Thursday, December 13, 2018


For comic collectors, there comes a moment when you realise it's time to stop buying back issues. Usually when the house is full of comics that took you 50 years to buy and you know you don't have another 50 years ahead of you to read them all again. The other incentive to stop is when you realise you've acquired all the issues you ever wanted. 

TV 21 Stingray Special was a comic I had when it was published in 1965, but as I didn't start collecting until 1967 I binned it after reading it. I've re-acquired all the other comics from that period I wanted, - and more, - by completing runs that I'd hadn't originally, but this Special had proven to be elusive, - until last week. (I'd bid on copies in the past but had missed out.)

Like the final piece in a jigsaw puzzle, it gave me a sense of completion to buy it on eBay. It wasn't cheap, but it's in great condition and, if this is to be the last back issue I buy, then it'll have been worth it. 

TV21 Stingray Special was the very first "summer special" for TV Century 21, although there would be two more that year (TV Century 21 Summer Extra and TV Century 21 International Extra). It included two free sticker badges made of fabric, which I wore proudly on a summer blazer I had. (Hey, I was only six.) 

As the title suggests, the 48 pages are completely dedicated to Stingray and no other strip from the TV21 weekly. Stingray was very popular on TV at the time and was yet to be overtaken by the debut of Thunderbirds later that year. The contents are a mixture of comic strips, a couple of prose stories, and what modern fans would now call "filler", with puzzles, games, and articles on sealife, sea faring vessels etc. 
The opening spread gives us an introduction by "Troy Tempest" (in reality editor Alan Fennell) and an Oink the Seal half pager drawn by George Parlett (brother of fellow cartoonist Reg Parlett). Oink was an occasional comedy-relief character in the Stingray TV series...
Next we get a four page Stingray prose story, Barracuda 5, illustrated with photos from the show. As the publisher City Magazines worked in close association with A.P. Films (and later Century 21 Publishing) photos were easy to come by for the comic. Especially with the editor also being a writer on Gerry Anderson's shows! 
Here's another Oink the Seal story by George Parlett from the issue, this time in colour. The top class 'Photogravure' printing method was perfect for reproducing painted artwork. 
Nest, a Stingray story, Double Trap, illustrated by Ron Turner, one of the best artists of the period. Good as Photogravure printing was, it was also expensive, so the first two pages of the story were in black and white, and the last two in colour. Turner was ideal for this, being accomplished in both black and white and rich colour artwork. Here are pages one and four of the story...

After several pages of puzzles and features (far too many, I thought) the centrespread of the comic features a board game. I remember playing this back then with my mum. It was always nice to have a board game in the middle of a summer special.
After a few more feature pages and another prose story, we come to The Big Freeze, a four page Stingray strip drawn by Ron Embleton. Again, two pages in colour, two in black and white, but such quirks were commonplace in Sixties comics and we didn't mind. 
A few more puzzles and suchlike and we have the final strip which features Marina, Girl from the Sea. It tells the story of how Marina came to be Titan's slave, which was never revealed on TV, and ends with scenes adapted from the first Stingray episode where Troy and Phones free Marina. 
I don't know who drew the Marina strip. It's a bit awkward in places because although the artist is skilled he's trying to draw the characters' bodies too much like the TV puppets instead of representing them as humans with realistic proportions, as other artists did.
...and that was the TV21 Stingray Special. Some parts of it rang bells from my childhood, but most of it I hadn't recalled. A tad too many feature pages, and only 15 and a half pages of strip out of 48 pages, no doubt to keep it in budget. However, the quality of art by Turner, Parlett, and Embleton is first rate and overall it's a nice thing to have... again, after 53 years! 

If these strips seem familiar to those of you who are younger than me it's because they were reprinted in Egmont's Stingray comics of the 1990s, but for my money you can't beat the original comics in their large tabloid size! 

Wednesday, December 12, 2018

Review: APOLLO

Those of us old enough to remember the 1960s and the "space race" will know it was a genuinely exciting time to be a child. The endeavours for humans to reach out beyond Earth were rarely out of the news, and it became part of the zeitgeist, influencing children's fiction and toys. We devoured anything to do with outer space. The decade ended perfectly with man finally landing on the Moon in 1969, a moment that those of us who watched it on TV will remember in amazement forevermore. The picture quality wasn't up to much, but that only made us appreciate the distance those images were travelling from. Wondrous times.

The story of that first Moon landing is ideal for comics, depending on the creators of course. In lesser hands, 150 pages of three blokes cooped up in a space rocket and jumping about on the Moon for a while wouldn't be that satisfactory, but Apollo is handled by creators who know their stuff and have produced a compelling read. 
Written by Matt Fitch and Chris Baker, and drawn by Mike Collins (with colours by Kris Carter and Jason Cardy), Apollo uses techniques to keep the story moving along in a visually interesting way that's well suited to comics. The book begins with the launch of Apollo 11 in 1969, then there's a flashback to the tragedy of Apollo One to show us how precarious those missions could be. There are numerous other flashbacks during Apollo 11's journey, telling us more about the three astronaut's personal lives, hopes and fears. Fitch, Baker, and Collins build up the tension well, and even though we know how things turned out, there are still some moments of anxiety for the reader. That's a sign of a good comic, to pull the reader in and keep those pages turning.
Mike Collins is a good choice as artist, and not just because he shares the same name as one of Apollo 11's crew. His 35 years of experience as a professional artist have enabled him to draw anything with ease, and choose layouts that keep the pages interesting and varied. 
The colours by Kris Carter and Jason Cardy suit the art well, although the use of the Photoshop Colour Halftone filter is a little distracting at times. I was a bit disappointed that some dialogue used the F-bomb several times, which I felt was unnecessary. Not that I'm prudish, but because I think Apollo would have been perfect for school libraries, and that language would presumably prevent that. Don't let these small quibbles put you off though. For mid-teens and adults, this book is ideal.

