Wednesday, January 30, 2008

The Road to Marvel UK - Part 2


Like most British weeklies of the Sixties, all of the Odhams "Power Comics" had hardback annuals, with the exception of Terrific. However, unlike their weekly versions, Smash! and Wham! annuals never featured any Marvel reprint. Fantastic Annual and Pow! Annual more than made up for that though.


Although Marvel reprint had vanished from Smash! by March 1969 (and the rest of the Power Comics line had also folded) the annuals continued for a little while longer. The books for 1970 (prepared in early 1969) being the last to feature Marvel material. As I understand it, these books were edited by a different staff than those who had handled the weeklies, which may account for the colour scheme of some characters being very off-model. Witness a red-costumed Fantastic Four with a grey-skinned Thing from Pow! Annual 1970...

...and a yellow costumed Thor with bare legs (instead of blue) from Fantastic Annual 1970:


At the same time that Odhams and Alan Class were reprinting Marvel strips in their comics, World Distributors published several hardback annuals starring Marvel superheroes. Clearly, Marvel were quite intent on breaking into the British market in one way or another.

My knowledge of World Distributors is quite limited. They published numerous annuals based on popular TV shows of the day, (Voyage to the Bottom of the Sea, Man from U.N.C.L.E., Tarzan, Huckleberry Hound, etc) and also the Batman and Superman British annuals. They had the licence to reprint not only the US Dell/Gold Key Comics material in UK books (Flash Gordon, Star Trek, Flintstones, etc) but also DC and Marvel. (But not within the same books.)

From what I've seen, their annuals were rarely 100% strip material, but instead contained American strips alongside new UK text stories featuring the characters, and a smattering of puzzle pages.


World's first venture into Marvel material appears to be the Marvel Story Book Annual, published in 1967. Back then, at eight years old, I was a new and eager Marvelite and this book was a treasure that had to be possessed. However, it was somewhat disappointing to find it contained not a single comic strip.



There were text stories throughout, but the tone of the adventures seemed quite tame and somewhat dull, lacking the patter and humour of Stan Lee's comic scripts. The illustrations didn't help either, being quite stiffly drawn figures or copies from comic panels. Nevertheless, in those days, anything "Marvel" was a must-have.


Two years later, in 1969 according to the indicia, World published the Marvel Comic Annual. It was the same format as the previous book but this time featured comic strips throughout. A curious selection too. Marvel strips from the sixties (Spider-Man, Hulk, Iron Man, Thor) alongside Marvel reprints from the Fifties (Sub-Mariner, Captain America).


Actually, they were reprints of reprints, as they featured the same editorial blurbs as those that had appeared in Marvel Tales and Marvel Super-Heroes in the USA around the late sixties.


The same year, World published two Fantastic Four books; a softback and a traditional annual hardback. The softback, titled The Fantastic Four Comic Album, was available long before most Christmas annuals as I recall (possibly in the summer). This full colour book, reprinting four Fantastic Four stories, is notorious for getting the colours of the main characters completely wrong. The Thing was purple, the FF had red and yellow costumes, the Silver Surfer was solid blue, and Doctor Doom was an explosion of primary colours. Obviously World were just working from black and white pages and making up their own colour scheme. Thankfully, at least the cover was accurate.


The Fantastic Four Comic Annual which World also published was a much better affair. Again, four FF strips reprinted, but this time it looked like Marvel had supplied the colour overlays too as they looked identical to the American comic oroginals.


A year later, in 1970, World dabbled with the Fantastic Four again. Another Fantastic Four Comic Album (below) was produced and amusingly this time the contents were entirely in black and white. To save money or to save their embarrassment I wonder?


1970 also saw another Fantastic Four Comic Annual published. This one seems the most memorable amongst fans as it reprinted the four part FF story which was inspired by The Prisoner tv series. (Issues 84-87 of the original FF comic book). To have this story arc in its entireity within one book almost makes this annual a forerunner to the graphic novel.


