Monday, October 31, 2011

Victory of the Horror Comics


Many full moons ago a mixture of people who ranged from the well meaning to the pious, from the twisted to the sinister, decided that horror comics were corrupting the youth of the Western world and, for all intents and purposes, either neutered the comics with the Comics Code or forced them out of business.

Who would have guessed that one day those forbidden treasures would be reprinted in luxurious hardback and paperback collections on quality paper? That those classics would be unearthed from the grave for future generations to decide for themselves whether the stories would "deprave or corrupt"?

Yes, over the past several years those gruesome, garish horror comics that were hounded to their death in the 1950s have returned in force. In fact there are so many collections of pre-code horror comics available now, and more are coming, that it's a struggle to keep up. Here's just a few...

Several Marvel Masterworks reprint the Atlas Era of horror, with volumes of Strange Tales, Journey Into Mystery, and the done-in-one volume of Menace.

After a recent glitch and change of company, the EC Archives are soon set to return from new publisher GC Press, beginning with Haunt of Fear Volume 1 and Vault of Horror Volume 2, carrying on the line from Gladstone.

British publisher PS Publishing has recently begun reprinting Harvey horror comics in quality hardbacks. Volume 1 of both Chamber of Chills and Witches Tales are out now, with Tomb of Terror and Black Cat Mystery to follow.

Craig Yoe (http://yoebooks.com) who has produced some beautifully designed books on comics, spotlights individual creators, with his book on Dick Briefer's Frankenstein already out and Bob Powell's Terror lurching through mailboxes soon.

There are some great anthology collections available too. Two I would definitely recommend are Four Colour Fear from Fantagraphics and The Horror, The Horror: Comic Books the Government Didn't Want You to Read.

The latter book even contains a DVD of the American TV programme Confidential File which "exposed" the evils of horror comic books... except it was made after the Comics Code had been put in place. The programme is a disturbing propaganda piece that attempts to manipulate the viewer into believing its wild claims. What's most outlandish about it is a filmed scene which shows a gang of children in the woods about to torture another child, suggesting that comics are to blame when in fact the whole thing is staged for the camera under the instruction of the programme makers themselves.

Some horror comics were trashy rush jobs, some were true quality created by masters of the form. A few were gorier than others, but mild in comparison to modern standards. Mostly they were fun, and kids have always loved monsters and creepy stuff, as evidenced from the growing popularity of Halloween. They know it's not real. It's very satisfying to know that those simple comic books that were considered so harmful without actual proof can now be seen again, and in formats that will endure the years. Finally, the horror comics won! The downside is that many of the artists from that era are no longer with us and never knew that their work would finally receive the respect it deserved.

Happy Halloween!

Friday, October 28, 2011

The man behind the mask


Most of you may have already have seen this on the BBC News website, but last week journalists made the connection that many protesters currently occupying Wall Street and other areas around the globe were wearing V for Vendetta masks.

V for Vendetta, created in 1981 by Alan Moore and David Lloyd for the launch of Dez Skinn's Warrior comic, told of a proactive anarchist in a fascist Britain of the near future. Clad in black and wearing a Guy Fawkes mask, he was known simply as 'V'. Later collected into a graphic novel it was adapted into a movie in 2006 which, although it had it moments, never equaled the starkness and intellectual layers of the graphic novel. When the movie was released, plastic V masks became available as part of the merchandising, and have proven to be highly popular ever since.


In one of those instances where life imitates art, the mask has now become associated with real-life protesters and the BBC contacted David Lloyd for his opinions on the matter: "The Guy Fawkes mask has now become a common brand and a convenient placard to use in protest against tyranny - and I'm happy with people using it, it seems quite unique, an icon of popular culture being used this way".

You can read the full story here:
http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/magazine-15359735

Below: David Lloyd's original character design sketch and notes for V.

Thursday, October 27, 2011

Leo Baxendale 81 today

Today is the 81st birthday of the great Leo Baxendale, the original artist and creator of The Bash Street Kids, Little Plum, and Minnie the Minx for The Beano back in the 1950s, and many characters for other comics such as Grimly Feendish and Willy the Kid.



