Saturday, January 08, 2011
Dateline 2066: TV21's first facelift
Launched in January 1965 TV Century 21 had proven to be a huge success. With its close association with Gerry Anderson the comic had been producing superb new serials featuring Stingray, Fireball XL5, Supercar... and a character named Lady Penelope who didn't seem to appear in any tv show... yet. However, by September of 1965 all was revealed when Anderson's new show Thunderbirds premiered on ATV.
It was inevitable that Thunderbirds would appear as a strip in TV21, and teasers appeared for several weeks before its debut. With issue 51 (dated January 8th 2066, on sale Jan.5th 1966) the big news was revealed. Not only would Thunderbirds be coming to TV21 but so would two other tv related strips; The Munsters, and Get Smart, plus a couple of new features International Rescues and Dateline 2066.
Obviously space was needed in the 20 page weekly for the new arrivals, so with that issue TV21 bid farewell to Burke's Law, Supercar, and Lady Penelope. The surprising news was that Lady Penelope would begin her own spin-off comic the following week.
The Lady Penelope strip in that issue, illustrated by Eric Eden, saw the character of Jeff Tracy make his first comic strip appearance, commissioning Penny as the British agent for International Rescue. This was the charm of TV21; that it could establish little behind the scenes links with the Gerry Anderson tv series, not least because the editor Alan Fennell was also a writer on Anderson's tv shows.
With the following issue of TV21 readers noticed the changes straight away, with a new more compact logo on the cover. (This logo enabled more flexibility for the designers and would sometimes even be printed sideways.) As for the cover headline, there was no doubt as to what was the selling point. A revamp for the comic, but no free gift was required as a bold red THUNDERBIRDS ARE GO announcement grabbed the attention of kids across the UK. "Every wire, valve, and control has been checked" says the report, setting the comic in a future where there's no Internet but there are still valves.
Inside, the comic led with 21 Special Agent graduating to two pages from his previous one, illustrated by Rab Hamilton.
Favourites Stingray and My Favourite Martian were still present, but a new humour strip The Munsters, based on the popular American sit-com, began its run drawn by Paul Trevilion.
However, it was the centre spread that was the main event. Although the tv series was made in colour, Thunderbirds was only airing in the UK then in black and white, but in TV21 here it was in glorious full colour!
The artist was Frank Bellamy, whose dynamic, stylized more-realistic artwork would earn him a legion of fans. (Personally, at six years old and too young to appreciate his craft, I found his work too dark, and would soon abandon TV21 for the fun and levity of the new Smash! comic. I changed my opinion a few years later of course.)
Thunderbirds was initially given three pages in the comic. A privilege, as other TV21 strips managed two at most. Facing the third page was an ad for the new Lady Penelope comic. I remember being disappointed that it was only aimed at girls, and having no sisters, I gave it a wide berth. However I imagine girls must have thought Lady Penelope was the coolest looking comic ever. It definitely made Bunty and June look frumpy.
On the next spread, Dateline 2066 began with its fabricated futuristic news stories, and the present-day Get Smart strip, "reported through the TV 21 time machine". There's a bit of well-deserved self-congratulation for TV21 at the foot of Dateline 2066 as it reports that in its first year it outsold all other comics aimed at children.
One of my personal favourites Fireball XL5 was still in the comic, excellently drawn by Mike Noble whose cool, clear artwork was always more appealing to me than Bellamy's approach.
The Daleks still held their place on the back cover, with Eric Eden taking over the art duties from Ron Turner for seven weeks.
Even looking back at it now, TV Century 21 still looks modern and appealing. As a comic pretending to be set in the 21st Century it's certainly more sophisticated than the actual children's comics of our present time. The scripts were sometimes let down by plot holes, dodgy internal logic, or all-too-convenient twists (as were many UK adventure strips of the time) but it didn't talk down to the readers. As for the artwork, people such as Frank Bellamy and Mike Noble have rarely if ever been equaled.
A year ago I reviewed TV21 No.1. If you'd like to read that you'll find it here:
For more information about strips based on Gerry Anderson shows (and the history of TV21) visit the incredible Technodelic website:
Join Fanderson, the Gerry Anderson Appreciation Society here: