Friday, February 27, 2009

Three new UK comic magazines out now


New editions of three of the UK's top magazines about comics have recently been published.

First up, is Crikey! No.9 (£.3.99) which, after last issue's full colour special, reverts to all monochrome interiors. It's the articles that matter though and once again its 52 pages are a mixed bag. On the plus side it's great to see Crikey! going to the source and interviewing creators in order to get the facts right. This issue has no less than three veteran comics creators contributing. A six page interview with Enrique Romero on his Axa and Modesty Blaise strips, a four page interview with David Lloyd, artist of V for Vendetta, Night-Raven, and Kickback, and a feature by Pat Mills championing the important work of Gerry Finley-Day, Jenny McDade, and John Armstrong.


The article by Pat is particularly interesting as it highlights the people who revolutionised girls' comics with Tammy in the 1970s, and this in turn inspired the new tone of boys comics such as Battle, Action, and 2000AD. Frustratingly, there's a major error with the layout which replaces a chunk of the article with several repeated paragraphs from earlier! Sadly these are the sort of mistakes which hamper Crikey! somewhat.

There's a good variety of articles in this issue although having two features on the early Marvel UK titles in the same edition seemed a bit odd. However, it's good to see them get some recognition, which may upset the traditional Victor / Valiant / Tiger fans but Mighty World of Marvel is just a valid part of UK comic history as Fantastic or the Alan Class reprints.

Biggest disappointment of the issue was "Derek Wilson's Memory Lane" which just cribbed nostalgic references from off the 'net. (You know, those e-mails that do the rounds about "We made up games with sticks and tennis balls" and how great childhood was, etc.) Ironic that Derek tells us it's a piece about "a time before the internet" when the whole article is a cut and paste job from websites. It has nothing to do with comics and in my opinion wasted valuable space in Crikey!

Overall, Crikey! is improving but it sometimes depends too much on hazy memories as a substitute for facts.


Good to see Comics International finally back on the shelves after a delay of several months. No.207 (£2.99) came out last week and features a lot of material in its 100 pages. Some of the news is now out of date, but editor Mike Conroy has clearly striven to update the news section as much as possible. Even so, there's some good in-depth features in here, such as Frank Plowright's article on the curious fad for apes in American comics and Shaqui Le Vesconte's ongoing articles on the comics of Gerry Anderson.


There's a marked improvement in the design of the mag this issue, I thought, and I was pleased to read that next issue will have a total revamp with a new logo etc. Comics International has certainly been missed, and I hope Mike can get it back onto a regular frequency.


From the Tomb No.26 (£4.95) is also a 100 page issue, many of them in full colour. This is an excellent magazine devoted to horror comics, with good features and lots of cover repros, page samples, etc. (Pity the logo obscures part of a fantastic Pete Von Scholly cover though!) This issue features a gallery of every cover of Warren's horror comic Creepy, in full colour. There's also an article on artist Alex Nino, an interview with Jerry Grandetti, and a major colour feature on 1950s crime comics.


A really nice thing about this issue is that it sidesteps its horror theme for a few pages for the first part of a bibliography of the work of the late Steve Whitaker. There's also a short item written by Steve in 2006 about his time working for Marvel UK. With so many British creators' work forgotten and never indexed it's good to see people making such an effort to document Steve's contributions.

Crikey! website: http://www.crikeyuk.co.uk/

Comics International website: http://www.comics-international.co.uk/

From the Tomb doesn't appear to have a website but is available from Borders bookshops and comic shops, priced £4.95.

Thursday, February 26, 2009

"Hmm... That's quite a page"


Press release from London's Orbital Comics:

Watchmen Original Artwork Page 1, Issue 1 at Orbital Comics


In celebration of the release of the Watchmen motion picture, Orbital Comics is proud to announce a unique opportunity for you to see a momentous piece of original art from the classic 1980s award winning comic book series the film was based upon.


