Sunday, June 22, 2008

Bad Wolf!


Not strictly a comic, but Doctor Who Magazine does feature a nine page Doctor Who strip every month (and it did start life as Doctor Who Weekly back in 1979 which was definitely a comic back then).

Anyway, just an excuse to give you an advance look at Doctor Who Magazine No.397 (above) which hits newsagents this coming Thursday, 26th June. As well as features on the series Dalek-dominated finalé the issue includes part three of the Doctor Who strip The Widow's Curse by Rob Davis and Martin Geraghty.

UPDATE: The above image is the design of the bag the magazine is in. This is the actual cover of this month's Doctor Who Magazine...


(Bad Wolf? Anyone familiar with the series will get the joke of course, and I suspect this will become a real collector's item amongst Whovians!)

As for the red Dalek; something never seen on tv before, but it dates back to the Technicolour Doctor Who film of 1965, the numerous toys, and of course the TV Century 21 comic strip from the same period. And with its huge head-lights the tv red Dalek looks somewhat like Ron Turner's 1966 comic version...


Here's the new BBC trailer for next Saturday's episode:


Friday, June 20, 2008

Bill Everett's Sub-Mariner returns in September

When I was a kid in the Sixties one of my favourite Marvel comics was Fantasy Masterpieces which reprinted the 1940s adventures of Captain America, Sub-Mariner and The Human Torch. Then with issue 12 FM changed its title to Marvel Super-Heroes and although it showcased a brand new strip up front, its reprint section continued with Marvel strips from the 1950s.
Marvel Super-Heroes soon shifted its focus solely on Sixties reprints, leaving us with only a taster of their 1950s material. In recent years, Marvel have rectified this with quality hardback collections in their Atlas Heroes Masterworks line, as reported on this blog here.


Come September, Marvel will publish the third and final collection of their "big three" 1950s heroes compilations with Atlas Era Heroes volume 3 featuring all 10 issues of the Fifties revival of Sub-Mariner comics. The book features artwork by Sub-Mariner's original artist Bill Everett, arguably at the peak of his career. I've always been an admirer of Everett's sharp semi-cartoony style and, since the days of Marvel Super-Heroes always wished to see more of his distinctive work.

The book will also include the Human Torch back up strips that appeared in Sub-Mariner, drawn by Dick Ayers.

As was typical of most Marvel superhero strips of the period, the stories in Atlas Era Heroes are short, simple, and largely anti-Communist, - but that's all part of the historical attraction of these comics.

For more details visit the excellent marvelmasterworks.com website that has exclusive previews of some of the digitally remastered pages:
http://www.marvelmasterworks.com/marvel/mm/atlas/heroes/heroes_mm03.html


Wednesday, June 18, 2008

Flashback: This week in June 1968


For those of us in our late forties, British comics of the sixties occupy a fond place in our hearts (not to mention occupying any space in our spare rooms if we have back issues). It was a busy period for the UK comics industry and a lot of memorable material was produced, but was it all as great as we remember? Let's take a look back to five comics dated June 22nd 1968 to see what the newsagent's counter had on offer 40 years ago this week...


TV21 No.179, 20 pages, City Magazines / Century 21 Publishing. Price 7d
Only three years into its run TV21 was already on the decline. The arrival of the Captain Scarlet strip several months earlier had slowly caused an editorial shift in the comic to replace the unique mock newspaper covers with comic strip. Even so, four pages of Mike Noble artwork were nothing to be sniffed at. A pity the same couldn't be said for the Stingray strip, which now concerned Troy Tempest as a fugitive on the run and the submarine Stingray itself absent from some episodes.



Nevertheless, TV21 still had Frank Bellamy illustrating Thunderbirds every week in gorgeous full colour, but a two page Project S.W.O.R.D. text story and Jim Watson drawing Zero X was no compensation for the loss of The Daleks and Fireball XL5 which had been two major attractions of the first couple of years of the comic. TV21 was now, to use a phrase, "not as good as it used to be" but was still a quality comic compared to its final descent into standard adventure strip and Marvel reprint in its final days two years hence.


Smash! No. 125, 24 pages, Odhams. Price 7d
Another comic slipping past its peak, by mid 1968 Smash! had lost its initial momentum, but was still a lively variety package. Batman (now an interior strip) had been replaced on the cover by The Swots and Blots, drawn by someone ghosting Leo Baxendale who had left the comic many moons before.


Charlie's Choice, previously by Brian Lewis, was now drawn by Gordon Hogg and Daredevil occupied the token Marvel reprint space. The Rubber Man continued his quest to find a cure for his condition, and The Nervs was superbly drawn by its regular artist Graham Allen. Stan MacMurty illustrated Grimly Feendish, on the back page in full colour.




Pow! No,75, 24 page, Odhams. Price 7d
By this time, Odhams' first Sixties humour comic Wham! had merged into Pow! and although budget cuts had obviously been implemented (50% of this issue is Marvel reprint) the comic was a worthwhile read. A striking cover by Mike Higgs (marred only by muddy green ink on the newsprint paper) heralded a new adventure for The Cloak inside.