Again UK colorists were allowed to define the book in their own way, but at least this time the colours of the FF's costumes, and the Thing's rocky hide, were correct. Doctor Doom however, didn't fare so well again, and was given a clash of colours instead of his green and grey combination.


I don't know if World published any more Marvel annuals, but these were the only ones I saw at the time. Not that UK kids would be starved of such material for long though, as several Marvel reprints were about to begin featuring in an already established British weekly...

To Be Concluded

The Road to Marvel UK - Part 1


An eagerly anticipated book by Robin Kirby tracing the history of Marvel Comics in the UK is due to be by published later this year but for now, here's my modest brief look back at the British comics that reprinted Marvel Comics material before Marvel UK was founded.

As most British comic fans probably know, Marvel Comics set up a British branch in 1972 to publish a line of comics reprinting their early American material. The first comic launched, The Mighty World of Marvel, appeared in early October 1972 and multitudes of UK Marvel titles have come and gone ever since. (The current batch being superbly packaged by Panini UK since Marvel UK were effectively amalgamated into Panini several years ago.)

However, the story of Marvel Comics being published in the UK dates back several years before 1972. In the mid-1950s a small London company called L.Miller & Son Ltd put out several British editions of the then-contemporary Marvel titles. In the USA, Marvel had revived their trio of superheroes Captain America, Human Torch, and Sub-Mariner in their own titles and L.Miller reprinted some of that material in his comics, albeit in black and white. I'm not quite sure how many British Marvel comics Miller turned out, - not many presumably, as that Marvel superhero Fifties revival didn't last long, - but here's the covers of the two issues of Human Torch Miller published:



L.Miller was also reprinting Marvel's horror and mystery comics of that period, and after the superhero comics folded he continued with those. By the early Sixties, Marvel Comics in the USA was of course setting out with another superhero revival, and this one (heralded by The Fantastic Four) proved to be far more successful than the Fifties attempt. Miller reprinted some Marvel superhero strips in his "mystery" titles, alongside the horror strips, such as this Ant-Man strip in Spellbound:


(Note the words "Adult Comic" printed on the bottom of the cover above. Presumably this was to pacify any retailers and parents who had believed the anti-horror comics tosh from a decade earlier. The original Tales to Astonish cover this artwork was reprinted from never carried such wording.)

Around the same time Alan Class had set up his line of black and white reprint comics, packaging US material from Marvel, ACG, Charlton, and Tower for a UK readership. His most popular 68 page comics were titled Suspense, Sinister Tales, Creepy Worlds, Secrets of the Unknown, Uncanny Tales and Astounding Stories.




Like Miller, he too included superhero material alongside short mystery/horror/sci-fi reprints. His selection of Marvel reprints rarely followed their original sequence, and if he sometimes reprinted the first part of a continued story without the next part to follow, he'd simply slap a caption stating "The End" on the cliffhanger panel. Strangely, this never seemed to bother the readers too much as his chunky comics (twice as thick as the standard American comic) offered good value for 1/- (5p) and there were always plenty of stories packed into each comic. Alan Class would also often reprint the same issues later in the run, just changing the number and cover price; a practice he continued for years.



Curiously, Alan Class continued reprinting Marvel superhero stories even when Odhams joined the game in 1966. Odhams, then publishers of Eagle, had launched a mostly-humour weekly called Wham! in 1964, followed by a sister title Smash! in early 1966. Presumably sales were not as strong as hoped, and some originated pages were cut back to make way for Marvel reprint. The first Marvel strip to appear in an Odhams weekly was The Incredible Hulk which premiered in Smash! No.16 dated 21st May 1966, heralded by an ominous strapline above the logo: "WARNING! THE HULK WAITS FOR YOU INSIDE!"


