Monday, October 29, 2007

Desperate Dan's no veggie


Journalists who write about British comics often claim that Desperate Dan has stopped eating Cow Pies because of "political correctness". Indeed this recent article for thisislondon.co.uk even went as far as to garner such an opinion from the daughter of Albert Barnes, The Dandy's original editor and creator of Desperate Dan.

"It's completely ridiculous," said 69-year old Dr Jennifer Barnes in an interview following the rebranding of the comic recently when it was relaunched as Dandy Xtreme. "It does make me sad to see the changes."

"Desperately Dull" screams the headline. "The politically correct Desperate Dan for the 21st Century" continues the tale, bemoaning the lack of Cow Pie in modern Dandy, illustrated with modern artwork by Ken Harrison showing Dan tucking into, er, ...one of those Cow Pies that the article claims he doesn't eat now. Oops! Thwarted by the facts!



Furthermore, if the journalist who had interviewed Dr Barnes had done his research properly, he'd have known that all the Desperate Dan strips that have been running in Dandy Xtreme are reprints from the 1940s, - the period when Albert Barnes was the editor! These classic gems drawn by its original artist Dudley Watkins have no "political correctness" whatsoever. Indeed, this week's edition (reprinting a strip from April 17th 1943) shows Dan about to eat a Cow Sandwich, - a dead calf sandwiched between two huge slices of bread!

The article also claims "
Dan disappeared from the comic in 1997 but was reinstated three years later following a fierce backlash" - complete nonsense! Dan has appeared in practically every issue of The Dandy since 1937.

Seems that journalists never let the facts get in the way of a lame story to froth up the anti-PC brigade.

Sunday, October 28, 2007

Who says comics fanzines are dead?


The glory days of numerous self-published comics fanzines may reside in the 1970s and 1980s but the internet hasn't completely killed off these labours of love. At the Birmingham International Comics Show a few weeks ago I picked up two titles that dedicate themselves to two sometimes neglected areas of comics; classic British weeklies and Fifties horror comics.


From the Tomb No.22 has 72 chunky A4 pages for £4.95. This fanzine has been around for several years now and has massively improved since its early days. Its main focus is on 1950s American horror comics, but it also explores a few comics of a more recent vintage too. Reproduction is sharp and clear, and the articles are richly illustrated with covers and pages from those old strips. Most of the material covered is "before my time" as they say, but I've always had a passion for those Fifties horror classics with their expertly rendered artwork and stories of lurking weirdness shadowing the white picket fenced suburbia of repressed 50's America. Therefore From the Tomb is a "must buy" for me.


Most coverage of Fifties horror comics usually centres around the wonderful output of EC Comics, but From the Tomb always gives us a taste of what other publishers were doing as well. The material from Marvel, Harvey, etc may have often been more gory or less structured than EC, but their pages were still full of atmosphere and creepy imagery. This issue has features on Stan Lee's pre-Fantastic Four horror stories; the theme of "corpse brides" in comics; full colour features on Fiction House comics and Eerie Publications; an interview with Goon creator Eric Powell, plus reviews and other features, all lavishly illustrated. From the Tomb really is essential reading for anyone interested in the history of horror comics.

To order copies of From the Tomb see http://www.soaringpenguin.co.uk. A 3 issue (one year) subscription costs £13 in the UK.



The second issue of Crikey! The Great British Comics Magazine is also out now, with 48 pages packed with bright and breezy features on old UK comics. As with the first issue there are still some errors creeping in, including a most serious one wrongly stating that Terry Bave had died. Some of the articles seem to be written from hazy memories of comics rather than reference, but there's a lot of enthusiasm from the writers.


Highlights in this issue include Steve Holland working out the complex ownership history of Amalgamated Press / Fleetway / IPC / Fleetway Editions / Egmont; a nicely illustrated feature on Ron Embleton; an interview with Terry Bave; and a feature on Rocket comic. There are several other short articles including items on Scorcher, Victor, Our Ernie, and Zeg the Dalek.


A bit shallow in places, but an improvement on issue one. Editor Brian Clarke comments that he doesn't want Crikey! to have too much "trainspotter-ism", but who else but hardcore comics enthusiasts are going to be interested in articles on obscure 50 year old comic strips? All in all though Crikey! is worth supporting.

