Wednesday, August 31, 2011

Bad Circulation


The latest circulation figures for comics and magazines make for grim reading. Many magazines have suffered falling sales but the real shocker was The Dandy apparently falling from around 15,000 readers to around 7,448 readers since its revamp last October, a loss of 48% of its readership.

I'm no expert in how statistics are worked out but this seems a little suspicious to me. Of course, some might say I'm biased because I contribute to The Dandy, and perhaps I am. However, it seems bizarre that when The Dandy increased its frequency from fortnightly to weekly it should suddenly lose half of its readership! Not only that, but this also coincided with the comic significantly dropping its price to £1.50 (from £2.50), increasing the strip content, and vastly improving its distribution. Yet allegedly it still lost half its readers?

People were swift to point the finger of blame, and there's already a Facebook group calling for the abolition of celebrity-based strips such as Harry Hill, despite the celeb content only being a small part of the comic. Truth be told, readers have actually reacted well to the celebrity spoofs and recently The Dandy has revamped its cover to parody celebrity magazines.

No doubt the big relaunch last October, which saw practically all of the old strips and features replaced by new characters, did cause some readers to abandon the comic. Some people don't like change, even when it's for the better. (Reprints and articles replaced by brand new strips, for a lower cover price? A no-brainer... one would have thought!)

Some older readers have expressed dislike of the modern cartoon style used by some of the new artists, as is their prerogative of course, but similar modern styles have proven to be very popular in childrens books so why not in comics?

Perhaps some children were confused by the satire of the celeb strips? (As we learned on Oink! years ago, kids can only understand satire if they're familiar with the subject being parodied.) However, The Dandy carefully parodies people that most children will be aware of, such as Ant and Dec, Cheryl Cole, Jamie Oliver etc. although Jeremy Clarkson might be a bit of a stretch. (Wouldn't young kids find Top Gear a "Dad's show"?) Even so, most of The Dandy's strips are not celebrity based. Perhaps the lack of free gifts put kids off? Are today's children simply not interested in comics anymore, only the plastic toy?

However, stepping back and looking at the bigger picture, it's not only The Dandy that has suffered falling sales. Personally I'm putting a lot of the blame on the retail giants. Yes, I know I've banged this drum before, but things are not improving in that area. Shelf space is often too small for the number of comics and childrens' magazines out there and staff often shove them in upside down or back to front. Here's a photo I took at a local supermarket a few years ago. The situation is no better today...



How on Earth is a child or a parent supposed to find a comic in that mess? You can't even see the comics lurking in the dark at the back of the "display". More likely they'll just choose one from the front, and what comics are always at the front in most of these shops? Nursery titles and girls' magazines, which funnily enough are the two categories which are still doing quite well.

A few years ago WH Smith decided to stack comics in a display that was too high for children to reach! Again, nursery and girls' titles were lower and easier to get to:


At least Toxic is still doing well, with sales of 40,000. A case of "if it ain't broke, don't fix it" perhaps?

I know there are some who think that publishers should simply launch more comics. They argue that as comics are popular in Europe and Japan, they should also work here. Sadly it's not that simple. Unlike those countries, the British have always regarded comics as throwaway childish junk. As each generation reads less and less comics, respect and interest for comics inevitably diminishes. Some may argue that publishers should try anyway, but the resistance from the trade to non-licensed comics, and the high prices retail giants charge just for stocking a title every issue, make it virtually impossible. Let's hope forthcoming comics Strip Magazine and The Phoenix can pave the way for a new era. Perhaps publishers should look towards other outlets, focusing on book shops with more albums such as Garen Ewing's The Rainbow Orchid (published by Egmont), or try to get their comics into shops that kids actually go into these days (computer game stores for example).

British comics have taken a bloody nose so far this century but they're not out yet. Show your support if you can, and buy The Dandy, The Beano, Toxic, 2000AD and others to keep the industry alive.

UPDATE:
Those that claim some strips in The Dandy are poorly drawn, or look like they're done by children, are not only being insulting to the creators but they're also completely wrong. One might not like the styles, but a simpler or more abstract approach does not mean it's below professional standard. In fact there is nothing in The Dandy that could be classed as "poorly drawn". The aim isn't to draw realistically, and if one looks at the artwork thoroughly there's a sound structure and consistency to each style. Complaining that the modern style isn't "as good" as, say, The Dandy of 1970, is as off-target as saying The Dandy of 1970 wasn't as well drawn as Ally Sloper's Half Holiday.


