Tuesday, January 30, 2007

Where to next?


Which decade should this blog visit next? Do you have a favourite comic, artist, or memory of a strip you'd like to see covered? Or any comic over the last 100 years you're curious to see? Let me know by clicking on the comment option below and leaving a note and I'll see if I can plunge into the Comics Time Vortex (located in my spare room) and drag it through the time barrier into the cyber-age! Any year, any comic, any country considered!

Monday, January 29, 2007

105 Year Flashback: Our Graphic Humourists



I always felt the term "Graphic Novelist" was a bit too pompous for someone who produced funnybooks, and assumed it was a relatively new term until I took a journey into the Comics Time Vortex to 105 years ago. There, in a copy of The Strand Magazine dated January 1902 (the same edition which featured Chapter 10 of The Hound of the Baskervilles in its first printing) was a 13 page feature entitled Our Graphic Humourists.

Perhaps for a magazine such as The Strand the term "cartoonists" was considered too lowly back then, or more likely it simply hadn't become adopted into our language. Whatever the case, "Graphic Humourists" seems an appropriately dignified appellation for the well turned out gentlemen featured in the article. Accompanied by photographs of each artist alongside their personal favourite cartoon, it's a fascinating insight into the lives of a few of the people who were there at the genesis of British comics.

Two of the artists have a particular importance. Phil May (1864 - 1903) endured early years of poverty and hardship but used these experiences as an insight into his sketches of street traders in the poorest parts of London. Eventually obtaining a job as an illustrator on the St. Stephen's Review he later left London to find work in Australia on The Sydney Bulletin. There he developed an economy of line, necessitated by the printing machines that were unable to cope with fine and delicate work. Returning to London to work on Punch, it was this style that gained him a reputation as a master cartoonist (earning in the region of £10,000 a year, - a massive sum for the times) and would be a strong influence on the work of British comic strip artists. As can be seen from the page scanned here, he was a distinctive figure, described at the time as looking like "a monk who had set up as a bookmaker". (Info from an article by Ernest Biddle in The Sunday Mercury, 1984.)

Tom Browne (1872 - 1910), another artist featured in the article, had much closer connections to comics of course. Although the feature dismisses his impact in comics by saying he drew at night for "obscure comic papers", Browne was the artist of Weary Willie and Tired Tim for Illustrated Chips as well as illustrating the first British comic based on an entertainer, Dan Leno's Comic Journal. His style in comics became a template for many more to follow and develop. An ever bigger impact was the rumoured influence his work had on Charlie Chaplin, who apparently said he based his famous "Tramp" on the look of Weary Willie and Tired Tim. (Later, comic artists would base their characters on The Tramp's body language; art perpetuating itself.)

In fact Weary Willie seems to be one of the first comic characters adapted into film according the Screenonline website. As the article says, the term became integrated into popular usage, as did Casey Court, and is even heard as a gentle insult today, although the people saying it would never have known its origin. There were also a series of Weary Willie and Tired Tim movies produced at the start of the 20th Century, which Browne either wrote or were adapted from the comics. Unfortunately none of the films have survived to the present day.

Both Tom Browne and Phil May had another part in the history of comics. They were both founder members of The London Sketch Club. In the 1980's this was the venue for meetings of the Society Of Strip Illustration (S.S.I.) where many comic creators first met and new concepts were hatched and developed. I remember attending a few of those meetings and noticing that there, on the walls, were silhouette caricatures of those founders, and feeling proud that their memory and intentions were still being honoured.

Sunday, January 28, 2007

Annuals of the Fifties (2)





More examples of comic art from annuals of the 1950s:

The Texas Killer: A superb opening for an 8 page story in the Buffalo Bill Wild West Annual (1956), the cover of which was shown on yesterday's blog. These 144 page annuals were entirely illustrated by Denis McLoughlin (1918-2002), showing some of the most respected work of his long career. Note also how the influence of American comics benefits this strip: McLoughlin has the logo floating over the art (rather than in a separate banner) and he kicks off with a big intro splash. More info on this renowned artist can be found here.