Copies of Crikey! can be bought from the address on the website at:
http://www.crikeyuk.co.uk/sub.html




Saturday, October 27, 2007

The Guardian launches new "Comic" section


Today's edition of The Guardian features a new regular pull-out section The Comic, comprising just four pages of The Guardian's "Berliner" format folded in half. The title of the section is a tad unsuitable as comics take up less than 50% of the pull-out, and only one comic strip at that.

Robotgirl is the strip, by John Aggs, and appears to be a taster for a "secret" project called The DFC. (In reality a new weekly anthology comic coming soon.) The strip is very nicely produced, (albeit with colours too dense for newsprint) in a style with influences of Otomo Katsuhiro. The rest of The Comic is taken up with puzzles and a competition.

The Comic will appear in The Guardian on Saturdays only.

http://lifeandhealth.guardian.co.uk/family/comic/0,,2197542,00.html

Friday, October 26, 2007

Beano gets tweaked, plus this week's round-up


Britain's most famous comic The Beano has unveiled a new look this week, with issue No.3404. Not as radical as The Dandy recently transforming into Dandy Xtreme but still very interesting for comic historians and readers.

First off, the cover gets an attractive new design, with a Photoshop-embossed logo, new strapline style, and, as an incentive for collectors, a small icon encouraging "Boost Your Comic Collection". Inside on page two there's arguably the most radical move D.C. Thomson have made in years; artists are credited on the contents page! This from a company that for years were notorious for not allowing their creators any credit. Apart from Dudley D. Watkins and Alan Moreley no Beano artists were allowed to even sign their work until just over a decade ago, now the comic is boasting about their talent. (Similarly, this year's hardback Dandy/Beano collection also makes a big deal of their artists past and present. This is a very welcome improvement.)


Inside the comic, two new stories debut this week. Tales of Johnny Bean from Happy Bunny Green drawn by the talented Laura Howell is a storybook-type strip with a dark edge. A perfect spoof of such innocent stories that Beano's young readers will be familiar with. The other new strip is London B4 12 drawn by Barrie Appleby, who has reinvented his style into a trendier more exaggerated approach which works really well for this strip about kids just hanging out.


The rest of the comic features the regular favourites such as Minnie the Minx and The Bash Street Kids, and, curiously, a Dennis the Menace story that ends on an emotional cliffhanger. With tv soaps so popular with today's kids I've long thought that the readers would be more accessible to more characterization in children's comics. (I'm sure that's one reason Titan's Simpsons comic is so popular.) Hopefully the new-look Beano may test the waters in this direction.

One downside of the Beano facelift is a significant price hike from 85p to 99p. (Although it had already been tested at 99p in certain parts of the country such as Blackpool throughout the summer.) However, it still remains the UK's cheapest comic. The photogravure printing gives it some class too, (comic sniffers will note that The Beano smells like TV Century 21 did in the sixties) although the paper stock is to change soon to a slightly heavier and less glossy style. All in all, interesting times for the 69 year old weekly.

This week's round up:


A few other items of note are in the shops now. 2000 AD Prog 1560 is a good place for new readers to jump aboard with three new stories beginning. (Well, two, - Nikolai Dante, by Robbie Morrison and John Burns, and Sinister Dexter, with a complete Future Shock being the third.) Plus continuing action from Judge Dredd and The Button Man. £1.90

Classics from the Comics No. 139 has 64 pages of reprints from the DC Thomson archive, including the final episodes of The Black Sapper from 1960 and a complete Send for Kelly story from 1966. Plus two more chapters of The Great Flood of London from 1961 and lots more. £2.00

Spectacular Spider-Man No.159 features more brand-new Spidey action created specially for the UK. Another 11 page chapter of Spider-Man Agent of S.H.I.E.L.D. by Ferg Hadley and Andie Tong has Spider-Man meet the Valkyrie to battle the Radioactive Man. £1.99

Dandy Xtreme No.3432 is the special Halloween issue and its 16 page pull-out Dandy Comix No.7 features extra long stories for Jak & Todd, drawn by Wayne Thomson, Cuddles and Dimples by Nigel Parkinson, and Ollie Fliptrick by Karl Dixon. There's also another classic Desperate Dan strip by Dudley Watkins from the 1940s. £1.99


Wednesday, October 17, 2007

Terry Bave alive and well

Issue 2 of Crikey! which was published last week featured an interview by Terry Hooper with Terry Bave, popular comic artist of many IPC humour strips such as Me and My Shadow, Sammy Shrink, Donovan's Dad and Ginger's Tum. Unfortunately the feature carried a footnote stating that Terry Bave had recently passed away, and this was also reported at the Comics UK forum, inspiring several messages of condolence and tributes.

