Tailspin Tommy was an air adventure comic strip about a youthful pilot, “Tailspin” Tommy Tompkins. Originally illustrated by Hal Forrest and initially distributed by John Wheeler’s Bell Syndicate and then by United Feature Syndicate, the strip had a 14-year run from 1928 to 1942.
In the wake of Charles Lindbergh’s 1927 flight across the Atlantic, the public’s fascination with aviation escalated. Tailspin Tommy was the first aviation-based comic strip to appear as a result of this heightened interest, and it also became the longest lasting. The strip’s 1928 launch was followed by others, notably Skyroads, Scorchy Smith and Flyin’ Jenny.
Scripted by Glenn Chaffin, a newspaper journalist and press agent, Tailspin Tommy began its run in four newspapers on April 30, 1928. By 1931, it was published in more than 250 newspapers across the country. After buying out Chaffin’s interest, Forrest took over the scripting in 1933; he wrote and drew the strip solo for the next three years. In 1936, when Forrest took on an assistant, Reynold Brown, who inked (uncredited) over Forrest’s pencils. Tailspin Tommy is held by some to have improved with Brown’s contribution.
Living in Littleville, Colorado, young Tommy Tomkins had such an obsession with flying that he was given the nickname Tailspin Tommy before he ever actually went inside a plane. Although Tommy took an aero-engineering correspondence course, his real introduction to aviation happened when mail pilot Milt Howe made an emergency landing in a field near Tommy’s neighborhood. Tommy watched the downward spiral of Milt’s plane and ran to help. Howe rewarded Tommy with a greasemonkey job in Texas at the Three Point Airlines, where he soon became a pilot along with his girlfriend, Betty Lou Barnes, and his best buddy, Peter “Skeeter” Milligan. The trio eventually became part owners in Three Point and took off for many airborne adventures.
By 1940, Tailspin Tommy began to lose papers. A change in syndicates from Bell to United Features did little to help, and the strip ended in 1942.
26 pages/strips Tailspin Tommy April 1931
26 pages/strips Tailspin Tommy April 1932
17 pages/strips Tailspin Tommy August 1931
25 pages/strips Tailspin Tommy December 1931
48 pages/strips Tailspin Tommy February 1931
26 pages/strips Tailspin Tommy February 1932
26 pages/strips Tailspin Tommy January 1931
26 pages/strips Tailspin Tommy January 1932
26 pages/strips Tailspin Tommy July 1931
26 pages/strips Tailspin Tommy June 1931
26 pages/strips Tailspin Tommy March 1931
27 pages/strips Tailspin Tommy March 1932
27 pages/strips Tailspin Tommy March 1933
25 pages/strips Tailspin Tommy May 1931
25 pages/strips Tailspin Tommy May 1932
25 pages/strips Tailspin Tommy November 1931
26 pages/strips Tailspin Tommy October 1931
42 pages/strips Tailspin Tommy September 1931
44 pages/strips Tailspin Tommy Sundays 1931
36 strips various