Thursday, March 4, 2010


In my last Sunday comic post, I mentioned that Bruce Hammond went on to create a Sci-if comic strip. That strip was Orbit.

The cast is generally made up of the titular Orbit, a shoeshiner, the German Scientist Dr. Valvelock and their dog Tyrone, whose facial expressions are very close to a certain harried office worker. It’s no great exaggeration to say that Tyrone is basically Duffy's face in a dog suit.

I always enjoyed reading Dr. Valvelock’s mangled english.

It didn’t take long before Bruce Hammond took a little well-known “shortcut” in his Sunday strips. In strips such as Heathcliff or Marmaduke, the place where the last panel would normally be would be filled with funny pet stories about someone’s cat or dog. (No points for guessing which strip have which animals) In the case of Orbit, the last panel would have coded messages unlockable only with an “Orbiteer Galactic Decoder”, available for only $1.50. Or alternately, a good cryptographer, since the cipher’s not that complex. It’s just one letter numerically removed from the alphabet. I was able to solve it some years ago, but I won’t deprive you of the fun of trying to figure it out for yourselves.

Like any typical Sci-if story, their adventures took them to various planets with a certain theme. They would stay there for several weeks before moving on to their next destination, while cracking childish jokes. As you might’ve guessed, this is much lighter fare than Duffy. Still, I enjoyed it as a kid, and there are some people out there who have fond memories of this comic.

The strip must've either been picking up popularity or in big trouble since only a few months after its debut, there were commissions for a club membership. This would come in handy for the later days of the strip. More on this later.

So, given that it was a childish comic with awful jokes, why do I like it so much? Probably because of the fantastic drawings of aliens & space. Not to mention the character design of Orbit was very appealing. It’s like an early version of Bone on the comics page, only with a smaller nose. That, and the storylines that would continue on for weeks. The most popular kind of comic stories are those that are serial in nature, and Orbit had this in spades. Before Bill Watterson revealed that synchronizing the Dailies and Sundays was an elaborate task, I thought it was perfectly natural, since it happened in Garfield, Bloom County and Orson’s Place.

Truely, the 80s were a golden age revival of Newspaper comics.

A general rule of thumb for a love interest is that the girl is basically the boy dressed in drag with feminine attributes. (Seriously, Minnie Mouse is just Mickey with lipstick & a dress)

Likewise, it’s not unusual for the love interest to be of the same species as the hero. Think StarFox & Krysta, Bernard & Mrs. Bianca... Disney’s Robin Hood... hell, any Disney Movie with animals in it will do. In fact, the only normal inter-species romance I can think of is Kermit & Miss Piggy. And even that’s pushing it, since the love seems to be rather one-sided.

There's not much I know about Apogee from her brief appearances other than that she and Orbit get along well, and they make a cute couple. For the less verbose among you (myself included) an Apogee is the point at which a satellite in an elliptical orbit is furthest from the Earth. At its apogee, the satellite travels slower than at any other point in its orbit.

If a rival were ever to appear, his name would probably be Perigee.

I’m really sorry that I didn’t get to save the daily comics when I had the chance. If I had known there were more comics in the newspaper other than the ones in colour, I might’ve saved those, and been able to fill in the blanks of what happened.

Or maybe not. There’s no way to tell.

This would rank up with one of the most humilating defeats in comics, second only to Gorilla Grodd being defeated by the mere mention of cupcakes.

At the end of the storyline, we see the obvious fallacy of obvious pairings. Poor Tyrone is left with his mirror image all decked out in heavy makeup and absolutely no sex appeal. Given his self-image, is it any wonder he felt no affection for his Rule 63 version of himself?

This marked the end of the high point for Orbit. After that, it seemed like all the ambition fell away, since future Sunday strips were regulated to solitary one-panel jokes that lacked the punch of the earlier strips. Not to mention that there were Sundays where there were only children’s art of various aliens sent from the fan club. Unsurprisingly enough, Orbit faded from the newspaper leaving only a nostalgic memory on the people who read it.

It probably says something that the series started to suffer when Apogee no longer appeared after this storyline.


  1. "the storylines that would continue on for weeks"
    I really like this in TV shows and in the few strips I read when I get the time.

    "synchronizing the Dailies and Sundays was an elaborate task"
    No Kidding! I've noticed that some strips these days don't seem to even try.

    "the girl is basically the boy dressed in drag with feminine attributes"
    So true, never really made a note of it. Thanks for pointing it out.

    Apogee is the point at which a satellite in an elliptical orbit is furthest from the Earth
    the end of the high point for Orbit
    I like creative names whos significance you have to thoink or reasearch to understand. But more so ones that you know when someone else does not!

    Lovely post Daniel!

  2. I , like you loved Orbit as a teenager in the 80's. I however did clip out the some of the dailies from the Miami Herald and kept them in a file that was buried at my Mom's house in my old room. If you want I can try and scan them and e-mail them to you? Let me know a

  3. I read "Orbit" in the daily Arkansas Gazette (later absorbed by the Arkansas Democrat) in the 1980s; this is the first time in years that I've looked for information on it, and I'm glad I found it! The main reason I remember the daily "Orbit" strips is that they were part of a Gazette experiment: In 1985 the paper created a block of four "Comics for Kids" that had their own little portion of the comics page; I think "Winnie the Pooh" was one, and I know they added "Orbit" and moved "Marvin" over there. At some point in late 1985 or early 1986 they dropped two of the strips and added a new third, and it wound up ending the kids-only experiment; it turned out that adults were ALSO big fans of the new "kiddie" strip about a boy and his stuffed tiger.