It's no hyperbole to say that Leo is the most influential artist in British humour comics over the past 60 years. Even today, long after Leo retired from traditional children's comics, his style is still evident in the pages of The Beano and other comics. His strips were certainly a big influence on my work and that of artists such as David Sutherland, Tom Paterson and Nigel Parkinson.


It's hard to imagine how British comics would have developed without Leo's massive input. Admittedly the style of comics was already changing in the 1950s, away from the wonderful Roy Wilson style and towards an equally wonderful and more mischievous Davy Law style but Leo pushed comics even further into a more modern and anti-authoritarian direction. (Davy's radically energetic work on Dennis the Menace was the key that inspired Leo to submit work to The Beano in 1953.) The combination of Davy Law, Leo Baxendale, and Ken Reid changed the face of The Beano in the Fifties, and when Leo was invited by Odhams to create a "Super Beano" in the form of Wham! in 1964 his style influenced a generation of new artists such as Mike Lacey and Graham Allen.


Leo left traditional comics in 1975, moving on to create books such as Willy the Kid and Thrrp!, and to write his autobiography It's a Very Funny Business and books such as The Encroachment and On Comedy. He also created a new strip, I Love You Baby Basil for The Guardian in 1990.

Today he still maintains a website for his Reaper Books imprint which you can find here:
http://www.reaper.co.uk/

Happy Birthday to Leo, the king of comics.



Illustrations on this item all by Leo Baxendale: A title page from The Beano Book 1960; an early Eagle-Eye strip from Wham! No.3 (July 4th 1964); cover to Smash! No.4 (1966); Willy the Kid Book 1 covers (1976), and an unusual one-off strip, Whodunnit, from The Beano Book 1960. Here's the solution below...

Wednesday, October 26, 2011

Have a Dandy Halloween


Yes it's the special Halloween issue of The Dandy this week! 32 pages crammed with comedy-horror and not a single reprint in sight. A fangtastic cover by Nigel Parkinson and three pages by him inside too, including Harry Hill, or Harry Chill as the strip's titled this issue. Plus Korky the Witch's Cat, My Little Zombie, and much more including Postman Prat visiting Crackpot Castle.

Sadly, in some areas copies of The Dandy are a rarer sight than ghosts these days. It was a struggle finding an issue this week, although it wasn't helped by my local newsagent receiving his copies soaking wet from the supplier! (Perhaps some religious nut had doused them in Holy Water to exorcise the supernatural elements of the Halloween theme?)

If you're having problems finding shops that stock The Dandy why not do as I've just done and subscribe? It's only £15 for 15 issues at present; a pound an issue! A substantial saving on buying it off the shelf.
http://www.dcthomsonshop.co.uk/Group-Dandy.aspx

Next issue: firework fun! (What? Firework strips in a comic in 2011? Yep! Wait and see.)

Tuesday, October 25, 2011

True Brit goes digital


Several years ago, TwoMorrows Publishing in the USA released True Brit, an impressive softback book edited by George Khoury which spotlighted many British artists from Leo Baxendale to Bryan Talbot and more. Now the company has republished the book as a 284 page digital edition to download.


The original edition was published in black and white but with the benefits of digital technology "the entire book has been reconfigured for full colour" according to their website, "and includes more than 75 pages not in the original print version".


Available to download for a bargain price of $6.95 the book spotlights the work of Ken Reid, Frank Bellamy, Barry Windsor-Smith, Dave Gibbons, Kevin O'Neill, David Lloyd, Frank Hampson and many more, including interviews and numerous samples of their artwork, and a history of British comics by David Roach.


To obtain your copy visit the TwoMorrows website here:

The Thrill Electric is here!



