Tuesday, February 27, 2007

Conroy International


The much-missed Comics International should be returning to our shelves soon, courtesy of a new publisher, and new editor Mike Conroy. The comics news-zine, published since its inception 15 years ago by Dez Skinn was recently sold. Unfortunately, such procedures cause their own complications as Mike explains in an interview over on the Forbidden Planet International blog.

Dez did a tremendous job on the magazine, giving the UK its own regular comic news source. I have no doubt that Mike Conroy (news editor on CI for years) will swiftly prove to be the perfect replacement and that Comics International will be back on everyone's "must buy" list when it returns.

Dudley D. Watkins


Today marks the centenary of the birth of Dudley D. Watkins, the original artist of Desperate Dan, Lord Snooty, The Broons, Oor Wullie, Ginger, Mickey the Monkey, Biffo the Bear, and many more. The Nottingham-born artist also illustrated numerous adventure stories for the comics and many would consider him the best artist D.C. Thomson ever had. (Certainly the company respected him enough to allow him to sign his work for several years; a rare privilege for British comic artists at that time.)

Dudley passed away in 1969 and such was the strength of his style that reprints of Desperate Dan continued in The Dandy for many years afterwards. Even today, newer artists on The Broons and Oor Wullie "ghost" Dudley's style rather than be allowed to forge their own; Watkins' look being definitive.

The artwork of Dudley Watkins was always a pleasure to behold. A mixture of realism, natural humour, and a gift to portray slapstick, his strips delighted generations of children and will never be forgotten.

Above: Two pages by Dudley Watkins from The Dandy No.325, dated August 17th 1946.

30 Year Flashback: 2000 AD arrives!







This week, 2000 AD celebrates its 30th anniversary. The official birthday being yesterday, 26th February. Even the comic's fictitious alien editor "Tharg" stated in the current issue "...on 26th February 1977, I first launched this blistering publication onto Thrill-merchants' shelves".

Unfortunately Mighty Tharg and the celebratory UK media are a tad off. February 26th was only the cover date of issue one, and it actually went on sale a week before that, on February 19th. (Or, officially, as seen in the ad above, Feb 21st).

No matter. It's the longevity of the comic that's important, and 2000 AD has beaten the predictions of its original management (who expected it to fail) and seen off every other adventure weekly published since. By my reckoning it's one of the longest-running UK adventure weeklies. (Tiger managed 31 years, but even the respected Eagle only ran to 19 years first time around.) That's an achievement that every one of its many contributors and editors should be proud of.

Actually, Feb 26th is a birthday for the comic because it marks the 30th anniversary of Judge Dredd, who didn't arrive until issue two. Dredd has remained in the comic throughout, featuring in constantly strong and entertaining stories. Strange that many readers still consider the character to be a hero when the writer himself (John Wagner) has called him a "bastard". Whilst it's true that Dredd does do heroic things sometimes, and believes he's doing everything for the greater good, the true appeal of the strip is the social and political satire of its harsh police state presented in a darkly comic way.

I won't harp on here about 2000 AD's highs and lows as countless articles have already been written on the comic. What I have managed to find though is the original four page advert for the launch, which appeared in Battle comic in early February 1977. Notice how frantic the hype on that ad is, really making the comic sound exciting (as indeed it was). Note also how although the ad pages are busy they're not cluttered like the design of today's children's comics. Whatever happened to design that's lively but has clarity? Also shown here are a selection of early issues, the Dan Dare centrespread by Belladinelli from issue one, and Dredd's first dynamic appearance from issue two.

2000 AD was a very different comic thirty years ago, and aimed at a younger readership back then, but it's the evolution the comic has undergone that's kept it going. That said, it's still retained the same mixture of black comedy, satire, and imaginative plotting it's always had. Or to call the ingredients by what they've always been known: Thrill Power!

The official 2000 AD website can be found here. The 30th anniversary issue is published tomorrow (Wednesday 28th Feb) priced £2.

UPDATE: The original tv ad for 2000 AD can be viewed on YouTube here:
http://youtube.com/watch?v=2-iebBjKcf8


Friday, February 23, 2007

Déjà vu Dalek


Apologies for the lack of blogs this past week. I've been laid up with the flu' and using the computer soon gives me a migraine. Normal service should be resumed next week.

