One of the first and most enduring aviation-based adventure strips, SMILIN' JACK began as a Sunday page called ON THE WING on October 1, 1933, and added a daily strip on June 15, 1936. It was created for the Chicago Tribune- New York News Syndicate by flying-enthusiast Zack Mosley, who had earned his professional wings assisting Dick Calkins on his similar strip SKYROADS from 1929.

Beginning as a humorous strip about nervous flying students (exactly the situation in which Mosley, who had begun flying lessons in 1932, found himself), ON THE WING had only modest success for its fourteen-week trial flight, but when the syndicate ordered its name changed to SMILIN' JACK, it began to assume the lively narrative form it was to maintain for the next 40 years. Mack Martin, the scared student-pilot, became Jack, grew a snappy little mustache, and acquired a suave smile that four decades of harrowing adventure were never completely to wipe off his handsome face.

Jack became a commercial pilot whose delivery of goods and passengers carried him to the most remote places and called for an astonishing range of talents. Forever entangled with bizarre crooks and spies, the unflappable Jack prevailed through a combination of resourcefulness, skill, and luck. He bested the Head, whose drooping eyelids were the epitome of the sinister; the Claw, whose prosthetic hook dealt death; and Toemain the Terrible, who raised piranhas with an appetite for human flesh.

Mosley's talent for extraordinary characters extended to the good guys as well; Jack's friends included such memorable figures as his Polynesian pal Fatstuff, who kept popping his shirt buttons into the open mouths of hungry chickens, and the sexually hyperactive Downwind Jaxon whose face was so handsome that we never permitted to see more than a one-quarter profile. Jack was never without appropriate female companionship, either; "Hellcat" Cindy, the Incindiary Blonde; the tempestuous Gale; and an endless succession of anonymous sexpots, the famous "li'l de-icers" who were so hot they de-iced the airplanes' wings, kept the strip balanced.

Always suspenseful even when they stretched the limits of credibility, Jack's adventures were fast-paced, and the occasional romantic interlude (women could no more resist his smilin' face than they could Downwind's averted one) was never long enough to interrupt the slam-bang action.

Unlike all but a few continuity strips, SMILIN' JACK had genuine development. Kids grew up, adults got old, some even died. jack married, not once but twice, and sired a son. His improbably-named offspring "Jungle Jolly" progressed from an infant to a toddler to a clean-cut young man, as dashing as the now graying hero, and with a boyish smile all his own.

Always personally active in aviation, Mosley kept SMILIN' JACK both current and accurate. However fantastic his plots may have been, the technical details of his aircraft drawings were flawless, and two generations of American youth got an education in aeronautics from them. Otherwise, the graphic style of the strip tended to a simplicity that many regarded as awkward, though it never seemed to cost it any readers. Among Mosley's assistants were Gordon "Boody" Rogers and Ward Albertson.

SMILIN' JACK was widely reprinted in comic books by Dell, which also brought out numerous volume through the 1940s. In addition, the strip was the basis of a thirteen-episode movie serial produced by Universal in 1943.

As the romance of aviation and the public taste for adventure comics declined, SMILIN' JACK was felt to have flown its course, and the venerable strip was brought in for a landing on April 1, 1973.

Source: The Encyclopedia Of American Comics

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