Sunday, November 30, 2008

Review: Bulletproof No.2

A new British adventure anthology is a rarity these days so it's good to see the second issue of Bulletproof finally appear. Issue No.1 came out quite some time ago but the schedule appears to be on track now with No.3 out soon and issue 4 expected in the New Year.

Bulletproof No.2 is once again a chunky squarebound 80 page offering, and at a cover price of just £3.00 is well worth a try. As is often the case with anthologies the contents are a bit hit and miss. However, as some of the creators are relatively new to the industry it's only to be expected. The strength of Bulletproof is that it uses both new creators and established professionals. It's always good to see new talent emerging and it'll be interesting to see them develop. Bulletproof looks like the ideal place for it. The brainchild of professional editor Matt Yeo, the comic has a lot going for it.

The cover and lead strip features mutant hero Marren Kane, written by Dave Hailwood and drawn by Tony Suleri. I felt that the artist's work had more clarity in colour than black and white so I hope future episodes will allow Suleri to do interior colour work too.

Long-time pro Jon Haward illustrates the Sideburns strip, written by Jim Alexander. Haward tries a different approach to his art here (below) than in his Marvel or Classical Comics work and it's very effective. Hopefully we'll see Jon use this style again.


Of the comic's 80 pages, 31 interior pages are in full colour. These include 21 pages of Alan Grant and Alan Burrows' Fun Guys. Grant is of course a seasoned 2000AD and Batman writer and Burrows often illustrates Commando stories for DC Thomson. Readers opposed to computer colouring will be pleased to see that Fun Guys is hand coloured by Burrows. The script is lighthearted and throws up a few fun surprises along the way.


The lighthearted approach is used in some of the other strips too, with varying degrees of success. There is a balance though, with the seriously engaging space adventure Ex Astris by John Freeman and Mike Nicoll. This CGI strip is my personal favourite in the issue. The computer generated art is very professsional and impressive, and John's script is tight and well told. (Readers may also be aware that a different Ex Astris adventure, also by Freeman and Nicoll, has just started running in Spaceship Away, - another UK adventure comic worth your money.)


All in all, Bulletproof is an interesting package and I'm looking forward to future issues. The comic is not available in newsagents but should be on sale in comics speciality shops or you can be sure of your copies by buying them directly from the Bulletproof website here:
http://www.bulletproofcomics.co.uk/online-store.php

Check out the rest of the impressive Bulletproof site for creator profiles, news of future issues, and more: http://www.bulletproofcomics.co.uk/


Flashback: Comic Life (1916)

I recently bought several old British comics from eBay but unfortunately some of them are far more brittle than expected. I thought I'd scan a few pages from them here to preserve them online before they literally crumble to dust as these could be the only surviving copies in the world of such rare items.


The last 92 years have not been kind to these four 1916 issues of Comic Life. The typical eBay seller's excuse of "not bad for their age" is irrelevant, as I have mid-19th Century copies of Illustrated London News still in almost-new condition. Papers don't become tatty, creased, or damaged by themselves. It's how they're looked after that does that. These tattered, brittle, yellowed old comics will not survive much longer, and indeed one fell in half after I scanned it, but the magic of Photoshop has at least restored the look of the comics to a less-tanned state for our viewing pleasure here. (Incidentally, the bright yellow inks on these Comic Life covers isn't due to Photoshop over-saturation. The yellow colour was very vibrant on the actual comics.)


Comic Life, published by James Henderson & Sons Ltd, was launched in 1898 under the original name of Pictorial Comic Life. It simplified its title to Comic Life with issue 79 in 1899. Originally printed on pink paper, the comic acquired a full colour cover in 1909, becoming one of the earliest colour comics. The interiors switched to black and white, and the back page was printed with a red spot colour. Amalgamated Press acquired the title in 1920 and Comic Life was merged into My Favourite in 1922 after a total of 1,465 issues.


The unusual thing about these issues from 1916 is the format. Back then the norm was for comics to be tabloid, but presumably due to wartime paper restrictions or financial cutbacks these issues are 3/4 tabloid, - a unique square format! (Only for this particular year I believe.)

