a native boy, guides Zack, Buster and Abdul to Sidi El Krim. Spider and Joan are bought by a mysterious arab who puts them up in Arabian luxury. Short on gas, Zack and Buster are forced to land in the besieged Fort Aubrey which they help defend. After the fighting has abated, Zack and Buster are asked to take their plane and scout around to see what the enemy was up to. Returning from their reconnaissance flight, the Hooded Hawks come up against the arch criminal pilot, Black Vulture. While Zack and Buster pursue the Black Vulture, Spider makes plans to escape. Finding out that the enemy had enlisted the aid of the Black Vulture, Zack and Buster are sent to Amur for reinforcements. Returning to Fort Aubrey in a heavily armed army biplane Zack and Buster are able to successfully ward off another attack from the Black Vulture and capture him. In disguise, Spider and Joan make their getaway attempt from Sidi el Krim. After turning Black Vulture over to the authorities Zack and Buster are able to capture the leader of the hostile forces that have been attacking Fort Aubrey. As Joan makes her way out of Sidi el Krim hidden in a giant olive oil vessel, Buster and Zack drop their chieftain prisoner off at the besieged fort by parachute and he is made to call off the attack. Spider still hasn't gotten out of Sidi el Krim but he sees Zack and Buster pass by overhead and lands outside of town. Buster enters the town and finds Spider but as they try to get out of town they meet up with Abdul who been tricking them but he gives them a jeweled dagger to make up for it. Buster and Spider meet up with Joan and Zack at the plane but heavily loaded with four people they lose a wheel during takeoff. By climbing out on the wing they are able to balance the plane enough to land on one wheel.
Buster finds out both that a valuable ruby has been stolen in London and that the Black Vulture has escaped. Flying to Algiers to look for the Ruby, Zack and Buster come across a column of the Foreign Legion and land to find out what's going on. After a reconnaissance flight, they fly off to summon reinforcements, but the rudder comes loose and as Zack climbs out on the tail to fix it, the Black Vulture attacks once again. They win the air battle against the Vulture but they inadvertently reveal to his henchmen that they are looking for the Ruby of Kizmet while refueling. After landing so they could sleep for the night, they hear another plane and set off after it. It turns out to be the Black Vulture who tries to force them down but Zack jumps up and grabs the landing gear and climbs aboard the Vulture's plane, disables the engine then jumps back to his own plane. By odd circumstance, the Black Vulture manages to get his hands on the Ruby and coming to the rescue of some arabs Zack and Buster find out that he now possesses the ruby. The Hooded Hawks catch sight of the Vulture but chasing him he mysteriously disappears in the mountains where there was no place to land so they land down in the valley to check things out. They find the Vulture's hideout and load up on provisions and take the Vulture's map, showing his planned route. In central Africa they rescue a girl from a wild gorilla and are taken as guests to her village and while they take the tribal chief for a ride in their plane the village is attacked by another tribe. The medicine man hides Zack in the swamp the the medicine man is attacked by a leopard, and at the same time Buster saves the village from the attackers then he goes looking for Zack. Even the Vulture encounters difficulties in the heart of Africa exhausted, he finds a place to land and is immediately attacked by natives but manages to get their help. Zack and Buster set out once again in pursuit of the Vulture and land in a deserted village and they catch a pet monkey then head for a trading post on the Momdobo river. At the trading post they learn that a white girl has been held captive by crocodile worshippers and decide to help while at the same time the Vulture prepares another theft of precious stones. They find a way to it through the swamp to the crocodile worshipper village and rescue Barbara, getting her out of the area would have been hard were it not for Professor Rowles' flying boat. Zack and Buster volunteer to take Barbara to the coast just as the Vulture gets ready to carry out his diamond theft and they get to the diamond mine just as the Vulture makes ready his escape. The Black Vulture is blocked from getting to his plane so he steals the Hawks' plane with Barbara in it. Barbara parachutes out of the plane and after picking her up they hightail it after the Vulture who's on his way to Zanzibar but he crash lands in the Indian Ocean. The Vulture is picked up by a tramp steamer and made to scrub the deck but he convinces some of the crew to commit mutiny then he takes over the ship. Flying past the steamer Zack sees that it's the Vulture standing on the bridge of the steamer so they summon a naval ship to follow the ship while they continue on to Bombay. The Vulture and one of his henchmen sneak off the steamer in a longboat while in Bombay Zack and Buster have pontoons mounted on their plane thereafter they find the Vulture unconscious in the longboat. Buster takes Vulture and his sidekick back to the Indian authorities but lack of space forces Zack to stay in Vulture's boat, but the navy picks him up and takes him to Bombay.
The commanding officer sends Zack and Buster to north India to aid a survey party but the survey party refuse to take the uprising seriously so Zack and Buster try to delay the rebels. Back in Bombay the Vulture breaks out of jail and heads north on an elephant while rebels imprison Zack and Buster in a native village then the Vulture is captured, too, and taken to the same village. Buster and Zack are taken to the rebel leader who makes them take him on a reconnaissance flight over the Khyber Pass but they meet up with a British scout plane and land whereupon the leader escapes. The rebel leader sneaks off to a secret cave then Zack wanders off from the others and finds the secret cave but Zack and the British pilot, Bouchard, come and together they capture two rebel leaders. Buster leaves to get the army to fetch the prisoners while the other two explore the secret cave, then Buster, lost in the Khyber Pass, lands to ask directions from a man that is the Vulture in disguise. In the cave Zack and Bouchard come upon the council chamber of India's most dreaded secret society while in Simbok Buster learns his guide's true identity and the Vulture is once again captured. A beautiful girl who is to be sacrificed to the gods is found in the cave but she is freed by Zack and Bouchard then Buster comes back and they all fly off in their planes, leaving the Vulture to take the place of the girl.
