In 1981, “Raiders of the Lost Ark” introduced the world to the now famous Indiana Jones, archaeologist, treasure hunter and adventurer. The film dominated the box office and launched a franchise that remains popular to this day, with several movies, books, video games, action figures, comics, pinball machines, theme park rides, and a host of other assets. It also spawned any number of imitations, some of which like “Tomb Raider” and “The Mummy”, were successful franchises in their own right.
Creators George Lucas and Steven Spielberg freely admitted, though, that Indiana Jones wasn’t a wholly original idea. They openly acknowledged that it harkened back to many old serials from the 1930s and ‘40s and pulp stories like “King Solomon’s Mines” and “The Lost World”. There are a lot of visual elements picked up from the Charlton Heston movie “Secrets of the Incas”.
Not to discredit anyone, of course. Lucas and Spielberg brought together a slightly different mix of elements that, along with Harrison Ford’s on-screen charm, make for a great character. But there are some real life archaeologists whose own lives influenced what went into Jones. Men like William McGovern, a professor at Northwestern University whose Wikipedia entries begins, “By age 30, he had already explored the Amazon and braved uncharted regions of the Himalayas, survived revolution in Mexico, studied at Oxford and the Sorbonne and become a Buddhist priest in a Japanese monastery.”
Another real life archaeologist/adventurer that may have lent some inspiration to Indiana Jones was Roy Chapman Andrews. He’s perhaps best known as the first person to discover fossilized dinosaur eggs while searching the Gobi desert in outer Mongolia. His first death-defying escape came when he was in college; surviving a boating accident got people claiming that he was “born under a lucky star.” One of his first professional near-misses was in the jungles of southeast Asia where his assistant caught sight of a 20-foot python in just enough time for Andrews to shoot it with his pistol. There are at least a dozen of stories of him fighting off bandits and, to make the comparison to Indiana Jones complete, he and his team once endured a night of their camp being infested with snakes! He had enough more than enough adventures to warrant his life story being turned into a comic book adventure in 1950!
Andrews got cover-billed as the “Modern Dragon Hunter” in “True Comics” #81 for all the dinosaurs he dug up during his time in Asia. While perhaps not as artfully rendered as Indiana Jones’ comics decades later, and the story’s short length necessitates skipping over many of his adventures, it helped pave the way for comics in that same vein. Andrews may have preferred a campaign hat over a fedora (though the comic erroneously gives him a pith helmet) and skipped on the bullwhip entirely, but it would seem that Indiana Jones was out treasure hunting much earlier than you thought he was! Check out the original Indiana Jones comic from 1950 in the gallery below!