In the meantime, here's a classic Leo Baxendale cover for the 1965 Firework Issue of Wham! The colours are printed slightly off register (this is how they were on the comic, not a fault of the scan) but you may notice a Dalek amongst the crowd of schoolkids. Leo often added a Dalek or two in the background of his Odhams strips during this period. I'll dig a few more samples out and add them here soon, but this was one I had to hand.

All that fuss the media made recently about a Dalek appearing in The Bash Street Kids in the new BeanoMAX comic eh? Old news for some of us. ;-)

What's most noteworthy about that cover though is that it shows kids armed to the teeth (literally in one case) with fireworks in school of all places. In 1965 such anarchic humour was commonplace in British comics. In the hyper-panic age of today that page would inspire a media outcry, the comic would be withdrawn, and the editor probably sacked! But 40 years ago we knew it was only a drawing.

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. .

Best of Battle



I must admit I've never been a fan of war comics (mainly 'cos I'm not a fan of war!). However at least the seventies comic Battle Picture Weekly did go some way to try and portray the grittier side of armed conflict. (The marvelous anti-war story Charley's War being one standout strip of course.)

Now an enthusiast of Battle comic has just launched an impressive new website dedicated to the title. Over at Captain Hurricane's Best of Battle there are scans of some of the stories and articles on the history of the comic. It's a fine tribute to one of the best British comics of that era and well worth a visit.

http://www.bestofbattle.sevenpennynightmare.co.uk/

Sunday, February 11, 2007

40 year Flashback: Fantastic is launched









Following the successes of Wham! (1964) and Smash! (1966) Odhams were keen to expand their line of weekly "Power Comics" in 1967. In January they launched Pow! with Spider-Man as the lead strip, and a month later saw the arrival of a comic that was almost entirely Marvel reprint: Fantastic.

Fantastic No.1, which launched on Saturday February 11th 1967, had a different format to its three predecessors. Slightly smaller in size and on better paper, it featured a whopping 40 pages and a higher cover price (9d, compared to Smash's 7d for 28 pages). This made it three times more expensive than the 3d cover price of Thomson's perennial Beano and Dandy. Could it sustain a profit in the increasingly-crowded market of sixties comics? Sadly not for long, but it did gain a faithful following and served as a good introduction to Marvel comics characters.

The contents of the first year featured a set line up of Thor, X-Men, and Iron Man reprints, starting from their first appearances. As the X-Men stories themselves ran to 20 pages or more, each story was edited to run over two weeks. The same applied to the other strips depending on space. (This format set the template for US reprints in UK comics. It was later used by the early Marvel UK weeklies throughout the 1970s. Today the closest equivalent to Fantastic would be Panini's Marvel Legends monthly, which by coincidence even uses an almost identical line up: Thor, Iron Man, and Captain America, with complete unedited stories.)

The fourth strip in Fantastic was brand-new: The Missing Link. This Hulk-like creature was discovered in the African jungle by big-game hunter "Bull" Benson, brought back to England, and subsequently went on a rampage in central London, to be calmed only by beautiful sixties dolly-bird Lita Munro. All very King Kong obviously, but Luis Bermejo's artwork made the strip something special.

Perhaps the editor of Fantastic (Alf Wallace, pictured) felt the Link had limited possibilities story-wise, or perhaps the rumour that Marvel complained about the creature's similarity to the Hulk was true, but whatever the reason a change came about with issue 8. Resting at a secret research station, The Link was evolved by radiation into apparently a normal 20th Century man. Yet he still possessed the Link's strength, albeit now coupled with above-normal intelligence and the ability to fly. After a series of misadventures with the authorities this "man of the future" adopted the identity of "John Foster" and a dual existence as superhero Johnny Future, complete with costume.

Bermejo continued as artist throughout the run of the strip, which ended with issue No.51 with an extra-length 7 page story. Overall it was a very entertaining series and one which deserves reprinting. More on the strip can be read at this link.

Fantastic had some unique free gifts. Issue one gave away a soft plastic pendant (with cut-out pictures to slide inside) whilst issue two presented free stick-on scars. (Quite a gory gift for the period, but we wore them at school anyway!) Issue 53 had a "free Apollo Space Craft" in the form of a flat cardboard kit that when assembled showed details of the Apollo space capsule under a series of tabbed layers.