Radio Fun Annual 1951 frontispiece: This full colour Lordy Lion illustration is from the Radio Fun Annual shown yesterday. Drawn by Roy Wilson, whose style had been the major influence in British humour comics throughout the Thirties and Forties. A few years after this, Leo Baxendale would become the new "house style" of comics, but Wilson's influence would still be visible in the styles of Robert Nixon, myself, and other
s. I'm not sure who drew the Wilfred Pickles strip facing it; perhaps Wilson, but more likely one of his imitators. (Update 1/2/2007: On the Comics UK forum, Ray Moore kindly informs us "By the way the the Wilfred Pickles page from the 1951 Radio Fun annual is actually the work of John Jukes. Jukes was one of the titles most prolific artists and was drawing Norman Wisdom for the paper right up until the final issue in 1961. He then dropped out of sight for a decade until in 1971, the year before he died, he began to contribute a strip to Whizzer and Chips titled Belle Tent which in itself was a revival of the old Buster strip Dinah Mite.")

1950 Slick Fun Album : One of the many books published by Gerald G. Swan. Much of Swan's output was relatively inferior compared to the giants such as Amalgamated Press or D.C. Thomson, but he was an enterprising publisher. (He had stockpiled paper prior to World War 2 and so was able to publish during wartime paper restrictions.) The cover strip of this annual shows a racial stereotype that thankfully wouldn't be allowed in a comic today.
Boys of Coughdrop College is one of the interior strips from that annual. Drawn by "Hep" but heavily influenced by Roy Wilson it's a typical example of comics of fifty plus years ago: teacher in mortar board (and spats); coal fire; inkwells; blackboard; and a firework prank (something totally forbidden in children's comics now). Notice also that the shop owner has no ethical dilemma about wanting to sell fireworks to kids! Naive times.

If you'd like to see more covers of old British annuals, visit www.tonystrading.co.uk
and a great source for British comics strips is the Comics UK website, which is currently running pages from a 1960 issue of Film Fun.


Saturday, January 27, 2007

Annuals of the Fifties






There were at least 35 annuals published for the Christmas market in the UK in 2006. Most were tie-ins to tv series, toys, and other merchandise. However, British comics' association with other media is not exclusive to the present day. Comics have been reflecting the popularity of other media stars for a long time, as demonstrated by most of these 1950s annual covers. Of this small selection, only Knockout Annual seems to be exempt of an influence by other media. Not so, for its contents include Billy Bunter and Sexton Blake, two characters which originated in text fiction and which later became tv and radio shows.

Enough blogging from me for today. Just relax and absorb the quality of the artwork of these covers. (Click on each one to see it full size.) From Denis McCloughlin's Buffalo Bill Annual cover to the carefree and optimistic Knockout Annual cover, each one shows top quality British comics art at its finest.

More on 1950s annuals in the next blog.


Friday, January 26, 2007

Dreamwatch Evolves



Not exactly a comics item, but of interest to the comics/cult tv multimedia fans, the film & tv magazine Dreamwatch ends with the current issue, No.150 (actually No.280 including its previous incarnations). The full colour glossy mag began as the black and white fanzine DWB (the unofficial Doctor Who Bulletin) back in 1983 so its journey from subscription-only amateur mag to 84 page high-profile, High Street monthly has been a long and eventful one.

Titan Magazines acquired Dreamwatch a few years ago and immediately tinkered with the title to change it to DW, no doubt to rival SFX. The change lasted just two issues, perhaps due to the fact that "DW" was more of a mouthful than "Dreamwatch"!

Now Dreamwatch has evolved again. It'll no longer be published as a magazine but instead has become the website Dreamwatch presents Total Sci Fi with the latter part of that title dominant to obviously compensate for what an inappropriate name "Dreamwatch" has been for a tv sf mag. (Better hold onto the rights though Titan, just in case New Labour's Thought Police want to use it. ;-))

Ending today's blog on some comics news, it's been confirmed that Titan's new Superman monthly will be titled Superman Legends. It'll reprint the Grant Morrison/ Frank Quietly All Star Superman series, the Brian Azzarello/ Jim Lee For Tomorrow 12 parter, and another strip in a 76 page package for £2.60. Due March 2007.

Tomorrow on this blog: Enough of the present. Let's go back a few decades...

Wednesday, January 24, 2007

See the Elephant


Image Comics has come a long way since the creation of the company by a group of ex-Marvel freelancers. Todd McFarlane's Spawn and Eric Larsen's Savage Dragon proved to the comics industry that independent comics could be hugely successful. Those two titles are still going strong today, and I thoroughly recommend both. Spawn is now ably written by David Hine, (who always produces good work), and the Dragon is still in the capable hands of its creator Eric Larsen, having written and drawn over 130 issues now.

