Wednesday, March 14, 2012

30 Year Flashback: WARRIOR No.1

When Warrior made its debut in UK newsagents in March 1982 the landscape of British comics was very different to today. With a few exceptions, the frequency of most comics was still weekly, as publishers felt that if a kid had to wait a month for an issue he'd rapidly lose interest. Of course, Warrior wasn't exactly aimed at the same demographic as Tiger or The Hotspur so it was hoped that older readers would have a bit more loyalty and patience. Even so, it was a brave risk by editor/publisher Dez Skinn and his Quality Communications company.

Dez was no stranger to comics, having been a fan all his life, working on fanzines (including the first Warrior as a six issue stripzine), then on the staff at IPC's Buster, through his revamping of the whole Marvel UK line, to editing British Mad and House of Hammer magazine amongst other credits. Bringing that experience to Warrior meant that the new comic looked a slick and strong product from the start.

One of the things Dez understood was that covers should have clarity to stand out on the shelves, and the bold unfussy logo coupled with the impact of Steve Dillon's artwork (coloured by Garry Leach) ensured that.

With 52 pages for 50p Warrior was thicker and more expensive than most other British comics of the time but it certainly felt value for money. (The interior pulp paper helped too, making it feel at though it had more pages than it actually had.) Kicking off with an editorial by Dez instead of the traditional fictitious comic editor showed from the outset that here was a comic that was going to treat its readers like adults.

The identity of the mysterious silhouette on the cover was revealed in the first story. Marvelman had returned to comics after an absence of 19 years. Gone were the childlike stories of old, replaced by an intelligent script by Alan Moore and realistic artwork by Garry Leach. One of the things that Alan brought to British comics (and later influenced American comics) was his ear for natural dialogue which he'd combine with imaginative plots to tell stories that were gripping and intelligent. So radical was this that some writers today are still trying to emulate those techniques of three decades ago.

Compelling as this revamped Marvelman was, I'm sure that many readers would have been unfamiliar with the character prior to Warrior, so Dez provided a handy four page history lesson for us.

The second strip in the issue was The Spiral Path by Steve Parkhouse. Some of Steve's early work had been published as Marvel pin-ups on the back pages of Fantastic (a duty also achieved by Barry Smith) so it was remarkable to see how far he'd progressed by 1982.

Next up was a two page complete tale, A True Story?, by Steve Moore and Dave Gibbons. Polished work as always.

This was followed by The Legend of Prester John by Steve Moore and John Bolton, - a reprint from House of Hammer. Excellent line and grey wash artwork which unfortunately reproduced somewhat muddy on the cheap paper.

Next came the strip that would have the most impact: V for Vendetta by Alan Moore and David Lloyd. As brilliant as all the material in Warrior No.1 was I always felt that this series was the highlight. Atmospheric, intriguing, and carrying valid political messages, V for Vendetta deserved all the plaudits that it would soon acquire. (If your only exposure to the character is through the movie, treat yourself to the graphic novel for the far superior original source.)

Following V came a tale of mysticism from ancient times (a popular theme of comics back then); Father Shandor, Demon Stalker. The character had originated in the Hammer movie Dracula, Prince of Darkness, which had been adapted into strip form in House of Hammer magazine. For Warrior, Dez Skinn, Steve Moore and John Bolton had the Christian monk battle demons.

The final strip in issue one was Laser Eraser and Pressbutton, some light relief by Steve Moore and Steve Dillon. The character of Axel Pressbutton had originally appeared in the music weekly Sounds in the continuing strip The Stars My Degredation, written and drawn by Alan Moore. Much as I liked Steve Dillon's artwork, I always preferred Alan Moore's version. He made the psychotic cyborg look more... psychotic somehow.

Rounding off the issue was a two page biography of all the contributors. This was another welcome move for a British comic as back then many comics, particularly those of DC Thomson, still enforced anonymity on creators, forbidding them to even sign their work.

So that was Warrior No.1, in the shops 30 years ago, starting out with a strong line up that would sadly diminish a little over its 26 issue run. I won't go into the in-fighting and reasons for that as today is all about celebrating what impact it had on comics. Marvelman proved that superheroes could be handled maturely, V for Vendetta raised the bar for comics literature, and Warrior as a whole showed that British comics didn't have to always pander to kids or be restricted to the old ways of storytelling. Along the way it inspired comics such as The Daredevils and Blast! and today, the influence of Warrior is still with us with comics such as Strip Magazine and CLiNT.

Dez Skinn's website for more info:


Mike said...

I stillm have the full run in a box in a wardrobe soemwhere - I must dig it out for a re-read. What a pity that it was so short-lived. The inside stroy of its history would make some interesting reading.

Dez Skinn said...

And I WILL get to the inside story on my website sometime (plugged above, thank yew Lew!). But I've already written over 120,000 words and only just finished with Doctor Who Weekly (1979), so I've a bit to go yet...

Anonymous said...

Ahhhh wonderful stuff I loved Warrior Dez just had the "knack" I had forgotten about Alan Moores wonderful "Stars my Degradation" strip in Sounds I would love to see some of this again (hint hint!! ;0). Sadlay I only have a handful of Wariors left (including the first 3 issues)- McScotty

Lew Stringer said...

I never held onto my copies of Sounds unfortunately. I'd buy it, NME and Record Mirror on Thursdays for the punk news etc and throw them away afterwards. Wish I'd clipped out the strips now. Never mind.

Adrian (the) Hood said...

No, no, no! Tell me it wasn't really THIRTY YEARS AGO.
If 2000ad was the comic that got me interested as a kid then Warrior was the one that kept me reading as a (young) adult.
Keep all this stuff coming Lew. Wonderful.

Ade Salmon said...

The Moore/Bolton Shandor strip was a reprint from House Of Hammer Lew. Dez had already decided to spin off the character and followed this *inventory* reprinting with all new stories in Warrior.


Lew Stringer said...

Ah, thanks for the reminder Adrian. I'll make a correction.

I must have known that at the time (as I used to buy HoH) but had forgotten. That explains why the art dimensions are different on that strip.

Ade Salmon said...

Yeah a drawing of Christopher Lee as Dracula was erased from the last panel as I assume House Of Hammer had plans for Shandor to meet the Count again!


Adrian (the) Hood said...

Wish I still had the Quatermass issue of HOH. I might pop on ebay to look for it. I can't remember who the artist was now...

Adrian (the) Hood said...

Just discoverd Dez Skinn's excellent website. I know, I know, you've mentioned it before Lew.
Brilliant info about HoH. Looks like it was Brian Lewis who drew the Quatermass strip.
I've also discovered that back issues are too expensive on ebay!

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