Monday, June 11, 2012

Flashback to 1967: FLEETWAY SUPER LIBRARY


The mid-1960s. With the ongoing success of the digest sized Battle Picture Libraries and similar comics, Fleetway ventured into a new title in January 1967 with the launch of the Fleetway SUPER Library. These books carried twice as many pages as the standard Picture Library for just 50% more money. At 132 pages for 1/6d (7 and a half pence) The Fleetway SUPER Library looked great value for money. 

Ad from VALIANT dated 14th January 1967
The series launched with three categories. The Front Line Series featured war stories with Maddock's Marauders alternating issues with Ironside, the Secret Agent Series featured spy character Johnny Nero alternating with Barracuda, and the Fantastic Series saw The Steel Claw alternate with The Spider. All of the stories were brand new, specially commissioned for these books.

Those latter two characters were of course very familiar to readers of Valiant and Lion weeklies as serial strips, but the Super Libraries gave Fleetway the opportunity to present them in long, complete stories. Fantastic Series No.1 kicked off with The Steel Claw in The Raiders of F.E.A.R. illustrated by Carlos Cruz...


Carlos Cruz doing a good job of ghosting Jesus Blasco
 The back cover advertised issue 2 (on sale the same day), featuring The Spider in The Professor of Power.


With the second batch of releases, a month later in February 1967, something strange happened. With no explanation, Fantastic Series was suddenly renamed Stupendous Series, a title it would retain for the rest of its run.



The decision was made so quickly that the cover mock ups shown on the advert for the books on the back of Buster Adventure Library for February just had a blank space where the series category should have been...


The reason for the change? I strongly suspect that it was due to Odhams launching Fantastic weekly in February 1967 and Fleetway didn't want to cause any confusion amongst retailers and readers. (Both Odhams and Fleetway were subsidiaries of IPC.) A pity, as Stupendous wasn't anywhere near as good a title.

As it turned out, it seems the Super Library line wasn't too successful. The books ran for just a year, ending in January 1968, all at issue 26. A great shame, as they represented a good attempt to break away from the traditional British comics format. With each book carrying complete 122 page stories (plus reprint features as back-up) they could be considered to be the first UK graphic novels. 


Art by Aldo Marcuzzi for STUPENDOUS No.8
Like the other Fleetway "Library" comics, (along with DC Thomson's Commando) all of the Super Library titles featured painted covers, a practice presumably initially inspired by the sensationalist covers of pulps of the 1930s, and the trashy crime novels of the 1950s and 1960s. They gave the digests a more grown up look compared to the comics of the day.





Why did they ultimately fail when the 1/- war digests still proved popular? Perhaps at 1/6d they were simply too expensive for the time, or perhaps the older reader they were aimed at felt the characters were too juvenile for them? Perhaps the market for digest comics was just too crowded to support any more titles? 

Art by Francisco Cueto for STUPENDOUS No.20
Whatever the reason for their demise, the Fleetway Super Library still stands as a nice collection of British comic books. The artwork for the books was produced by international artists, who were no doubt cheaper for Fleetway to employ. Regular Spider artist Reg Bunn never drew any of the Stupendous books, although some artists were obviously told to try and emulate his style. Not all of them though. There's a really loose, individualistic style to Stupendous No.24 (The Melody of Crime) that's very refreshing. I don't know who the artist is but I think it's the same one who drew Gadget Man and Gimmick Kid for Lion around the same period. (UPDATE: Artist identified as Giorgio Trevisan. Thanks to Phil Rushton for the info.)


Lively artwork by Giorgio Trevisan


Similarly, although regular Steel Claw artist Jesus Blasco only drew two of the digests (Nos.5 and 13), other artists such as Carlos Cruz and Massimo Bellardinelli attempted to "ghost" his style.

STUPENDOUS No.5 Art by Jesus Blasco
STUPENDOUS No.3 Art by Massimo Bellardinelli
I've used photographs rather than scans for this article as the books are squarebound and glued and as most of the ones I have are unsold ex-warehouse issues (except for the one below) I didn't want to crack the spines by laying them flat. I hope the photos do them justice.