Image also have a lot of other titles under their banner, including Elephantmen. I'll declare my vested interest in this title as my Brickman Returns strip appears as a back up in there every month. More on that later.

The title strip concerns the "elephantmen", - a slang term for the animal/human hybrids genetically created by the sinister Mappo corporation. Bred to be suprahuman weapons of mass destruction but now liberated to live amongst us, the series deals with the prejudice and ethics of their situation.

The concept began as the Unnatural Selection and Hip Flask comics from Active Images, written by Richard Starkings and stunningly illustrated by Ladronn. Elephantmen continues to be written by Starkings, and Ladronn provides the covers, whilst the interior strips are drawn by Moritat and various guest artists (such as Henry Flint and Tom Scioli). There are also variant covers or flip covers to every issue by the likes of Brian Bolland and Chris Weston.

In addition to all that, the comics also contain back up features and interviews. An excellent feature Richard (who also edits) has instigated is a monthly spotlight on old British comics artists. So far Frank Bellamy and Don Lawrence have been covered, with Mike Noble coming up in issue 6.

And then there's Brickman Returns, rounding off the issue with a humourous counterbalance to the heavy stuff in the lead strip.

Richard Starkings had been my editor at Marvel UK back in the 1980's. When he offered me the chance to revive my old fanzine/ stripzine character Brickman for a book collection (Brickman Begins!) in 2005 I was overjoyed, but it's even more of a privilege to create brand new full colour Brickman strips for Elephantmen every month, given what a fantastic package the rest of the comic is.

Issue 6 of Elephantmen (Image Comics, $2.99) is out next Wednesday (Jan 31st) in US comic book stores, and hits the UK comic shops the day after on February 1st. The flip covers and a panel from the Brickman strip can be seen at the top of this posting, but click here for more details on the issue and visit my official Brickman website here for more info on the character.

Saturday, January 20, 2007

Nemesis: the streamlined demon





My favourite comic strip of the 1980s is without a doubt the 2000AD series Nemesis the Warlock. Specifically the material illustrated by Kevin O'Neill. Now those early stories, including all of Kevin's work plus the sagas drawn by Jesus Redondo and Bryan Talbot's first Nemesis series have been collected in a telephone-directory sized softback from Rebellion, The Complete Nemesis the Warlock Volume 1. Within its lime and black covers, the reproduction of the strips is superb, with none of the jagged pixelation of the finer lines which sometimes mars reprint books of this type.

Nemesis the Warlock was a development of ideas first seen in the one-off strip Terror Tube, and its follow-up Killer Watt. Terror Tube was a huge success, Killer Watt less so, but Kevin O'Neill and writer Pat Mills stuck to their guns and the series that followed won over the majority of readers. That said, some of the more conventional readers must have felt uneasy about the concept of the strip (some editors at IPC certainly didn't approve): the hero (Nemesis) is a demon who fights against an Earth-dominated galactic empire run by Torquemada and his religious zealots intent on wiping out all non-human life. Yes, in this strip, the humans are the villains and religion is evil, thus turning the usual "morality" of British comics on its head.

Highly praised for his anti-war strip Charley's War (in Battle comic) Pat Mills was known as a writer who'd go for the jugular in any subject that stirred his passions. In Nemesis Pat's target was oppressive religion. In the foreword to the book, Pat says "Torquemada was based on a monk at my school who rejoiced in the dubious title 'Prefect of Discipline'." A monk who enjoyed thrashing boys. In his afterword to the book, Kevin O'Neill says "As we shared a similar warped vision - and Catholic background - the world of Torquemada grew and grew. (Perhaps the ultimate compliment was his slogan "Be Pure! Be Vigilant! Behave!" painted on the Berlin Wall back in the 80s.)"

That said, under Mills and O'Neill, Nemesis never became too downbeat. Kevin's ability to illustrate black comedy, adding grotesquely amusing detail and background gags to his pages ascended his work to equal the best comic-horror work of Ken Reid.

Years later, when working for DC Comics, Kevin would bizarrely become the only artist to have his entire style banned by the Comics Code Authority, thus preventing him from drawing any comics carrying the CCA seal! Not that O'Neill had drawn anything remotely offensive to most eyes, (no gore, no nudity, etc) but it seemed that the CCA felt Americans couldn't handle such an art style that was so far removed from what they were used to. (Even though Kevin's work had been enjoyed by several hundred thousand kids in the UK!)