Interestingly, Odhams chose to begin their Hulk reprints from Incredible Hulk No.2, ignoring the first issue (until two years later when it was reprinted in Fantastic). I can only assume that this was because the opening scene of the story they chose carried far more impact: The Hulk emerging from a swamp looking truly menacing, - a powerful Jack Kirby/Steve Ditko image searing itself on every reader's imaginations. (Everyone I've spoken to who had that issue remembers it having the same impact. It hooked us all from the outset.)


Presumably Marvel only supplied Odhams with black and white images, even for covers, and mistakes often happened. The Hulk only appeared on two full Smash! covers and both had errors. On his first appearance (Smash! 17) he's given a flesh tone to his skin, and on his second cover (No.34) the skin is the right colour but his traditional purple trousers are yellow. Doh!


As mentioned on this blog before, Smash! had an exciting variety of content, mixing in UK humour and adventure strips along with Batman newspaper strip reprint and Marvel material. With the successful introduction of The Hulk to a young British readership, (and perhaps with a need to save more money) Odhams introduced more Marvel material to their other comics. The Fantastic Four arrived in Wham! later in 1966, followed by new comic Pow! presenting Spider-Man and Nick Fury in 1967, and a host of Marvel strips filling out the pages of newcomers Fantastic and Terrific, also in 1967.


Even that most stalwart of British comics, Eagle was not exempt, with Stan Lee and Jack Kirby's Tales of Asgard running for a while in its pages, and on this one cover:


One issue of Smash! during this period has always been of particular interest to fans. Issue No.38 (22nd October 1966) featured a brand new five and a half page Hulk story which even to this day has never appeared in an American Marvel comic. The Monster and the Matador continued directly after the classic Hulk and Sub-Mariner vs Avengers battle from Marvel America's Avengers No.3 (reprinted in an earlier issue of Smash!) and saw Bruce Banner finding his way to Seville. Trapped in a bullring he transforms into The Hulk and in a sequence of events ends up exposing a fraudulent matador who had been fighting doped bulls.


In many ways, The Monster and the Matador is very similar in tone to an episode of The Incredible Hulk tv series which arrived on our screens over a decade later. Why this brand new one-off strip was commissioned has never been explained. Was there simply a holdup with the reprint material from the USA so it was rushed out as a fill-in? Was it intended to be a trial run for more originated Hulk strips? The artwork shows that some panels had been modified to extend the art to fit the UK page format, just as the reprints often were. Therefore, was it originally drawn to the American page proportions? If so, why? (If anyone out there has any answers, please let me know for an update.)




The weekly frequency of the Odhams "Power Comics" (as they called themselves) meant that they soon caught up with the American monthlies they were reprinting. This unfortunately meant that popular strips such as The Incredible Hulk and Iron Man had to be rested while a backlog of material built up in the USA. Although they usually found a suitable issue to cut off the storylines the conclusion of Iron Man in Fantastic was particularly sudden, part way through a plot line where Tony Stark had just been summoned to an inquiry. The story was never resolved, as the Odhams comics began to merge at an alarming rate in 1968. By the beginning of 1969, and with IPC absorbing the Fleetway and Odhams comics, only one title remained: Smash! incorporating Fantastic. By March 1969, IPC revamped the weekly and the Marvel strips (then down to just Thor and Fantastic Four) were dropped permanently.

From the letters published in the Odhams weeklies, it was obvious that the Marvel material had always divided the readership. Many British kids thought that superheroes were simply too far fetched, but others showed a strong loyalty to the Marvel strips, and the story of Marvel in the UK was far from over....

To Be Continued

Sunday, January 27, 2008

Wizard of a website


A new blog dedicated to The Wizard comic has launched over at http://wizardcomics1970-1974.blogspot.com/

This fan site features many scans from the seventies version of The Wizard when it was relaunched as a comic. (It had previously been a story paper. See a brief entry about that on my blog here.)

What's pleasing about the new Wizard website is that not only does it feature cover scans, but also story pages and ads, giving the visitor a real taste of what the comic was like. Nice to see ads for other DC Thomson comics there too, showing the free gift promotions of the day.

