Thursday, February 15, 2007

Express Weekly: a forgotten treasure?








Whilst fondly remembered British comics such as TV Century 21, Eagle, and Valiant have rightly received the acclaim they deserved it seems there's one comic from that era that hardly gets a mention. I recently bought some old copies of Express Weekly / TV Express and I was pleased to discover what a quality product it was.

As information on the comic is so hard to come by I don't know a great deal about the publication. From what I can gather it started life as Junior Express (No.1 dated 4th September 1954), changed its title to Junior Express Weekly with No.39, simplified itself to Express Weekly with No.74, and finally settled upon being called TV Express from No.286, jumping into the fad of tv-inspired comics. (Its final issue was No.375, dated 6th January 1962.)

The issues I have are from the latter part of the run; a handful from 1959 to 1961. I have no idea what its early years were like but by this time it was obviously modeling itself on Eagle, with its large size, photogravure printing, layout, and mixture of strips and features. I'm usually of the opinion that imitations never live up to the original, but from these examples Express was a worthy opponent to Eagle.

As can be seen from the samples above, Ron Embleton provided many covers for the publication. (There is actually quite a bit of info on Embleton on the internet at least, such as this page which shows a little bit more of his Express artwork.) His Wulf the Briton strips were later reprinted by Marvel UK in their Forces in Combat weekly.

Embleton of course later worked on Stingray strips for TV Century 21 and illustrated the end title boards for the original Captain Scarlet tv show. (Those boards can be seen here.)

Another artist who worked on Express Weekly prior to TV21 was Mike Noble who illustrated The Lone Ranger comic strip (seen above). This strip shared the centre spread of Express with an educational feature (another idea copied from Eagle). Mike's work however had a great vitality to it even back then.

From what I can see, all of the artists on Express were highly talented, not least Mike Western. Mike is better known as the artist who drew The Wild Wonders for Valiant in the 1960s and Darkie's Mob for Battle in the 1980s, to name but two, but the sample shown above (from the No Hiding Place strip) proves his sharp style was well developed as early as 1960 at least.

When the title changed to TV Express the tv-inspired strips included Gun Law, Yogi Bear, No Hiding Place, a series of Danger Man text stories, and later Alfie and Bill (Alfie Bass and Bill Fraser from The Army Game). Not to forget Biggles, a 1960 tv series based on the books by W.E. Johns. (See www.biggles.info).

TV Express eventually merged into TV Comic in 1962. I'm mystified as to why the history of the comic doesn't seem to be as thoroughly documented as that of Lion, Hotspur, or many other adventure comics. Perhaps I just haven't come across the articles that have been written about it. As it underwent several changes in title and direction I assume sales were continually declining. Why? Perhaps its characters just didn't hook the readers? Perhaps it was considered to be an inferior imitation of Eagle? Perhaps its frequent shifts in direction cost it more readers than it gained?

Whatever the reason for its eventual demise, from what I've seen, Express was one of the best British weeklies of the period and it was certainly as good, if not better, than some of its more popular contemporaries.

Update: Thanks to Shaqui Le Vesconte (whose Technodelic website is well worth checking out) I've learned that the classic British character Jeff Hawke first appeared in Junior Express. Also, how could I have forgotten that Express was the home of Jet Morgan and those strips are currently being reprinted in the excellent Spaceship Away comic. .

7 comments:

Peter Gray said...

I love these overviews of comics on this blog.......specially ones I've never seen...must get to London to buy these comics...

Those covers are so striking and action packed!

I like these adventure strips which are more my taste then the violent and stomach turning stuff today.......I like the silver, bronze age period......as you have said before superman in the 60's was great the short creative and consise stories and they are very difficult to write.

I prefer adventure stories of the past.

Lew Stringer said...

No need to journey to London to search for those comics Peter. Copies of TV Express are currently being auctioned on eBay!

Lew

Tim Perkins said...

Hi Lew,

Beautiful cover page for the Express Weekly!!!

And a lovely piece to boot!

Great Blog as always...

You have got me to enter into the spirit of things too now and I have my own Blog...inspired by your always positive read.

I may not read the papers...but I read your Blog.

Have Fun.

Best,
Tim...

Peter Richardson said...

Really good to see you showcasing this lovely comic on your ever excellent blog Lew.

I'm currently serializing all the Wulf episodes from 1959 as an introduction to this amazing strip on my Cloud 109 Blog. The Wulf episodes go up every Sunday 10 pages at a time.

I don't make a habit of tarting my blog on other peoples blogs but on this occasion it might just be of interest:

http://cloud-109.blogspot.com

Peter Richardson said...

Dohhhhh!!!

Sorry Lew I've just realized this piece you did on Express Weekly appeared over three years ago.

Another senior moment - must eat more fish.

I'll go away now and lie down in a darkened room for a couple of hours.

Anonymous said...

Yes, I know this post's over three years old, but your blog threw it up as a "might also be interested in" post, so...

Just writing to say that, judging by the half-a-dozen issues of Express Weekly/TV Express I bought from a going-out-of-business clearing-out-it's-store room newsagent, Express Weekly deserves all the praise you heaped on it, and more besides. A great comic, right up there with Eagle.

Oh, and since Peter Ricahrdson also posted a comment here, his huge book collecting the complete Wulf The Briton is due out very soon. Still just enough time to get it at a prepublication price from the publisher, the Book Palace (see http://www.bookpalacebooks.com/acatalog/Book_Palace_Books_Wulf_the_Briton__The_Complete_Adventures_11.html) Fair warning, it costs £95.00, but if you like Embleton's art then it's worth it.

David

Anonymous said...

I don't know whether anyone has pointed this out in the meantime, but Jeff Hawke first appeared in the Daily Express.When the Junior Express started it ran a new Jeff Hawke story, which started similarly to the original story in the Daily Express. The first episode of this new story was drawn by Sidney Jordan but he appeared to have handed it over to others. At a later date, the strip was taken over by Tacconi (the last two episodes were in colour) before it was replaced by Journey Into Space (also by Tacconi and reprinted in Spaceship Away).

Related Posts Plugin for WordPress, Blogger...