Working for comics outside of the archaic (and nowadays mostly ignored CCA) O'Neill is now the highly acclaimed artist of The League of Extraordinary Gentlemen with writer Alan Moore. However those early Nemesis strips remain respected classics and, with their miscellany of dark humour, rebelliousness, satire and social comment the Mills and O'Neill version has all the ingredients of the best of British comics.

The Complete Nemesis the Warlock Volume 1 (rrp £13.99) is available from comic shops, bookshops, and online shops such as Amazon.co.uk

Friday, January 19, 2007

Comic Expo 2007


Since the first UK comic convention in 1968, comics fans and pros alike eagerly await each annual get-together. Fortunately in the last few years we've been blessed with at least two conventions a year (or festivals, expos, or shows, depending on who's organizing it).

The next major event is the always-enjoyable Bristol Comic Expo on May 12th - 13th, organized by Mike Allwood and his ever-efficient team. Many comics creators including myself will be guests once again and if it's anything like previous expos it'll be a fantastic weekend.

For full details see the official website at http://www.comicexpo.net/ and if you want to see some photos of last year's event (like the one above) click here .


Power Comics and comics fandom





With Pow! and the other Odhams comics being the UK home for Marvel reprints it was inevitable that comics fandom would show an interest in the weeklies. No doubt this was also helped by the fact that comics fan Steve Moore was on the staff. The Odhams "Power Comics" (Wham!, Smash!, Pow!, Fantastic, and Terrific) had a good rapport with their readers thanks to the News From the Floor of 64 feature which ran in all five titles. (The name referring to the address of Odhams at the time; 64 Long Acre, which I understand today is the location for Field and Trek a shop selling camping supplies. )

The News columns in the comics were basically a UK version of Marvel's Bullpen Bulletins, providing chatty information about the comics and their creators. However, they also revealed the early days of active comics fandom in this country. As the examples here show, Odhams were quite happy to mention comics fanzines and plug the very first UK comics convention. (By the way the Spot the Boob Contest mentioned in one of the News columns scanned here shows how things have changed. In the 1960's a boob was slang for a mistake! Snigger. Fnar fnar.)

Sadly, after the demise of the Odhams comics, IPC were not so keen to connect with their readers in the same fashion and such news pages were dropped. A great shame, as, to my mind anyway, it made comics such as Cor!! and Whoopee! seem more distant than their predecessors had been. (It was pleasing though that when 2000AD arrived it gradually developed a more informal connection with its readers, as Marvel UK also did, and as Panini does today.)

Incidentally, I've also added a scan of another Pow! cover to this entry, as an example of how the standard US comics page was edited and rearranged to fit the larger UK size. (They'd usually redesign two US pages to fit one UK page.) This is a Steve Ditko strip from one of the Marvel anthology titles (Strange Tales or similar).


Tuesday, January 16, 2007

The Origin of UK comic conventions


An interesting item I found whilst looking through those old issues of Pow! was this piece from the News From the Floor of 64 column. This news feature ran in all the Odhams "Power Comics" and to my knowledge is the very first mention in a professional publication of a British comics convention. That first UK con later took place (in 1968) in Birmingham and was organized by Phil Clarke, Mike Higgs, and "Sunny" Steve Moore. (Steve was an office boy on Pow! back then, but later went on to write for Warrior, 2000AD, and many other comics.)

The End of Pow!






Although Pow! clearly had a lower budget than its companion comics Wham! and Smash! it still contained some memorable strips. Apart from those already mentioned, the comic's line up later added Experiment X and The Two Faces of Janus.

Forty years before Torchwood, Experiment X concerned the exploits of F.E.A.R. (The Federation for Extraordinary and Alien Research) a secret branch of the British government headed by the sinister and mysterious Doctor Morg. (And what kid could resist the lure of that cover, shown here, to announce the arrival of the series?) Although the strip ended in 1968, Doctor Morg returned a few years later in the story Appointment with F.E.A.R. in Pow Annual 1972.

Odhams comics thrived on having less clean-cut heroes than their rivals, and Cliff Adam in The Two Faces of Janus was no exception. Due to an "old man's curse" handsome Cliff found his features contort into an ugly and frightening face. Obviously influenced by Jekyll and Hyde, but in this scenario the hideous "Janus" (as he came to be known) was still a good guy. However, in a comment on how shallow society is, Janus was hated and feared by the public due to his appearance and hunted like a criminal.

