Thursday, July 31, 2008

Space Raoul Flies Solo


Jamie Smart's modern and funny Space Raoul strip appears in its own comic this October. The red lumpy space adventurer has previously appeared in The Funday Times (the Sunday Times comics section) and The Dandy. As Jamie owns the rights to his character the strip now ascends to his own 64 page colour and black and white book with Space Raoul launched as a graphic novel in the USA by SLG Publishing. The same company has published Jamie's Bear comics.

Priced at $8.95 the book will also be available in the UK on import from specialist comic book stores (not newsagents), - so place your order now at a store such as Forbidden Planet, Nostaligia & Comics, Gosh!, Page 45, etc. Remember, comic shops have to order their stock a few months in advance, and they give preference to superhero comics, so if you don't order Space Raoul now there's no guarantee the shop will have it in stock in October.

Visit Jamie's website here:

http://www.fumboo.com/


SLG Publishing's website:

http://www.slgcomic.com/



Wednesday, July 30, 2008

The Beano at 70


Britain's best loved comic The Beano celebrates its 70th anniversary today with a special bumper-sized edition of the long running weekly. With 25% extra pages (but sadly 50% more expensive) the 40 page issue is packed with strips and features to commemorate the event.

Nick Park, creator of Wallace and Gromit (and a keen Beano reader himself) steps in as guest editor. He also features in a special four page Fred's Bed strip drawn by David Sutherland, in which Nick, as a boy, travels through time to meet various Beano stars of the past, such as General Jumbo and Big Eggo.

Another celebratory strip features the return of The Beano's Sixties superhero Billy the Cat in a one-off story drawn by Laura Howell. It's an interesting idea to see an adventure character redone in a humourous / modern light-adventure style, and has potential. (Anyone fancy reviving The Iron Fish in this way?)


News items on this milestone issue are of course appearing across the media, including Sky News and ITN. Last night saw the opening of a Beano exhibition at the London Cartoon Musuem and several Beano creators were in attendance including editor Alan Digby and artists Nigel Parkinson, Laura Howell, Hunt Emerson, and Gary Northfield. The short ITN news item can be seen here:

http://itn.co.uk/news/a0a846e736194019d204be098cc4c791.html


Details of the exhibition, which runs until 2nd November, can be found here:

http://www.cartoonmuseum.org/


Saturday, July 26, 2008

Holiday Fun

No time for a detailed blog at present, so to reflect the hot spell of weather we're having here's a Tom Thug page I did for Buster dated 10th August 1991. (Officially, at this period in the comics' life, it had the mouthful of a title Buster with Whizzer and Chips.)

For all (or most) of Tom Thug's 10 year run, I'd produce a series of holiday stories to coincide with the school holidays. Even today, I still fit in a couple of beach-related Team Toxic strips for the summer months of Toxic.

Tuesday, July 22, 2008

Take a Journey Into Mystery this October

Another in Marvel's line of 1950s comics collections hits comic stores this October. Marvel Masterworks: Atlas Era Journey Into Mystery reprints the first ten issues of the horror comic from 1952/53.

The book features numerous short stories (approximately 5 pages each) with artwork by John Romita, Joe Maneely, Gene Colan, and many more from the pre-code days of Fifties horror. All the covers to the comics will of course be included and the colouring is meticulously based on that of the original stories. This is the closest fans can get to obtaining these classic issues, most of which have never been reprinted before.

With Tales to Astonish Volume 2 published recently, another volume of early Tales of Suspense stories due soon, and an Atlas Era Sub-Mariner book, this Journey Into Mystery collection is the 9th book in this growing series of mid-late 1950s Marvel reprints. At $59.99 each the books aren't cheap, but the quality is high and they do showcase an era of Marvel history that is sometimes overlooked.

Visit Marvel.Com for a preview of the rest of their comics scheduled for October.

Below: From the mind-blowingly excellent Atlastales website, a page from one of the typically dark and sinister Journey Into Mystery strips. Death of a Puppet from issue 7, April 1953. When this (and other) stories are reprinted in the book, the remastered pages will be sharp and clear and won't have off-register colour.


Update 31/7/2008: Marvel have announced that they will be reprinting The Black Knight and The Yellow Claw in one volume as Atlas Era Heroes vol 4 next year! Classic Joe Maneely and Jack Kirby material in one book.

Monday, July 21, 2008

The Four Doctors


The new issue of Doctor Who Magazine, out this Thursday (24th July), gives the reader a choice of four covers. Together, the combined covers make up The Doctor's "army" of companions as seen in the final episode of series 4.

This is the first time DWM has used this gimmick, although it did offer two alternative covers on one issue a year or two ago. The Radio Times has also used alternate covers in recent years. Such stunts were / are used in American comics at times, and the idea is that hard core fans will buy one of each. This led to some bad feeling amongst comics fandom, so it'll be interesting to see if online Who fandom reacts the same way. (Hang on, this is online Doctor Who fandom we're talking about. Of course they'll go ballistic. They love a good moan. ;-))

Beano exhibition in Dundee


Matthew Jarron, Curator of Museum Services at the University of Dundee has posted this info on the Comics UK Forum this morning. Sounds interesting....

"This is to let you know that Happy Birthday Beano, the official 70th anniversary exhibition, has now opened at the University of Dundee's Lamb Gallery. Created in association with D C Thomson & Co Ltd, it includes a feast of original artwork from the very first issue up to today, including work by legends such as Dudley D Watkins, Allan Morley, Leo Baxendale, Ken Reid, David Law, David Sutherland, Jim Petrie, Tom Paterson and many more. Also original publicity material, let
ters from readers and artists, and much more. The show is on until 20 September and is open Mon-Fri 09.30-20.30, Sat 09.30-12.00. Admission is free. Tying in with the exhibition will be a special anniversary event on 30th July featuring free talks by comics historians and Beano artists, including Gary Northfield and Laura Howell - and we hope that the living legend David Sutherland will be with us!"

http://www.dundee.ac.uk/museum/beano.htm

Ready to Watch The Watchmen?


I must confess that although it's a ground breaking comic, and one of the most enjoyable series I've read, I haven't re-read Watchmen since I bought the original 12 issue Limited Series back in the 1980s! Which basically means I've only ever read it as a monthly comic and never as a graphic novel. (Sorry Dave! - and apologies to Alan too if you're out there.)

However I intend to remedy that this summer now I've bought Absolute Watchmen, a fantastically luxurious hardbacked, slipcased, remastered-coloured version of the story. That should keep me occupied for quite some time.


The reason I'm coming back to Watchmen is of course to refresh my memory of the saga in time for when the movie debuts next year. The jury's still out on whether it can be transfered to screen convincingly, - or even if it should be adapted into a movie. Most other comic book movies haven't been enhanced by Hollywood and the public notion that a comic movie is somehow more socially acceptable than the original comic is increasingly annoying.

Daredevil? League of Extraordinary Gentlemen? Elektra? Judge Dredd? All failed to capture the spirit and intelligence of their original comics, and as good as Spider-Man was would you trade your Ditko and Romita comics for the DVD? However, I keep hearing that Watchmen may do justice to its source material. I certainly hope so, and will be going to see it with an open mind. The film doesn't open until next year but the hype has already started. An exclusive trailer was on the Empire website until recently and Entertainment Weekly is releasing a Comic-Con special:


Click here to visit the Entertainment Weekly website to read the feature and see images from the film:

http://www.ew.com/ew/article/0,,20213273,00.html

2009 Children's Annuals Preview

Covers of some of the 2009 annuals have been released. All are available for pre-order from Amazon, and should be in the shops by late August / early September. Here's a cover gallery of a few upcoming items:

An unusual revamp for the Bash Street Kids Annual. Looks like they're reprinting some of the longer stories. Quite a striking cover.


The Dandy Annual features the newest logo, but I understand the content will be comics based, rather than reflecting the 50/50 comic/feature content of Dandy Xtreme.



Classic Dudley Watkins reprints in The Broons and Oor Wullie...


Panini's Doctor Who Storybook (above) is basically a traditional Annual in all but name. The reason it's called a "storybook" is because a few years ago the BBC decided to do their own Doctor Who Annual, the latest cover of which is below. (Poor resolution, sorry.)


Bunty continues to have an annual every year, despite the comic ending years ago!

The traditional softback Oor Wullie book (published every two years), reprinting more recent strips from The Sunday Post...


A Dark Knight Annual to cash in on the movie...



