Gully Foyle: The Best Science-Fiction Comic You’ll Never Read
Gully Foyle: The Best Science-Fiction Comic You’ll Never Read
By Kevin Patrick
The Second World War and its aftermath revealed both the promise and perils of scientific advance.
Physicists had unleashed the power of atomic energy, but in doing so gave mankind a new weapon which could ensure its destruction many times over. Conversely, the Nazi V2 rockets which rained death down on England were now giving the world’s new Cold War adversaries the means to reach the stars.
It was no coincidence that science-fiction was, by this time, breaking free of its pulp magazine shackles and finding favour with a wider, mainstream audience, buoyed by that new publishing phenomenon, the paperback book.
Science-fiction, it seemed, finally had something to say to its readers about the world they now found themselves in – and where their futures might possibly take them.
Alfred Bester (1913-1987) wrote his first short story, ‘The Broken Axiom’, for the April 1939 edition of Thrilling Wonder Stories, but it wasn’t until the early 1950s when he found his ‘true’ voice as a writer and, in doing so, demonstrated just how far the boundaries of science-fiction literature could be stretched.
Bester’s writing apprenticeship began just as the pulp magazines he wrote for were succumbing to the meteoric rise of America’s comic book industry.
Far from spelling the end of his embryonic career, comic books provided a valuable training ground for Bester, who found himself a berth at National Periodical Publications (DC Comics) where, from 1942 onwards, he hammered out scripts for such characters as Superman, Hawkman and Green Lantern.
He continued penning short stories for such magazines as Astounding Science Fiction, while working on his first novel, Who He?, a fictional expose of the television industry which was published in 1953, but renamed The Rat Race when released in paperback three years later.
However, Bester became truly inspired when he began working on his first science-fiction novel, The Demolished Man.
Originally serialised in Galaxy magazine during January – March 1952, The Demolished Man was, on the surface, a futuristic crime story about Ben Reich, a ruthless business magnate who sought to commit murder in a society where telepathy made it impossible for people to conceal their criminal impulses.
Written with a cynical, ‘adult’ sensibility not often seen in science-fiction, The Demolished Man caused a minor sensation when it was published in book form in 1953. It won the inaugural Hugo Award for ‘Best Novel’ in 1953 and has since been recognised as the literary forerunner of many so-called ‘cyberpunk’ novels of the 1980s and 90s.
For his next novel, Bester later revealed that he turned to 19th century literature for creative inspiration.
“I’d been toying with the notion of using The Count of Monte Cristo pattern for a story,” Bester later wrote. “The reason is simple – I’d always preferred the anti-hero and I’d always found high drama in compulsive types.”
“[The story] remained a notion until I found a pile of old National Geographics… [and] came across a piece about [a sailor] who lasted four months on an open raft.”
“He’d been sighted several times by passing ships, which refused to change course to rescue him, because it was a Nazi submarine trick to put out decoys like this.” 
This intriguing anecdote formed the kernel for Bester’s new work, which revolved around Gulliver (‘Gully’) Foyle, a brutish, primitive spaceman who is transformed into a ruthless instrument of revenge, after a passing spacecraft refuses to rescue him, leaving Gully Foyle to die in the airless confines of his own crippled rocket ship.
When the first installment of Bester’s novel, originally titled Tiger! Tiger!, but renamed The Stars My Destination (at the suggestion of his editor, H.L. Gold) appeared in the October 1956 issue of Galaxy magazine, it electrified readers everywhere.
Yet even Bester couldn’t have guessed just how much impact it would have on an avid 27 year-old science-fiction fan, living on the other side of the world.
For Reg Pitt, a writer and artist living in Sydney, Australia, The Stars My Destination was much more than an entertaining, thought-provoking novel.
“As soon as I read that first issue [of Galaxy], I was dying to read the rest of the book – and I became a lifelong fan of Alfred Bester, there and then.”
“It made an indelible impression on me for so many years,” he admits. “It became an obsession.”
Reg Pitt was no stranger to the worlds of science-fiction. He’d previously collaborated with his elder brother, the illustrator Stan Pitt (1925-2002), on the comic book version of Stan’s renowned science-fiction series, Silver Starr.
Silver Starr was an Australian soldier who, after serving in the Pacific Theatre during the Second World War, joined a daring expedition to the Earth’s core aboard a vessel capable of smashing through solid rock, built by the scientist Dr. Onro. Together, they discovered the mysterious ‘Flame World’ and rescued its rightful ruler, Queen Pristine, from the evil despot, Tarka.
But the Silver Starr comic came about almost by accident, as Stan Pitt later recalled.
“I did a [full-colour comic] called Nelson Power Conquers the Universe – it was never printed incidentally, it never went on the market.” 