Humourous tramp characters were as prolific in comics of the early 20th Century as naughty schoolkids are in modern comics. The covers of these four consecutive issues of Comic Life feature Tall Thomas and Butterball, billed as Our Fat Tramps. Obesity seems to have been hilarious back then too, as the strip alongside it starred Fatty the Acrobat. Tall Thomas and Butterball was drawn by H.O'Neill, but I'm unsure as to who drew the other strip.


Like most comics of the time, Comic Life had 8 pages, 4 of which featured text stories. The densely packed small text certainly gave the reader value for money, and the stories of detectives, war, mystery and adventure would of course remain the ingredients of British adventure comics of later years.


The cenrespread of the comic (below) featured a busy mixture of short strips and cartoons, again pretty much like every other comic of the time. The strips have a basic premise. For example, Peter's Pets uses animals to help him win situations. It's a concept that was later revived for Percy's Pets in Smash! in 1966. Alongside it, P.C. Neverwait was one of many comical coppers to have graced British comics over the decades.



The most bizarre strip in the comic appears to be Pyjama Percy and Balmy Bill. These stories are dreamlike and the situations are quite surreal. However, unlike Little Nemo in Slumberland Pyjama Percy doesn't wake up at the end. In this example below, bees grow to giant size and Percy and Bill ride them to Berlin to force the Kaiser to sign peace terms, all nicely drawn by Pip Martin.


On the back page in red and black, George Davey evoked the period with his artwork for Burglar Bertie. In the first example below the comic convention of leaving a pie on the windowsill to cool was mocked as a cook leaves a blancmange on the windowsill to cool. (That a fully-formed blancmange - or "blonkmonge" as Bertie calls it, - would already be cooled is ignored for the purposes of comedy.)


Sometimes Burglar Bertie got away with his deeds, but it seems that more often than not his schemes would backfire on him. Sharing the back page was Our Red Lions, a group of Scouts who, in this instance, capture a couple of German soldiers, which was something they did regularly during World War 1 apparently.


I hope you've enjoyed this peek into the past. It's a tragedy that artists were not allowed to sign their work on these old strips and that comics and cartoonists of this era are becoming forgotten. Sadly the scarcity of such comics means that many artists and their work has already been lost forever. Over the coming months I'll be sharing more examples of pre-WW2 comics here, including pages from Illustrated Chips, Funny Wonder, and The Jester.

Friday, November 28, 2008

New Garth comic book online


Recent weeks have seen the classic Daily Mirror hero Garth return in an online web-strip on the Mirror.co.uk website. Now the strip has been collected into an online comic book for free over on the myebook.com website.
http://www.myebook.com/index.php?option=ebook&id=1789

What's myebook.com? A powerful design, publishing and marketing tool for anyone who wants to get their project out there. Whether it be a comic, novel, magazine, or brochure you can put your publication online for free. Then, if you want more out of it you can join their business program which gives you access to more features and a share in ad revenue that appears in your books. For more information visit the site's home page at http://www.myebook.com/index.php

It's a relatively new venture but so far it looks very promising. There are already a number of comics on myebook as a browse of the site will demonstrate.


So how does the Garth comic hold up? To me, the artwork of Huw-J looked Manga-influenced, which some purists may not like, but it brings a modern look to the character. After all, wasn't a contemporary style just what Frank Bellamy gave us in the 1970s? Speaking of which, although many consider Bellamy's version to be the definitive Garth Huw-J's version still looks suitably powerful. If anything lets it down it's the huge word balloons. Incidentally, the cover for the online comic book is by Andie Tong, the excellent artist of Panini's Spectacular Spider-Man comic.

How Garth progresses remains to be seen. Rumour has it the strip will appear in the Daily Mirror itself soon. (It's about time the cartoon section of that paper had a shake up.) I'll also be watching the progress of myebook.com which looks like it could be very useful for comic creators...

Book of the Year!


Books Monthly, the online book review and listings magazine has awarded the status of Book of the Year 2008 to The Bumper Book of Roy of the Rovers, published by Titan Books. Quite rightly so, as the book is a triumph that encapsulates a long-gone period of British comics in a fantastic retro-format that genuinely captures the feel of an old annual. As Books Monthly puts it:

"This is an amazing book - printed to look like a 1950s boys' annual, it's an absolute must for any nostalgia fan, any football fan, and any comic annual collector too. Comic strip and text stories, quizzes, practical; advice, team strips - it's got the lot, and I have no hesitation in recommending this as my book of the year for 2008."

Congratulations to its editor David Leach on a job well done. You played a blinder my son, and other football clichés etc...

You can read the review by Books Monthly HERE and my own review on this blog HERE.

If you don't yet have a copy you can order it from Amazon HERE.

Tuesday, November 25, 2008

Brand new football comic kicks off this week


It's been months in development but the first issue of an all-new football humour comic for children is about to be launched. Rammie No.1 should be on sale in newsagents from tomorrow, (November 26th) with a cover price of £1.95. (UPDATE: It seems distribution of the comic is limited as there's no sign of it in newsagents around here.)

The comic is the brainchild of Pete Wildrianne and Clive Ward at their company Comic Football. What makes this football comic different is that it is sponsored by a football club, - Derby County. However, if you think that may limit its potential think again. The game plan is for other football clubs to sponsor their own version of the comic (with an appropriate title for each version), with specific content for each club and copies available at their grounds. More information is on the website at http://www.comicfootball.co.uk/

As Pete explains "We go to print on the 17th November and the comic will be out for sale on the 26th November. Three further issues will follow in February, April and June 2009. The club are purchasing a quantity to sell in various outlets, as well as giving copies to their junior club members (approx 3,000). We are distributing wholesale through the news trade with Smiths News and exploring further direct sales opportunities."

Contributors to Rammie include Duncan Scott, Nick Brennan, Nick Miller, Lee Healey, and myself.

Cynics who claim there is no longer a British comics industry should consider that recent months have seen the launch of comics with all-new content such as The DFC, Marvel Heroes, and now Rammie, not to mention additions to the Classical Comics line and the publication of Bulletproof No.2. (Reviews of which will appear here soon.)

They thought it was all over...... but it isn't now. ;-)

Official website of Rammie and publisher Comic Football: http://www.comicfootball.co.uk/



Monday, November 24, 2008

Fleetway Annuals for 1973


Decades ago when IPC were at the forefront of comic publishing in the UK they'd publish a flyer around this time of year listing all the "Fleetway Annuals" they were publishing. These glossy full colour fold-out leaflets would be at the point of sale (on the counter) of newsagents, or sometimes distributed as loose-leaf inserts in the weekly comics themselves.


Here is the leaflet published in 1972, advertising the IPC annuals cover dated 1973. As you can see, it was aimed at the Christmas market to inspire adults to buy the books as presents for the whole family. IPC certainly had a great range of annuals that year, although the selection for adults was a bit sparse. That probably explains why Mum looks a bit blaisé in her head shot next to the Angler's Mail Annual.


Adverts such as these were picked up by kids as well of course to study those bright, exciting looking covers in anticipation of Christmas morning. Virtually every weekly comic had its own annual and you'll notice that some of the books are for comics long gone by then (Wham!, Jag, Eagle, Hurricane) whilst others are even for comics that never existed (Marvel). Look and Learn was such a major title that it had five spin-off annuals of its own!

Such was the attraction of comic annuals in the early Seventies. Sadly, today newsagents would prefer to use shelf space for higher-profit greetings cards or short term items rather than having annuals clutter up their shelves for months. You can't blame them as it's their livelihood, but leaflets like this just show how people once looked forward to "the annual treat".

Classic Les Barton cartoons


As announced on this blog recently, cartoonist Les Barton sadly passed away last month. His work on I-Spy for Sparky comic was well known and respected in comic fan circles but I've recently unearthed some of his 1950s work that may also be of interest to readers of this blog.


Back in the early 1950s there were a number of popular men's megazines that were far tamer than the top shelf fare of today. They featured "pin ups" of attractive models but they were tasteful "glamour" shots, discreetly staged to avoid nudity. However these photos only took up a small percentage of the page count (perhaps just 6 pages out of 52) with the bulk of the content being devoted to cartoons, jokes, and short stories.