SUBSCRIBE!
Thanks to Mike in the comments for reminding me that if you subscribe to The Dandy it's a mere £15 for 15 issues! Only £1 an issue, far cheaper than in the shops! Go to: http://www.dcthomsonshop.co.uk/Group-Dandy.aspx

Tuesday, August 30, 2011

Dandy Day!

There's another issue of The Dandy out tomorrow (Wednesday). It's the 3,550th issue since the comic began back in December 1937! This week sees it revert to its regular size and £1.50 cover price now that the summer gift issues have ended. As usual it's packed with comics, including Postman Prat (above), so get a good night's sleep and then run, don't walk, to your newsagent tomorrow morning for your copy! Support Britain's oldest comic!

Commando Preview


Here's a preview of the four issues of Commando that will be arriving in the shops this week. Once again it's a split of two brand new issues plus two reprints, including another classic from 1961! Here's editor Calum Laird with the full details...

Commando 4423: MERCY FOR NONE!

Sitting tensely together in the Dakota on their way to the night drop into Occupied Europe, ten hand-picked paratroopers jokingly nicknamed themselves the ten little soldier boys. Fate must have smiled, for it turned out to be a grim and deadly jest.
One by one, at the hands of the Nazis, they were picked off. One by one, they died the death of heroes… Mercy For None!

Introduction by Calum Laird, Commando Editor

They say that gallows humour is the darkest of all. And this story has the blackest stripe of that type of humour running right through it. As the paras at the centre of the action begin to meet their fates, one of their numbers starts to recite a macabre rhyme which can have only one fatal ending.
Artist Gordon Livingstone, in one of his earliest outings for Commando, enhances the darkness of the tale with generous use of black ink while cover artist Ken Barr leaves you in no doubt that there’s plenty of action waiting inside.
Classic Commando — you can see, and read, why they were such a runaway hit from Day One.

Originally Commando No 4 (July 1961), re-issued as No 2547 (March 1992)

Story: Castle
Art: Gordon Livingstone
Cover Art: Ken Barr




Commando 4424: TUNNEL OF DOOM

Flat on his stomach on the railway line, Private Andy Morgan crawled forward grimly. It was up to him to stop a Nazi armoured train — and all he had to do it with was one single hand-grenade.
And what made it even tougher for Andy was that the only two guys with him were the type who would pack up and run if things got dicey.

Introduction by Scott Montgomery, Commando Deputy Editor

In this brilliant tale we meet a couple of ne’er’do’wells who seem to positively revel in their bad attitude and lack of discipline. The aptly named Dodger Harland and Scrounger Dunville are classic Commando characters and it’s not long before they’ve had a bad influence over Andy Morgan, our fledgling hero.
However, when push comes to shove, perhaps these two aren’t quite what they seem…Redemption is a common Commando theme and this cracking story, with its gritty interior art and a superbly painted cover by Penalva, has an eerily original spin on it.

Originally Commando No 450 (January 1970), re-issued as No 1271 (November 1978)

Story: Allan
Art: Bielsa
Cover Art: Jordi Penalva



Commando No 4425: PRIDE OF THE DESERT

What do you get if you send a marauding, aristocratic “Toffs Brigade” on a race against time to recover their stolen regimental silver?
You get a rip-roaring adventure, that’s what!
And if that’s not enough, don’t forget to add a battered but trusty Bedford QL lorry nicknamed “Queenie”…better known as the PRIDE OF THE DESERT.

