Wednesday, December 11, 2013
Today's issue of The Beano is special for two reasons. Not only is it the Christmas issue, but it also marks the 60th anniversary of Minnie the Minx, and Minnie herself dominates the cover, replacing Dennis the Menace for once, illustrated by Nigel Parkinson.
Minnie the Minx began in The Beano No.596, dated 19th December 1953, in a six panel black and white strip drawn by Leo Baxendale. Here's that very first strip (taken from The History of The Beano book)...
Although conceived as a female version of Dennis the Menace, the character of Minnie developed in its own direction and always seemed an equal to Dennis, rather than a mere imitation. The strip evolved along with Leo Baxendale's style. Here's a nice example from The Beano No.928, April 30th 1960...
When Leo Baxendale left DC Thomson in the early 1960s, the strip was handed over to Jim Petrie, who illustrated over 2,000 episodes. Here's one of his earlier ones from The Beano No.1126, February 15th 1964...
Other artists have drawn Minnie over the years, including impressive stints by Ken H. Harrison and Laura Howell, with Nigel Parkinson being the current artist. At 60, Minnie continues to be The Beano's premier tomboy, and shows no sign of slowing down yet.
The Christmas Beano is in the shops now, bagged with gifts for £4.99, or as a digital download on the Beano App for £1.49.
Tuesday, December 10, 2013
It's a remarkable achievement for any British comic to reach 100 issues in the 21st Century, especially one which has bypassed the usual retail outlets and is independent of the major publishers. The Phoenix has done amazingly well, relying on subscriptions, digital downloads, and limited visibility in some branches of Waitrose and certain comic shops.
|Art: Neill Cameron|
We live in an age where children's comics have become increasingly reliant on being accompanied with cheap plastic toys, stickers, Haribo sweets and other novelties, - to such an extent that I've even heard some parents and shop assistants think the magazine is an attachment to the gifts. Bloated bags of toys and a comic fight for visibility on crowded shelves. It's a situation that will inevitably implode I think. (Although credit to The Beano for not having any bagged issues since last Christmas. Let's hope others follow this example.)
|Art: Adam Murphy|
In addition to the problem of crowded displays, retail giants actually charge publishers thousands of pounds to be part of this chaos. In theory, the more a publisher pays, the better visibility the title should get. In practise, does anyone tell the staff that? If so, how many bother to follow the guidelines, when they're quickly stuffing the latest issues (often upside down) into the best available space?
|Art: Dan Boultwood|
|Art: Jamie Smart|
The look of the comic, with its light adventure serials and gentle humour strips, owes more to European comics like Eppo or Spirou than to The Beano or Valiant. I used to pick up copies of Spirou from bookshops in London in the 1980s and wish that the UK had something similar. I'm pleased to see that, finally, now we do, and readers seem to like it. Kids relate to good storytelling, wherever they're from.
One other thing that stands out to me is how very upper middle class the tone of the comic feels. You're not likely to see rough-and-ready menaces firing catapults or fat kids shovelling a mountain of chips into their gobs in this comic. Credit to The Phoenix for moving away from the usual British comic stereotypes, although in doing so it does sometimes feel even more old fashioned and quaintly 1950s with its stories of clean-cut children caught up in rip-roaring adventures with pirates and smugglers.
|Art: Robert Deas|
I've no idea how many copies The Phoenix sells every week as they don't reveal sales figures, but printing 32 full colour pages with no paid advertising isn't going to come cheap. However, the cost to the reader is very reasonable; £2.99 for the print edition, £1.99 for the digital one. (With discounts for subscribers.)
So, congratulations to The Phoenix for reaching 100 issues (or nearly 102 by the time this post is published). Let's hope it continues to grow (it's now listed in the Previews catalogue now so any comic specialist shop can order it) and let's hope it encourages some of the bigger UK publishers to develop titles that are comics, not just merchandise-promos and activity magazines.
More details: http://www.thephoenixcomic.co.uk/
Monday, December 09, 2013
And if you want to see the one for the following issue, along with other examples from the same comic, I blogged about it a couple of years ago. See here for the link:
These four issues of Commando are in the shops now. All are printed with a fifth ink on the cover in the form of a gun metal silver enhancement. Something a bit different for Britain's longest-running adventure comic!
Thanks to DC Thomson for the following info.
Commando Issues 4659-4662 – On sale now
Commando No 4659 – Bad Vibrations
Running from a hail of lead fired by vengeful Germans as tons of concrete from collapsing U-Boat crashed down around them — just a normal day at the office for the Convict Commandos, surely?
This time, though, Guy Tenby, Smiler Dawson, Titch Mooney and new boy Spider Mackay were really worried. They had lost one man on a previous mission and this one had been giving off bad vibrations from the start.
Story: Alan Hebden
Commando No 4660 – Terror Patrol
The narrow Channel between England and the Continent has always been vital to our safety. That was where Drake took on his enemies, the Spanish Armada — and in the last war it was where the little ships of the torpedo flotillas took on their German foes, sweeping them back from our shores.
