Tuesday, July 31, 2012

Log on to the Internewt

This week in The Dandy, the third episode of my new series The Dark Newt sees our hero discover how to use the Internewt, and later he encounters his first villain... The Tiddler! Don't miss The Dandy No.3592, on sale Wednesday 1st August.

Bellamy classics back in the Mirror

Click to enlarge

Like the comic strip hero himself, the reprints of Garth in the Daily Mirror have been moving back and forth through time. After a run of Frank Bellamy stories, the newspaper then skipped forward to reprint a 1977 Martin Asbury drawn tale Ship of Secrets, which concluded yesterday. 

Starting today, the paper delves back to 1972 for another Frank Bellamy story, The Women of Galba. This story has been reprinted at least a couple of times before, in the 1975 Daily Mirror Book of Garth (with nudity censored) and in a book published by Titan in 1985. By my estimation, running two original strips a day, the story should run for about seven weeks. The strip has been coloured for a new readership by Martin Baines.

For more information on the great Frank Bellamy visit this excellent blog:
http://frankbellamy.blogspot.co.uk/

Sunday, July 29, 2012

Alf Tupper collected

Over the last few years DC Thomson have given us a Best of Black Bob collection, The Best of Bunty,  and two books reprinting classic stories from The Victor weekly and annual. Now there's to be another vintage collection, and this time the focus is on The Best of Alf Tupper, The Tough of the Track

Here's the publicity information that I spotted in the current issue of the Previews catalogue for comics and books to be published in October:

"The Tough of the Track" was The Victor's most popular hero, having instilled the competitive spirit into millions of British lads for over 50 years. A welder who worked under railway arches, Alf Tupper survived on a diet of fish and chips. He was always the underdog, running against posh toffs who devised underhand ways of keeping him off the winner's rostrum. Although Alf often looked beaten, he nearly always came through in the final few strides, exclaiming "I've run him!" as he breasted the winning tape in a photo-finish. Published in the year the Olympic Games returns to Britain, this nostalgic anthology will not only be the perfect gift for the millions of men whose love of sport was kindled in their youth by Alf Tupper, but will also enthral and inspire a new generation of boys to go and win against all the odds. 

Click to enlarge
144 pages, £12.99, October 2012. The book is now available to pre-order on Amazon:
http://www.amazon.co.uk/Victor-Best-Tupper-Tough-Track/dp/1853758612/ref=sr_1_1?ie=UTF8&qid=1343644322&sr=8-1

Spaceship Away No.27

The summer edition of Spaceship Away (issue 27) is now available and features 40 packed pages in full colour. There's a fair bit of Don Harley work in this one, with a cover, centrespread, and a full page illustration. It's good to see one of the original Dan Dare artists being a regular contributor to this comic as it establishes a link to those golden days.

Speaking of original Dan Dare artists, sadly Bruce Cornwell passed away a few months ago and this issue features a nice tribute to him from Don Harley and Greta Tomlinson. There's also a short previously unpublished item from Bruce himself on his work, including his contributions to Danny Dare in Wham! (Bruce supplied the realistic artwork for Danny's daydream sequences in the humour strip in the early issues of the comic). 

There's plenty of comic strip content this issue. First up is episode eight of Tim Booth's Dan Dare serial Parsecular Tales. Very meticulous artwork from Tim but it really needed a resumé caption to bring readers up to speed. It's not easy remembering the plot of a story when the comic is only published three times a year.) 


Thankfully that's not a problem with Shadow Over Britain, the Jet Morgan serial reprinted from Express Weekly as it features a caption bringing readers up to date. 

A great complete story this issue is Thoughts That Kill, a 1980s strip drawn by Ron Turner adapting a 1939 story by John Russell Fearn. It's been nicely coloured by Martin Baines and hopefully more of these stories will follow in future issues.

A two page tryout Dan Dare strip by Nick Spender proves he has the skills to be an ideal artist on the strip and I hope we see more Dan Dare from him soon. There's also a stylish cutaway illustration from Graham Bleathman for Dan Dare's Apartment. Graham excels at this sort of intricate work and, yes, you can just about see Dan Dare's toilet, but thankfully it's unoccupied.

One drawback in this issue is the lack of humour strips. The Ray Aspen funnies provided a nice balance from the adventure material and their absence is a disadvantage.   