Two such publications were You've Had it and This is it, both, I believe, from 1953. I don't know how many issues of these 52 page pocket-sized mags were published, or even if they were just one-off publications, as the only editions I have are the You've Had It Summer Special and the This is it Bedside Number, both shown here. A number of cartoonists had their work featured but it was Les Barton who seemed the most prominent and who had supplied cover artwork for both magazines.


I suppose the closest equivalent to these publications today are the "lad's mags" such as Zoo and Nuts. These 1950s magazines were much more subtle though, but their portrayal of women was just as blinkered. In This is it and You've Had It women were just dolly birds to be voyeured, with looks being their only attribute.


To be fair, not all of the cartoons and gag strips were about the pursuit of women. Barton himself provided numerous cartoons and short gag strips for these two magazines on a variety of subjects. This was work from the relatively early days of his career and although his style was a little different back then it's still good work.


According to this website the two publications shown here were deemed "indecent or obscene" under the Censorship of Publications Act. What this actually led to, whether it was removal from shops, pulping, or prosecution, I have no idea. (Any info appreciated.) However I do find it staggering that such tame (albeit somewhat sexist) publications could even be considered obscene or indecent. Just how uptight was the establishment of the 1950s?


Viewed today, This it it and You've Had It seem like harmless publications of mild amusement and outdated attitudes. Les Barton and others provided some nice work for them but the novelty of the magazines today lies in their social context. On the one hand they portray women as easily available but on the other they feature Charles Atlas ads and adverts to "Be taller" to play on men's insecurities. "Girls prefer a He-Man" boast the back page ads, and that may still be true for some shallow ones even today, but they'd probably prefer one that didn't read You've Had It under the bedsheets.


Wednesday, November 19, 2008

The DFC at Tesco - for one week only


Six months after its launch as a subscription-only weekly comic, The DFC will be available to buy off the shelf from retail giant Tesco. This is a special promotion and is for one week only, from 26th November to 2nd December at a reduced cover price of £1.99. The issue will only be available at Tesco, and no other retail store. (UPDATE: Unfortunately The DFC doesn't seem to be distributed in every Tesco branch as my nearest store had never heard of it.)

DFC contributor Dave Shelton explains: "It's the regular issue [No.26] identical to the one that subscribers will receive, except for the cover which is by Neill Cameron on the Tesco edition (I think that Laura Howell has done the cover for the regular subscription version."

Hopefully full resumés of the stories will be included to bring new readers up to speed on the serials.

This is a natural (and no doubt expensive) move for The DFC to take, so it'll be interesting to see how it fares for its first venture in public as it were. Critics of the subscription-only method now have no excuse not to sample a copy, and the special £1.99 cover price gives it a fair advantage over many other comics / magazines.

A review of the issue should appear here sometime during its promo week, but don't wait for my opinion. Give The DFC a try if you haven't already, and support a totally original, non-licensed, full comic strip publication from the UK.

Thanks to Laura Howell and Dave Shelton for the info. More details over on Laura's blog.

Thursday, November 13, 2008

Embassy reception for Nemi book launch


A reception was held last night at the Royal Norwegian Embassy in London for the launch of Nemi volume 2 from Titan Books. Writer / artist Lise Myhre was flown over from Oslo as the VIP guest and a few other representatives from the world of comics such as comic historian Paul Gravett, artist Woodrow Phoenix, and myself were in attendance, along with staff of Titan Books and book translator Deborah Dawkin.


Nemi, a daily gag strip about a sharply witty Goth girl who doesn't suffer fools gladly has been a huge success in its native Norway for more than 10 years now, with creator Lise Myhre regarded with rock star status. Proof that its humour travels well is the fact that the strip is syndicated in newspapers around the world including the free daily Metro here in the UK. The success of Titan's Nemi Volume 1 has now led to a second volume, which again is a classy 144 page full colour hardback.


Lise Myhre is in London for the rest of the week to promote the book. An itinerary of her appearances are as follows:

Today (Thursday November 13th):
6pm - 7pm Book signing at the Forbidden Planet Megastore, 179 Shaftesbury Avenue WC2H 8JR.