 I don't usually publish press releases as this is supposed to be mainly a nostalgia blog but I thought I'd make an exception for this major new launch:

Channel 4 Education is pleased to announce the launch of The Thrill Electric at this weekend’s MCM Expo London Comic Con. The Thrill Electric is a 10-part enhanced comic series produced by Hat Trick Productions set in the Victorian era that demonstrates the extraordinary parallels between the telegraph age and the Internet age.

“Teenagers may be surprised to hear that online gaming, personal messaging, cyber-bullying and online profiles are all an invention of the Victorian telegraph, not the internet,” says executive producer Jonathan Davenport. “By setting our story in the sprawling metropolis of Victorian Manchester, we are taking the concerns and issues of young people today and playing them out in an atmospheric setting that will seem both exciting and strangely familiar to our readers.”

Working with the very best names in the British comic’s industry and award-winning digital agency Littleloud, The Thrill Electric tells the story of Emily Bagley, a sassy and intelligent young woman who breaks with tradition and becomes a telegraph worker. In addition, there’s a whole host of characters to follow through the series as they tackle issues of sexual identity at a time when it was illegal to be gay; trying your best to better yourself in the face of peer pressure from gangs; the dangers of creating a false impression of who you are online; and female issues of body image and sexual inequality. And for eagle eyed readers, there’s a secret storyline hidden in the code.

The Thrill Electric is written by comic writing duo Leah Moore and John Reppion, designed by Manga aficionado Emma Vieceli, illustrated by the all-female comic book studio Windflower, and produced by Tracy Beaker and Young Dracula’s Mia Jupp.

“When we discovered that the Telegraph system in the Nineteenth Century was to all intents and purposes a Victorian Internet, it really caught our imaginations,” says Leah Moore.  “A young woman could, with the right skills, join a predominantly male workforce and become part of the rapidly growing online international community. There is a strong resonance between the story in the Thrill Electric and the team helping to create it - lots of talented women working in a male dominated industry but rising to the surface despite that.”

The Thrill Electric tells its story in the form of an enhanced comic with layered panels and atmospheric animations. In addition, The Thrill Electric is packed full of contextual issue-led information threaded throughout the story.  Darren Garrett, the agency’s Creative Director, adds: "Littleloud created the technical framework and animations, with a view to explore and push what comics can be in the digital age, and how they can connect with new audiences. The technical framework we've built is all about exploring those possibilities and giving writers and artists tools to do this."

Commissioning editor, Jo Twist, says, “After reading comics on the iPad, I really wanted us to transform the way you could read them online, and what the team have done is a joy to experience. This is the first use of Unity player in comics and the innovative way the narrative is combined with real historical fact, the illustration and the animations with contemporary music makes this something quite unique.”

The Thrill Electric will be released weekly and experienced via a bespoke comic reader available online at this address www.thethrillelectric.com and on iPod and iPhone devices.

The experience begins Thursday 27th October.

Monday, October 24, 2011

Charlie Chaplin in The Funny Wonder

The presence of celebrity-based strips in The Dandy over the past 12 months has been a cause of controversy amongst some readers. Some people see them as intrusive, and on the Comics UK forum one pseudonymous fan went as far as to say that The Dandy is now "brainwashing our children into the facile, banal, empty celeb-worshipping modern culture".

However I think most of us see the strips for what they're intended to be; a bit of fun, and something familiar to draw in new readers. Far from being "celeb-worshipping", the strips are actually gently mocking the TV stars they caricature.

The adverse reaction is surprising really, as the inclusion of celebrities in comics isn't a new concept. From Dan Leno's Comic Journal in 1898, through comics like Film Fun (1920), to The Goodies in Cor!! in the 1970s and Big Daddy in Buster in the 1980s, British comics have long upheld such a tradition.


Here from my collection are a few examples of one of the early comic celebs; Charlie Chaplin on the cover of The Funny Wonder from way back in 1926. The strip began in the comic in 1915 and ran until 1944. The regular artist was Bertie Brown, although Freddie Adkins ghosted Bertie on occasion. Judging by the lettering it's possible that issues 652 and 653 shown here are by Adkins, although I believe 643 is by Brown.

