Saturday, December 30, 2006

Coming in 2007...


New comics arriving in early 2007:

Shaun the Sheep Comic No.1 hits the shelves in March, published by Titan, as a companion comic to their popular Wallace & Gromit Comic. The format is the same as W&G; 52 colour pages including brand new comic strips and features.

Also that month from Titan, Superman returns to British newsagents in the first issue of a 76 page monthly. In the same format as Panini comics such as Mighty World of Marvel and Titan's recent re-launch of Batman Legends the title will contain three Superman strips, including Grant Morrison and Frank Quietley's All-Star Superman.

Around the same time, small press publisher Spitfire Comics will be bringing us The Collected Hook Jaw Volume 1, reprinting the gore-filled adventures of the killer shark from Action comic of 31 years ago!

Another project that should please all fans of UK comics is a tv documentary series on the history of British comics. It'll appear on BBC 4 sometime in 2007 and from all accounts sounds very promising, including interviews with key figures in the industry. More news on this exciting project in the weeks to come.


Friday, December 29, 2006

We called them Stripzines




Copyright ©1978, 2006 Lew Stringer

Today, "small press comics" are a prominent and healthy part of the comics industry. Numerous small press creators have tables at comics conventions (enough to fill a hall at the recent Birmingham Comics Show) and the comics are available to buy online from websites such as www.smallzone.co.uk and enginecomics.co.uk. They even have their own conventions, such as Caption.

Back in the 1970's we called them "stripzines", but the concept was the same: amateur, non-profit comics produced by people who (usually) were not yet ready for professional work but who wanted to test their creative muscles and receive feedback. Our efforts were often crude, but through feedback and advice from our readers (some of whom were comics pros) we we able to slowly improve.

I first discovered comics fanzines and stripzines in 1976, and produced my first effort, After Image in late 1978 (cover dated Jan 1979) at the age of 19. The front cover and one of its strips is reproduced here. (Click on images for full size pages.)

As anyone can see, my early attempts at comics were bloody awful. The front cover, (where I was actually trying to draw "realistically" as opposed to "cartoony") shows a poor grasp of anatomy and lighting. The strip, Myron Knuckleshort is flawed in every panel, the script is shamefully naivé, and the artwork inconsistent and sloppy. (Although the, quite literal, toilet humour predates the arrival of Viz by a year.)

Despite the many flaws of After Image, response was mostly favourable. But I knew they were just being kind; saying what they thought I wanted to hear, not what I needed to hear.

I paid more attention to the critics. The ones who made valid comments about my poor inking, or undisciplined lettering, or the numerous other artistic sins I was committing to paper. Back then, I didn't even know which direction to go in "art wise"; humour or adventure. I settled on humour, and started to develop that. It was a slow process and I didn't sell my first professional cartoon until 1983, five years after the strip above was drawn. And even then I was still learning. Still am, come to that, as are all of us. Complacency only breeds stagnation.

This "artwork" is an embarrassment to look back on now, but it was created in a happy environment; my first steps into comics, and my first venture into the comics community. The enthusiasm we had back then is still evident within the small press of today. Looking at what's on offer now (from the aforementioned websites) standards of the small press have definitely improved on the whole. Thirty years ago most of us wanted to use our stripzines as a springboard into mainstream comics. Today, the small press is a distinguished and respected part of comics in its own right.

I'll be showcasing some old stripzine and fanzine covers here in a future blog but for now have a read of Myron Knuckleshort and The Case of the Exploding Toilets and feel my shame. ;-)

Thursday, December 28, 2006

Silver Surfer Summer of 2007


1966: Fantastic Four No.48 introduces us to the alien Silver Surfer, instantly becoming a hit with comic readers across the world. (Okay, his solo comic series in 1968 didn't fare as well sales-wise but it established the character as a comics icon. And years later allowed pensioners to nick the name for their internet clubs.)

2007: Rise of the Silver Surfer, the second Fantastic Four movie, is scheduled to hit cinema screens in the summer. And there's an official trailer available to download here:

http://tinyurl.com/yfotfg

Those few seconds of footage look great, and far more impressive than anything seen in the first FF movie! Let's hope the rest of the film is up to that standard.


Wednesday, December 27, 2006

The Mystery of Ally Sloper



Some time ago I purchased this original wash and line drawing of Ally Sloper (above). It was drawn not on artboard, but on what appear to be the endpapers of a book. In addition to the page this character is drawn on, there are two other blank pages affixed, and all three pages appear to have been torn from a book.