Further in the comic, past the Lee/Kirby Fantastic Four reprint, the adventure serial The Two Faces of Janus continued on its convoluted but fast paced way. The premise of this strip made little sense (cursed to turn ugly, the public assume Janus is evil simply because he looks it) but it was always an enjoyable action saga for kids, which was its main intention of course.


With the demise of Wham! and the cancellation of the Frankie Stein strip, Ken Reid devoted more of his manic energies to Pow's Dare-a-day Davy page. The Sixties showed Ken Reid at the peak of his abilities, with a degree of black comedy and slapstick cruelty never seen in British comics before or since. Any lesser artist would have made the strip bland or unfunny, but under Reid it's a masterpiece. This week's strip (above) even includes a self-portrait of Ken Reid and an appearance by Dare-a-day-Davy scriptwriter Walter Thorburn. This kind of informal jokey insight into the creators was common in Odhams' "Power Comics" and something that set them above their more conservative peers at Fleetway who wouldn't even let artists sign their work.


Fantastic No.71, 40 pages, Odhams. Price 9d
Following its absorption of Terrific several months earlier, Fantastic was now the only all-Marvel reprint weekly on the stands. Unfortunately its new cover design, using head shots instead of Marvel cover reprints, was insipid and unrepresentative of the energetic content.


Inside, packing five 20 page Marvel strips into 40 pages meant that each strip had to be chopped into serialized segments, not always conducive to cliffhangers. The Hulk had returned a week earlier, but now it was in Fantastic instead of its original UK home in Smash! readers were probably not too happy about it.


The Dandy No.1387, 16 pages, D.C. Thomson. Price 4d
It's easy to see from this issue why The Dandy remained a consistently high seller throughout the sixties. The design was bright and easy on the eye, and the artwork was top class throughout. This issue saw the debut of a brand new strip, Super Sam, illustrated by Jack Prout. Sam was an alien from an unspecified world and the caption informs us he's here "to find about all life on Earth". It's an abrupt start for a DC Thomson strip. We don't see the alien land. He's just here and the first reaction of a headmaster he meets is to try to cane him. Cue "Boris", Super Sam's thuggish slave who stops the head by grabbing him around the throat.


Super Sam didn't quite work in my opinion. The lead characters are unsympathetic and it's understandable why it only ran for 15 weeks before vanishing into obscurity. However the luxury of an anthology comic is that it can afford to experiment with new strips because the regular characters will retain the loyalty of the readers. In this case, the perennial Korky the Cat, Desperate Dan and Corporal Clott (amongst others) kept the readers entertained throughout 1968.

One new strip that had proven to be a hit with Dandy readers was Spunky and his Spider, drawn by the excellent Bill Holroyd. Although the strips' title (and its lead character "Spunky Bruce, the lad whose queer pet was Scamper the giant spider") was a source of playground sniggers, the strip itself was highly entertaining and amusing, as Bill Holroyd's strips always were.



These are the only five comics I have from this particular week in 1968. There were of course many more, such as TV Comic, Lion, Hotspur, Eagle, Buster, Sparky, Tiger, Bunty, Beano, the new Jag and numerous others. Sales were still high, but generally it was an unremarkable period. Shake ups were on the horizon, and by the following year the Odhams comics would be gone, and IPC would begin their domination of the market.

Tuesday, June 17, 2008

Express Weekly online


Those of you who were interested in my brief blog on Express Weekly last year might like to know that the website Comics UK has just started showcasing an issue. In their "Daily Page" section a full page of Express Super Colour Weekly No.76 (from 1956) will be scanned in for your reading enjoyment every day for the next couple of weeks.

Express (or TV Express as it later became) was a glossy quality title that has often been overlooked so the upcoming pages on Comics UK, from the likes of Bill Mevin and Syd Jordan should prove to be an interesting dip into the past.

Cover above taken from the Comics UK site and features Rex Keene by Harry Bishop. To see more visit:
http://www.comicsuk.co.uk/index.asp

Monday, June 16, 2008

Get WASTED!


Just weeks after the launch of The DFC comes another new British comic (or Scottish to be precise). However, where The DFC is a clean cut comic aimed at children, the highly irreverent Wasted is for streetwise adults, and is the antithesis of the polite tones of The DFC. As the Wasted website says, "Should you suffer from narrow-mindedness or are politically correct, then, sorry you're just not allowed to read this magazine... Log off now and report yourself to someone in authority".


Wasted is published by Bad Press Ltd of Moniaive in Scotland, and is devised by comics scriptwriter Alan Grant (2000 AD, Batman) and artists at Glasgow's Hope Street Studios. It's the successor to now-canceled dope comic Northern Lightz although this time round hardly any of the strips feature characters smoking weed.


The 64 page full colour comic is packed with humour strips of a very adult nature. Well, more often than not it's more like adult as in women-losing-their-clothes,
dogs-having-a-crap, people-cussing-for-the-sake-of-it humour. Subtle as a brick, it's cruder than Viz and lacks the topical satire of Viz. However, unlike the many adult comics of the Nineties it doesn't aim to be a Viz clone anyway, so I only use the comparison to explain what it isn't, not what it should be. Wasted has its own identity "for today's youth gone wild".