I hope you enjoy these classics from 85 years ago!

Saturday, October 22, 2011

Superman in Radio Fun


Numerous British publishers have tried making Superman work in UK comics, with varying degrees of success. The first such venture was in Triumph in 1939/40, he had his own reprint title in the 1950s, there was the short-lived Super DC in 1970, and various attempts from Egmont and Titan in more recent decades. Back in 1960 however, British comic readers could marvel at the exploits of Superman in the pages of Radio Fun weekly.

The strip had a relatively short life in the long-established AP/Fleetway comic, only appearing from 1959 to 1961. Even the planet-twirling Superman couldn't reverse the fortunes of Radio Fun which, after a highly respectable 23 year run merged into Buster in 1961. Superman became one of the strips which transferred to Buster, but the Man of Steel didn't survive there for long.

The Superman stories which appeared in Radio Fun were collated from the daily strip that appeared in American newspapers. The example shown here, from Radio Fun dated January 9th 1960, originally appeared in the USA from April to August 1958. In the story Superman encounters Romado, an alien with a computer mind who shows Superman the miniaturized Kryptonian city of Dur-El-Va which he keeps in a bottle. Sounds familiar? Around the same time, Action Comics No.424 (July 1958) introduced us to Brainiac, an alien with a computer mind who has the miniaturized Kryptonian city of Kandor in a bottle.



(You'll notice that some of the artwork and the lettering on the top half of page 2 of the issue doesn't match the rest of it so I suspect some redrawing went on to edit the strip for the Radio Fun version.)

Although Radio Fun during this period was clearly trying to retain the interest of readers who might otherwise be distracted by the glamour of American imports, the comic still contained traditional British fare as well, from The Falcon to Bernard Bresslaw. Here's a selection of spreads from the same edition:





On the back page, a complete contrast to the American icon on the cover. It's the very British icon Norman Wisdom, illustrated by the brilliant John Jukes:

Wednesday, October 19, 2011

Strip Magazine delayed


News just in that, sadly the new 68 page UK adventure monthly Strip Magazine, which was due to launch tomorrow, has been delayed.

"Despite our best efforts, the first issue of STRIP Magazine will not be on sale in UK comic shops tomorrow (20th) due to courier problems beyond our control" said editor John Freeman in an official announcement this afternoon.

"We will advise of new on sale date as soon as it is confirmed," continued John, "but please be assured we're working closely with Diamond to get our first issue of our action-adventure anthology into UK comic shops as soon as we can."

"Naturally, we are extremely disappointed and annoyed by this turn of events and we know that this news will disappoint many people waiting for the Magazine's debut."

"As soon as we have definite news we will publish it on the Print Media Productions web site: www.printmediaproductions.com " John concluded.

I've known John personally for 30 years. He's one of the good guys in this business and I know the amount of hard work that he's put into Strip Magazine, how dedicated he is to launch a new adventure comic that Britain deserves, and how much he'll be making sure that Strip Magazine No.1 will be available as soon as possible. Having seen a preview of the contents I can tell you that the comic will be worth waiting for and is definitely worth your support. I'm hope you'll all join me in wishing Print Media Productions the best of luck and will continue to look forward to this great new comic when it arrives soon.

Strip Magazine will be available from comic specialist shops (not newsagents). Hopefully every comic shop has placed an order to show that they can support the UK comics industry. (If your local comic shop isn't stocking it, ask them why.) Subscriptions will be available from the Print Media website.

October gifts galore


Whilst adult collectors may hate them, the fact is that plastic toys attached to comics do attract the young demographic the titles are aimed at. Even though publishers charge an extra pound or so for "gift" issues these days, those are the issues that sell better than the ones without gifts. It's not a situation that's likely to change anytime soon.

Some of the questions this policy raises though is that although gift issues may attract extra readers in the short term, will they be loyal enough to stick with the comic? And will the higher price put off regular readers who were loyal? When one looks at the bigger picture, will comics lose more readers than they gain?