Some of the images on the website take a while to load even with Broadband (perhaps because they're 150dpi instead of 72dpi?) but the wait is worthwhile.

Saturday, January 26, 2008

"Wow! It's POW! - the Comic of Now!"


The Comics UK website (always worth a visit) has today started uploading pages from Pow!, one of Odhams' "Power Comics" of the sixties. On their Daily Page feature, a different page from Pow! No.7 (1967) will be shown at a large size each day. I'm not sure if they'll upload the entire issue but if previous Daily Page examples are anything to go by there should be a good portion of it.

You can read previous uploads of various strips and British comics at:
http://www.comicsuk.co.uk/FullStrip/FullStripMain.asp

Wednesday, January 23, 2008

Creator Credits in Commando!


It's a sight that would once have been considered impossible. D.C. Thomson's long running Commando comics have added credit boxes to the stories!

Launched in 1961, the Commando "war books" were 68 page digest-size comics featuring one long complete story and a dramatic painted full colour glossy cover. The format is exactly the same today, except that half of the eight titles issued per month are now reprint.

Originally the comics focused solely on stories of World War 2, but several years ago broadened the scope to include tales of war from any era. This has given the comic a welcome unpredictability and stories of pirates, Vikings, the American Civil War or any other battle scenario are now possible. World War 2 stories are still the most likely though.


Commando's latest tweak, credit boxes, appear on the first page of the story. They list writer, artist, and cover artist. In the case or reprinted stories, the original publication year is also given.


Years ago D.C. Thomson were notorious for cloaking their creators in anonymity. The reasons were assumed to be that Thomsons were fearful of losing artists and writers to their rivals. (Only Dudley Watkins was allowed to sign his name, - and then only for a decade or so. Alan Morely was allowed to initial his strips. Everyone else was anonymous.)

Several years ago things began to improve when Beano and Dandy artists were allowed to sign their pages if they wished, - a practice that continues today. However, the new credit boxes in Commando represent the first time that writers have also been credited in Thomson comics, to my knowledge. It's a move that should have been implemented decades ago.

It also benefits the company. If readers know who the artists and writers are it adds another dimension to buying the comics. It "connects" the reader with the comic and gives them another incentive to collect, as Marvel Comics discovered many years ago when Stan Lee added credit boxes to their comics.

Commando also has a website these days, regularly updated to show the latest issues and news. You can even buy Commando merchandise such as T-shirts or mugs! http://www.commandomag.com

I've never been keen on war comics personally (except for Charley's War). However, in an era where "busy covers", photo features and bagged free gifts are the norm for British comics it's good to see that Commando has stood there like a rock for 47 years, fads washing over it, with the only concession to modern times being changes for the better. Long may it continue.

From the top: Cover art to Commando No.4068 by Ian Kennedy.
Cover art to Commando No.4067 by Carlos Pino.
Opening page to Sentenced to Death (Commando 4068) showing the credit box in the shape of a grenade (similar to how Fleetway's Battle did it a few decades ago.)

Tuesday, January 22, 2008

Shark-Man arrives at Image Comics


As a company, Image Comics today have more versatility in their output than they did when they began back in the 1990's. Not that I'm slighting the achievements of the company's founders, as comics such as Erik Larsen's Savage Dragon and Todd McFarlane's Spawn proved that top creators could break away from Marvel and forge their own successful characters.

Even now, Image Comics may not be as esoteric as Fantagraphics Books for example but their line of comics offer some interesting material. Declaring my interest I can't resist plugging Elephantmen of course (not only because
Brickman resides within its pages) but there are also other titles that appeal to the various tastes of comic fans, as Image's official website demonstrates.

One of the new titles from Image that caught my eye recently was Shark-Man No.1. Described as "Created and story by Michael Town, David Elliott and Ronald Shusett" it's character designer, scriptwriter and artist Steve Pugh who shines here the most. I've seen quite a bit of Steve's work over the years, from comics I've bought to originals he's shown in the pub, and from my experience his work on Shark-Man is his best yet.