Another thing Fantastic is remembered for are the weekly superhero pin-ups that appeared on the back cover. Most of these were existing Marvel images, but some were drawn by Barry Smith and Steve Parkhouse right at the start of their careers. The drawings were not much better than fan-art but (as the Balder image shown here demonstrates) Smith's potential was beginning to surface.

Eight weeks after Fantastic appeared, Odhams launched a companion comic, Terrific. This actually presented a bit of a problem for the editors. In The Avengers strip in Terrific, Iron Man was wearing his red and gold armour, but he was still wearing his original clunky gold suit in the earlier Iron Man strips running in Fantastic. Obviously editors "Alf and Bart" felt this would confuse readers so they brought the story of Iron Man's new armour forward, and in the classic stories that followed they had his gold armour redrawn to look like the newer design. Unfortunately with awkward looking results, illustrated by the scan shown here comparing an original Tales of Suspense cover to a redrawn Fantastic cover.

With the "Power Comics" now at five titles, it proved to be too many comics for most readers to afford. Terrific folded after 43 issues, and with issue 52 Fantastic and Terrific became a merged title, featuring Thor, X-Men, The Avengers and Doctor Strange. As Wham! had merged into Pow! only a couple of weeks earlier, the writing was on the wall for the Power Comics. A desperate attempt to lure football fans was attempted with a football booklet pull-out but this was an unharmonious addition to a superhero comic and must have cost them even more readers. (Me for one!)

With the publishing giant IPC looming on the horizon like Galactus waiting to eat a planet, Odhams were doomed. All of Odhams remaining comics merged into one publication, giving it the awkward title Smash! and Pow! Incorporating Fantastic.

In the final issue of Fantastic the editors were cheerfully fatalistic: "It all has to come to an end SOME time! That's life!" Although one can't help thinking they expected it to last more than 89 issues! Still, it was a good run compared to some comics, and even today Fantastic is still highly regarded by fans of sixties comics.

Saturday, February 10, 2007

40 year Flashback: Announcing FANTASTIC


40 years ago today the Daily Mirror ran this ad for Fantastic, the new weekly from Odhams. British kids were about to be introduced to the X-Men for the first time (assuming they hadn't already seen the imported Marvel Comics which some newsagents stocked in limited quantities). Not only that, but Fantastic was about to set a template for US reprints that Marvel UK would follow years later. More on the comic tomorrow; the 40th anniversary of Fantastic!

Click here and scroll down Shaqui's excellent web page to see the trade ad for Fantastic, plus find out what else was happening in the UK comics industry around that time.

(Click on the ad to see it larger.)

Friday, February 09, 2007

Derek the Troll



For those who asked to see more of my early work, here's a brief look back at one of my first regular professional strips from the days before "troll" was the name coined for social inadequates who post abuse on newsgrops. Derek the Troll started life as a submission for a cartoon competition run by Games Workshop. If I recall correctly although I didn't win the competition, the editors were interested in running the strip in their gaming magazine Warlock and paying me a contributor's fee for it. (The particular strip is the one shown here, titled It's Tough to be a Troll which appeared in Warlock No.7, dated Dec /Jan 1985/86.)

I should say here that I've never had any interest in role playing games so it felt a bit odd when the editor of the magazine asked me to contribute a full page Derek the Troll strip on a regular basis. Not that I was complaining, as it meant I was reaching a different audience than the children's comics I contributed to plus I retained the copyright on the character.

Derek the Troll had a relatively short run. I was asked to draw vignettes of the character to accompany their book review page in issue 8 (with Derek reacting with emotions ranging from joy to disgust, depending on the reviewer's opinion of the books) and the regular strip began in issue 9 (shown here) and ran until issue 13 (the final issue). Luckily by then the popularity of Derek meant the strip was shifted over to the company's leading magazine White Dwarf where it appeared every other issue for some reason (Nos. 87, 89, 91).