Story: Alan Hebden
Art: Benet
Cover Art: Benet




Commando 4426: Killer Condor

“Relax, it’s one of ours.” So said the U-boat’s look out as the looming shape of a Focke-Wulf Condor appeared over them.
Unfortunately the crew of the bomber didn’t seem to realise that the sub was on their side for its lethal payload was soon tumbling down to bring destruction and death to the men below.
The Killer Condor had struck again but surely at the wrong target…

Story: Mac Macdonald
Art: Carlos Pino
Cover Art: Carlos Pino

http://www.commandocomics.com

Monday, August 29, 2011

Birmingham Comicon Pics



I had an enjoyable day at 2011 BC on Saturday. The one-day event at the Holiday Inn, Birmingham saw a good number of fans, pros and semi-pros mixing in a friendly, laid back atmosphere and time really flew by. Sadly Mark Millar was ill and couldn't attend, but superstars such as Dave Gibbons, Ian Churchill, and Chris Sprouse were there.

As I was busy sketching (and signing the Spirit of Hope book) and catching up with old friends I didn't have time to take as many photos as I usually do at these events. However, here's the handful I did snap...

It's dynamic David Leach, creator of Psycho Gran (as seen in Oink! and Nemi) and currently editor of Titan's Spongebob Squarepants magazine. Smile for the camera! Oops, too late.


Here's a quick shot of the main hall, with dealers offering a variety of stock including independent comics, back issues of American titles, graphic novels, and vintage British comics. There's Tony Hitchman in the foreground, giving away his brilliantly funny four-page comic Target:Crime.


It's the inimitable Kev F Sutherland with his range of self-published comics, Hot Rod Cow, Sinnerhound, and Captain Clevedon. (Reviews to follow in a later posting.) You can visit Kev's blog here: http://kevfcomicart.blogspot.com/


Good to see Bambos Georgiou again; another cartoonist I've known for about 30 years. Bambos was the creator of Ratman way back when, and has been busy working in the industry since then, as an artist and an editor. Recently he's self-published quite a few titles too, including Fun Bumper, Weird's Finest, and Stab. I'll review them here as soon as I have time.


Eva Perkins was busy all day at the Comic Alliance table promoting Spirit of Hope. If you don't already know about this very worthwhile book, you can find out more here: http://lewstringer.blogspot.com/2011/07/spirit-of-hope-launched-and-looking.html


Last but not least here's inker supreme Mark Farmer, busy sketching away and not noticing the two cavegirls behind him. That's the comic biz!


Thanks once again to James Hodgins, Shane Chebsey and the gang for organizing another great show! http://www.thecomicsshow.co.uk/2011_BC/index.html

Friday, August 26, 2011

It's time for 2011 B.C.


Just a quick reminder that the 2011 B.C. (Birmingham Comicon) is tomorrow, Saturday 27th August! The launch party is on tonight and I can't make it for that but I'll be there tomorrow for the convention proper.

Who else is going to be there? How's about Dave Gibbons, Doug Braitwaite, Alan Davis, Mark Farmer, Chris Sprouse, Mark Millar, Emma Vieceli, Dylan Teague, Phil Winslade, David Hine, and Ian Churchill to name but a few? It's the place to be.

For more details visit the official website here:
http://www.thecomicsshow.co.uk/2011_BC/index.html


Wednesday, August 24, 2011

Dave Bird 1958 - 2011


Above: Dave Bird at a London comic convention in 1980.

Back in January 1967, when I was still only 7 years old, the second issue of Odhams' Pow! comic gave away a free Spider-Man T-shirt transfer. I asked my Mum to iron the transfer onto a shirt and went to school proudly wearing it, which no doubt immediately labeled me a geek to my classmates.

However, in the playground a kid in the year above me stopped and pointed with excitement, recognizing "Spidey" immediately. It turned out he was also a reader of Pow! and he told me something that filled me with amazement. "I've got the original American Spider-Man comics" he said. Puzzled, I asked him to explain, whereupon he informed me that the stories in Pow! were reprints from American Marvel Comics. American comics! In full colour! Here in Nuneaton! That sounded pretty mysterious and otherworldly back in those days.

As it turned out, the kid lived in the next street and he kindly gave me, without any prompting, a stack of 75 Marvel comics! Sitting on the bench in the backyard at home I poured through these strange alien comic books. Titles such as Daredevil, Marvel Collector's Item Classics, and Fantasy Masterpieces. I was hooked on comics for life, and the kid became a good friend.