Spaceship Away is still reprinting Garth strips and now we're up to a 1970s Martin Asbury drawn serial, Finality Factor. Newly coloured by Tim Booth who does a good job but I have some problems with the way the strip is presented. On some panels the original lettering is in place, which is excellent, but on others it's been replaced by the awful Comic Sans font. Perhaps the source material wasn't too good and it had to be re-lettered, but there are far better comic lettering fonts out there to use. (Comic Sans is also used on some other strips in Spaceship Away. It really hampers the production. There's a reason why professional comics don't use this font, and one is that it looks cheap and ugly. Investing in a specialist comic font from Comicraft would be a better option.)

However the Garth strips in Spaceship Away suffer something far worse than Comic Sans. The strips have been resized to fit the A4 format, but it looks like 'Constrain Proportions' was unticked in Photoshop, leading to the strips being stretched vertically. It's most noticeable on circular objects such as planets, bubbles and suchlike appearing as ellipses, but it distorts everything. I fail to see the point in representing such classic strips if they're going to be distorted in this fashion. I can appreciate that if they were published in the correct proportion there'd be a bigger margin at the top or bottom of each page, but I'm sure collectors would consider it a small price to pay for strips being published as they were meant to be seen.

Perhaps I'm being too picky and most readers aren't bothered by the distorted pages and poor font, but for me it's a problem that's holding back Spaceship Away a little. For £7.95 an issue I'd have hoped these flaws would have been put right by now but it's something that's affected the publication for a while now. That said, Spaceship Away is still a fine tribute to classic Dan Dare and there's always new information in its pages for enthusiasts. The fact that it's reached issue 27 proves that it obviously has a loyal following and long may it continue to do so. 

To subscribe to Spaceship Away or to order individual issues go to the website here: http://spaceshipaway.org.uk/

 

Saturday, July 28, 2012

Buster, Viz, and Transformers: More artwork on eBay

Just time for a quick blog post to mention that I'm currently offering more pages of my old original artwork for sale on eBay. This week there are two pages of Tom Thug from Buster (including a special Easter theme story), a Robo Capers strip from Marvel UK's Transformers comic, and a Suicidal Syd page from Viz

The auction ends tomorrow (Sunday 28th July) so be sure to make your bids soon if you're interested in owning any of those original pages. Good luck! 

To visit my eBay page to see the artwork, click HERE.

Tuesday, July 24, 2012

Free Gifts in The Big Five

Free gifts (or supplements) in comics and story papers are as collectible as the publications themselves, and often far rarer due to them being discarded long ago. Therefore it's a pleasure to see Derek Marsden's Free Gifts In The Big Five, a hefty 256 page A4 softback book which relates in detail the history of gifts given away in the DC Thomson story papers. 

Despite the "Big Five" of the book's title, the content actually deals with eight story papers, so we're getting even better value for money than we expected. Titles covered are  Adventure, The Blue Bird, The Hotspur, The Red Arrow, The Rover, The Skipper, The Vanguard, and The Wizard. Each story paper has its own chapter, and the gifts are listed chronologically with a description of each item. The author goes into great detail on this and in lesser hands it could undoubtedly prove boring or stray off at tangents, but Derek Marsden (a semi-retired teacher) is a meticulous writer who hones in on the facts in a very precise and informative manner. 


Mr. Marsden has certainly packed a lot into this book. The amount of research involved must have been very time consuming but the result is rewarding both for the reader and, I hope, for the author. The text is in a small type, but very legible, aided by the clear, unfussy layouts. There are numerous illustrations from comics and story papers of the day showing advertisements for the free gifts which are a joy to behold in their own right as they're so lively and well designed. In the centre of the book is a 24 page full colour section showing the gifts themselves, all with reference numbers (eg: H19 for the 19th gift given in The Hotspur) so that the reader can easily cross reference them with the descriptions elsewhere in the book.



What soon becomes evident from the glorious items on display is how superior they were compared to the cheap plastic toys bagged with modern comics. The gifts of the 1920s and 1930s were often informative (booklets, picture cards) and created specifically for that week's story paper. (Today's gifts are bought as a job lot and they often also appear with rival publications but with different packaging.) Even the less educational gifts way back when seemed to offer greater play value than the disc-launchers and plastic poo in modern comics. That said, to be fair, the story papers of the past were aimed at an older and perhaps more literate reader than the comics of today.

Naturally the passage of time has made some items seem unintentionally humourous today. Would a 21st Century kid be remotely interested in 'The Bumper Hill-Billy and Camp-Fire Song Book'? Could a comic now present 'The Queeriosity Book' without raising an eyebrow? On the other hand there is one gift shown that seems chilling today; an issue of The Blue Bird presenting a 'Lovely Gilt Swastika Charm' back in 1923 before the Nazis corrupted the symbol into a thing of evil. 

Free Gifts In The Big Five is a fascinating insight into a time long passed and an essential purchase for anyone seriously interested in the history of comics, story papers and/or related ephemera. If you wish to order a copy through your bookshop the cost is £30 and the ISBN is 0-9551978-0-5. Alternatively you could purchase a copy directly from the author for £20 plus p&p by e-mailing him at derek.g.marsden@sky.com

Sunday, July 22, 2012

Commando Nos.4515 to 4518


In the shops now are the latest batch of four Commando comics. Here's the PR, kindly supplied by Scott Montgomery at DC Thomson.

Commando No 4515 – The Deadly Games

In 1920 the Belgian city of Antwerp hosted the Summer Olympic Games. Russ Wynn and Dave ‘Bunny’ Hare were two of many accomplished yachtsmen there, but a chance encounter with a shady figure from Russ’s recent past brought to light a thrilling adventure from the First World War…and a blood debt that was still to be paid!

Story: Alan Hebden
Art: Keith Page
Cover: Keith Page

 

Commando No 4516 – Charlie’s Phoney War

Charlie Hutchins reckoned he was the most frustrated Hurricane pilot in the RAF. He was champing at the bit to get at the Luftwaffe kites he could see over the German border but standing orders at this early stage of the Second World War stopped him nipping over to knock a few down.
   What he couldn’t know was that the so-called Phoney War was just about over. Soon he’d have his hands full dealing with all the Jerries he could possibly have wanted. And a few more for good measure.

Story: Steve Taylor
Art: Carlos Pino
Cover: Carlos Pino


Commando No 4517 – Duel In The Desert

From Nazi High Command the order went out — “All men and vehicles of the Long Range Desert Group must be destroyed — at any cost.” And the LRDG men smiled grimly. They were marked men. Rommel was out for blood.
   So they sped out of their desert lairs to take up his challenge.
   This is the story of a handful of daredevils in a lone truck, on a mission with no return tickets…

Introduction

In the year of the 70th anniversary of the battle of El Alamein, this story of desert raiders paving the way for the advance with a daring night attack behind the lines is very appropriate. Men like the crew here risked everything so that the men of the infantry in the van of any advance had the best chance of success possible.
   But don’t think this is a history lesson. Ken Barr’s cover sets the scene for a tale of adventure and action that starts as a slow-burner which explodes into crackerjack action in the hands of Dorward and Martin.
   Speaking of burners, check out the interrogation scene…

Calum Laird, Editor

Duel In The Desert originally Commando No 38 (September1962)

Story: Dorward
Art: Martin
Cover: Ken Barr


Commando No 4518 – Stay On Target!

After barely escaping from the blazing wreck of a shot-down Anson, Ray Lyall was constantly haunted by the memory of that terrifying experience.
   As the newly-appointed navigator of a Lancaster bomber Ray was responsible for the safety of all the crew — and his nerve could crack at any moment!

Introduction

Commando air stories usually feature dashing pilots and daredevil action. So, at first glance, Stay On Target! — with nervy navigator Ray Lyall as its main character — might sound a little underwhelming. This couldn’t be further from the truth, however, as the story is subtly different from the perceived Commando norm, while still delivering the expected aerial thrills like dogfights and bombing runs. This is an understated gem, with an engaging script and dynamic art. You’re on course for a cracking read!

Scott Montgomery, Deputy Editor
Stay On Target!, originally Commando No 2133, (November 1987)

Story: Allan Chalmers
Art: Keith Shone  
Cover: Ian Kennedy

Friday, July 20, 2012

Raw Combat Colin!

For a time back when I was drawing Combat Colin for Marvel UK in the 1980s I used to draw the strip on thin paper in pencil, then, using a lightbox, trace it in ink onto Bristol Board for the finished job. 

I'm holding onto my Combat Colin inked pages for future use (when I get around to publishing a collection of strips) so you won't see those up for sale, but I found one of the pencil stage pages last week and it's now up for auction on eBay if any of you are interested.

The auction ends on Sunday so if you wish to bid click on this link to visit the eBay site. Good luck! 

Thursday, July 19, 2012

Raw Newt


I thought some of you might be interested in seeing how the first episode of The Dark Newt looked when it was in the rough pencil stage prior to inking. The photo above was taken on April 30th as I was starting the series. 

You can also see the script to the left in the photo. Even when writing my own material I still do a full script, as it has to be approved first by the editor. Some artists draw their scripts in pencil first, but I've always preferred to type it out. I've always worked this way. 

As you can see, this is only the first half of the page. As I draw the pages almost twice the printed size I prefer to do them in two halves for comfort. After they're inked (and lettered, if I'm doing my own lettering), I then scan them into Photoshop to paste the two halves together, tidy up the art, make any corrections, add solid blacks, colour the page, and add the logo banner. 

You can see the finished result in The Dandy No.3590, in the shops now!

Wednesday, July 18, 2012

It's arrived! The Dandy Annual 2013

  
Here it is! The Dandy Annual 2013 with a great cover by Nigel Parkinson. Time was when comic annuals came out in early September, but now they have a longer shelf life to hopefully maximise sales. (It's certainly worked for The Beano Annual, which has been the top selling annual for the past couple of years.) 

Traditionally, annuals were given as Christmas presents, and I know some of you won't be receiving yours until Christmas Day so I'll only show a brief glimpse of some of its pages here to avoid too many spoilers. 

This edition of The Dandy Annual is somewhat special as it celebrates the comic's landmark 75th birthday (coming up in December). To mark the event the book brings back a load of classic characters in brand new stories, - Brassneck, Winker Watson, Greedy Pigg, Owen Goal, The Jocks and the Geordies... and even a new adventure with Black Bob! 


The Black Bob story is drawn by Steve Bright and he does a fantastic job of ghosting the style of Jack Prout, the original artist. The story is in four single page chapters scattered throughout the book, so each chapter ends on a cliffhanger as the original series often did. 

Another classic character making her return is Keyhole Kate, in a nifty modern style by Laura Howell whist retaining the classic character design...


...and I've done a couple of characters too, - The Smasher and Julius Sneezer.

All in all it's a very good annual. Packed with strips that often have around 10 panels a page, which gives a bit better value for money than the average 6 panels a page that many annuals used to offer. 


Despite the plan to get it in the shops early, I haven't actually seen it on shelves yet, but it is available to buy from online booksellers Amazon, Speedy Hen Ltd. and The Book Depository (and hopefully others soon). Follow this link to buy your copies (and The Beano Annual, which I believe is also out now):
http://www.amazon.co.uk/Dandy-Annual-2013-Annuals/dp/1845354877/ref=sr_1_1?ie=UTF8&qid=1342643880&sr=8-1

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Today also saw the beginning of my new six-part strip in The Dandy weekly. The Dark Newt tells the saga of the Protector of the Pond and this week's issue features his origin. That's in The Dandy No.3590, on sale now!




Tuesday, July 17, 2012

TOXIC No.206

 Here's a quick preview of the latest issue of Toxic, on sale now from newsagents, supermarkets, etc. On the right is a small low-resolution, version of the first page of my Team Toxic story, Movie Madness. For the full size, lettered, non-watermarked version you'll have to buy the comic. What a tease eh? 

So what else is in the current issue? Apart from Team Toxic there are five other all-new strips; Busted Bieber, Mad City's Star Signings, Luke's Spooks, Alien in my Belly Button, and Captain Gross! There's also two pages of great cartoon illustrations by Laura Howell for The Joker's Holiday Pranks feature. All in all, these days Toxic has seen an increase in its originated cartoon content, which is great.

The rest of the mag is packed with features on Ice Age 4, Amazing Spider-Man, games, puzzles, jokes and more including pull outs of a Spider-Man poster and a Lego Ninjago Snakes and Ladders game. 


Like most kids' mags these days, this issue of Toxic comes polybagged with several gifts including a gun that flips plastic spiders across the room. Who could resist that?

With 40 full colour pages for £2.80, Toxic No.206 is on sale now. 
http://www.toxicmag.co.uk 

Sunday, July 15, 2012

Ken Reid, Genius

  
I'm sure that most people reading this blog will regard Ken Reid as one of the greatest comic artists that ever lived. In fact I can't imagine anyone not respecting his talents. To me, he was the best humour artist this country ever produced, and is ever likely to produce. Some people may say that today's comics aren't a patch on his work but neither was most of the material in yesterday's comics. Ken Reid was always head and shoulders above the crowd.

Although his work on Fudge, Jonah, and Faceache is rightly respected for the comic masterpieces they are I think his best strips were for Odhams in the 1960s. That's when he really let loose with his ability for comic horror. Here's just a handful of his many pages produced for the company. This is the stuff many of us grew up on, and as you can see we were really spoiled. British comic humour at its best. In a better Britain there would be volumes of Ken Reid Archives to buy. Sadly, there is nothing.