It's a tough call. As recent circulation figures showed, when The Dandy and The Beano had a run of several weeks without gifts, at a lower price, the average sales figures dropped! Seems that kids of the 21st Century expect comics to come complete with a toy or three. It's now seen as part of the whole package, and a comic without a gift is somehow considered incomplete by some children and their parents. Yet the cost of the toy (and especially if the comic/toy is bagged) pushes the unit cost up, resulting in higher cover prices, which undoubtedly does put off some buyers. It's far from a perfect situation, but what can be done?

However, I can't believe that today's kids are so disinterested in the content of the comics that the toy is the only attraction. From feedback (letters and drawings) received from readers we do know that many kids do still enjoy the strips (and judging by many photos submitted to readers' pages have shown, many kids do save their comics). This week, The Dandy has three gifts; a jumping spider, fake fangs, and a pull-out Tin-Tin 2012 calendar. Inside, the comic is packed with new material from Nigel Parkinson, Jamie Smart, Wayne Thomson, Andy Fanton, Karl Dixon and more, including Postman Prat written by David Mason and drawn by me...


Over in today's Beano there's a Sneakypult gift and cut-out skeleton and bats, plus new artwork by Barrie Appleby, Ken Harrison, Barry Gelennard, Nik Brennan, Dave Sutherland, Hunt Emerson, Laura Howell, Nigel Parkinson and Dave Eastbury.

In the latest Toxic there's a whole bunch of gifts, including this board game I supplied the artwork for...


...plus strips by various creators including Anthony Williams, Stik, and myself.

Incidentally, regarding the sales figures of The Dandy, Alexander Hay has written an excellent article on the subject here: http://www.olderiswiser.com/articles/save-the-dandy

There's been a lot of comment spouted about the comic in recent months, ranging considerably from constructive criticism to gutter-level abuse of the artists themselves, but Alexander's article is one of the most intelligent and level-headed opinions I've read on the matter so far.

Tuesday, October 18, 2011

Commando - Latest issues


Just time for a quick post. Here's the four issues of Commando that are in the shops now. Thanks to Calum Laird at DC Thomson for the info...

Commando 4435: The 8.15 to Danger

Railwaymen were in a reserved occupation during the Second World War as their particular skills were rated so highly. That didn’t mean they didn’t have to work hard or that they could dodge danger — there were always trains to haul and air raids a constant hazard.
Driver Arthur Beckinshaw and his fireman Ernie Entwistle were two such men, happy that they were “doing their bit” even though they weren’t in uniform. Then they were sent to the Middle East where they found that engine driving was a lot more dangerous than they could ever have dreamt.

Story: Alan Hebden
Art: John Ridgway
Cover Art: John Ridgway



Commando 4436: Bullet magnet

A “Bullet Magnet” — a man whose actions seem to draw hot lead in his direction. Richard Cooper was such a man, his soldiering skills such that he often raised his head too high in a scrap.
But this one-time actor was to discover that there was another kind of bullet magnet, a man set up to take the hits for another. And when he found out he realised that the magnet was him!

Story: Sean Blair
Art: Mike White
Cover Art: Mike White




Commando 4437: A Guy Needs Guts

North Africa, 1942. In the Western Desert, that vast cauldron of scorching heat and flaming lead, were forged the toughest fighting men ever known — the men they called the Desert Rats.
And yet even they yielded pride of place to their truck drivers, those dare-devil fighting fools who, to keep vital supply lines open, blazed a trail of blood and glory across the Western Desert.

Introduction by Calum Laird, Commando Editor

One of the most difficult things about finishing a Commando story is deciding on a title. Often we’ll start with one that doesn’t fit the finished cover or, worst of all, has been used before. I’ve lost count of the number of time we’ve come up with a winning title only to consult the records and have to chalk it off.
When they titled Commando No 3, the field was much more open and buy did they make use of it! The cover artwork and that wording are a winning combination.
Inside the story backs up the title. Grit determination and guts writ large. It’s a pity I can’t use that wording again.