The back of the book has an appendix with technical drawings of the spacecraft plus bios of the main characters, which is a nice bonus. Apollo is a great record of one of the most important events in history, and deserves a place on your bookshelf.

Apollo by Matt Fitch, Chris Baker, and Mike Collins. Graphic novel published by SelfMadeHero, London. £15.99 hardback. ISBN 978-1-910593-50-9

TOXIC No.315 is out now!

Despite the metallic red and green foil cover colours, the latest Toxic magazine is decidedly unfestive. Even so, it's another fun issue that would make a good stocking stuffer. For £4.99 readers get Toxic No.315, plus an additional 32 page Fortnite magazine, and a bunch of gifts.

Inside Toxic's 40 pages there are bright and breezy features on the latest movies and games for kids, plus puzzles, pin-ups, and of course the comic strips! 

This time, Team Toxic (written and drawn by me) continues from the previous issue where we left them powerless, and now three of their most persistent baddies turn up to take over the city! How can they be stopped? Find out in Toxic No.315, out now from newsagents and supermarkets all over the UK!
If you want to subscribe to Toxic, or buy individual issues by post, you can do it by visiting this link:

The Christmas EPIC magazine (2018)

The latest issue of D.C. Thomson's Epic is out today, with a special festive polybag and cover. There are a few Christmas features and puzzles inside too, but unfortunately none of the strips have a Christmas theme. Nevertheless, there are laughs with Over Reaction Man by Alex Collier and Steve Bright...

...and Hygiene High by Niall Murray and, er, me! 

Plus a few mini-strips, uncredited.

Epic No.154 is available from newsagents and supermarkets priced £4.99.


I'm woefully behind on my comics reviews, so I'm catching up by putting a bunch of them together in this post and a couple more later today. The reviews are briefer than I'd intended, but I hope it brings some good comics to people's attention anyway.

First up we have Frankenstein, Texas by Dan Whitehead and David Hitchcock. As the title suggests, Frankenstein and his monster arrive in America. Unexpectedly, a Western setting suits the iconic characters well, thanks to the skills of the creators of this 64 page comic. Smooth writing from Dan Whitehead, and detailed, atmospheric artwork from David Hitchcock, whose work I've admired for several years now.
It's a cracking story and despite some violence and mild cussing, I'd say it was suitable for older children to adults. There are some very nice bonus back up illustrations too from guest artists DaNi, John McCrea, PJ Holden, Jerry Paris, and Doug Slack. You can order a copy from this website:

Writer Dan Whitehead.

Also by the same writer is Hex Loader No.3, continuing the contemporary supernatural story. Again, good writing that flows well, and nice realistic artwork by Conor Boyle. 
My only gripe is that there's no resumé page/captions so one has to remember what happened in previous issues. Not easy when the comic is only published once a year and you've mislaid the previous two amongst piles of other comics. (Or is that just me?) Worth following though, and you can buy all three from this link:

Next up we have Starfall, published by Blackhat Comics. This was backed by people supporting the creator's Patreon page and the result is a 32 page full colour comic. Written by Adam Blackhat and drawn/coloured by Valentina Sannais, Starfall is an adult superhero story. 
The artist, Valentina Sannais, is an emerging new talent and one to watch. There's good figurework in her drawing and I really like her unusual but appealing use of colour. The script moves along at a good pace and packs a lot in. 
Artist Valentina Sannais.
I'm not quite sure how you can get a print copy other than from Val's table at comic cons, but you can support their Patreon and read the online comics at this link:

The final publication in this review section is Back, Sack and Crack (and Brain), a 224 page graphic novel by Robert Wells. Comics can be about any subject, and the subject here are the embarrassing health problems suffered by the author. Yes, it's autobiographical, and Robert takes us through every detail of the chronic pain he's endured in his bowels, his back, and his testicles, and the treatment (and sometimes mis-diagnoses) he's received. 
It's not a book for the squeamish, but Robert's art is very matter-of-fact and his cleanline style helps to make it more palatable. I have to confess I was left thinking "Did I really need to know all that?" but, and it's a big but, I'm sure it could help people in similar situations to know what they might expect. There's a lot of dark humour in there too, in case you were concerned it was a dry medical record. If you like slice-of-life stories then you can't get more down to earth than this. 

Back, Sack and Crack (and Brain) by Robert Wells is available from bookshops such as Page 45 and Waterstones. ISBN 978-1-4721-3675-6

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