The drawing is by W.F. Thomas (William Fletcher Thomas) and signed by him. (In 1888 Thomas had taken over as the cover artist of Ally Sloper's Half Holiday from W.G. Baxter.) What's particularly appealing about this piece is that it's embellished with a grey wash. In the comics, Sloper was only drawn in black line (or so I believe) because of the limitations of printing, which makes this item quite unique. (No, I'm not selling it. Sorry!)

In trying to identify which year the artwork may have been drawn, I noticed that Sloper has a book under his arm and in typical Sloper fashion he's on his way to pawn it. The book carries the description: "J G Reid. His Book". Could this be a clue as to the age of the piece?

Doing a bit of detective work on the internet, it turned out that J. G. Reid was the author of a book entitled At The Sign of the Brush and Pen, published in Aberdeen in 1898.

At a guess, I imagine W. F. Thomas drew this original piece as a gift or commission for J. G. Reid around the end of the 19th Century. (Perhaps Reid had included Thomas in his book? Or the book had impressed or inspired Thomas?) I assume this drawing was done as a private "in joke" for Reid and was never published.

However, my conclusion is only conjecture. If anyone knows the origins of this artwork, if they've come across it in decades past, or if it was ever published, please get in touch. In the meantime, feel free to study a wonderful piece of Victorian artwork by clicking on the image above to see it in a much larger size.

Tuesday, December 26, 2006

Dalek Zeg!



This year's fun and fast paced Doctor Who Christmas special gave us a glimpse of the 2007 season, where we saw that Dalek Sec is to return. This is the renegade black Dalek first seen in the finalé of the 2006 season, Doomsday.

Back in the old days, Daleks never had names... or did they? Not in the tv series perhaps, but in the comics it was a different matter. In 1965 The Daleks was featured as the regular back page strip in the new weekly TV Century 21 and although it was uncredited at the time (except for a nod to Dalek creator Terry Nation) the strip was apparently mostly written by Dr.Who tv scribe David Whittaker and superbly drawn by Richard Jennings (and later by Ron Turner).

One of the early serials in the comic strip featured a renegade red Dalek who went by the name of... Zeg! Accidentally saturated by a chemical called Metalert, Zeg became invincible and, even by Dalek standards, turned into an egotistical control freak, demanding that the other Daleks announce him as their new Emperor. Naturally it all ends in tears, or whatever the Dalek equivalent is, and the upstart is eventually defeated.

As the new series of Doctor Who has already seen it borrow ideas from the Dalek strips (flying Daleks, and the design of their saucers) I'm wondering if Dalek Sec wasn't influenced by the similar sounding Dalek Zeg?

The example above, drawn by Richard Jennings, is from TV Century 21 No.13, dated April 17th 2065. (The comic was always dated 100 years in advance for a bit of fun.) That Dalek vs Dalek confrontation is one of my favourite sequences from a sixties comic. I don't know who holds the rights to those Dalek strips now, (not Panini apparently, even though they publish Doctor Who Magazine) but if ever there was an appropriate time to reprint them all again it's now. With shops full of Dalek toys, the Doctor Who Annual being the top selling annual this Christmas, and the tv series and its spin-offs hardly out of the news, a collection of Dalek strips or a new Dalek Annual seemed inevitable, yet it didn't happen. Anyone know why?

Monday, December 25, 2006

40 year Flashback: Wham! Annual


Christmas Day 1966: Thousands of kids across the UK awoke to find the Wham! Annual 1967 in their pillowslips. A wonderful package of fun colour strips by Ken Reid, Graham Allen, Gordon Hogg and others. That explosive masthead is a memorable part of sixties comic culture.They don't make 'em like that anymore!

The cover artist was Graham Allen, an undervalued cartoonist whose work of that period has often been mistaken for Leo Baxendale's. A fantastic piece of work representing the anarchic attitudes of those old Odhams comics; kids running riot and an authoritarian teacher proving ineffective. Many of the visuals on that cover wouldn't be allowed in a children's comic today: boy tied to a firework; syringe being used; dart fired at a bird; teacher with cane... parents and retailers would have a fit if just one of those items appeared inside a comic today, never mind on the cover of a Christmas annual! (Even though I'll bet no kid who had that book ever copied any of the violence. I certainly didn't. Kids know the difference between cartoon violence and reality.)

Are we living in more restrictive times or more responsible times? You decide! ;-)

This was the second of nine Wham! Annuals. Click on it to see a full size version.

Sunday, December 24, 2006

Christmas comics and the Slap-Up Feed



As with comics of some other countries, it's traditional for seasons and celebrations to be featured as a theme in British comics. The spectacular crackle of the Firework themed issues for November 5th are long gone now, frowned upon by the establishment, but stories about Easter Eggs are often spotlighted for the appropriate time of year and the Christmas theme comics are still hanging in there.