A Guy Needs Guts, originally Commando No 3 (July 1961), re-issued as No 2539 (September 1992)

Story: Eric Hebden
Art: Cecil Rigby
Cover: Ken Barr



Commando 4438: THE BLADES OF WAR

A claymore from the days of Scottish clan warfare…a Japanese Samurai sword…and the kukri of a Gurkha soldier. What was the strange bond that brought these blades together in the dark and hostile jungles of Burma?

Introduction by Scott Montgomery, Deputy Commando Editor

Certain story themes, like the pursuit of revenge or redemption, have cropped up many times in Commando’s history, and our talented writers still manage to make them seem fresh.
However, I’m pretty certain that this book is the only one where a Scotsman, a Gurkha and disgraced Japanese soldier join forces in the Burmese jungle to fight a common enemy.
It’s a tough, hard-hitting tale, this, but it is also a cracking read — a classic story of honour and vengeance, forged in the steel of battle…

The Blades Of War, originally Commando No 1400 (March 1980)

Story: Cyril Walker
Art: Ruiz
Cover: Ian Kennedy

http://www.commandocomics.com

Wednesday, October 12, 2011

Mirabilis the magnificent


As Paul Gravett said on his website the other day, the market for British comics has changed these days with publishers looking beyond the traditional newsagents and towards bookshops and comic book stores. One publisher who certainly fits that bill is Lancashire based Print Media Productions. Next week they launch Strip Magazine, a brand new monthly adventure comic, and I'll be blogging more about that soon, but for now let's focus on their latest graphic novel, Mirabilis: Year of Wonders.

Mirabilis originally began in The DFC but the comic folded before the story had hardly begun. In Mirabilis: Year of Wonders, Winter Volume One, over 100 pages of the strip appear in full colour, on top quality glossy stock, in a nice large format hardback. It's a truly impressive book that gives the story a format it deserves.


Dave Morris (writer) and Leo Hartas (artist) with Mike Toris and Nikos Koutsis (colourists) combine their talents to tell a bewitching tale full of adventure and strangeness. Set at the dawn of the 20th Century, a green comet appears in the skies, a strange two headed coin is found and a series of peculiar events begins to shape the life of young Lieutentant Jack Ember.


Not only is Mirabilis an involving adventure story that moves along at a good pace, it's also full of mystery and mild horror, with a strange dreamlike intrigue throughout. Mirabilis is grounded in solid storytelling and, although an all-ages book, is more mature than the shock-value dramatics of comics such as Clint. If classic titles such as Valiant and Lion were being published today and had evolved to accommodate modern storytelling techniques, Mirabilis is the sort of strip that would be ideal for them. As it is, you get better than that, because instead of a serial story you get a whole book to sink your teeth into.


I was completely captivated by the book, and the artwork of Leo Hartas is perfect for it, with graphics that are both appropriately detailed and weird. Hartas has clearly researched the period well, and convincingly draws anything from a 19th Century study to a railway station. (Yes, part of the story involves danger on a train; a perfect ingredient for any good thriller. Although it probably wouldn't be as stylish or effective if it took place a modern-day pendolino from London to Liverpool.)

It's the weird nightmarish things that seep into the story that make Mirabilis really special. I won't spoil it here by explaining what they are, but as the Year of Wonders progresses it seems it's going to get harder to distinguish between reality and fantasy.

After 109 pages of this marvelous story we're left with a cliffhanger I'm afraid, but don't let that put you off. There's enough in Winter Volume One to satisfy anyone, and hopefully it'll whet your appetite for Volume Two, the hardback of which will be out soon (although an earlier published version in paperback is still available from Amazon). British adventure comics are alive and well!

Mirabilis Year of Wonders is available from Amazon. You can also order it from bookshops. For details see:
http://stripcomicmagazineuk.blogspot.com/p/mirabilis-reviews-and-ordering.html

Tuesday, October 11, 2011

Bad Karma


On the left, my cover to Oink! No.53, published in 1988, as seen on my website.