Shark-Man was originally launched by another publisher, (I think they managed two issues) but for its relaunch (and better distribution hopefully) at Image Comics Steve has redrawn many of the pages, improving on their original design. Now that's dedication!


The original version of issue one can be seen on Steve's website. It's an interesting insight into the artist's progress to compare the online "old" version to the hard copy new edition. (I've posted two pages above for comparison.)

The comic itself is an enjoyable mixture of superheroics and Hookjaw-type horror in an environment influenced by Gerry Anderson and the artwork of TV Century 21, injected with the synergy of Marine Boy meets Diabolik. In lesser hands it could have been a mess. Handled by Steve Pugh, an artist at the top of his game, it's fantastic.

Shark-Man No.1 $3.50 Available from comics speciality stores.

Visit Steve Pugh's official website: http://www.stevepugh.com/

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

Friday, January 18, 2008

Comic strips in the wartime Mirror


As a follow up to my comment in the previous blog (regarding comic strips in the wartime editions of the Daily Mirror) here's an example of such a page. Taken from the Daily Mirror of Tuesday December 23rd 1941, when wartime paper rationing limited the newspaper to just 8 pages, one whole page was taken up with comic strips.


Some of the strips have American influences. Belinda (or Belinda Blue Eyes as she was known) was a British version of Little Orphan Annie. (Although whether or not the scripts borrowed heavily from the US original I'm not sure.) Popeye was of course a U.S. reprint, drawn at this time by Bud Sagendorf. The character proved to be very popular with Mirror readers.

These strips are from a time before Garth arrived in the paper (his strip began two years later) but the hugely popular Jane was around in 1941, in a slightly larger format strip on page 2. As most people know, Jane was the Daily Mirror's most successful strip until Andy Capp turned up in the 1950s.

At the foot of page 7 was the likable everyman character Useless Eustace. This little pocket cartoon was drawn by Lancastrian artist Jack Greenall from 1935 to 1975, after which it was taken over by Peter Maddocks. Readers related to the gags and situations that Eustace found himself in and some would cut out the cartoons to pin to work noticeboards and the like.

The wartime Daily Mirror was exceptional in its abundance of comic strips. In comparison the Daily Sketch only had two strips in this period and the Daily Mail had none. The editors of the Mirror appreciated that their readers, mainly working class, were suffering the hardships of the war. With no television and not every house owning a radio, comic strips provided a welcome light relief from the anxieties of the news pages.

Wednesday, January 16, 2008

May 16th 1968: Double Strips in the Daily Mirror


Here's an oddity from an old issue of the Daily Mirror. 40 years ago industrial action by printing engineers meant that London-printed issues of the Daily Mirror did not appear on May 15th 1968. The following day, on Thursday May 16th 1968, the Mirror published a double helping of comic strips to compensate.

Back then, the regular strips on the "comic page" were time-traveller Garth by John Allard (which I always preferred to Frank Bellamy's later version), family sitcom The Larks by Jack Dunkley and comedy serial The Flutters by Ian Gammidge and Len Gamblin. (Andy Capp and The Perishers were found in different parts of the paper in those days.) With two out of three strips being serials it made sense to run two episodes in one day so that the strip page kept on the same schedule as the Northern editions (which hadn't skipped a day). However, the gag cartoon Useless Eustace (on another page) also featured two helpings. (Andy Capp and The Persishers did not.)

Even though the reason for the double helping was mainly practical rather than due to generosity I still can't help thinking that it's unlikely it would happen today. Would a current newspaper editor give extra space to the strips now? Very doubtful, but in those days comic strips were considered an important part of the Daily Mirror's line up. (In the war years, when the Mirror was down to just 8 pages because of paper shortages, strips took up a whole page, - an eighth of the newspaper!)

The Daily Mirror was the newspaper we had in our house throughout the sixties. I was so impressed by the "2 Days' Strips" that I tore out and saved that page, hence its inclusion here (albeit a bit yellowed and tattered, - I didn't save it that carefully). Sadly, none of those three strips appear in the Mirror now, replaced by other gag strips and the shallow almost plot-less Scorer, all in garish unnecessary full colour.

Tuesday, January 15, 2008

More Marvel classics from Panini UK


Panini UK are set to produce more books for 2008 featuring classic Marvel strips from the 1960s and early 1970s. According to their website, March will see three more Marvel Pocket Books with the publication of the ninth to feature Spider-Man, the second Hulk one, and the first Iron Man Pocket Book. Contents for the books are announced as:
  • The Amazing Spider-Man: The Spider Slayer
    (Contains Amazing Spider-Man 103-111) 212 pages
  • The Invincible Iron Man: The Tragedy and the Triumph
    (Contains Tales Of Suspense 91-99, Iron Man/Submariner 1 & Iron Man 1-4) 220 pages
  • The Incredible Hulk: This Monster Unleashed
    (Contains Tales To Astonish 101 & Incredible Hulk 102-108) 220 pages
The covers for the books will feature brand new artwork by Jon Haward inked by Gary Erskine. The black and white versions of which can be seen on this blog.


Three further Pocket Books will be released in September featuring the Hulk, Iron Man, and the X-Men. There will also be standard size Marvel Masterwork trade paperbacks reprinting all the Hulk stories from 1963-64 and all Iron Man strips from 1962-63.

Panini UK also publish collections of more recent Marvel stories. A full listing of all the books scheduled for this year can be seen here:
http://www.paninicomics.co.uk/StaticPage.jsp?Id=Gnrelease_sched.htm

Monday, January 14, 2008

Bash Street Wizards


Since their inception in 1954 The Bash Street Kids have been so synonymous with The Beano that it may be surprising to hear that the characters also appeared in another publication for a while. For a short time in the mid-Fifties, D.C. Thomson's story paper The Wizard included Bash Street in its line up, - as a text story.

Simply titled Bash Street School the single page (or page and half) text stories appeared in The Wizard No. 1522 (April 16th 1955) to No. 1554 (November 26th 1955). As revealed in Ray Moore's diligently researched books The Beano Diaries (pub. 1991) Leo Baxendale drew new headers for the stories and, on two occasions, illustrated two Bash Street covers for the story paper, tying in with the text stories, on issues 1536 (July 23rd 1955, seen above) and No.1547 (October 8th 1955).

What's most interesting about the Bash Street School text stories is that they gave the reader more information on the characters than The Beano had revealed. As The Wizard was aimed at a slightly older reader than the primary school age group of The Beano, it also aged the Kids for its readers to relate to. Issue 1536 states that the Bash Street Kids are "over thirteen years old".


More revealingly, it gave full names to some of the characters. The stories were narrated by Sidney Pye (simply known as Sid in The Beano strip) and other characters fleshed out were his sister Kate Pye (Toots in The Beano, thus becoming 'Kate and Sydney Pye' - geddit?), Deathshead Danny Morgan (Danny), and Fatty Brown (Fatty). Wilfred and Smiffy remained without surnames, but there was no Plug or 'Erbert. Instead, new Kids with names such as Gasbag Jones and Toffy Hughes made up the numbers.

No nameless "Teacher" either. Instead, the form master of Class 2c was "Sleepy Snorer" , - a completely different teacher. The nameless "Janitor" from the comics was given the name "Bull" Carr, an ex-sergeant-major.

If the issue I have is any example, the tone of the Bash Street School text stories was far different to the wild slapstick of The Bash Street Kids comic strip. Although still geared towards comedy, the pacing was far gentler and the humour more sophisticated.

The Wizard had a long run in its first incarnation, starting in 1922 and running until 1963 as a text story paper. Then it was revived in 1970 as a comic, which ran until 1978.
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