“But I introduced Silver Starr in the last panel and a friend of mine at the George Patterson advertising company in Sydney took them along to Eric Kennedy, Chief Executive Officer of the Sun newspaper, and he fell in love with the work.”
“He asked me to come in and see him and he said ‘This looks good, this one you’re talking about in this last panel, Silver Starr – I like the title ‘Silver Starr’, he said. ‘Could you do Silver Starr for us?’ and I said ‘Sure’.” 
Greatly influenced by Flash Gordon, the classic American comic strip created by Alex Raymond in 1934, Silver Starr in the Flameworld made its debut in Sydney’s Sunday Sun and Guardian newspaper in November 1946.
Initially spread over two tabloid pages and printed in sumptuous colour, Silver Starr was arguably the most visually stunning Australian comic strip of the postwar era and was sufficiently popular to earn its own magazine, Silver Starr Super Comic, in 1949.
Soon afterwards, Stan embarked on a new direction as a cover artist for American Science Fiction Magazine, a 36-page ‘pamphlet’ published by Malian Press, which reprinted short stories by prominent American authors, such as Leigh Brackett Robert Heinlein and John W. Campbell, for the Australian market. Stan painted a string of bold, eye-catching covers for this series, which ran for 41 issues during 1952-1955.
Just prior to the debut of The Stars My Destination in Galaxy magazine, Stan Pitt relaunched Silver Starr for the Cleveland Publishing Company, which was emerging as a dominant force in Australia’s booming ‘pulp fiction’ and paperback book industry. The company’s founder, Jack Atkins, was determined to capture a share of the local comic book market as well and released an all-new Silver Starr comic, published in full-colour – a costly experiment, partly designed to compete with the advent of Australian television broadcasting, which commenced in 1956.
The colour comic didn’t last beyond its first issue, but Reg and Stan Pitt repackaged earlier Silver Starr stories for Cleveland’s King Size Comic, as well as producing new installments of the strip for this title.
Yet from the moment they read it, the Pitt brothers seized on the idea of adapting The Stars My Destination into comic strip form.
“The book made an indelible impression on me for so many years – even though it would be 10 years before we finally got the chance to do it,” says Reg.
“It became an obsession with me over all that time,” he admits freely. “It became an absolute necessity for us to do something with it.”
Stan Pitt, too, could see the visual potential of Bester’s groundbreaking novel.
“Reg put it to me one morning that I should think about doing another comic, a science-fiction comic, this time by a well-known American author.”
“He told me that this [book] was the best thing that had ever been written in science-fiction, from the point of view of illustration. He said ‘it’s just made for you and if you do it…we’ll have no trouble selling it to America’.”
Reg set about contacting Alfred Bester through a Sydney solicitor known to his family. “He was a real cricket nut, because every time we said ‘Bester’, he kept referring to him as ‘Bedser’ – after an English cricket captain!”
While their solicitor set the legal wheels in motion, Reg and Stan busied themselves preparing a presentation folder showcasing their vision for how the comic strip, Gully Foyle (as it would be called), would look.
“Stan drew illustrations of all the main characters, and depicted situations in which they would find themselves in the comic strip,” according to Reg.
“I recall one of those images specifically showing the ‘burning man’ who appeared throughout the book.”
The brothers prepared high-quality bromides (black & white photoprints) of the sample art pages, which Stan hand-tinted using coloured inks.
“We put these pages together in a presentation folder, which we put inside this graphically designed box, using coloured paper inside and out,” says Reg. “I made all the stuff to go with it – we had to make it so appealing that he [Bester] couldn’t resist it.”
Reg wrote a cover letter to accompany the parcel – then sat back and waited for a response. And waited.
“There was a period of months where nothing happened,” explains Reg. “Then we got this telegram from Alfred Bester and it was obvious he was really annoyed.”
“The impression we got was that US Customs had told him that the parcel we sent him had insufficient postage and that he’d have to pay for it, if he wanted to get it.”
“It turned out to be some puny amount, less than US$30 – but our package of artwork was worth hundreds of dollars and I thought ‘what a bloody hide you’ve got’!”
The postal delay was eventually overcome, but getting the green light from Alfred Bester to proceed with the comic strip was by no means easy.
“Alfred Bester was a strange guy,” explains Reg. “He used to send us these pages from notepads, with little notes scribbled on them.”
“They reminded me of that line from [Australian author] A.B. ‘Banjo’ Paterson – ‘like a thumbnail dipped in tar’ – these strange notes scribbled in thick pen.”
“He seemed all the time to be preoccupied and these [notes] looked like afterthoughts.”