On Saturday mornings we'd go to the ABC Minors childrens' matinees at the local Ritz cinema to watch the Flash Gordon serial (the same serial our Dads watched in the 1930s), then to the bookstall at Nuneaton market to swap Marvel Comics (2 for 1) or buy second hand copies for 6d. Sometimes, giving way to our natural curiosity, we'd stretch up to the top shelf of WH Smith to look at the nude ladies in Parade until the shop assistant chased us off. In the afternoon we'd go fishing for newts at the pond in the local field. Weekdays after school we'd see what the corner shop had in the way of Americana, from brand new Marvel Comics (never DC, as we were Marvelites) to Bazooka Joe Bubble Gum. We'd draw our own comic strips and make up our own superheroes. Mine was Captain Thunder. His was Captain Incredible. They were happy days.

His name was Dave Bird. He passed away this morning, aged just 53 after a long fight with that most evil of diseases, cancer. Dave was a real character, and I mean that in a good way. He had little time for negativity. If he liked something he'd be completely enthusiastic about it, whether it was comics, steam locomotives, guitars, TV sci-fi, wildlife, comedy, heavy rock, the Batman TV show, or gory zombie horror films. He was also interested in model trains, and built displays that, when weathered and photographed at the right setting, looked stunningly like full size locos. There was no falseness to Dave. You knew where you were with him and he was always honest. If he didn't like someone, he saw no point in associating with them. Mention a subject he didn't like and he'd just say "pass" rather than slag it off. He understood that life is indeed too short to waste on subjects or people that are irrelevant to one's own outlook. Would that we could all be so wise.

Although we were close pals when we were kids we'd drifted apart a little over the years as people do. However I often bumped into Dave around town, in more recent years at The Crown pub in Nuneaton when there was a gig on. Sadly he turned up less and less in the last year or so as he was undergoing treatment. He looked very poorly when I last saw him several weeks ago, but he was bearing up really well and everyone was pleased to see him. We thought he still had a chance. I knew he was due to go into hospital for more treatment and I'd intended to visit him before then, but sadly, to my regret, that's now too late.

Dave Bird was one of the good guys. He was well liked in his home town of Nuneaton and beyond, affectionately known as "Birdy" by most, although he never liked being called that. He always joked that if it wasn't for him I wouldn't be working in comics. That's quite likely to be true, because although I liked comics as a child I wasn't hooked as a collector
until Dave gave me those Marvels. Perhaps without that pile of American comics to dazzle me I'd have grown out of comics like most kids did. That collection kept me interested in comics, which led to me discovering fanzines... contributing to fanzines... and eventually working in comics.

So, thank you Dave, for being a good pal way back when, and for always being great company. It was a pleasure to have known you and I'll raise a glass of Guiness in your honour next week at The Crown. Rest In Peace old friend.

*********************************

Here's a proud moment for Dave, on stage playing his inimitable version of Apache...

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Mi0KTl9IYUY



Friday, August 19, 2011

Can Strip Magazine revive UK adventure comics?

Not long to go now before October's launch of Strip Magazine No.1, the brand new British adventure comic from Print Media Productions. If you want a taster (and in these comic-starved times who wouldn't?) you can read an online copy of issue zero for free at the Strip Magazine website here:

http://stripcomicmagazineuk.blogspot.com/2011/05/read-strip-magazine-issue-zero.html

The preview is just 16 pages but the actual issue one will feature a mammoth 68 pages in full colour for £2.99. Editor John Freeman has just announced that for the first few months Strip Magazine will only be available through direct sale outlets (UK comic shops, not newsagents). "We still plan to widen our sales to the UK high street in 2012," says John, "effectively 're-launching' the title after its initial tranche of content draws to a close".

Readers who were looking forward to buying the comic from their corner shop this year may be a little disappointed with this news but if you ask your nearest comic specialist shop (such as Nostalgia & Comics, Forbidden Planet, Gosh! etc) to order you a copy now you won't miss out when Strip Magazine launches in October. Please don't wait and think "Oh I'll buy it next year when my newsagent has it". The comic needs your initial support for it to grow.


"We see this as an opportunity to 'test bed' the title, in a similar way to partwork publishers who roll out test magazines in a key region to see if the project appeals" says John Freeman.