I can't remember why the strip ceased after that. There were a minority of readers who considered it "childish" and "immature" (probably teens who'd just grown out of Whizzer and Chips and didn't want to be reminded of that style) but it was popular with the majority of readers and the editors. In a letter to me in 1987 editor Mike Brunton said "Do you know that all work stops in the editorial and design offices when a package arrives from you? You really outdid yourself this time. That is the single best Derek I can remember seeing."

It's most likely that I stopped producing Derek because I was too busy on other comics. In 1987 Oink! was in full swing and I was contributing numerous pages per issue,(often writing scripts for others to draw in addition to my own strips) plus working on regular material for Marvel UK.

Whatever the reason was, I stopped drawing Derek the Troll 20 years ago. I intend to revive the character one day, when I find the time and suitable outlet. Curiously, after I dropped the troll strip a similar-looking character began appearing in Swedish comics under the name Herman Hedning (or to give him his English name, Marwin Meathead). Now I should point out that any similarity is pure coincidence. I've met Herman's creator, Jonas Darnell, and he was completely unaware of my character when he created his strip.

Here's another coincidence: Herman Hedning is the Swedish / Norwegian comic I contribute to with my strip Suburban Satanists! Funny old world innit? (And a good job too, or us funnybook creators would be out of business.) More on the Satanists, and the Norwegian comics scene in general, in another blog.

Wednesday, February 07, 2007

Secrets of Albion


Over on the Down The Tubes website, John Freeman has interviewed Leah Moore and John Reppion on the revival of The Steel Claw, The Spider etc for their book Albion. Click here to read it. While you're there, check out the rest of the site, which carries loads of info on British comics and includes listings of comics that are in the shops now. Who sez the UK comics industry is dead?

Tuesday, February 06, 2007

It's Dredd Good!


It came as a nice surprise to find that there's a plug for this site in the pages of the new Judge Dredd Megazine (No.255, £2.99). "Excellent comics blog" sez Matthew Badham. Therefore in the spirit of mutual back-slapping here's a reciprocal plug from me for the latest Meg.

For my money, the Judge Dredd Megazine is now better than it's ever been. No, seriously. I thought that before they gave my blog a free promotion to thousands of their readers. Honest! And I'd take a Judge Dredd lie detector test to prove it.

I must admit that up until a few years back the Megazine was never on my must-buy list. It was one of those comics I wanted to like, and would buy it occasionally to support it, but it always seemed a poor cousin to 2000 AD. Don't get me wrong; I've always been a big fan of the Judge Dredd concept and its social satire. (I even wrote one of the first, if not the first, retrospectives on Dredd 'way back in 1978.) It was the rest of the Megazine that didn't grab me too much.

What hooked me was the revamp the Megazine had several years ago, when it was boosted up to 100 pages and began including more new material plus articles on other pop culture. At last it seemed the title was finally living up to its Megazine status plus evolving into the sort of European-style comic I've always admired.

Unfortunately, a lot of the feature material did seem like padding, as did the choice of reprint material. My respect for the anti-war strip Charley's War is second to none, but it was incongruous in the pages of a Judge Dredd comic. (Though I urge you to buy the splendid Charley's War hardbacks from Titan Books.) Presumably falling sales brought about a budget cut and last year the Megazine dropped down to 52 pages. But you know what? It's better for it.

With the resizing, the price also dropped and editorially the comic is tighter and seems more confident. The strips are mostly new, (only six pages of reprint) and the articles more relevant. One admirable new addition is a spotlight feature promoting small press and upcoming talent (hooray!), - although those contributors are apparently not paid (boo!). Even so, it's a great showcase for the small press and even raised the curiosity of a cynical old veteran like me enough to buy some of those new titles from Smallzone and the like.

The current issue of the Megazine has a great cover by Steve Roberts, whose work improves with each contribution, even though a few blinkered fanboys scream "Ew! Too cartoony!" when it appears. (Take it from me Steve, when the day of Ragnarok comes all the people who like "cartoony" comics will become Space Gods and those that hate it will devolve into cat litter.)