The Cloak, Experiment X and The Two Faces of Janus brought a lot of entertainment value to Pow! but even they couldn't stave off the inevitable. Perhaps Odhams had expanded their comics line too quickly, or perhaps most kids preferred mundane strips they could "relate" to, but whatever the reason, sales were dropping. By issue 53, Wham! had merged into Pow! but even that didn't save the comic. Desperately, the now double-barreled Pow! and Wham! tried to appeal to traditional tastes by bumping superheroes off the cover in favour of other material such as mystery or sport. The last two covers featured football strips, something Odhams had previously avoided like the plague. For such a non-conformist comic as Pow! this was the final nail in the coffin. After just 86 weekly issues, Pow! merged into Smash!


Enter The Cloak





With issue 18 of Pow! (on sale 13th May 1967) The Cloak replaced the unpopular Jack Magic strip in the weekly. The Cloak was the creation of Birmingham-based cartoonist Mike Higgs, a lifelong fan of comics and pulp magazines. In 1964 Mike had produced a fanzine entitled The Shudder, a parody of pulp magazine legend The Shadow, and with a few tweaks this character became the inspiration for The Cloak strip that he submitted to Odhams.

The editors of Pow! liked what they saw. Their line of comics already had serialized spy strips (Eagle-Eye, Man from B.U.N.G.L.E. and Wee Willie Haggis) but clearly they saw that The Cloak was something unique. The other strips were in the Leo Baxendale mold (more or less the closest thing Odhams had to a house style) but Mike Higgs' work had none of that, being more influenced by Peter Maddocks and Elzie Segar. More importantly, his style looked very contemporary, very Sixties... and the one thing that set Odhams above their competitors was how much they reflected the "swinging sixties".

Kicking off with a three pager, The Cloak then settled into a regular double-page slot every week. The basic set up was that The Cloak, whose real name and origin remained a mystery, was an agent working for the "Special Squad", assisted by his partners Mole and Shortstuff. (Later, The Cloak would also acquire a partner / girlfriend by the name of Lady Shady, without a doubt the sexiest woman ever allowed into British humour comics.)

The Cloak and his team battled against bizarre villains (influenced by the fact that Mike was a big fan of Chester Gould's Dick Tracy) and each serial ran for around six weeks, with cliffhanger death-trap style endings at the end of each installment. (For avid viewers of the Batman tv show, as all of us were back then, this was right up our street.) The strip never sat still. Werewolves, robots, mad scientists, warlocks, monsters, aliens... The Cloak fought them all. (The strip was a huge influence on my work, Combat Colin in particular, and during 1983/84 I was honoured to work as Mike Higgs' assistant for a while.)

The Cloak became a hit with the readers of Pow!, even elbowing Spider-Man off the front cover for a few issues. When Pow! merged into Smash! in 1968, The Cloak was one of the strips to make the transfer. However, with the formation of IPC looming over the horizon things looked bleak for anything that didn't suit their formula. When IPC took the reins of Smash! in 1969, revamping it into a clone of Lion and Valiant, the humour content was cut back and out went The Nervs (by then superbly drawn by Ken Reid) and The Cloak.

IPC segregated their comics department into two divisions: humour and adventure. Sadly, this meant that the humour comics, heralded by Whizzer and Chips in October 1969, were a little "younger" than Odhams' approach had been. Although Odhams had a large following comprised of children and adults, (as clearly evidenced from the letters they published) the new IPC humour comics were firmly aimed at children. Most of their content became increasingly tailored towards the "kid with a gimmick" limitation (X-Ray Specs, Chalky, Val's Vanishing Cream, etc.).

With The Cloak suddenly canceled for no good reason, Mike Higgs was asked to work on a new strip for Whizzer and Chips called Space School. He stuck it out for a year, but the restrictions of the formula (complete one-page stories) and the insistence by the editor that he focus on classroom-based capers rather than expanding the environment as he had with The Cloak led to it being a very tame strip. (The editor was also trying to discourage Mike from using his own style and wanted him to draw more like house-style artist Reg Parlett.)

Although the new IPC comics were a massive hit with the readers, Mike felt unhappy with Space School being steered towards becoming something akin to The Bash Street Kids in space. As a result he quit after a year on Whizzer and Chips to work in newspaper strips (Moonbird, Baz & Co), Moonbird children's books, lots of commercial cartooning, and editing/designing the Dan Dare collection for Hawk Books. Subsequently, British comics have never seen anything quite like The Cloak since, and for many collectors it remains one of the most unique and enjoyable strips ever seen in the UK.