...and finally the latest hardback Beano/Dandy collection "Comics in the Classroom" reprints a selection of school based strips from the past 70 years...

Sunday, July 13, 2008

Flashback: This week in July 1965


Ready for another journey back in time to the newsagent's counter of decades past? This time, here's a few of the many comics that were available 43 years ago this week, cover dated 17th July 1965...

TV Comic No 709, TV Publications Ltd. 16 pages. Price 6d
This title had started life in the 1950s aimed at quite a young, practically pre-school readership but by 1965 it had shifted its focus towards the traditional 7 to 11 age group. That said, it's still "younger" in tone than most comics of that period.

I can quite clearly remember laughing out loud at the Popeye strip on this cover during a train journey to Blackpool. For some reason Jib Boom's catchphrase "Put up yer dukes" tickled me. (I was only six and easily amused.)

Inside the issue, Neville Main's Doctor Who was in "the magic wonderland" encountering the Pied Piper of Hamelin. Even as a child I realized this was far too immature a concept for a Doctor Who story and wasn't particularly taken by TV Comic's version of the character.

Over the page, the TV Terrors (an original strip not based on any show) take a trip in the TARDIS themselves. I've scanned the page here as a curiosity piece for any Doctor Who fans reading this.

TV Comic's full colour centre pages at the time were given to Space Patrol, a strangely unsettling Saturday teatime puppet series that always seemed a bit colder and darker than its Gerry Anderson-produced rivals. The strip version by Bill Mevin reflects this a little but lacks the sheer creepiness of the puppet show.

Other strips in TV Comic in July 1965 included The Tellygoons, Beetle Bailey, Foo Foo and Go Go, and The Dickie Henderson Family!

Valiant (un-numbered) Fleetway, 40 pages. Price 7d
Fleetway's comics always seemed confident and professional and in 1965 their main titles had expanded to 40 pages an issue, - over twice as many pages as some comics of the period. The expanded page count meant that Valiant padded itself out with some European reprint (an edited version of Jean Giraud's Fort Navajo, and a Franquin strip) but the content was mostly all new. Favourites such as Kelly's Eye, The Wild Wonders and The Steel Claw continued to thrill the readers, as did Mytek the Mighty.

A typically eccentric British strip, Mytek was a giant mechanical ape controlled from inside its head by a fiendish dwarf. All played perfectly straight of course. The page shown above features one of those nightmarish scenes that UK comics excelled in: Mytek stares directly at the reader as a hatch slides shut in his chest imprisoning screaming human captives begging for mercy. A perfect horror moment drawn by Eric Bradbury.

On a lighter note, Captain Hurricane featured the usual German-bashing antics of the Royal Marine with a short fuse. Sometimes the simplest things set Hurricane off on a "Ragin' Fury". This week, a pigeon lands on his head and the next moment the Captain is kicking a door down and punching Nazi faces in.

Jack O'Justice
was a nicely drawn two pager by Tom Kerr that appeared at the back of Valiant. Fleetway strips often played with the supernatural (or what appeared to be supernatural) as the atmospheric page above demonstrates.


The Dandy No.1234, D.C. Thomson, 16 pages. Price 3d.
All the usual top quality material in this issue, kicking off with Charlie Grigg drawing Korky the Cat stealing a fish and avoiding the gamekeeper. Figures of authority were always prime targets for Dandy characters, whether it be Dads, schoolteachers, or Colonel Grumbly in Corporal Clott.

Inside, one of the Desperate Dan serials was in full swing. This particular story about a "Man from Mars" ran for several weeks. The "Martian" turned out to be Danny and Katey, - not unexpectedly, but it was entertaining nevertheless thanks to Dudley Watkins' considerable talent. On the opposite page, Winker Watson and his pals pursue a Gypsy for stealing their clothes, but the real thief (Winker's brother Wally I seem to recall) wouldn't be revealed for a few weeks.

The main attraction of The Dandy for me at the time was the adventure serial The Stinging Swarm. The figurework of artist Jack Glass had a certain stiffness about it but that proved ideal for this strip about a swarm of insects that paralysed their victims.

This issue of The Dandy featured an advertisement for the 1965 Dandy Summer Special. I had the special at the time but it's long since gone. However, there's the ad above.