Steve also draws one of the interior strips, Black Atlantic, written by one of the Dan Abnetts. I say that because Dan Abnett writes so much stuff that he must be working alongside a bunch of Dan Abnett clones or Dan Abnetts from the future or something. Either that, or he's just hyper-talented and organized. But he works in comics for Crom's sake. He's not supposed to be organized! ;-)

Other strips include the Judge Dredd lead strip by Robbie Morrison and Lee Garbett, a Dredd reprint by John Wagner and Greg Staples, the Trilithon small-press strip by Stephen Prestwood, Devlin Waugh by John Smith and Peter Doherty, and The Simping Detective by Simon Spurrier and Frazer Irving. Plus articles on current tv crime shows, film reviews, and a guide to self-publishing.

Anyway; Judge Dredd Megazine No.255. £2.99. Available in all good newsagents and even some bad ones. Buy it.

In a few weeks 2000AD (and Judge Dredd) celebrate their 30th anniversaries. I'll be spotlighting the early days of the comic here at the appropriate time.
Official 2000AD / JUDGE DREDD MEGAZINE website: http://www.2000adonline.com

Sunday, February 04, 2007

Comic oddities: Target (1972)





Not to be confused with the Polystyle comic with the same name which came later, the 1972 weekly Target was a glossy magazine published by The New English Library Ltd.

The intention of Target, as proclaimed in the editorial of issue one, was to "incorporate all the facets of popular reading into one magazine". The reasoning being that instead of buying separate magazines on football, music and cinema etc the kids would get their fix from one mag, - and have some comic strips thrown into the mix too, presumably so they wouldn't bother with Lion or Buster.

The strip content was low; only six pages in total, but at least there was one bold idea there: Bovver Boy. In the 1970s, before punks became the new hate figures, media outrage was directed at skinheads (and the violent and racist aspect of their culture was rightly condemned). Other comics had shied away from reflecting this aspect of society but Target turned a Doc Martin-booted "bovver boy" into the lead character of his own strip. From what I've seen, the racism aspect wasn't mentioned, and the character became little more than a traditional comic bully, but even so Bovver Boy seemed very contemporary for 1972.

(A couple of people have asked me if Bovver Boy was an inspiration for my Tom Thug character. Basically no, as I only had the first two issues of Target and didn't give him any thought when I created Tom twelve years later. But maybe there was a subconscious influence all the same.)

With Bovver Boy, and articles on Hells Angels and The Who, Target was clearly trying hard to be streetwise. However, the magazine seems to have been most remembered for its free gift. It became known as "The mag that gave away those fish eggs". In issue one "The Powder of Life" was attached to the cover. This contained "microscopic eggs of a small marine animal - the Artemia". Adding these to water eventually hatched them out! (The scan above explains the full process.)

The free gift for issue two was a sachet of food for the fish. Yep, if you didn't buy Target No.2 the fish would starve to death! (Surely a sales gimmick that today would have the magazine condemned immediately.)

The fish did indeed "come to life"; the largest being about 2cm long. What I didn't know then was the Artemia were the creatures we'd seen advertised in American comics for years: Sea Monkeys! (No, unlike in the ads, they didn't have limbs or human domestic habits.)

The concept of Target as a magazine wasn't bad, and it was certainly slick, well designed, and intelligently written, but it didn't survive much longer than a year as I recall. (If anyone knows exactly how long it ran for please let me know.) Perhaps the problem was that readers preferred magazines for their specific interests rather than skipping past articles that didn't interest them? Another factor must have been the cover price. At 10p it was twice the price of Look-In, its nearest rival, which was in exactly the same format.

In a way, Target was ahead of its time, as the concept of a youth magazine with a minority of strip content is the norm today! A case of missing its target audience by thirty five years perhaps? ;-)

Saturday, February 03, 2007

Comic oddities: Wonder - The Esso Comic





A curious item in the history of British comics is the weekly comic Wonder published in 1968/69. I first saw this title whilst visiting the Royal Show in 1968 as it was on sale at a stall there (presumably Esso's). Anticipating buying it from my local newsagent when I returned home, I unfortunately never saw it again! What I didn't know then was that Wonder was only available at Esso garages.

I did eventually find a copy at a comic mart several years ago, albeit only half complete with the centre eight pages (of sixteen) missing. However, what can be ascertained from those pages is that it was a high quality product.