Starting from Thursday 19th February 2009 and for one month only, Watchmen issue 1 page 1 Original Artwork and Colour Guide will be displayed at:


Orbital Comics
8 Great Newport Street
London
WC2H 7JA
[Opening times: Mon-Sat: 10:30am - 7pm , Sun: 11.30am - 5pm ]


The page features an extract from Rorschach's journal, acting as a voice-over for the criminal investigation of the apparent-suicide of his acquaintance, fellow super-hero The Comedian.


Not only a rare chance to see an actual page of original art by Dave Gibbons, but also to experience a piece of comic book history!


Orbital Comics recently moved to Gt Newport Street where the Photographers’ Gallery was for 22 years. With such a large space, Orbital Comics thought it would be great to house a comic art gallery inside which compliments the shop bringing more to the customer.


The Watchmen Page 1 Issue 1 is owned by a private art collector who has been offered £50,000 of which he declined.


Orbital Comics is proud to announce that John Higgins (colorist/inker) for Watchmen will be coming to Orbital Comics for a signing at the end of March 09.

Monday, February 23, 2009

Neil Gaiman on Watchmen

Back in the days before Neil Gaiman was a renowned author, even before his work on the acclaimed Sandman graphic novels, he was a newspaper journalist writing book reviews. Here's an old newspaper clipping from the now long-defunct daily tabloid Today, dated Sunday July 27th 1986, where a 25 year old Neil Gaiman promotes a then-new comic called Watchmen.

It's a good little article, with quotes from Alan Moore, and an accurate impression of the mid-1980s comics scene. That same year Neil would sell his first comic strips to 2000AD. The rest, as they say, is history.

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I'm currently selling a complete set of the first printing of the WATCHMEN limited series from 1986. Click HERE to see the item on eBay!

Sunday, February 22, 2009

Free Watchmen DVD


With the anticipation mounting to the release of the Watchmen movie in a few weeks readers might be interested to know that the current issue of SciFi Now features a free Watchmen preview DVD.

The disc includes several trailers for the movie, a gallery of stills, short production diaries, and an interview with director Zack Snyder including clips from the film. The production diaries are particularly interesting, showing the detail that's gone into adapting the urban environment from the graphic novel.


How well the public and fans will receive the Watchmen movie remains to be seen. I suspect some moviegoers won't appreciate a superhero film that a) doesn't feature characters they're familiar with and b) isn't a family friendly popcorn movie. My hope is that it'll spur enough interest to turn more people onto the comic so they can either enrich their appreciation of the movie or, if the film's a dud, see how much better the graphic novel is to the screen version.


Not to be too negative but one thing they seem to have gotten wrong already is the blood splatter design on the Smiley badge in the promos. Surely the angle and shape of the splatter was a visual symbolism for the hand of the doomsday clock, at ten seconds to midnight, not a blob on the edge as the movie poster has it? Okay I'm probably being incredibly pedantic but that Dave Gibbons design is iconic, and an important visual metaphor of the story.


Watchmen opens on March 6th. Official movie website HERE.

SciFi Now is available in all good newsagents. Visit their website HERE.

...and if you've never read the graphic novel by Alan Moore and Dave Gibbons now's your chance. Copies are in bookshops everywhere!

Tuesday, February 17, 2009

Kevin O'Neill: The Early Days


With the success of The League of Extraordinary Gentlemen with writer Alan Moore, artist Kevin O'Neill has rightfully become one of the leading lights in the comics industry. He's been high profile now for many years of course, but these days Kev finds himself interviewed in the High Street glossies such as this month's Death Ray. With the publication of the next League volume, Century:1910 due in a few months, I thought it might be appropriate to take a rare glimpse into the early days of this extraordinary artist...

Born in 1953 into a South London working class background, Kevin acquired a job in the early 1970s at IPC magazines as an office boy on Buster. This was an important time for UK comics. Although IPC's material was fairly bland and safe in this period they had up and coming people in editorial such as Kevin, Dez Skinn, Nick Landau, and freelancer Dave Gibbons who would soon shake up the industry. The IPC management may have been set in their ways but these young guns, who treated comics as a passion not just as a 9 to 5 job, were chomping at the bit to do something different.