The strips that amused me the most were Tales of the Buddha by Alan Grant and Jon Haward, and A Hard Day's Death by Gavin Burrows with stylish artwork by Mark Stafford. There's a lot of other fun stuff in there too, but it's not for the easily offended. (They can buy The People's Friend instead.) Creators in issue one include Dave Taylor, John A. Short, Dave Alexander, Curt Sibling, Alan Burrows, Jamie Grant and more. All very solid work.


As with any anthology package some strips are stronger than others but that's to be expected. The good news is you can try it out for free, as Wasted No.1 is available as a PDF to download. (The comic should be in stores this month for £3.25, with issue 2 following on August 23rd).

Here's the link. Now get Wasted! -

http://www.wastedcomic.com/


Thursday, June 12, 2008

Christmas comes early for UK Marvel fans


Traditionally, the publication time for Christmas annuals is late August / early September. However, in a canny move to cash in on this years blockbuster movies, Panini UK have released two of their 2009 dated annuals early.

Iron Man Annual 2009 and The Incredible Hulk Annual 2009 are both full colour hardback books consisting of 64 pages each. (Yes, quite slim compared to the annuals of old.) The content of the Iron Man book features comic strips from the Marvel Adventures Iron Man US comic, plus activity pages. I haven't seen the Hulk book yet but I'm guessing its content will be similar.

The annuals are presumably pitched at a young readership, older than pre-school but not as old as the teen plus readership that most Marvel comics are aimed at these days. A good move, as it's important to bring in young readers to comics. The books retail for £6.99 but you should find them cheaper than that online.

For us oldsters, (and for kids keen to see the Sixties Marvel strips) Panini have released Marvel Masterworks: Invincible Iron Man 1963-64, a chunky softback full colour book reprinting the earliest Iron Man strips by Stan Lee, Jack Kirby, and the underrated Don Heck. A companion volume Marvel Masterworks: The Incredible Hulk 1963-64 by Stan Lee, Jack Kirby, and Steve Ditko should be on sale next week.

Wednesday, June 11, 2008

Introducing Valiant

Only a short blog today but I thought you might be interested in seeing the ad for the very first issue of Valiant. This appeared in Fleetway's Knockout weekly dated 6th October 1962.

As you can see, the ad only mentioned a few of the characters that appeared in Valiant No.1, - and no mention at all of The Steel Claw, who was to become one of the comic's most popular characters. Perhaps back then the editors expected Brett Blade and Hawk Hunter to become big hits. (Who?)

The ad appeared in the comic shown below. By 1962 Amalgamated Press' long-running Knockout comic had been revamped into an adventure comic and was the original home for Kelly's Eye. The following year, Knockout would merge into Valiant and Tim Kelly would become another of Valiant's most memorable characters.


Cover artwork by Eric Bradbury.

Tuesday, June 10, 2008

500 Comics on one CD - and they're legal!


These have been around for a while but if you've never seen them, they might be of interest. In recent years a company called GIT (that's Graphic Imaging Technology Inc., not, as far as I know, a company full of gits) have been producing DVD-ROMs featuring scans of classic American comics.

The products are fully licensed by the comic companies (not pirate copies like some dodgy online dealers sell) and feature 500 comics or more on one DVD-ROM! Each product usually focuses on one comic series and features scans of every single page of the comics, including letters pages and ads.


The format of the discs are simply laid out so the reader can see a cover gallery for each year, then he/she can click on a comic, and start reading.

One negative point is that although the comic annuals/specials are included (even the reprints) the "Giant-Size" quarterly titles that Marvel produced in the 1970s aren't. This is unfortunate as some of the monthly titles cross over into those issues.


The comics can be read in Adobe Reader (which is installed on the discs if you don't have it) and pages can be zoomed in to see the artwork as large as you wish. The two Marvel editions I have (40 Years of Avengers and 44 Years of Fantastic Four) have quite high resolution scans so the artwork can be studied in great detail.


As these are scans of the actual comics, not digitised reprints, the reader sees the comics as they were, which means off-register colour at times, and newsprint reproduction, - but that only adds to the period charm. You're looking at history!


A particularly interesting DVD-ROM in this range is Absolutely Mad: 53 Years of MAD Magazine. This contains the entire Fifties original colour comic book, plus the entire magazine run right up to a few years ago. Over 600 issues.


Unfortunately I noticed that the resolution of the pages wasn't so high on the Mad collection compared to the Marvel ones. Perhaps this is because each issue is 52 pages and there are so many of them compressed onto one disc. The text appears a little fuzzy in close up. A great pity, as most of these issues have never been reprinted before. However the pages are still legible.


If you don't mind reading comics on a computer monitor (and personally I don't find it very relaxing, but a laptop might help) then these DVD-ROMs are a cheaper alternative to Marvel Masterworks or suchlike. The discs are compatible with Mac and PC.

Check out gitcorp's website for the full range of comic collection DVD-ROMs. You may also find them available on eBay (which is where I bought mine):

http://www.gitcorp.com/
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