Make no mistake about it, launching a new British comic today is a brave move and not an easy path to take. There is resistance and apathy from the UK retail trade to any comic that isn't tied into some merchandised fad, and even if the comic is accepted there are huge fees to pay just to get it on the shelves, and no guarantee that the shops will actually display it correctly (or even the right way up).


Some people may use their blogs and forums to berate UK publishers for not putting out more non-licensed comics but talk is cheap. Sure, small press comics can thrive, and many of them feature excellent work on a par with mainstream comics, but to make a comic profitable in this day and age, to earn its creators a living, isn't easy. Shame on the hecklers who think it is.


Strip Magazine is exactly the kind of comic that fans of British adventure strips have been asking for, so I hope each and every one of them supports it. The strips feature top notch talent (John McCrea, PJ Holden, Ferg Handley, Kev Hopgood, and John Ridgway to name but a few), solidly told tales that aren't "mature readers" sex/gorefests, and a variety of stories. Think Lion or Valiant but with a modern twist.


For more details on the comic and to keep up with developments bookmark the Strip Magazine website:
http://stripcomicmagazineuk.blogspot.com/

A new hardcover graphic novel Mirabilis is out now from Print Media and I'll be reviewing it here shortly. (Short review for now: It's fantastic. Buy it!)

Comics and Conflicts event - Today!


Shame on me for not checking out Paul Gravett's excellent Comica website more often, as I should have reported on this earlier.

Today and tomorrow (August 19th and 20th) sees the Comics and Conflicts event at the Imperial War Museum, London. Guests include Pat Mills, Garth Ennis, David Collier and Francesca Cassavetti discussing the way that comics around the world have reflected warfare.
For full details visit the Comica website here:
http://www.comicafestival.com/index.php/site/news/comics_conflicts/

Thursday, August 18, 2011

Commando comic teams with National Army Museum

As reported on this blog recently Chelsea's National Army Museum is soon to host an exhibition of original cover artwork from DC Thomson's Commando comics. More information just in is that one of the current issues of Commando is a specially written story featuring the museum which begins in the present day, moves to the war in Afghanistan, and then a flashback to 1878 and the second Afgan war. This collector's item issue (No.4419) is written by Mac Macdonald with superb artwork by Keith Page.

Here's the full details of the issue from editor Calum Laird, along with the information on the other three issues of Commando that are in the shops now...


Commando No 4419: The Mystery And The Museum

It was a relic of a past British Army campaign in a far-flung corner of the world. Just another piece of military gear dropped and forgotten in the heat of battle.
Even so, the man who had found it, Sergeant John Rogers, wanted to know more and took it to the National Army Museum. There it was quickly identified as a Foreign Service Cork Helmet and the owner's name in faded ink was made out on the lining.
So what was the real story of soldier Ben Trimshaw and how did his headgear come to be abandoned in a remote watchtower in Afghanistan?

Introduction by Calum Laird, Commando Editor

It’s well known that the home of the best action and adventure stories is Commando. Likewise, the best place to go for the history of the British Army is Chelsea, and specifically the National Army Museum. Like Commando, it does exactly what it says on the tin.
And what does that have to do with this story? Well, when the Museum and Commando got together to mount an exhibition of our artwork, imaginations were fired to produce a story that would feature the talents of both, dare I say it, institutions.
So, with the advice of the NAM experts, the fevered imagination of writer Mac MacDonald and the artistic skills of Keith Page a unique story was created. The story you have in your hands. We have enjoyed putting it together, we hope you enjoy reading it just as much.

PS With free entry, can you afford to miss this exhibition?

Story: Mac MacDonald
Art: Keith Page
Cover Art: Keith Page



Commando 4420: SCOURGE OF THE STORMBIRDS

By 1945 the end of World War II was nigh. Frank Bailey, a USAAF squadron leader just wanted to make sure his team would survive to see the end of the conflict.
So Frank trained his boys hard, constantly impressing on them that each time they flew their P51 Mustangs against Nazi fighters it could be their last.
And that was before they encountered Germany’s newest weapon, the sleek, jet-propelled Me262 — the deadly Stormbird…

Story: Ferg Handley
Art: Olivera
Cover Art: Ian Kennedy



Commando 4421: AMBUSH ZONE

It was an area of dense jungle with a few faint trails criss-crossing, some leading nowhere. Yet somehow a British platoon had to navigate this wilderness — and protect a young native whose influence could help turn the tide of war against the Japanese.
All this with a ruthless enemy lying in wait, setting up one deadly ambush after another…