Reg Wooton's SPORTY was the back up in SECRET AGENT Series
Don't forget - click on the images to see them larger. (Some images require you to click again to see them even bigger.)

35 comments:

Kingsley said...

That Melody Of Crime page would appear to be Gene Colan's long lost British twin.

Lew Stringer said...

Yes, there's definitely a similarity. Also a bit of an influence from Frank Robbins I think.

Anonymous said...

I think 'Melody of Crime' was the work of Giorgio Trevisan who also drew no.4's 'Crime Unlimited'.

- Phil Rushton

Lew Stringer said...

Many thanks, Phil. Yes I think you're right. I've just Googled Giorgio Trevisan and there's quite a bit of his work on the 'net. Looks like he used a slightly looser and more exaggerated style for The Spider, presumably because he felt it was a more lighthearted story.

Steve said...

Hi Lew,

The other two Spider artists you illustrate are Aldo Marcuzzi (#8) and Francisco Cueto (#20).

Kindest regards, Steve

Lew Stringer said...

Excellent. Thanks Steve. I thought you might know. :)

Captain Storm said...

Hi Lew ,

Great article. Have a few Johnny Nero books myself. As I mentioned on ComicsUk , I think perhaps a series along these lines, maybe even featuring new characters might be the way to go instead of trying to go the old weekly comics route. Adults would definitely indulge in an impulse purchase particularly at busy airport shops and railway terminals. Sit them next to Commando with lovely painted covers and striking mastheads and we could have a winner.Sort of our version of Manga. The future is bright , the future is Digest!

The Cap ( slightly salivating )

Lew Stringer said...

If only it was that simple, Cap. Getting retailers to take them is the big hurdle. As we know, Commando's distribution isn't great and that's a long established title so convincing retailers to take something new would be difficult (and to a 30 year old shop manager, reprints of 1960s comics would be "new" as he/she would never have heard of them).

Bear in mind that reprints of the War/Battle/Air Ace/Rick Random libraries were tried a few years ago in book form but as they've now fizzled out I don't think they sold the numbers required to continue.

Truth is, comics just aren't seen as the big attraction for retailers in the UK that they used to be. One newsagent told me he makes more money selling greetings cards so why should he take comics?

mike said...

Actually manga is first published in weekly anthologies, and then reprinted in book form if it's popular enough. The stuff lucky enough to find it's way abroad only does so because millions of people bought it in a weekly!

Lew Stringer said...

Very true Mike, although I think Cap was just comparing the format. You're right though. Manga built up a fanbase from the weeklies. Putting out a UK digest cold would be very difficult to attract readers. Heck, even some of the Picture Libraries in the heyday of such comics didn't last long, so what chance would they have today?

மதியில்லா மந்திரி said...

Dear friends we too have read all these books in tamil......a comic lover from tamilnadu india

Lew Stringer said...

I had heard they were reprinted in India. Thanks for letting me know.

robort archie said...

give link to this books

robort archie said...

any give the links for this story

robort archie said...

please any one have download link for this story. please post it

robort archie said...

anyone give the download links to this story

Lew Stringer said...

No download link. I don't support piracy.

Anonymous said...

In Chile, the editorial Zig-Zag carries a series named "Coleccion Super Fantastica" for about 12 titles, with exactly the same format (never before or again in Chile). Characters were the same: Garra de Acero (Steel Claw), El Arana (The Spider), Barracuda, and Johny Nero. This happens in 1967. In 1968 the selected Steel Claw and Johny Nero and published as Comic-Book format for many issues. I will try to post and entry on my Blog soon. Thanks for your information here.

Moises / Bibliotecajuntoalmar

Lew Stringer said...

Thank you for your information too. It's interesting to hear of UK strips being reprinted in other countries. Let me know when you post about them on your blog.

Moises Hasson said...

Lew:

Now the post is ready. You can see at:
http://bibliotecajuntoalmar.blogspot.com/2012/08/coleccion-super-fantastica-de-zig-zag.html

All the best, Moises

Lew Stringer said...

Thank you, Moises. It's very interesting to compare the covers.

Dennis R said...

Lew, do you know who painted any of the Spider covers?

Narayan said...

its interesting to read this article about Fleetway. I am from India - and in the Seventies many of Fleetway characters were featured in Indian publications. Steel Claw became "Irumbukai Mayavi"- while Barracuda and Frollo were rechristened Lawrence and David. The works were published in Tamil, Telugu and in Malayalam and ran into numerous prints. Unfortunately only Tamil issues are still being reprinted. FLIGHT 731 is the Tamil/ Malayalam/Telugu version of PAYMENT IN DEATH: A BARRACUDA FROLLO ADVENTURE. Then there was another comic- the title of which eludes me of steel rodents attacking a city with the rats even devouring buildings. It was titled IRUMBELIKAL in Malayalam.There was another comic with four skeletons as the villains. They emit some kind of gas on seeing people and the gas will create some kind of rashes or bubbles all over the body and the skin becomes ugly and eventually they die. Yet another comic was with some dangerous crabs creating havoc. Some of the famous Steelclaw adaptations include SARPADWEEP and MANJUKATTA RAHASYAM (both in Malayalam)

Lew Stringer said...

Very interesting! I'd heard that a lot of Fleetway material was published in India but it's good to hear more about it. Thanks Narayan.

Narayan said...

hi- thank you Mr. Lew Stringer for posting my comments and for replying to the same. Do you remember the original English titles of the 3 works I mention- one with steel rodents attacking a city with the rats even devouring buildings and the second comic with four skeletons as the villains. They emit some kind of gas creating skin blemishes and finally succumb to the same- and the last one with dangerous crabs as the villains. if so please do reply

Lew Stringer said...

They don't sound familiar to me so I'm not sure I saw them, sorry.

Narayan said...

I have got with me the Tamil translation of PAYMENT IN DEATH (Barracuda and Frollo published as FLIGHT 731), the Tamil version of STEEL CLAW (The first image in this page) and a Spider comic.

Narayan said...

Who were the actual authors/ creators of Barracuda and Frollo and Johnny Nero. i dont think they themselves realise the huge popularity the comics had in India.
and i would be happy to send across tamil version of PAYMENT IN DEATH- if interested. drop a line at advnarayan at gmail.com

Ilango M said...

Now the old Fleetway books are being reprinted in Tamil by lion and muthu comics in Tamilnadu, India even after 40 years they first published. For details

http://lion-muthucomics.blogspot.in/
http://lion-muthucomics.com/

Ilango M said...

Now the old Fleetway books are being reprinted in Tamil by lion and muthu comics in Tamilnadu, India even after 40 years they first published. For details

http://lion-muthucomics.blogspot.in/
http://lion-muthucomics.com/

Lew Stringer said...

Thanks for the information!

காரிகன் said...

I'm Kaarigan (named myself after Phil Corrigan of some comics)

We grew up reading all these comics in Tamil (I'm from Tamilnbadu, India). Those were the diamond days. My knowledge about so many things with regard to science, history, geography came straight from these stories I read when I was a school boy. Delighted to know more about my childhood heroes.Thanks.

Narayan said...

just reiterating a query- who was the author of BARRACUDA AND FROLLO. we know that Ken Bulmer and Blasco were associated with Steel Claw....but would like to know whose brainchild are Barracuda- Frollo.

Lew Stringer said...

I've no idea, sorry. It might be worth you asking Steve Holland over on the Bear Alley blog, as he knows more about this period of Fleetway comics than I do.

Mark Montague said...

Hi Lew,

I don't think that is Giorgio Trevisan's work, as having looked at all his other work on the internet, he has a very stiff style, not the same as the fluid looking pages you have here.

The mystery continues, as we try to discover the artist's true identity.

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