However, it was soon discovered that the story was not true! Terry Bave has not died and at the age of 76 is alive and well. As fellow artist Steve Bright explained on the forum:

"I emailed the editor of Jester magazine (the in-house mag of the Cartoonists' Club of Great Britain, of which Terry is a prominent member) this morning to inform him about the sad news broken on this thread, in order that an appropriate obituary could be put together before this month's deadline. The editor immediately called Terry's number, prepared to offer his condolences and garner some copy for the obit, and was no doubt more than a little taken aback to find himself speaking to the allegedly deceased.
It sounds like Terry saw the funny side of it thankfully, but could we please double check all sources when we hear this kind of thing?"

Obviously the news that Terry is still with us was pleasing for all concerned. How this dreadful mistake occurred isn't certain. Apparently someone informed Crikey! editor Brian Clarke of the "news" as the issue was about to go to press, and Brian accepted it as fact, as most of us probably would have. After all, if someone tells you someone has died you tend to believe them. (How does one get a story like that wrong?) "Crikey!" indeed.

Below: One of Terry Bave's early strips, Sammy Shrink from Pow! and Wham! No.78, 13th July 1968.

Tuesday, October 16, 2007

Comic Show photo gallery

The 2007 Birmingham International Comics Show (October 12th/13th/14th) was, as expected, a pleasure to attend. I'm sure others will be running a more detailed review of the events on their web pages so I'll just use this blog to feature a brief photo-gallery of some of the many attendees. (I heard there were over 2,000 people there on the Saturday!)

Captions are beneath each picture spread. Click on highlighted names to visit their websites:


1: Hunt Emerson (artist of Rats in The Beano) and his band The Black Country Cats perform a live gig at Bennetts during the Friday night launch party. One of the best launch parties I've been to, in 28 years of attending conventions.

2: Albion scriptwriters Leah Moore and John Reppion enjoy a drink after a busy year writing Raise the Dead and Witchblade: Shades of Grey amongst other comics.

3: Beano artists Laura Howell and Paul Palmer meet up at the event.

4: Tim Perkins of Wizards Keep and Jon Haward, artist of Classical Comics' Macbeth.

5: Contributors of nineties hit comic Sonic the Comic reunited for the first time in years! L-R, Lew Stringer, Nigel Kitching, Richard Elson and Nigel Dobbyn.

6: Event Press Officer The Mighty Paul H. Birch, God of Thunder.

7: After the party, Comics International editor Mike Conroy and daughter Cassandra show John McShane (a legend in his own liquid lunch time) the way to go home.

8: Millennium Point, the venue for the Comics Show.


9: Fans rummage through the comic boxes for titles of interest. A wide variety of items were on offer, from back issues to the newest independent comics. (A selection of which will be reviewed here soon.)


10: Mike Collins, artist on Doctor Who Magazine was busy sketching all weekend for Draw the World Together.

11: Sean Phillips, artist on Marvel Zombies and Criminal, beside Charlie Adlard, artist of The Walking Dead sketch for fans.


12: Manga style artist Sonia Leong and Emma Vieceli (artist of the Manga Shakespeare version of Hamlet).

13: Phil Clarke with some of the numerous pages of original Fleetway/IPC artwork he has for sale! Interested in owning a piece of British comics history? Then contact Phil at
blasebooks@aol.com


14: Judge Dredd Megazine contributor the enthusiastic David Ballie displays his growing output of self-published comics.

15: Fiona Stephenson with three of her original paintings, accurate classic reproductions of "pin up" artist Gil Elvgren's famous works. The paintings (and those of her partner Dean Ormston) can be obtained from eBay from the dealer redrobot99.


16: Lifelong comics fan Carl Brooks (who attended the very first UK comics con back in 1968) in the foreground as he and other fans shop around the dealer's room.

17: John A. Short, writer of Rex in Toxic, meets Ganjaman creator Jim Stewart.



Thanks to comic show organizers Shane Chebsey, James Hodgkins and Andy Baker (with Paul H. Birch doing the P.R.) for putting together such a fantastic weekend. Freelancing for comics can be a lonely occupation because of its relative uniqueness, and for decades comic creators (often uncredited in print back then) never (or rarely) encountered other people in the same line of work.
If it wasn't for people like Shane, James, Andy (and all of their predecessors) investing their time, effort, and money into events such as this, most of us would have remained disconnected.