Introduction by George Low, former Commando Editor

This story is more up-to-date than some of this year’s re-issues and there’s a very good reason why. Most of you will be familiar with Ferg Handley and his work and this is the second script I commissioned from him, “Lucky Lenny”, No. 3102, being the first.
“Ambush Zone” is a gripping story set in the jungle with a British patrol and their guide pitting their wits against a deadly enemy, the inside artwork executed well by Olivera and the eye-catching cover by Mike White.

Ambush Zone, originally Commando No 3128 (March 1988)

Story: Ferg Handley
Art: Olivera
Cover Art: Mike White



Commando 4422: MAD MIKE

Take a good look at the guy on the cover. He’s putting up quite a fight, but just a few weeks ago he was a shambling deserter on the run.
Yet he has only one man to thank for turning him from a selfish coward into a fighting fury…Mad Mike, the man the Japs could just not face.

Introduction by Calum Laird, Commando Editor

If you were to come up with a design brief for an artist to create a quintessential Commando cover, you wouldn’t go far wrong if you had this one in mind. In the background a vividly-coloured sky, full of drama and menace. And in the foreground a powerful figure blasting out of the frame with a Bren Gun. It really doesn’t get more Commando than that.
And what a title!
Inside the cover the art and the tale don’t disappoint. Victor Fuente’s figures have action and movement while Mac MacDonald’s story is a classic of action, feuding and…but wait, if I say more I may give the game away. This is one to read. Right now!

Mad Mike, originally Commando No 335 (June 1968)

Story: Mac MacDonald
Art: Victor de la Fuente
Cover Art: Gordon Livingstone




The Draw Your Weapons exhibition of Commando artwork opens at the National Army Museum on September 1st.
National Army Museum, Royal Hospital Road, Chelsea, London SW3 4HT • Nearest Tube Station: Sloane Square
Open daily 10am to 5.30pm (except 24-26 Dec & 1 Jan)
Telephone: 020 7730 0717


http://www.commandocomics.com

Monday, August 15, 2011

Francisco Solano Lopez RIP


News is coming in of the passing of Francisco Solano Lopez, whom many of you will remember as the artist of such great British strips as Adam Eterno, Kelly's Eye, Janus Stark, Master of the Marsh, and many more.

Born in Argentina in 1928, Lopez began his comics career in 1953 working for publishers in his own country and started freelancing for Fleetway in 1959. His dark, atmospheric brush strokes were perfect for the new emerging boys adventure weeklies such as Valiant, Lion, and Buster. At a time when imported American comics had to work under the restrictions of the Comics Code Authority, British comics used their own judgment, allowing creepy horror scenarios in their strips, such as this example from Kelly's Eye (Valiant, 24th April 1965). The use of heavy black areas and the fear in the faces gives the strip the perfect feeling of claustrophobia and terror:


The talents of Solano Lopez could also be seen on slightly lighter and more slapstick series, such as Galaxus and Pete's Pocket Army in Buster...


Lopez was able to convincingly combine the fantastic with a gritty street-level feel to his work. One example of that is this page from The Fugitive from Planet Scror (Lion, 1970) with the artist working from a very contemporary script proving that IPC were putting some streetwise elements in their stories several years before Battle or Action debuted...


Every boy who grew up on Fleetway adventure comics of the 1960s and 1970s would be familiar with Lopez' work, whether it be from strips such as early football adventures of Nipper in Score 'n' Roar to the long-running adventures of Kelly's Eye and Adam Eterno. Although the artist found fame in adult comics (and found credits where due, unlike on his anonymous UK work) his strips formed a huge and important part of British comics. Due to the gritty edge of his style his pages still seem exciting and vibrant today. Long may he be remembered.


More information:
http://www.tcj.com/francisco-solano-lopez-1928-%E2%80%93-2011/

John Freeman has written a fascinating and well researched tribute on his Down The Tubes blog:
http://downthetubescomics.blogspot.com/2011/08/in-memoriam-francisco-solano-lopez.html

Sunday, August 14, 2011

Have you read 2000AD recently?