Tomorrow (Friday November 14th):
Comica panel at the V&A -
16.35: Women Creators & Comics Today. Lise Myhre, strip-cartoonist of Goth girl Nemi in Metro, and Asia Alfalsi, Muslim autobiographical graphic novelist, interviewed by Corinne Perlman. More details including ticket price click here.

Saturday November 15th:
Book signing at Borders, 120 Charing Cross Road, London.

Below: Titan Books publisher Nick Landau giving his introductory speech at the reception.


Below: Nemi creator Lise Myhre with David Leach, editor of Titan Books' Nemi collections, and behind David, Ellie Graham, Titan Books' Press Officer.


My thanks to Lise and her agent Håkon Strand for the invitation and to Siri Aronsen and the staff of the Royal Norwegian Embassy for a very pleasant and friendly evening.

If you can't make it to the book signings, Nemi Volume 2 is available from Amazon here.

Norway - the official site in the UK: http://www.norway.org.uk/

Monday, November 10, 2008

More pre-war firework fun!


Blimey! blog reader David Whitwell has very kindly sent me some images of various firework issues from pre-war British comics. There's a great selection here as you can see, and they show the formula house style of comics from the Amalgamated Press. Some are drawn by the great Roy Wilson, who other A.P. artists were encouraged to imitate, but it's not always easy to determine who drew what as the imitators were such skilled craftsmen in themselves. Unfortunately therin lies the problem of trying to identify the artists of pre-war comics, but David has generously provided some info for these examples.

1: (Above) Golden No.3, 6th November 1937. Cover art by Roy Wilson.

2: Puck No.1736, 6th November 1937. Logo by Roy Wilson. Cover artist undetermined. Possibly Wilson?


3: Puck No.380, 4th November 1911. Cover artist unknown. Note kids smoking on the cover!


4: Crackers No.403, 7th November 1936. Cover art by Reg Parlett.


5: Rainbow No.1290, 5th November 1938. Cover art possibly by Bert Wymer.


My thanks again to David for these superb covers!

Sunday, November 09, 2008

Daily Mirror archive of strips - all online!

This weekend the internet saw one of the most significant advances for UK comic historians as 97 years of The Daily Mirror became available to download as PDFs. Naturally this is pleasing news for any historian, to be able to see the news as it was reported in the day, whether with wise reason or errors of judgement, but for comic enthusiasts it means long out-of-print classic strips such as Jane, The Fosdyke Saga, Garth and many more are now available to read for anyone with a computer.



The website ukpressonline (http://www.ukpressonline.co.uk) has the facility to search through pages of The Daily Mirror from 1903 - 2000, and from 2000 only, Daily Express, Sunday Express, and the Daily Star. There is a fee, but it's very reasonable, starting at £5 for 48 hours. In that time you can search their database for whatever news items or strips you wish to find. If you want to book a longer time to browse the fee is higher of course, but well worth it.

Admittedly the search function doesn't seem to allow you to run through issue by issue. This means reading consecutive strips is difficult. I found one way of doing it, by advancing the date in the URL, but it's a laborious process and doesn't always work. (Some issues seem to be missing, or perhaps there's a technical glitch.) Clearly the site is aimed more at people searching for specific reference keywords in articles rather than following daily strips. However it is fascinating to find old Mirror strips by putting in a search for The Flutters or Buck Ryan for example within certain time periods. Some pages are more pixelated than others, and the linework of strips isn't as smooth as should be, but they're still legible.







Another interesting find was that comics such as Buster, Wham!, Smash!, TV21, Lady Penelope, and even D.C. Thomson's Bunty were advertised in the Daily Mirror. Buster had particularly prominent coverage due to the character being the alleged "Son of Andy Capp". (A heritage played down and mostly forgotten after several months.)



Run a search for horror comics and the archive turns up several 1950s articles damning American comics for corrupting children. The paranoia and climate of fear is incredible to behold in these articles of the time.


Such fears even made it to the cover on at least one ocassion, with the notorious 1954 story of "hundreds of children" rampaging through a churchyard looking for a vampire "after the children had been reading horror comics". The real horror is the way in which such scaremongering media articles manipulated the nation against comics.



The website is an important resource for serious historians, students of pop culture, and casual browsers. Truly fascinating stuff.


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