John Carter, Flash Gordon and Buck Rogers were all pioneer characters in sci-fi and all left their futuristic boot print on pop culture. In a time when the Earth had become a much smaller place people looked to both space and the future with more scientific curiosity than ever. It was the late 1920’s and 1930’s. This was the era which propelled sci-fi forward while strapped to a rocket pack and born from this was Buck Rogers. He was a futuristic Rip Van Winkle and the viewers would see the future through the eyes of one of their contemporaries.
This scenario was even true for the 1980’s television series. Buck was somehow preserved during a 400+ year slumber only to awaken on a planet he wouldn’t recognize and be exposed to battles he shouldn’t be a part of.
This retro-future styling has sleek, simple designs with hardly an explanation as to how things work. Everything for the time was still “streamlined” as aerodynamics were still something to be marveled. The spaceships, jetpacks, ray guns and even head gear from the movies and comics all had the same sense of style. Also to be an adventurer either in space, on Earth or in the future there was a dress code. Perhaps all those characters and even Doc Savage all shopped at the same store for their riding breeches, knee high leather riding boots and their pistol belts. It was these costume elements and history which lured me to the 1930’s comic strip Buck Rogers. Writers, directors and artists of the 20th and 21st century will admit to being influenced by those adventures. I’ve dressed as both Han Solo and the Rocketeer but in an instant looking at Buck Rogers you know precisely where those two characters borrowed their style.
So for the costume I combined key elements of Buck’s look in those early years. His costume changed frequently and parts weren’t consistent so this left plenty of room for artistic interpretation. At the core though are Buck’s riding breeches, often in khaki or blue. Mine are East German riding pants acquired from ebay. He also has those wicked riding boots which both good guys and Nazis seem to favor. Fortunately for me I already had those from the above mentioned Han Solo costume. Those old characters weren’t bogged down with armor, pouches, pockets or padding. All that separated Buck from his rocket pack was a leather vest. Sometimes a star would adorn the chest and sometimes a control disc which resembles something more gladiatorial. Being the year of Avengers I definitely wanted to steer clear of blue pants AND a star on my chest. My vest is just brown pleather sewn together with shoulder boards added and a zipped down one side.
The secret to making vests for me is dissecting an old T-shirt and using it as a template. The blue shirt is just a long sleeve t-shirt because Buck alternated shirt color between blue, red and tan. One of the coolest parts of that vintage look is the flight cap. Who needed safety or protection against head injuries? If our football players didn’t need more than a leather helmet than a guy with a ray gun and rocket on his back didn’t need more than them. The flight cap is made from a black leather pilot’s cap purchased online. Then the antenna knob at the crown is fashioned from wood, a plastic shot glass and a top from a prize you’d get out of a vending machine. The ear pieces are plastic domes with flat wood discs attached.
The visor is cut and bent sheet PVC with amber color acrylic sheet attached. The visor can pivot up and down with a peg mounted in 1 ear piece to act as a stop for the 2 different positions. The Rocket pack is junk, almost literally junk. It is made from a pesticide or garden sprayer for the fuel tank while the engine arms are flatten PVC pipe and the engines themselves are a plastic cup on each side surrounded by a plastic toilet brush holder. Finish it all off with some gloves and Buck Roger’s signature atomic disintegrator! You’ll notice in classic comic style I kept the color palette pretty simple with black boots, black belt, black gloves and black cap. All the metallic portions were kept with their own colors of gun metal grey or bronze. That way the gun would match the control disc on the chest and match the rocket pack.
It is good to go back to the source and see things in their purist forms. It is like when you have an opportunity to listen to a song and you have your choice of the original or the half dozen covers of the same song. Sometimes with their techno tempo or metal guitar the covers get too convoluted. There is a reason to appreciate the original.Photos of Johnny Havoc as Buck Rogers at Dragon*Con 2012