2000AD is the last great survivor of the "traditional" British adventure weeklies. I almost said boys' adventure weeklies there, but it's been a long time since 2000AD was aimed at children. For better or worse, the comic grew with its readership in order to retain them. The fact that it's still around would suggest that the decision was a good one.

Sadly I suspect sales today are nowhere near what they were when 2000AD was launched in 1977, but that's a malaise affecting all publications these days. I stopped reading it myself for a few years, but I returned a few years back when 2000AD was reclaiming some of its original essence. I really feel that the comic is back on track now and features some great material.


One of the best strips in that regard is Zombo by Al Ewing and Henry Flint. This is 2000AD at its finest; sci-fi horror mixed with black comedy. The detail and energy of Henry Flint's artwork is a joy to behold and Al Ewing is, in my opinion, the best new writer to have emerged in British comics this century. (Ok Al, it's only 2011, so don't let that go to your head.) Zombo is a government-created zombie in the far future, and that premise in itself would be enough for lesser comics, but Al Ewing adds loads of black comedy that makes the strip deliriously daft. In the latest series, The Day the Zombo Died, Ewing adds another layer to the humour by parodying the second person narrative captions that were in vogue in Marvel comics of the 1970s. (See below.)


The other material in 2000AD is worthwhile too. Judge Dredd has recently begun a new saga, Day of Chaos, which sounds like it may be uncannily prescient of the recent real-life riots. Savage continues his war against the Volgan invaders, and the story ties in with the Ro-Busters / ABC Warriors universe, while Sinister Dexter continues to entertain. (I must admit I never cared much for this strip but it has grown on me and I do enjoy Anthony Williams' artwork.)

If you haven't looked at 2000AD for a while, or have never tried it, give it a shot. In a few weeks time, issue 1750 will be a good jumping-on point as it'll feature the start of some new stories, but the current issue, 1746, is well worth your £2.25. Published every Wednesday.

http://www.2000adonline.com/

Thursday, August 11, 2011

Go Toxic!


The website for Egmont's popular Toxic magazine for boys has recently had a revamp. Although some of the older items such as the Joke Machine have gone, the site now offers a bunch of new features, including one of my Team Toxic stories, Butt of the Joke, that you can read online for free.

Go to http://www.toxicmag.co.uk and click on the Comics tab to read one of Team Toxic's early encounters with the villainous Butt-Face!

There's a new issue of Toxic in the shops right now and it's a bumper 48 page issue bagged with a bunch of gifts. (I did the artwork for the Prank Pack.) News that will interest readers of this blog is that there are a couple of brand new comic strips starting in this issue. Luke's Spooks features a boy haunted by a couple of gross ghosts, and Bro vs Bro, drawn by Laura Howell, is about the rivalry of two brothers, one a boy genius, the other a sports jock.

The new strips join Busted Bieber and stinky superhero Captain Gross, who debuted recently in the comic, and my long-running Team Toxic strip. There's also a reprint of an older Team Toxic story in the back of the mag, bringing the page count of strips this issue up to seven and half. That may not seem many, but it's seven and a half pages more than some kids' magazines have these days.

Toxic No.189 is out now, priced £2.75



Monday, August 08, 2011

50 years of the Fantastic Four... or is it 45?


According to reliable news sites such as The Beat today officially marks the 50th anniversary of The Fantastic Four. Judging from date stamps on copies of the time, August 8th 1961 was the day newsstands in America received their bundles of issue one. (Although FF #1 is cover dated November, but U.S. comics always had an advance date on the covers.)

Some copies also had earlier date stamps, such as August 3rd or 6th. At any rate, early August was the time the comic came out in the States. Over in the UK, distribution of American comics then was patchy and slow, so it would more likely be November or much later when FF #1 appeared here.

By coincidence, early August is also the anniversary for The Fantastic Four's debut in a British weekly comic... but that was five years later! On August 1st 1966, Wham! introduced The Fantastic Four to its readers. Reprinted from the original Marvel comic, but in black and white, the strip ran across five pages. The first week only reprinted part of FF #1. The rest would be serialized over the next few weeks. After all, Wham! was an anthology of UK humour and adventure strips, so the editors didn't want The Fantastic Four to dominate it. Even so, five pages was quite a chunk considering most British strips only ran to one or two pages in those days.