At that time Dez Skinn was editing a fanzine called Fantasy Advertiser International (later the inspiration for his Comics International magazine) for a growing UK fandom. In issue 50 (1973) the famous Frank Bellamy interview edition, a 20 year old Kevin O'Neill drew this ad for Martin's Book Shop, one of London's first comic book stores....


(A year earlier, in 1972, Kev drew a Captain America / Jack Kirby tribute for the pages of Unicorn, a fanzine published by Mike Higgs and Phil Clarke. The art can be seen at the top of this post.)

Although his artistic talents were still developing, Kev was unleashed into the pages of the failing Cor!! weekly in to illustrate the Picture Yourself feature, based on a reader's snapshot.


The work was crude, but the familiar O'Neill sharp linework was emerging. The Zoo Keeper gag shown below is from the final issue of Cor!!, dated 15th June 1974.


In the mid-1970's the poster magazine became hugely popular with kids and teenagers. These would feature articles on a specific subject (such as Kung Fu, or horror films, in the case of Dez Skinn's Monster Magazine) which could then be unfolded to feature a massive poster on the reverse. Freelancing as art editor (and later editor) of a poster mag called Legend Horror Classics for Legend Publishing Kevin O'Neill's work entered the realms of horror, far removed from his cartoons for Cor!!, but horror was a genre he clearly relished and would excell at.


Other poster mags were all feature based, but Legend Horror Classics ran a complete horror strip every issue. No.1 (1975) featured an 11 page Dracula strip, loosely adapting the 1973 movie starring Jack Palance and Simon Ward. From this first issue it became obvious that the magazine wasn't going to be traditional British comic fare. With a killer Zombie being shot in the mouth, this was strong stuff for Seventies kids, - but I bet they loved it, assuming they could afford the then-hefty 25p cover price. (Comics were around 4p each at the time.)



Issue 2 adapted the 1931 Frankenstein movie, and although taking liberties with the dialogue and design (no doubt for copyright reasons), the strip had a fascinating energy about it. Kev's work was displaying some strong Wally Wood influences here but it was still destinctively O'Neill.


Issue 7 of Legend Horror Classics featured a Beowulf strip by Derek Tyson, but Kev illustrated the cover. By now Kev's work looked strong and confident, with his style reaching the standard we'd see in the early issues of 2000AD a few years later.



Legend Horror Classics No.8 is an interesting issue. A year before Hookjaw devoured his first victim in Action weekly, here's Kevin O'Neill presenting us with Killer Jaws tearing "moon-shaped chunks" out of a hapless swimmer. The shark also gets a protuding harpoon stuck in its body, which impales a victim, just as Hook Jaw would later do the following year. Too much of a coincidence? With Kev's connections at IPC, and Kev's later collaborator Pat Mills being the original editor of Action, was this the inspiration for Hook Jaw?



Issue 9 of Legend Horror Classics featured a cover that would give retailers the jitters in today's conservative climate. The Jokers showed a gory decapitation drawn by Kev in full comic horror mode.


Inside, the incident is shown to be a fake, - the "head" belonged to a dummy. Even so, that cover still goes to show what freedoms publishers had back then! No "Mature Readers" cover warnings, no policy of "top shelving" comics. This was on display alongside the likes of Tiger and Bunty, and no one batted an eyelid as far as I'm aware.


In 1976 Kevin self published Mek Memoirs, a 12 page stripzine (we didn't call 'em Small Press comics back then) for a mere 16p. Mek Memoirs had been conceived by Kev in 1974, but fellow IPC staffer Jack Adrian had suggested a rewrite. With Jack's new script, the strip took on a new direction, from robot quest to Robot War.


This rare comic shows Kev's excellence in robot illustration and design, and can be seen as a prototype for Ro-Busters and the ABC Warriors of Starlord and 2000AD. I'm sure Mek Memoirs helped Kev's credentials considerably when he moved to the art department of 2000AD, and I think it's safe to say that 2000AD would have been a far poorer comic without Kev's input.