“From what we could glean, he gave us carte blanche to do what we wanted. He said ‘you obviously know what you’re doing’ – he didn’t even make any monetary demands.”
The sporadic correspondence between Reg and Stan Pitt and Alfred Bester was no doubt partly caused by Bester’s ‘nomadic’ working life. By the late 1950s, Bester was firmly established as the literary editor of Holiday magazine, a role which frequently saw him travel abroad.
As a result, months passed, and eventually dragged on into years, before the Pitt brothers began work on Gully Foyle in earnest.
The project almost ended before it began, when Reg was seriously injured in a car accident, while travelling home in a taxi cab one night.
While recovering from his injuries, Reg received a compensation payout which gave him and Stan the funds they needed to work full-time on the Gully Foyle comic strip.
“We got enough money to carry us through,” explains Reg. “We took out an office in [the Sydney suburb of] Burwood, just to work on the comic – we paid the rent on that and we could draw wages for both of us.”
“We started work on the strip in 1963, because that’s when my daughter [Jasmine] was born,” Reg explains, “because I had great plans for her future – that would’ve been the motivation to launch the comic.”
In recognition of what he called “Bester’s pyrotechnic style”, Reg decided that he and Stan would abandon the traditional weekend newspaper comic strip format.
Not only would Reg consciously retain as much of Bester’s original text in the comic strip’s script, but he and Stan decided to present the strip as a full-page feature.
Although Reg was known to Australian comic book readers primarily as a writer, his collaboration with Stan was a true artistic partnership.
“My main talent was always art and I was working in the advertising industry all this time as a graphic designer,” he explains.
“The writing [for comics] was something I’d been doing all my life, working on comics with Stan since I was 10 years-old.”
“Stan and I would have brainstorm sessions about the characters and ideas,” he adds. “For instance, we changed Gully Foyle’s helmet from our original, Ned Kelly-styled helmet, to a more modernised design.”
Some aspects of the book were changed, such as the extended sequence where Gully Foyle manually fires the Nomad spaceship’s rockets, which Reg replaced with the introduction of an intelligent, onboard computer, which sent the Nomad spinning off into space at Foyle’s insistent command. (“Let it burn, Brighteyes! Let’s get movin’!”)
“I’d do the backgrounds on Gully Foyle,” explains Reg. “When it came to designs that would entail buildings or structures, I’d do those, as Stan would much rather draw [human] figures.”
The Pitt brothers worked devotedly on the comic strip for months on end, as they compiled 14 weekly episodes, so they would have a backlog of work ready to publish, if the strip was eventually picked up by a newspaper syndicate. The comic strip sequences ‘concluded’ at the point where Gully Foyle blasted off from the Sargasso planetoid aboard a stolen spacecraft.
“We were going after the [American] Sunday papers, but we’d come into a lot of problems, with the [full-page] layout of the comic,” according to Reg.
“The Americans wanted a [half-page] landscape format in Sunday strips, so we went through [preparing] several versions of the strip in landscape format.”
“We even had to put in two ‘drop-out’ panels, which could be taken out, without affecting the story, as well as reduce the size of the artwork.”
“There were two versions of [Gully Foyle] in the alternate landscape format that have never been published – they’ve never even been looked at.”
Their efforts to sell Gully Foyle received some unexpected support from a local comics’ fan, John Ryan (1931 – 1979), who not only published Australia’s first comic fanzine, Down Under, in 1964, but was also a prolific contributor to American comic fanzines and amateur press association (APA) publications. Ryan even won an American ‘Alley Award’ (named after the comic strip character Alley Oop) for Best Article (Fan Category) in 1965 for his piece, ‘Down Under with the Comics’.
Ryan devoted an entire installment of his column, ‘Bidgee’, in the June 1967 edition of the American fanzine, Star Studded Comics #11, to the Gully Foyle project, providing American readers with their first glimpse of Reg and Stan’s breathtaking artwork.
“I designed the logo for John’s ‘Bidgee’ column,” Reg explains. “He was only too happy to promote it – he was delighted we were doing a new comic and were aiming so high for it. He was a good friend in that regard.”
Ryan was so passionate about Gully Foyle that he even acted as a go-between for the American newspaper syndicates and the Pitt brothers.
“John handled all the correspondence on our behalf, and we received replies from most of [the newspaper syndicates] – and some of them were very favourable,” according to Reg.
“There was a publisher in New York that was very interested in it,” as Stan Pitt recalled, “and it reached the point where it would have appeared in a few weeks in 25 newspapers throughout the United States.”
“But they wanted confirmation [from] Alfred Bester himself that it was okay for them to go ahead and do it.”
“John Ryan carried out a lot of correspondence with the publisher to try and get Alfred Bester to answer his letters, but he never did.”