TV Century 21 No.26 City Magazines, 20 pages, price 7d.
There's been a lot of praise written about this title over the years, and deservedly so. (Check out the superb Technodelic website for in depth features.) Back in 1965 this was the favourite comic of many kids (including myself). The cover of this issue actually states "In its first six months of existence, TV CENTURY 21 has pulled ahead of every other children's comic being sold in Great Britain". (See here how demand for the comic outstripped supplies, much to the consternation of the retail trade.)

TV21 (as we all called it, and it later officially became) was a relatively intelligent comic which often featured plots with more sophistication than the various tv series it was based on. Having said that, it was the artwork that was its major attraction. Mike Noble's Fireball XL5 was always more visually exciting than the tv show.

The main strip in TV21 that year was considered to be Stingray, stunningly drawn by Ron Embleton. Bear in mind that children were watching Stingray and Fireball XL5 on black and white televisions at the time so these colour strips were a revelation.

As this edition appeared months before Thunderbirds hit the screens there's no Frank Bellamy in this issue. However, there was a Lady Penelope strip that had been running in the comic since issue one. As readers we were curious to who this character was, particularly as a photo of a puppet we'd never seen on tv appeared beside the logo. Like a posher and less violent version of Modesty Blaise, Lady Penelope and her own Willie Garvin, Parker, fought the robots of Mr.Steelman for much of the year. Again, top class artwork, this time by Eric Eden.

Much as I relished practically every page of TV21, my favourite strip was the one on the back cover: The Daleks, drawn by Richard Jennings. Whilst TV Comic had the rights to run a Doctor Who strip, they didn't have the rights to The Daleks, and vice versa. Therefore this Doctor-less series focused on The Daleks' plans for conquering the galaxy and the struggles of the people they face.

Blackpool 1965
As in The Dalek World annual of the previous year, the TV21 strip featured the pepperpots ruled by the Emperor Dalek. Although the Doctor Who tv series has since adopted a few aspects from the comics (such as the Dalek's flying saucer design) it's never quite gotten the golden spherical-headed Emperor right. (Although Remembrance of The Daleks came close.)

Finally, back to that Blackpool holiday mentioned at the top of this blog. Here's a photo of me aged six, 43 years ago today, sitting outside the "digs", chuffed to bits because I've managed to get TV21 whilst on holiday. (That's my late father and my Aunt with me. Photo taken by my Mum.) There I am clutching the very comic shown above. Happy days!

Saturday, July 12, 2008

25 Year Flashback: The Daredevils No.7




If you'll forgive me being a little self-indulgent on this blog today, this month marks 25 years since I had my first work published in a professional comic. The title was Marvel UK's The Daredevils and the job was a pocket cartoon entitled What If Iron Man Really Lived up to his Name?

Looking at it now, the style is crude and the gag very lame, but seeing it in print back in 1983 gave me a huge boost to my self esteem. At the time I was on the dole, having quit a dead-end office job, and had been trying to break into comics for a couple of years with no luck. (In retrospect it's understandable I made no initial headway because my work simply wasn't professional standard then.)

I'd been producing several fanzines and small press comics in order to gain experience and feedback, and Alan Moore (whom I knew from the Westminster Comic Marts and inevitable pub-meets) suggested I try Marvel UK with some ideas. He introduced me to Marvel editor Bernie Jaye in February 1983 and she asked me to submit some work. I soon came up with a variation on Marvel's "What If...?" series, sent in a bunch of cartoons, and at the April Westminster Comic Mart Bernie told me she'd be running them in The Daredevils from issue 7. I was on cloud nine for the rest of the day.

The rate was very low, - £5 a cartoon. Not enough to enable me to get off the dole at that point (and yes, I did declare it) but what it gave me was far more important, - the encouragement to carry on. Prior to that, I'd been on the verge of giving up my ambitions to be a cartoonist, but the euphoria of seeing my work in print gave me the confidence and incentive I needed. After that, more work followed and I went full-time self employed early in 1984. It's true what they say; once you've been published it gives other editors the assurance that you can do the job. All thanks to Alan Moore and Bernie Jaye.