Kevin O'Neill went on to produce the superb Nemesis the Warlock for 2000AD, had his entire style banned by a ridiculous Comics Code Authority in America, created hero hunter Marshall Law with writer Pat Mills, and today of course is the artist of League of Extraordinary Gentlemen. I've always been a big fan of Kev's work, (and if you're out there me old mate I hope this look back at your early material hasn't been too cringe inducing! As you know, my early work was far less accomplished than this!)

The work of Kevin O'Neill has always been imaginative and edgy (well, apart from those Cor!! cartoons) - a bit dangerous but balanced by black humour. With over 35 years experience Kev's work is stronger than ever, and has considerably matured from his fanzine days, but it's still distincly his unique style.

Monday, February 16, 2009

Spaceship Away issue 17 out now


The 17th issue of top UK independent comic Spaceship Away has recently been published. Once again it's a fantastically enjoyable issue with a good variety of content. This blog has featured enthusiastic comments about this comic before but I understand there are still "traditional" UK comic collectors who don't buy Spaceship Away, despite the comic being about as traditionally British as it's possible to be.

Some people are put off by the price. At £6.99 per issue it's not cheap, as the relatively low print run of the comic means a higher unit cost. However, as it's only published three times a year, £21 per annum isn't going to break the bank.

Is it worth £6.99 an issue? Definitely! 44 full colour pages on high quality paper, with the best reproduction one could ask for. Of course good printing is no use if the contents aren't up to par, but in the case of Spaceship Away the material is always top class!


This latest issue is the best so far in my opinion. Here's just some of the highlights:

• Tim Booth's stunning artwork on Dan Dare, drawn with meticulous detail.

• Frank Hampson's original synopsis for Operation Saturn.

• Top SF author Stephen Baxter's thoughtful comparison of Eagle and TV21.

• Ron Turner's Nick Hazard strip, with excellent new colouring by John Ridgway.

• Graham Bleathman's cutaway design of the cockpit of the Anastasia. (The spaceship, not the singer.)

• An all-new Dan Dare centre spread by Mike Noble!

That last one is, in my opinion, worth the cover price alone. I've been a fan of Mike Noble's artwork since I was five years old and it's great to see him come out of retirement for this one off job. Best of all, Mike has lost none of his magic, with the quality of his drawing being as high as it ever was. I was tempted to post a scan here but, no. If you want to see what Mike Noble's version of Dan Dare looks like buy the comic! You'll be glad you did.

With ten comic strips and several features, Spaceship Away No.17 is indeed well worth subscribing to. For those of you wishing there was still a traditional British adventure comic out there, this is it. Publisher Rod Barzilay says that with rising production costs and bank charges this will be a tough year. This comic deserves your support. What are you waiting for? Visit the website below to order your copy now!
http://spaceshipaway.org.uk/


Wednesday, February 04, 2009

Kevin O'Neill for Bristol Comic Expo


Kevin O'Neill, unique comics artist supreme, will be one of the guests at this year's Bristol International Comic Expo across the weekend of 9th - 10th May 2009. Kev was a regular face at the old UKCAC (UK Comic Art Conventions) in the 1980s but this will be his first British comic con appearance for many years.

Kevin will be there to promote Century: 1910 the latest book in the saga of The League of Extraordinary Gentlemen, which he's illustrated from Alan Moore's script. Here's the promo from the publisher's website:

THE LEAGUE OF EXTRAORDINARY GENTLEMEN (VOL III): CENTURY: 1910 by Alan Moore & Kevin O'Neill Co-Published By Top Shelf Productions & Knockabout. Top Shelf is proud to announce the all-new installment in the breathtaking series by Alan Moore and Kevin O'Neill! In The League of Extraordinary Gentlemen (Vol III): Century #1 ("1910"), our familiar cast of Victorian literary characters enters the brave new world of the 20th century! CHAPTER ONE is set against a backdrop of London, 1910, twelve years after the failed Martian invasion and nine years since England put a man upon the moon. In the bowels of the British Museum, Carnacki the ghost-finder is plagued by visions of a shadowy occult order who are attempting to create something called a Moonchild, while on London's dockside the most notorious serial murderer of the previous century has returned to carry on his grisly trade. Working for Mycroft Holmes' British Intelligence alongside a rejuvenated Allan Quatermain, the reformed thief Anthony Raffles and the eternal warrior Orlando, Miss Murray is drawn into a brutal opera acted out upon the waterfront by players that include the furiously angry Pirate Jenny and the charismatic butcher known as Mac the Knife. This one is not to be missed! This book will be the first of three deluxe, 80-page, full-color, perfect-bound graphic novellas, written by Alan Moore and illustrated by Kevin O'Neill -- with lettering by Todd Klein, and colors by Ben Dimagmaliw. Each self-contained narrative takes place in three distinct eras, building to an apocalyptic conclusion occurring in our own twenty-first century. -- An 80-Page Full-Color Graphic Novel, 6 5/8" x 10 1/8", Mature (16+), Diamond: FEB09-4465, ISBN 978-1-60309-000-1, $7.95

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Kev O'Neill is an artist I would definitely count as a favourite of mine, and Kev himself was a good pal back in the 1980s, giving me lots of advice and encouragement when I was starting out in the business. He even contributed a cover to my fanzine, Fantasy Express, in 1983, - and what a fantastic cover it was; a spectacular wraparound featuring Nemesis the Warlock, and Kev was kind enough to design the logo too! (I interviewed Kevin for that issue y'see.) Here's a scan taken from the original artwork. It's been proudly displayed on my wall for a couple of decades but I notice it's starting to fade in parts now so it's time to safely file it away out of the light.


Kev O'Neill was also a contributor to my 1986 Brickman comic, turning in two fantastic pages for the story's climax set in the depths of Hell. The strip was reprinted in the collection Brickman Begins published by Active Images.

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The Bristol International Comic Expo features a host of other guests too, including myself, family commitments permitting. Hope to see you all there!

Visit the official Comic Expo website HERE:
http://www.fantasyevents.org/index2.html

Website of Top Shelf Productions:
http://www.topshelfcomix.com/

Tuesday, February 03, 2009

More forgotten classics from John M. Burns



Following on from my blog last week regarding the 1965 adaptation of Great Expectations illustrated by John M. Burns, some more of his work for the same comic has come to light. Once again the strips are from the glossy girls' weekly Diana, from the mid-1960s.

These strips will already be well known by some collectors no doubt but I'll bet that most fans of John's work will have never seen them simply because, for most of us male readers, girls comics were a no-go area. A pity, because, like other D.C. Thomson comics, Diana featured some top quality stories and artwork.

Late 1963/early 1964 saw John's work appear in the weekly with the adaptation of Emily Bronté's Wuthering Heights. Episode five, shown above, appeared in Diana No. 46, dated 4th January 1964. Credit to John for using a mature colour palette although some of the browns reproduced a bit muddy even with the benefits of Photogravure printing. Today, the intense script would be considered "compressed", but Burns handles it well, retaining readers interest with a nicely designed layout.



Later in 1964, with issue No.79, John M. Burns was illustrating a brand new strip, embellished in grey wash rather than full colour. Not a strip based on a literary classic this time, but it did feature some "classic" elements of girls' comic fiction of the period. The White Mile told of Vicky Foster, "a cripple" who pits her wits against Nazis who have invaded the bird sanctuary isle she lives on. I don't know how this strip progressed as I only have two chapters but once again Burns turned in a skillful job. (The example above is from Diana No.80, dated 29th August 1964.)



1965 saw John's adaptation of Great Expectations as seen on the previous blog. A year later, with Diana No.151, dated 8th January 1966, his adaptation of Lorna Doone (above) began. This 1859 novel by Richard Doddridge Blackmore must have given Burns quite a task in terms of period research but as ever the brushwork looked effortless on the page.



What these strips demonstrate is the amazing quality of comic strip art in British comics of the time. The 1960s were the period when British adventure strips hit their stride, in both boys and girls comics. In the case of Diana, although it was a large glossy publication that one might imagine would focus on fashion tips and pop features, the emphasis was definitely on comic strips. (At least in the mid-Sixties editions I have.) More on this comic in a future blog!
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