Sunday, January 20, 2008
Crikey! It's another hit and miss issue
The third issue of Crikey!, the new magazine on British comics, has just been sent to subscribers. This edition is an improvement on the previous two, thanks to articles written by some contributors on their specific areas of interest, but when Crikey makes mistakes - it still makes some clangers.
Firstly, the good points: highlight of the issue is an interview with Dez Skinn on his days when he was editor of House of Hammer magazine. This is exactly the sort of thing Crikey! needs more of; an article that goes directly to the source to get the correct information.
Another main article is one on Trigan Empire artist Don Lawrence. As the artist passed away years ago obviously "going to the source" here was impossible, but the author has instead crafted an informative mini-biography with numerous examples of Lawrence's work.
An article on old IPC strip Adam Eterno is another highlight of the issue. Written by Eterno aficionado the pseudonymous "Captain Storm" it's a nice tribute to a memorable character. The only downside is that although pages from old comics are used to represent the feature, none of them are by the strips longest serving artist Solano Lopez! (Sadly none of the art shown is credited, which is a glaring omission that often mars articles in Crikey!)
Overall, Crikey! No.3 isn't a bad issue, but there's one article that is so appallingly researched it left me wondering how much comics knowledge the editors actually have. It's an article on Smash!, the Odhams weekly of the sixties. An article clearly written by someone with very few of the comics to hand for research, and based on unfounded assumptions. With no less than 17 errors in 6 pages the best way to partially remedy the damage is to list them here:
1: "Superhero strips were the mainstay of Smash for its first 167 issues". A bit misleading. Smash! was a balanced mixture of UK humour, UK adventure, Batman newspaper strips, and Marvel reprint. The first superhero strip (the Hulk) didn't appear until issue 16.
2: "The main superhero strip in Smash was the Fantastic Four". Wrong. The Incredible Hulk and Batman were the most enduring superhero strips in the comic. The FF didn't have a regular run until late in 1968.
3: The article says the editor of Smash rearranged the running order of the FF strips for "cunning" reasons, but the reasons given are completely wrong. The wedding story from FF Annual 3 was used earlier than expected because Fantastic had just merged into Smash! and the wedding strip, featuring a multitude of Marvel guest stars, was ideal to appeal to Fantastic's readers.
4: When IPC took over Smash! they soon changed it into more of a traditional adventure comic. The author of the article makes the wild assumption that IPC delayed the change so that the Fantastic Four reprint could be neatly concluded! IPC management would not delay a major relaunch for such trivial concerns. (To prove this the final Thor reprint had new dialogue added to the last panel in a rushed attempt to try and tie up a sub-plot.) Fact is IPC waited until Spring 1969 to relaunch Smash! because a) new stories needed to be readied, and b) Spring was always considered a good time in publishing to come out with a new (or in this case revamped) comic.
5: "There were a lot of humourous strips in the Oldham (sic) run of Smash, many of them survivors from Pow and Wham". Fact is Smash always featured humour strips and the mergers only brought in a few from the other comics.
6: "Mike Brown's The Nervs". Nope. The strip was drawn initially by Leo Baxendale, then it had a long run by Graham Allen, and the last few months were by Ken Reid.
7: Lady Shady is mentioned as an enemy of The Cloak. She was his partner.
8: "Odhams had launched five Power Comics in 1966...". Actual dates: Wham! (1964), Smash! (1966), Pow!, Fantastic, and Terrific (all 1967).
9: "...only to close four of them fairly quickly." Only the three 1967 comics had relatively short runs.
10: "Obviously those comics lost money, or they wouldn't have been closed." Comics are closed when they dip towards a break-even point. Publishers don't wait for them to mount up "debts" as the article presumes.
11: "Why did they take such a big risk to launch five new titles, if it was obvious the market could only support one?" The nature of the comics biz was to clone a successful title before competitors did it. Simple research would show this had always been the case.
12: "Ultimately they were not even able to keep Smash itself going and had to sell it to IPC". The truth is more complex. From IPC's own website: "The International Publishing Corporation Ltd was formed in 1963 following the merger of the UK's three leading magazine publishers – George Newnes, Odhams Press and Fleetway Publications – who came together with the Mirror Group to form the International Publishing Corporation (IPC). And IPC Magazines was created five years later, in 1968." Odhams didn't "sell" Smash to IPC. The International Publishing Corporation that already encompassed Odhams and Fleetway created a new Magazine division in 1968 to manage its titles more efficiently.
13: The article assumes IPC dropped Marvel reprints to save on licensing fees. Unlikely, considering those pages were replaced by brand new strips that would have cost more! Fact is IPC's Smash! was revamped to be similar to Lion and Valiant now that they were all part of a unified line, and Marvel reprints were incongruous to that template.
14: The article assumes Odhams suffered "crippling" losses on their comics and that Smash was sold off to pay debts. Untrue.
15: The article states that IPC's revamped Smash! mainly featured humourous strips. Untrue. Adventure strips were predominant.
16: "cover feature.... replacing Leo Baxendale's Swots and Blots". The Swots and The Blots cover strips had been drawn by Mike Lacey. Baxendale took over the strip with its move back inside the comic, and IPC's relaunch.
17: The article is illustrated with pages claimed to be from the Smash Christmas Special. No such title ever existed. The pages are from the 1969 Christmas issue of the regular weekly Smash comic.
What's most annoying about such a badly researched article is that most readers will accept it as gospel, and the myths it perpetrates will find themselves in future articles on the comic in other books and magazines. The criteria for writing is: Write what you know. Otherwise what is the point?
I hope the author and editor of the Smash article won't consider my comments an attempt to damage sales of the magazine. Far from it. I truly want a magazine on British comics to succeed as it's been a much-neglected area of comics for so long. I applaud editor Brian Clark's work in this direction and with the news that comics historian Ray Moore will be on board from issue 4 I'm confident Crikey! will rapidly improve.
You can subscribe to Crikey! at their website http://www.crikeyuk.co.uk/sub.html