(The Cloak, and his creator Mike Higgs, turned up briefly in the Albion mini-series. See the Heroes of Albion entry on this blog for a review of the graphic novel.)


Sunday, January 14, 2007

40 year Flashback: Pow! No.1






The Brand New Comic for the New Breed of Comic Fans - Strap line on the cover of Pow! No.1 published Saturday 14th January 1967.

Forty years ago today, following the success of Wham! and Smash!, Odhams launched the first issue of Pow! across the UK. For the tens of thousands of British kids who bought it, myself included, it was our first exposure to Spider-Man, the lead strip in the new weekly. That's hard to believe today, now that Spidey is the megastar of movies, games, and countless items of merchandise, but back in 1967 that wasn't the case.

Back then, unless one had seen the imported Marvel comics that some newsagents stocked, the Odhams comics provided the perfect introduction to Marvel superheroes. (Although I suspect the main reason for including US reprint was to save Odhams money on originating new material.) Therefore The Incredible Hulk thundered into Smash! in 1966, closely followed by The Fantastic Four in Wham! and (presumably because it had a smaller budget) Pow! featured not only Spider-Man but also Nick Fury Agent of S.H.I.E.L.D.

Like its companion papers, the rest of Pow's contents were a mixture of Beano-style funnies and Valiant-style adventure strips. Alongside the Marvel reprint, this made for an interesting and varied package. (A formula sadly abandoned in the 1970's when IPC segregated adventure and humour comics into their own titles.) The free gift of that first issue was a cardboard gun that shot cardboard pellets; a style of freebie that Odhams excelled in.

Looking at Pow! No.1 today, forty years later, it's clear that design-wise it's not as slick as the magazines of the 21st Century, but its strips had an energy and anti-authoritarian irreverence mainly lacking in modern comics. In the St.Trinians inspired Dolls of St.Dominics schoolgirls throw their teacher into the river and, tooled up with daggers, mallets, and axes, chase the errand boy out of school with cries of "Lynch him! Get the oil boiling!". Whilst in the kid-gang strip The Group the kids use a springed-boot device to kick a policeman in the face (but he gets his revenge by beating them up in the woods).

All that sounds shockingly irresponsible and violent in text like that, but in strip form it was presented as a slapstick cartoon. As far as I'm aware there was never any calls for Pow! to be banned as back then parents understood that kids could differentiate between cartoon violence and the real thing. In fact, such slapstick cruelty was frequent in the Odhams comics and it certainly never inspired my friends or myself (who read them) to imitate the acts.

Other strips in Pow! No.1 worthy of note include the start of the adventure serial The Python. (Pilots crash in the Bay of Bengal and encounter a giant robot python, which they later take control of. It's like Mytek the Mighty but with a mechanical snake instead of a mechanical gorilla!)

As he was busy on other comics, Pow! contained no work by Leo Baxendale, but artists such as Mike Brown on The Group ghosted his style well enough. However, the standout strip of the issue, and the main reason Pow! is still collectible, is the back-page strip, Dare-A-Day Davy, illustrated by the marvellous Ken Reid. The plot was simple; Davy cannot resist any dare, and this always lands him into trouble. As the weeks progressed, and the readers were invited to send in their outrageous dares (for the prize of... a pound!) the strip became even more manic and violent, showing Ken Reid's artwork at its most outrageous, and funniest.

Like any new comic, Pow! had some clunkers in there too: Jack Magic (13th Century magician's apprentice finds himself in modern times), and Wee Willie Haggis (Scottish version of Eagle-Eye from Wham!). Neither appealed to me much, and presumably didn't appeal to many readers as they were eventually dropped and replaced by much more memorable strips... but that's a story for another blog later this week.

Thursday, January 11, 2007

40 year Flashback: Valiant




For the second of an occasional series looking back four decades, here's the issue of Valiant that would have been on sale 40 years ago. One of Fleetway's flagship boy's weeklies it ran for many years (1962-1976) until it was eventually replaced on the production schedule by 2000 AD.

The issue dated January 14th 1967 (on sale Jan 7th) kicks off with a cover feature illustrated by Mike Western. The article reveals to its readers how commandos of the future (that's where we are now folks) will use rocket belts to "jump over the heads of an encircling enemy and enable them to escape across country by means of gigantic kangaroo leaps". Unfortunately, here in the real future, the military can't even provide troops with clean socks, so "jump belts" never got a look in.