Enough of my "origin story". What was the rest of The Daredevils like? In a word, brilliant. A 56 page package of strips, news, and features, - and what content! This is the comic that featured Captain Britain by Alan Moore and Alan Davis (competing with themselves at the same time on Warrior's Marvelman). Curiously, this issue (No.7) features parallel world homages of a few famous comic characters such as "Android Andy" (Robot Archie), "Tom Rosetta" (Tim Kelly), and.... "Miracleman" (Marvelman). Interestingly this was before Marvel's lawyers forced the name change from Marvelman to Miracleman, so technically this is the first appearance of "Miracleman" in comics! (Just one panel too, - he's killed outright.)

The other strips in the comic were reprints of Frank Miller's Daredevil and a Sontaran back up from Doctor Who Weekly by Alan Moore and David Lloyd. One other item was a brand new Night Raven prose story by Alan Moore with illustrations by Alan Davis.


If you're starting to think this was practically "Alan Moore's comic" you'd be right. Alan even wrote a regular two page fanzine review feature! Alan was a great supporter of the small press in the 1980's, partly because we fanzine editors would give / sell him copies in the Westminster Arms and he was too decent to tell us to shove off, but mainly because he had a genuine affection and interest in the publications. This was evident in his reviews, written with warm enthusiasm, good humour, and helpful criticism where needed.

Having fanzines reviewed in a comic available in newsagents must have introduced many new readers to fandom for the first time. Alan was doing everyone a good service here, and I'm sure it must have benefited the industry in many positive ways.


The Daredevils No.7 also featured a three page article by Steve Moore (who fifteen years previously had been "Sunny Steve Moore" of Odhams' Power Comics). This article is significant in that it provided a brief history and summary of Japanese comics. Bear in mind that 25 years ago Manga was unknown in the UK, at least to non-Japanese residents, - hard to believe when one sees the display stands in Waterstones today. Therefore Steve's article (Bloody Sunday Comics, - because apparently most Japanese read their comics on Sunday) basically introduced British kids to Manga for the first time. It even ended with details of where to find these strange telephone-book sized comics ( the Japanese Centre in London's Warwick Street) and I for one took the advice and sought out the place to discover the comics for myself.


This entertaining mixture of strips and features earned The Daredevils an Eagle Award at a convention in Birmingham in 1984 (there's Bernie Jaye beaming with it above). Unfortunately quality doesn't always receive the attention it deserves and falling sales meant the comic was canceled with issue 11, merging into Mighty World of Marvel. However, it was a title that all who worked on it were proud of, and I feel honoured that it was the first comic I freelanced for. A pleasing start to a career.

•••••••••••••••••

Incidentally, by coincidence, 25 years on, I'm freelancing for Marvel UK again now, - or rather Panini as they are today. My Mini Marvels strips from Rampage of two years ago are currently being reprinted in Spectacular Spider-Man (another Eagle Award winning title!) and I've just been commissioned to create new ones for the comic. Here's a preview of a panel from one of the upcoming Mini Marvels below:

Wednesday, July 09, 2008

Edward Lear in The Beano

This week's issue of The Beano features a new contributor, - one who's been dead for 110 years! Edward Lear (1812 - 1888) notable for his limericks and poems has his most famous nonsense poem The Owl and the Pussycat adapted to strip form by regular Beano artist Hunt Emerson.

Hunt illustrates the poem across three pages (the first of which is shown above) and includes Lear's complete verse plus added dialogue by the artist. It makes a refreshing change for The Beano to include something like this alongside Dennis the Menace and The Bash Street Kids but it works! Lear's daft verse suits The Beano quite well, and I can't think of any other cartoonist as ideal as Hunt, a master of surreal humour, to visualise the poem in comic strip format.

The strip ends with a half page summary of Edward Lear's life. Who sez comics don't learn ya brain? The Beano No.3440 is out today, priced 99p.

Update 11/7/2008: Hunt tells me that he's adapted another Nonsense Poem for a future issue of The Beano: You Are Old, Father William by Lewis Carroll. Having seen the two pager I can report it's another fine job. More info on when it'll appear at a later date.


Also out today is this year's Dandy Summer Special, or rather Dandy Xtreme Summer Special, as this is the first Summer Special to reflect the modernized version of the comic (which has now been running for a year in its fortnightly format). Purists may faint at the sight of Jamie Smart's radically different Desperate Dan but it's the funniest it's been in years. New artist C. McGhie on Korky and Bananaman also adds to the modern lively feel of the Special. Out now £2.99 (bagged with a plastic gun).



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