“When Reg finally got an answer from [Bester] to his letters, he [apologized], but when those letters arrived, [Bester] was away on an assignment in Paraguay for Holiday magazine.”
Despite receiving Bester’s blessings to proceed with the comic strip, an unexpected legal obstacle arose when it was discovered that a planned film adaptation of The Stars My Destination apparently included exclusive rights to any comic strip adaptation – which meant that Reg and Stan Pitt no longer had the rights to sell the Gully Foyle comic strip.
The tyranny of distance, especially in those years before the advent of fax machines or email, also worked against the Pitt brothers.
“What it amounted to in the end,” explains Reg, “as someone said to us, ‘if you could be across my desk, we could solve a lot of problems there and then’.”
“The distance [between Australia and America] was what went against us in the end.”
Eventually Reg and Stan decided to abandon the project and concentrate on their respective careers, with Reg returning to the advertising industry, while Stan cemented his position as the premiere cover artist for Cleveland Publishing’s flourishing line of Western ‘pulp’ paperback novels. (In fact, Stan eventually painted over 3,500 covers for Cleveland Publishing during 1958-1986.)
“By 1967, we were both entrenched in our jobs and gave away all our foolish expectations,” says Reg.
“It was a shame, because I recognised Stan’s brilliance as an artist,” he says, “and Gully Foyle was my futile attempt to wring out one last great comic strip from him.”
Yet the Gully Foyle project did serve as an artistic calling card for Stan Pitt, who received assignments from several American publishers, including DC Comics and Gold Key Comics, which he drew in collaboration with Reg, as well.
Gully Foyle, however, seemed destined to languish forever unseen, until decades later, when an Australian advertising artist and comics’ publisher, Richard Rae, introduced himself to Stan Pitt.
During the late 1970s and early 1980s, Rae had been actively involved in different aspects of Australia’s still largely-moribund comics’ scene. Briefly working as a cover artist for Sydney publisher KG Murray’s line of American reprint comics, Rae began writing and publishing a series of science-fiction comics, including Star Heroes and Fantastic Australian Heroes.
Aside from operating his own specialty comic book shop, Comic Empire, Rae also mounted the grandly-named event, Australia’s First International Comic Convention, which was held at the Sydney Opera House in January 1986 and featured American comic book artists Will Eisner and Jim Steranko as guests.
It was during this period that Richard first met Stanley Pitt. “My first contact with Stan was when I was putting together my Cartoonists of Australia book back in the early '80s,” he recalls. “Stan did not have the time to be interviewed for the book, as he was flat-out doing paintings for western covers [for Cleveland Publishing].
“Also, he was not that interested in being in my book [which was published in 1982], as John Ryan’s history of Australian comics, Panel by Panel [which prominently featured Stan’s work] had just been released in '79.”
“Later, when Stan and I actually met for the first time, Stan told me he had made a mistake not being in the book, as it was one of his favourite books, because it included photos of all the artists - something I've always insisted upon and that Panel by Panel did not have.”
“Anyway, we just hit it off great and my family became really good friends with him – my son even called him ‘Poppa Stan’.”
“Then, during one of our weekends together, Stan and Reg told me the full story about Ryan and Bester and Gully Foyle,” Richard says. “Stan was really sad that no one wanted to run with it...not Marvel Comics, not DC, not King Features [Syndicate]...no one!”
Left to Right: Reg Pitt; Stanley Pitt; Richard Rae
“It was that same weekend Stan asked me to be his manager,” explains Richard. “As Stan was always being bugged by fans and collectors who wanted a piece of him, so I said ‘let’s let them have a piece of you – but let’s make sure you get paid for that piece’.”
“Stan loved that idea, so I went about producing a number of items that Stan and I could sell to fans and collectors”
Under the banner of his new company, Home Grown Media, Rae repackaged and marketed a range of publications and ancillary items, featuring examples of Stan’s ‘pulp fiction’ cover artwork on posters and calendars, as well as giant-sized reproductions of the early Silver Starr in the Flameworld comic strips.
Perhaps the most sought-after title amongst all these was the limited edition Gully Foyle magazine released in 2001, which published for the first time in Australia all 14 full-page instalments of the Gully Foyle comic strip.
“The ‘compleat’ Gully Foyle book was just one of the items I produced,” Richard explains. “But Stan and Reg were blown away [to see that] their amazing work on Bester’s story was FINALLY in print!”
The author would like to thank the following people, whose gracious assistance and generosity of time made this story possible: Graeme Cliffe; Dr. Jasmine Henderson; Luke Pitt; Reg Pitt; Richard Rae; Dennis Ray and John Weeks. However, any errors and omissions are the author’s own.