In British comics, Christmas is celebrated with snow on the logo and whatever slapstick situations can be contrived out of plots involving Christmas trees, presents, Santa, snowmen,... and the inevitable "slap up feed" (often in the final panel). I'm not sure when the "slap up feed" became a tradition in UK comics but the examples above, both from the very first Film Fun Annual (dated 1938, released 1937) show that it's at least 70 years old! (The term "slap up feed" has passed into legend now, spoofed by Viz et al, but in the example above from a Laurel & Hardy strip we see an early use of it in the caption beneath the panel.)

Why did the "slap up feed" become the last-panel reward of so many old Christmas strips? Undoubtably because in those times of hardship a feast of turkey and all the trimmings would have been a luxury indeed. We live in far more comfortable times now, but the "slap up feed" remains part of some Christmas strips (I've used it in this year's Xmas Team Toxic story in Toxic for example).

There are fewer traditional British comics around now, but for those that remain the snow still falls on Christmas Day and in certain corners of comicdom the festive feast remains.

Saturday, December 23, 2006

Who the hell do I think I am?

Above: Brickman (© 2006 Lew Stringer)

I have been a professional freelance comic artist & writer since 1984. During that time I have worked for many publishers such as IPC, Marvel Comics, Egmont, Panini, and D.C. Thomson, covering the comics field from originated characters to licensed properties.

I've produced strips for numerous publications including VIZ; BEANO SUMMER SPECIAL; BUSTER; OINK!; FUN-SIZE DANDY; FUN-SIZE BEANO; SONIC THE COMIC; WHITE DWARF; GHOSTBUSTERS; TRANSFORMERS, and national newspapers DAILY STAR and SUNDAY SPORT. I've also written articles on the history of comics for publications such as 2000 AD,THE COMICS JOURNAL, and the BBC website.

Over the years, my characters have enjoyed long and popular runs, such as ten years for "Tom Thug" in BUSTER and four years for "Combat Colin" in Marvel's TRANSFORMERS comic. I was also a regular writer on SONIC THE COMIC for seven years.

The past two decades have seen major changes to the UK comics market, but I have always adapted to maintain regular work in the industry. Having worked for publications for all age groups, my work has appeared in such diverse titles as CiTV TELLYTOTS and LEGO ADVENTURES for the nursery market, to VIZ and SWEET FA for the adult reader.

In recent years I have expanded my work overseas as well as the UK. In 2003 I had an album of my work published in Norway: FORSTADSSATANISTENE (Suburban Satanists). 2005 saw the publication of the book BRICKMAN BEGINS for the Los Angeles based publisher Active Images.

My current regular assignments include:

Script and art for "Team Toxic" in TOXIC fortnightly magazine.

Script, art and colouring on "Brickman Returns" in ELEPHANTMEN for Image Comics.

Script and art on "Suburban Satanists" for Scandinavia's HERMAN HEDNING comic.

Script and artwork on various strips occasionally for VIZ comic, including Felix and His Amazing Underpants and Suicidal Syd.

Blogs are for egotists

I said I'd never create a blog.

Blogs are for egotists I said. Blogs are written in the expectation that there's an audience. No more than a vanity project. After all; most of what appears in a blog could easily be written for a diary. And I've never kept a diary. Diaries are for wimps.

You'll never see a blog from me, I said.

A blogger thinks his opinions are so important that he's not going to tuck them away in a diary. He wants the world weird web, er, world wide web to read his thoughts. They're that important y'see! Or rather, he thinks they are.

Blogs are time consuming acts of selfish pride that are created by people with no active social life. Diatribes full of arrogant...

...erm...

ahem. It's easy to get sucked into this lark innit? ;-)

Then again.... it's only a bit of fun. And there was nowt on tv tonight anyway. ;-)

Here's what this blog won't be about:

Boring personal details, online self therapy, paranoid ego-drama, religious dogma, political rants and other self obsessed waffle.

What it will be about:

A place to present previews of my upcoming comic strips but more likely to showcase favourite comics I've read past and present, the comics industry, and suchlike. After all, I've got a couple of websites on which to blow my own trumpet so I'd like to use this blog to talk about comics in general. (After the obligatory self indulgent post titled "Who the hell do I think I am?" of course. Just to let people know Who the Hell I Think I Am. :))

Don't expect this blog to be updated every day. Maybe a flurry of posts at first and then when the novelty wears off perhaps once a week as time allows. Please leave comments if you wish! Thanks for visiting.


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