This story is about these patrol boats and the heroes who sailed them. And especially it is about Bill Ashby, flotilla commander, who conquered not only the fast E-boats, but even Germany’s mightiest battleship!
Many of the naval battles that were fought in the narrow seas of the English Channel were fought in darkness, masked from the probing eyes of RAF or Luftwaffe. With this in mind, Sostres was a brilliant choice of artist for the inside work, his high-contrast style perfectly suiting the partially illuminated night. The story handles the one man’s change from commanded to commanding without ever losing any of the action Commando is known for. Ken Barr’s cover almost seems like an unnecessary extra but of course it isn’t!
Calum Laird, Commando Editor
Terror Patrol originally Commando No 66 (Apr 1963)
Cover: Ken Barr
Commando No 4661 – “Sink The Odessa!”
Royal Navy Lieutenant Mike Fraser and Chief Petty Officer Derek Chalmers were frogmen — well used to going on daring solo operations in the murky ocean depths aboard their underwater chariot.
But when an important job to sink a strategically vital battleship went awry in the German-occupied Crimean region of Russia, they found themselves teaming up with a rag-tag guerrilla group in a desperate attempt to complete their mission.
Story: Alan Hebden
Cover: Janek Matysiak
Commando No 4662 – The Flying Shark
He was a brilliant fighter pilot, ruthless and cunning — he knew no fear. For his breath-taking skill and sheer nerve he was known to friend and foe alike as “The Flying Shark”.
But there was another reason for that name. Tattooed on the pilot’s shoulder was the emblem of a shark’s head. He didn’t know how it had got there — in fact, he didn’t even know who he really was!
Brought to you by a trio of our finest contributors — each of whom is without doubt firing on all creative cylinders — The Flying Shark is classic Commando through and through.
Writer Roger Sanderson — now best known as a prolific author of Mills & Boon romance novels — delivers an exciting script with a neat mystery at its core. Visually, Gordon Livingstone’s interior artwork is up to its usual impeccable standard while Ian Kennedy’s cover is typically stunning.
As I said: classic Commando. I hope you enjoy re-visiting it.
Scott Montgomery, Deputy Editor
The Flying Shark, originally Commando No 2224 (October 1988), re-issued as No 3724 (June 2004)
Story: Roger Sanderson
Art: Gordon Livingstone
Cover: Ian Kennedy
Wednesday, December 04, 2013
I'm sorry to report that tonight I was informed by the family of comic artist Charles Grigg that he passed away at 5.30 this morning.
Charles Grigg, affectionately known as Charlie or Chas, originally worked as an engineer in the Midlands before he began freelancing as an artist for DC Thomson in the 1950s. His skills proved to be popular with the readers and he continued drawing numerous comic strips for the company for almost 40 years. One of his earliest strips for the company was Charlie the Chimp which he illustrated for The Dandy from 1957 to 1960.
Back then, DC Thomson did not allow artists to sign their work, but the characters that Charlie drew would be familiar with millions of children. In 1961 he was asked to take over the cover artwork of The Dandy's lead strip, Korky the Cat, which he then drew for the next 22 years.
Charlie's version of Korky became the definitive one, and the artist's marvellous ability with colour led to him producing some memorable covers for The Dandy Book and The Dandy Summer Special.
Although most of Charlie's work was on humour strips such as Korky for The Dandy and Foxy and Splodge for The Topper, he was also able to turn his hand to adventure work. Some of his most memorable serials being The Red Wrecker, The Purple Cloud, and The Umbrella Men, all for The Dandy.
Charlie moved into semi-retirement 30 years ago after which he illustrated saucy seaside postcards for the Bamforth postcard company. Sadly, as The Birmingham Post reported in 2012, in recent years he began to suffer from vascular dementia and was cared for by his son Steve.
Regrettably, I never met Mr.Grigg but his artwork provided so much childhood pleasure when I was reading The Dandy in the 1960s. Published on Mondays back then, it gave a bright start to the week and I eagerly looked forward to whether Korky would 'win' or 'lose' on that week's cover. (I always wanted him to win, thwarting the mice or the gamekeeper.) I thrilled to the adventure strips The Red Wrecker and The Umbrella Men, with Charlie's detailed artwork drawing me into that strange world of ordinary British towns under siege from some bizarre menace. The Dandy Summer Specials became synonymous with journeys to Blackpool, with the discovery of Charlie's luxuriously coloured covers becoming a part of that long-anticipated summer holiday. Then on Christmas Day, the delight of unwrapping the latest Dandy Book, with the first sight being Charlie's festive covers.
Though most of us never knew the man personally, Charles Grigg was part of our lives, with his warm, funny and enthralling comic strips bringing smiles to millions of children over the years. And as adults, we still have those happy memories, - and if we're lucky, the comics too, - to reflect on. I hope those thoughts will be of some comfort to Mr.Grigg's family at this time. He was one of the best.
(As always, click the images to see them larger. All images in this article are Copyright DC Thomson, except for the Bamforth postcard.)