Buster and Zack get jobs as news correspondents and are sent to Russia but flying over the mountains of northern Iran is difficult but they reach Baku and beyond.
Landing in a field they find a beautiful countess, Olga Karanoff, hidden in a hay stack and they fly off with her before the peasants get her.
Overtaken by a Soviet scout ship they are forced to land then they are put on a plane to be taken before a tribunal, but the plane crashes and they escape while the pilot goes after help.
After getting some food they are spotted by an observation plane looking for the fugitives but Olga twists her ankle so they cunningly sneak around to the unguarded plane which landed to look for them.
Flying over a secure place Olga parachutes out while Buster and Zack go to get their own plane back but after landing Olga rescues someone who turns out to be the Bat, scourge of the aristocracy.
Buster and Zack return to the airfield where their speedy monoplane was and took it back, lashing one of the guards to the wing to be questioned later but they land and let him go, keeping his uniform.
The Bat takes Olga to his secret hideout where he summons the "Squadron of Death", at the same Buster and Zack get to the area but they have a hard time finding the exact place Olga had taken refuge.
Searching for Olga, they spot the Squadron of Death, the Bat's counterrevolutionary force, so they land saying they're reporters and the Bat tells them - "join us or be treated as spies".
The Squadron of Death thinks is to bomb factories, but the Bat has informed on them to curry favors from the soviets, then scouting over Moscow, Buster sees the Bat send a message, they fight, they jump.
To turn attention away from himself, Buster denounces the Bat as a spy, sneaks away, steals a motorcycle to get back to the hideout, where Zack and Olga are convincing the Squadron that the Bat is a traitor.
The Squadron of Death, sure that the Bat is a traitor, sets a trap for him with Olga as bait then when the Bat returns she gets him to confess to hidden ears but the Bat escapes with Olga as hostage.
The Squadron of Death pursues the Bat, but as he roars ahead towards China, Buster and Zack, in their speedy monoplane keep up with them, but lose them later in the Siberian night.
The Bat lands in Mongolia and is taken to a local bandit chief, while at the same time Buster and Zack find an English-speaker and a captured robber reveals that the Bat is in a village in the hills.
Buster, Zack and Wun Wing Lo, the interpreter, set out after the Bat, but the Bat has been put in the Pit of Darkness, while the bandit chief tries to win Olga, refusing, she is sent to the Yellow Terror.
They decide to rescue the Bat, hoping that he will aid them in finding Olga in exchange for his life.
Successful in rescuing the Bat, they take both planes and head north, Zack changes plane in mid air so he can confer with Wun Wing Lo and they agree to follow the river.
Flying low over the river. Zack dives from the plane and waits until the others land and then they surround the House of Terror and Buster manages to find a way in.
The Bat has decided to desert, but while he tries to sabotage the other plane Wun Wing Lo sneaks up on him, ties him up and returns to the House of Terror where Buster has found a secret door, but the Bat escapes.
Zack follows a passageway, comes upon Buster and together they try to find the source of a mysterious scream but in a secret room the Yellow Terror plots with the Black Vulture.
Buster and Zack find the source of the scream is a parrot, just as the Yellow Terror and the Black Vulture agree to smuggle opium but the Vulture turns on Terror and steals the opium, heads toward Russia.
Buster and the others find Olga but then the Yellow Terror runs into the House of Terror to begun a hunt for Vulture but he is captured and taken to the police by Wing as Buster, Zack and Olga fly toward the coast.
In a desolate region Buster, Zack and Olga spot Vulture's opium plane and they recognize their old enemy, the Vulture, they try to capture him, but he captures Olga first and takes her away in Buster's plane.
Buster and Zack take Vulture's plane, dumping the cargo overboard to pursue the Vulture and Olga, but then the Bat spots the Hawks' plane to chase them, not knowing it flown by the vulture.
In an unarmed plane the Vulture was seemingly at the Bat's mercy and a dogfight ensues, but when the Bat sees it's not the Hawks piloting their plane he stops shooting.
Buster and Zack have a machine gun, left in the plane by Yellow Terror, then they come upon the other planes and use the machine gun to disable the Bat's plane, forcing him down then they go after the Vulture.
Unable to keep up with the Bat's plane, Buster and Zack take a dangerous short cut over the Khingan Mountains, figuring the Bat is heading toward Peking, but Olga puts on a parachute, and jumps from the Bat's plane.
Olga lands in a dangerous town while Buster and Zack battle mountain winds and get lost in the clouds then when they are able to land, they land right next to the same town where Olga just landed and find a parachute.
Sure that it's Olga's chute, they think they know where she is and they break into the house, but meanwhile Black Vulture, too, lands outside of town thinking he can recapture Olga.
Seeing their chance, Buster and Zack throw down a rope through a trapdoor to the attic and whisk Olga out of the clutches of an evil chinese, and they escape but Vulture spots them and follows.
Buster, Zack and Olga find the plane that the Black Vulture had stolen from them, not knowing he's just a short distance behind, and they manage to get into the air before he shows up...