Little seems to be known about the comic. It was published weekly on Fridays, cost 6d (2 and a half pence) carried a number but no date, and was edited by Roberta Leigh, creator of sixties puppet series Space Patrol. In fact another of Leigh's puppet creations, Wonder Boy and Tiger appeared as the cover strip. (Esso had been using imagery of a tiger for many years to denote roaring power, and the phrase "Put a tiger in your tank" was a popular slogan of the sixties.)

As these pages from Wonder (issue 13) show, the approach was very much in the Buster/ TV Comic style, along with rhyming couplets for strap lines of the kind associated with DC Thomson comics. Apparently the comic only ran for a year, although whether that was due to poor sales or the limitations of a 12 month contract is unknown. However, it remains an interesting oddity and a title well worth seeking out.

If anyone has any more info on Wonder (particularly what appeared in the centre pages which I have missing) please add a comment below.

Friday, February 02, 2007

The dynamic art of Mike Noble








In its continuing intention to spotlight British talent for the benefit of its American readership, the latest issue of Image Comics' Elephantmen (which came out yesterday) carries a three page colour article on the artist Mike Noble (b.1930). The feature is well illustrated with art from Noble's Fireball XL5 pages from TV Century 21 so today's blog will focus on his other work, as a companion piece to the article in Elephantmen. However, I'll be linking to other websites that feature Noble's work so click on the links for more information.

I've been an admirer of Mike Noble's artwork since I was six years old when, in 1965, he took over the art task on the Fireball XL5 strip in TV Century 21 from issue No.6. Although it's often Frank Bellamy's work that fans love most from that comic, for me the standout talent was Noble. Mike's work had a dynamic energy and excitement that made even the most ridiculous plots compelling to read. Most importantly, although he never cheated on detail, his layouts were clear and easy to follow: an essential element of any children's comic.

Mike had a long run on Fireball XL5, but he also had a stint on the Captain Scarlet strip for TV21, producing some striking covers (such as the one shown on this blog). He also illustrated most of the Zero X strips for the same comic during the same era (late sixties). One of those strips that made an impression on me was the one shown here; an implausible episode on the "Planet of Bones" featuring a living dinosaur skeleton. Again, Mike turns a daft script into a dramatic and memorable scene.

As TV21 began to wind down, Mike did less for the title, but did have a respectable run on the Star Trek strip, producing some eye-catching covers such as the one I've scanned here. In 1971 he moved over to the new Look-In comic (edited by ex-TV21 editor Alan Fennell) to produce fantastic work on the two page Timeslip strip. (Samples of which can be found at this site.) The strip offered Noble an opportunity to move away from futuristic settings and illustrate various periods in history. His next strip for Look-In, Follyfoot, was set firmly in the present day with no sci-fi whatsoever. I'm showing a centrespread from that series here. Unfortunately this page was printed slightly off-register but it's a great example to show how busy yet easy-on-the-eye Noble's layouts were, and how he was able to expertly draw any environment, from inter-planetary action to domestic adventure.

As can be seen from these few examples, Mike was a master of colour art, and in the days when most British comics were in black and white he was rightly given the opportunity to shine on the few colour pages they had. However he did produce black and white too, notably on the Robin of Sherwood and Worzel Gummidge serials for Look-In and also on a mostly-forgotten strip for Cor!! (Four Alone on The Abandoned Island was one of Cor's rare adventure strips and I think Mike only drew the first three chapters or so. The example above is from Cor!! No.1)

Mike Noble is mostly retired now although he did return to the world of Gerry Anderson in the 1990s drawing covers and colour pin ups for Fleetway's Thunderbirds comic (and their companion comics Captain Scarlet and Stingray). The pages were as vigorous as ever. In November 2004 he was one of the guests at the Bristol Comic Expo, (incredibly his first comic convention) and in his interview he came across as a true professional. Afterwards it was an honour to meet and shake the hand of someone that I (and I'm sure many others) consider to be one of the most talented and versatile comic strip artists of any generation.

As I said at the top of this item, I've been a fan of Mike Noble's work since 1965, but he's been in the business for longer than that. For a great interview with the man visit the excellent Technodelic website here.

Update: 3/2/2007: Due to it being such a memorable scene for old readers of TV Century 21 I've uploaded a scan of the "ring of snowmen" page from the Fireball XL5 strip from 1965. One of Mike Noble's greatest!
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