On the right, the title screen for the iSqueeze app for the iPhone, advertised on the Apple website and on sale through iTunes, 2011.

Perhaps they thought I wouldn't notice.

You'd think a company calling itself Karma World might be a little more careful not to risk attracting bad Karma upon themselves wouldn't you?

(Thanks to Harry Rickard for bringing this to my attention.)

Monday, October 10, 2011

British comics are alive and well


For those who claim that British comics are "dead in the water", I'd urge them to read Paul Gravett's comments about the matter over on his website. Paul has long been the man with his finger on the (healthy) pulse of the UK comic scene, and is a recognized authority on comics from his days running the Fast Fiction table at London comic marts of the 1980s and editing Escape magazine, to writing several books on comics and running the Comica events. His words on the subject make inspiring and encouraging reading.

Some people may compare the handful of actual comic titles in newsagents today to the heyday of decades ago and find it a grim situation, and they'd have a point. However, Paul looks at the bigger picture, and offers a refreshing perspective after the pessimism and negativity of some bloggers. Check it out for yourselves:

http://www.paulgravett.com/index.php/articles/article/great_british_comics_now/

Saturday, October 08, 2011

Poot! It's a hoot!


The adult humour comic Poot! was revived a while back and the latest issue, No.7, is out now. Distribution is improving on this title and according to its website Poot! is now available throughout the UK including many WH Smith branches at stations and airports. (In the last week I've seen it in two local newsagents myself.) In this day and age that's an impressive accomplishment for a comic that isn't connected to a merchandise license.

Comparisons to Viz are inevitable, but Poot! has its own identity, labeling itself as "Britain's Silliest Comic". It has 32 pages, all in full colour, with 17 pages of strips and the rest taken up with humour features and a handful of ads. My guess is that Poot! would appeal to a slightly younger reader than Viz, although both are aimed at over-18s of course. (And I imagine both comics are secretly read in the schoolyard anyway.) The humour is quite crude in places but not every strip is dependent on that. I chuckled several times whilst reading the comic. My personal favourite was Man Cat for its sheer daftness.

It's great to see another UK comic out there and I hope Poot! lingers around for a long time. If it's not available in your area yet you can subscribe via the official website:
http://www.pootcomic.com/index.html


Multiverse 4 is here!


The fourth issue of the sporadic Multiverse magazine is now out. Subjected to delays for various reasons it appears that the comics news magazine is on a more reliable frequency, which is good to see.

Contents of the 52 page full colour issue include comments by writers of some of the "New 52" DC Comics, an obituary to Gene Colan, pencil roughs of John Byrne's new series Cold War, news, reviews, and more.

With the instant accessibility of the Internet do people still have interest for a comics news magazine in print? Editors Mike Conroy and Barry Renshaw obviously believe so, and with Multiverse they've produced a magazine that's well written, sharply designed, and often more in-depth than online news items might be. And it's 100% troll-free, which is an added bonus.

Those of you looking for news items on traditional British comics won't find it in this issue unfortunately. Multiverse is pretty much American superhero/fantasy - centric. It makes sense to favour those genres as the magazine is mainly sold in comic specialist shops frequented by customers with those interests. It would be nice to at least see a page devoted to traditional UK material though because, after all, Multiverse is a British magazine, but I'd guess that depends on whether British publishers are sending them news releases or not.

To be fair, there is a four page article on independent UK publisher Com.X and their new 64 page one-shot BlueSpear, and there's an interview with UK writer Rob Williams on his new Ghost Rider series for Marvel USA. It seems that Multiverse isn't deliberately avoiding running news on British comics but they can only work with what they're given. One could argue that any journalist should seek out the news him/herself but any news editor looking at the jumbled bagged product on the shelves of British newsagents isn't going to know where to start.
(Especially when many of the titles don't even feature comic strips, and many newsagents don't stock all titles anyway.) It's up to publishers to contact magazines such as Multiverse and Comic Heroes in order to promote their wares. The core readership of Multiverse might not give a damn about who's drawing for the latest Beano or Commando, but (as I've discovered with Blimey!) a percentage of them certainly would, and it might raise the awareness of UK comics with other readers.