Inside the 32 page comic, Tim Kelly (of Kelly's Eye fame) meets a duplicate Tim Kelly. And we know he's an evil duplicate because he speaks backwards and is irrationally violent! "YMENE! YORTSED...LLIK!"

Meanwhile, at the House of Dollmann, mechanical puppets Togo and Raider are captured by bank robbers, while The Steel Claw fights "an evil freak-show owner" and Captain Hurricane beats up some more comedy Nazis, as he did every week with tedious repetition.

As for Mytek the Mighty, drawn by Eric Bradbury, the giant robot ape was up against... evil robot legs. Yes, evil robot legs. Look at the panel scanned here. And it's all presented completely straight-faced. How mad is that?

One interesting ad in the comic is a page that announces the publication of the Fleetway Super Libraries. (See scan.) Four decades before Manga hit the UK, these black and white digest-sized 132-page comics featured complete full-length stories. Incidentally, the Fantastic Series which featured the Steel Claw alternating with The Spider changed its title to Stupendous Series with No.3. Presumably because Odhams were launching Fantastic the following month. (I'll be covering Fantastic in a later blog.)

Wednesday, January 10, 2007

Howell with laughter


It's always good to see new comic artists come along, and particularly good to see new humour artists. Best of all, to see a new comic artist doing humour comics that are genuinely funny! Recently my old pal Hunt Emerson pointed me in the direction of the website of cartoonist Laura Howell http://www.laurahowell.co.uk/

Laura is currently inking Hunt's work on Ratz for The Beano (as well as writing the strip). However she's also a very accomplished cartoonist in her own right with an impressive ability to alter her style to suit the gag. Take a look at Laura's website and check out her gallery of strips. Brilliant work.

Monday, January 08, 2007

Journal of Crime



The latest issue of The Comics Journal (No.280) arrived in the post today. (It began as the fanzine The Nostalgia Journal many years ago and is now a slick 200 page square bound mag.) The standout features of this issue include an interview with Frank Thorne (an often overlooked artist with a distinct flowing style) and a great article on Crime Does Not Pay, the influential and sometimes notorious crime comic of the 1940's. Not only does Ron Goulart give a good account of the history of the comic, there's also 40 pages of full colour reprint to showcase some of the strips in their entirety. A must have mag for any fan of pre-code comics! More details at the Journal's website http://www.tcj.com/

Sunday, January 07, 2007

Final fanzine selection






Concluding our look back at 'zines of the heyday of UK comics fandom, here's another handful from the 1970s and 1980s.

Chain Reaction No.5 (Summer 1984): Published by Frank Plowright, Steve Whitaker, and Hassan Yusuf (who were also the organisers of the UKCAC events back then). A nicely produced and well liked fanzine with a good balance of features, art, letters and exclusive interviews. Cover of this issue is by Mike Collins (now the artist of the Doctor Who strip in Doctor Who Magazine) and inked by Mark Farmer (who went on to ink many strips including X-Men).

Doomzine No.2 (1979): Published by Jonny White. Good little 'zine which didn't run for long but was enthusiastic and enjoyable. Cover and much interior artwork by Martin Forrest, a skilled fan artist of the time.

Fantasy Advertiser No.83 (February 1984): By this time F.A. was published by Martin Lock and was similar in content and style to his old Bem 'zine. Good variety of contents, including a regular feature on British comics I contributed that I'd completely forgotten about! Cover is by Cliff Robinson who still occasionally contributes covers for Judge Dredd Megazine.

Fantasy Express No.4 (Summer 1982): Another one of my fanzines, having changed its title from Metamorph with the previous issue for reasons that now escape me. (I think I believed F.E. would be more commercial.) Contains the only fanzine interview ever published with the late Charley's War artist Joe Colquhoun (who provided the front cover). Logo is by Kevin O'Neill, who also drew the fantastic back cover which I had to include here. (Kev of course is now the artist of The League of Extraordinary Gentlemen.)

Golden Age Fanzine No.2 (October 1976): Another of Alan Austin's fanzines, this one focused on the superheroes of the 1940's. Like many early fanzines, the interior pages were stencil produced, which meant for some poor print quality in places but all fans cared about was the information, - and this 'zine delivered. Cover art by Jean-Daniel Breque.

I hope you've enjoyed these looks into fandom's past. Please leave comments if you wish.
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