Events such as the Birmingham Comics Show provide a valued and important service for comic creators to establish contacts and, (even more valued), friendships within the industry. May such events continue for many more years! Next one; the Bristol International Comic Expo on 9th - 11th May 2008. See you there!

UPDATE 1: More pix from the event over at the Forbidden Planet International blog:
http://forbiddenplanet.co.uk/blog/?p=5476

UPDATE 2: The Birmingham Mail has uploaded a short video report on the event, featuring Mark Farmer, Paul H. Birch, Tony Lee and others:

http://tinyurl.com/2odrjs

UPDATE 3: Kev F. Sutherland and his Scottish Falsetto Sock Theatre have just uploaded a video on YouTube that was shot at the Comics Show. See how many comics creators and fans you recognize:



Thursday, October 11, 2007

New Robin Hood comic launches


BBC Magazines have just launched issue one of Robin Hood Adventures, a 36 page glossy fortnightly based on the current tv version of the character. The publication is in the same format as the company's popular Doctor Who Adventures, but with sadly even less comic strip content.

As with most children's titles these days, Robin Hood Adventures comes bagged with a bunch of free gifts. In this case; postcards, stickers, and a Robin Hood "Activity CD-Rom". The gifts are clearly the selling point here, as the magazine could hardly be seen inside the sealed plastic bag because of the freebies and promotional blurbs.


The magazine itself is nothing special. The now standard mixture of "educational" features with snappy captions, puzzle pages, and simple stories all featuring a "busy" layout (ie: logos slapped all over the place). The only comic strip, a two pager by Craig Donaghy and Paul Cemmick, is bizarrely a humour strip. Although the BBC's Robin Hood isn't as dark as Robin of Sherwood was, it seems strange that its comic strip version is so lighthearted.


The other story in the magazine is a four page photo strip adaptation of the first tv episode. The presentation is incredibly simplistic, with as little dialogue as possible within word balloons that have tails which annoyingly touch the character's mouths. (A no-no in lettering.) As if that wasn't dumbed-down enough, each photo-panel is not only numbered but features cartoon arrows between each panel to instruct the reader which direction to follow.


And if that wasn't simple enough, the four pager is split into two double page "parts"; one on pages 10/11, the other on pages 32/33, as if reading a four page strip in one go might make kids heads explode.

What has happened to children's comics, or to children for that matter, for publications to be so dumbed-down (or "younged up" in dodgy-sounding media speak)? Forty years ago the age range that Robin Hood Adventures is aimed at were quite happily managing to understand TV Century 21 without such gimmicks to guide them through the pages. If today's kids can manage to read Harry Potter or the latest Jaqueline Wilson book, I'm sure they're sophisticated enough to grasp something with a bit more substance than this.

Having said that, the kids will probably love it.

Birmingham Comics Show this weekend


The eagerly-awaited Birmingham International Comics Show is taking place this weekend (October 13th/14th) at Millenium Point, Birmingham, UK. This is the second event run by James Hodgkins, Shane Chebsey, Paul H. Birch and friends and once again there's an impressive guest list.

Attending comics creators will include Mike McMahon, Mike Mignola, Mike Carey, Mike Higgs, Mike Collins... hey! It's a Mike-a-thon! Non-Mikes include Dave Gibbons, Alan Davis, Phil Winslade, Duncan Fegredo, Hunt Emerson, Laura Howell, Doug Braithwaite, and many more. Even me, but don't let that put you off.

Full details can be found on the official Comics Show website:

http://www.thecomicsshow.co.uk/

If you've never attended a comics convention before, this is the ideal opportunity. There'll be panel discussions, interviews, promotions, tons of comics on sale, and as ever a friendly informal atmosphere. So come along and treat yourself to a bunch of brand new British comics, such as The Wolfmen from Accent UK Comics. Cover shown here:


Hopefully I'll be running a photo report of the event here on this blog next week. If I don't break my toe again by walking into my hotel bedroom chair at 3.00 AM like I did last year.

Saturday, October 06, 2007

Hurricane is the latest "Daily Page"


The latest comic to receive The Daily Page treatment on the Comics UK site is Hurricane. This Fleetway comic only ran for a year (1964-65) before merging into Tiger but it's a good example of adventure comics of the period. Never a particularly striking title, but worth checking out if you've never seen it, and Comics UK is presenting selected pages from the first issue!

http://www.comicsuk.co.uk/index.asp
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