If you're unfamiliar with how Marvel reprints were presented in British weeklies back then you'll have noticed that the original U.S. pages were redesigned to fit approximately two American pages onto one British page, due to the larger UK format.



This wasn't the first time a Marvel strip had appeared in a British weekly. The Hulk had begun in Wham's sister title Smash! only a few months earlier, in May 1966. (See here for details.) Unusually, The Fantastic Four strip also appeared in Smash! the same day as it debuted in Wham, and part two appeared in both comics the week after too, making sure the readers of both comics were aware of the strip. After that, Wham became the FF's only home... until Wham! merged with Pow! in 1967... and then Pow! merged into Smash! in 1968, with the FF strip being part of the merger both times.

Incidentally, FF #1 was also reprinted in one of the Alan Class UK comics, Creepy Worlds in the 1960s although as none of Class' comics bore dates I'm not sure if this was before or after it appeared in Wham!


Today, Panini UK publish Fantastic Four Adventures every four weeks. A titanic 76 page full colour comic presenting recent material and a classic Stan Lee/Jack Kirby 1960s reprint (currently up to reprinting issue 72).

The Fantastic Four ushered in the Marvel Age of Comics; Stan Lee's new style of writing that slowly but surely brought better characterization, tighter continuity, and cross-comic interaction to comic books. Marvel's celebration of this historic comic event seems to be very low key, even non-existent at present. Perhaps things are planned for later this year but today is the day it should really have been commemorated.

Seaside Fun


Here's a short selection of seaside-based strips from various British comics over the years. First up we have Lazy Larry from The Dandy No.325 (dated 17th August 1946). Two things about this strip spring immediately to mind. One is the old science-defying comic cliche that an air bed pumped up with air will somehow defy gravity. The other is that British comics often relied on justice and fair play, but here two little brats pick on a tramp who is minding his own business and there's no retribution in the payoff. That said, no real tramps were harmed in the making of this strip and the artwork by Dudley Watkins is ace.

A good example of the sort of justice seen in old comics is this Homeless Hector strip below from Illustrated Chips No.2,813 (July 5th 1947). Hector and Mog get their revenge on a greedy beach photographer by using his own props against him. Arthur Martin drew the Hector strips around this time but this doesn't look like one of his.


That same issue also featured Peter Quiz at the seaside. Another tale of justice, although the use of the 'n' word in a children's comic is shocking by today's standards. Art by Arthur Martin.


A month later, in The Beano No.316 (23rd August 1947), Pansy Potter uses her strength to gain the advantage in a sandcastle-building contest, but it backfires on her. Art by Basil Blackaller by this period I think.


With a few exceptions, today's pre-school "comics" are often nothing but basic activity magazines but back in the "golden age" of comics tabloid wonders such as Playbox offered cover to cover stories. (The point being, surely, that it's better to encourage children to read rather than just to colour in pictures.) This issue of Playbox (No.1,102, July 31st 1948) saw some of its characters visiting the seaside. The Jumbo strip was I believe by Freddie Crompton, whilst the lower strip featuring Tuffy and His Magic Tail was drawn by Arnold Warden.


Moving forward to the sixties we have a Georgie's Germs story from Wham! No.116 (3rd September 1966). By this time the humour of comics has become a bit more gross. Perhaps ahead of its time as such comedy wouldn't really catch on for a few decades. I'm not sure who the artist is here, but it's definitely not by Leo Baxendale or Cyril Price who did some of them.



Here's an odd tale of Shiner in the Chips section of Whizzer and Chips dated 8th August 1970. Nice artwork by Mike Lacey and the strip would work if a black eye looked like a suntan and if the colourist hadn't mistakenly given Shiner an all-over tan in the last panel!


The humour in girls' comics seemed more gentle from the few I've seen. Here's a Bunty cover of issue 1226 (July 11th 1981) with the title character putting sand to good practical use. Art, I think, by James "Peem" Walker.


A few years later, May 27th 1989, and a Nikki cover by Paul Grist, better known today of course as the creator of the Jack Staff comic.



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