You'll be pleased to hear that subscriptions to Multiverse are now available for 6 or 12 issues. Full details are at the magazine's website here:
http://www.multiverse-magazine.com/

Wednesday, October 05, 2011

Always keep a Dandy handy


The artist Jamie Smart's work on childrens comics has come in for some harsh and over-the-top knocks recently from a handful of critics. It even reached the ludicrous extreme of one of them setting up a hate page littered with vile personal abuse. However, perhaps even those critics would find Jamie's cover to this week's Dandy a superb example of great design and funny cartoonery. Shown here for your viewing pleasure is one of the best covers seen on The Dandy since its relaunch, and it's had some stiff competition.

Hats off to the cover designer too. That logo with its blue background should really jump off the shelves, assuming the retail staff don't place it back to front or behind The Beano again.

There are 22 pages of brand new material in this week's issue (not counting the jokes pages and suchlike). Highlights for me were Nigel Parkinson's Harry Hill strip as always, plus Alexander Matthews' Nuke Noodle, and, my particular favourite this week, the hilarious Swamp Bloke, the latest story in Wilbur Dawbarn's Rocky's Horror Show series.

There's also a new Postman Prat, with a script by David Mason and artwork by me.

As they used to say, "Always keep a Dandy handy". A phrase that never quite caught on like "Never Be without a Beano", but the intention was the same. The Dandy No.3555, out now, £1.50. Support Britain's longest-running comic!

And for those of you who prefer vintage Desperate Dan, don't worry. Jamie's equally valid and hilarious version didn't erase the original Dan from history. He's still out there, either in your old comics or popping up in parts of the Internet when you least expect him. For example, check out Nigel Parkinson's blog, where Nigel recently showed a classic early Desperate Dan strip from 1938, when Dudley Watkins was drawing in a more raw but nevertheless excellent style:
http://nigelparkinsoncartoons.blogspot.com/2011/10/dudleys-dan.html

Tuesday, October 04, 2011

Birmingham Mail reviews Spirit of Hope

Over on the website of The Birmingham Mail today, the Speech Balloons column by Paul H. Birch gives a very fair and balanced review to the Spirit of Hope book. (Which as you probably know from reading previous posts is the charity book many of us contributed to after the natural disasters in New Zealand and Japan earlier this year.)

I was very pleased indeed to read Paul's comments about the page I scripted and drew for the book:

"Flick through the hundred plus pages and you might miss that other very special story; for it only lasts a single page three-quarters of the way through. It is titled Undefeated and is by Lew Stringer.

It has been said of Stringer that he can come up with canny and corny punchlines aplenty and as often as you like. Now some will view that as recommendation, others as criticism. Either way, it has served his publishers well. That he is not only a verbal gagster but a first rate cartoonist is unquestionable.

That, like [Liam] Sharp, he goes outside his comfort zone, and swims that extra mile makes his tale special too: He uses the tools of his cartooning trade; applies some of the journalistic tricks he's picked up along the way and juxtaposes the visual and the verbal to create something that raises a smile but respectfully; taking us through a series of mixed emotions in the space of six simply outlined panels. Do I make too profound a comment on something so short, and perhaps so apparent as it rests there on the page before me? No. It's what marks the great out among the good. They don't have to act clever: they just are."

Paul goes on to be far too critical of his own work, but one always sees the flaws in one's own material. Given the chance again I'd go back and re-draw a couple of bits in my Undefeated strip as there are parts that needed to be gritter I think, but I'm pleased to see that it had a good reception as it stands.

Even though I've been freelancing in comics for 28 years it's been rare to see reviews of my work as the focus is usually on the teen/adult material, so this review made my day.

If you haven't bought Spirit of Hope yet you can order your copy from this link:
http://www.comicbook.org.uk/spirit-of-hope/

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