SMASH! No.36  8th October 1966


WHAM! No.122  15th October 1966

POW! No.10  25th March 1967

SMASH! No.156  25th January 1969
  
One of Ken's funniest episodes of The Nervs.

You can see some of Ken Reid's earlier work on a thread currently running on the Comics UK forum

Saturday, July 14, 2012

Rising above the Reject Pile

  
The stack of letters in the photos shown here are the rejection slips from editors I've received over the years. Some were at the start of my career, some are from the mid-1990s, ten years after I'd started making a living out of cartooning. 


The reason I keep them is to remind me of a basic truth about this business. That one should never become complacent or conceited. That even after you think you've "made it" there's still going to be editors who don't think your work fits their plans, or who just don't like it. I had an idea turned down just last week in fact. While it's a little frustrating to have wasted a day writing a script that was rejected, I'm not arrogant enough to expect a 100% success rate just because I've been in the business for nearly 30 years. That's how it goes in any industry. You win some, you lose some. That's life. Move on to the next idea.


In the early 1980s, when I was trying to break into comics, I drew up two A3 page samples and sent them to Bob Paynter at IPC. I was hoping to get work on Whizzer and Chips or Buster or something. Bob called me up and told me he didn't think I was ready. I thanked him for contacting me but quietly I was crushed. That was my best work, I thought. How could I hope to better it?

Looking back on those pages later I realised he was absolutely 100% right. (Bob knew his stuff.) They were too rough, too amateurish. Cut to a few years later, in 1984, when I'd improved a bit and had sold my first cartoons to Marvel UK, Bob offered me work on a new comic in the production stages called Oink! which in turn led to about eight years on Buster. Patience, and practise, paid off.

A perfect way to get your work out there and hone your craft is to self publish a small press comic. (That's how many of us started out.) Yes, it costs money, but printing, say, 50 copies of a basic A5 size black and white 16 pager wouldn't be that expensive. Even better (and free) you could set up a blog or website to publish your strips online in full colour. Neither idea would make you money, but you'd be getting exposure by promoting it on Twitter, Facebook, etc. and, hopefully, constructive feedback. Such feedback is important. Your family might tell you you're the best artist/writer ever (or, if you're an arrogant so-and-so you might think that yourself) but it's the feedback from readers that really matters.  


The point I'm making is, if you want to work in comics or magazines you're going to have to accept some rejection. A lot of rejection, as the pile of letters here makes evident. (And these are only the written rejections, not the phone calls, e-mails, or the times when editors couldn't even be bothered to reply.) The thing to do is, to coin a phrase or two, Keep Calm and Carry On. Stick at it. Learn from your mistakes. Don't let rejection get you down. (Easier said than done, I know.) 

If you get the breaks, and you can produce work to the required standard, and you have the imagination to carry on doing it, it'll eventually pay off. Don't expect a publisher to snap up your fantastic idea for a graphic novel straight away. Be prepared to start small. (My first professional comics work was doing single-gag cartoons for Marvel UK which paid a fiver each.) It's all experience and it's all material that you can add to your CV.

Even when you turn pro you'll still get the odd things tweaked or rejected now and then but you'll be making progress and, hopefully, a living. I know it's tough. As you can see from the letterheads here, apart from trying to break into comics I was also sending stuff to a variety of magazines from music to gardening, but it was nigh impossible to get accepted by any of them. It took me four years of submitting ideas before I sold one.


As I said earlier, feedback is important, and constructive criticism can be very helpful indeed. You can't get too precious about things. People who think they know it all can't progress, so humility is important. I know I'll never be another Leo Baxendale or Ken Reid, nor did I ever expect to be, but I'm satisfied with the work I have produced and I hope it's amused a few people.

Unfortunately at some stage of the game, whether you're starting out or established, you're going to encounter some critics who take joy in trying to tear other people down, usually hiding behind a daft online alias. Fair criticism of the work is acceptable of course (everyone's entitled to their opinion) but no one should tolerate personal insults or snide abuse from people using straw man arguments to belittle them. If you do receive such comments, perhaps this You Tube video by Clever Pie and Isabel Fay on the subject will make you smile. (Warning: Adult content!): 

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=uz2jbCJXkpA


Remember that if those sort of critics were better than you they'd be drawin' not trollin'. Seriously though, if you want a career in comics or illustration, don't get discouraged. Good luck!

This week in 1975: Conan joins... The Avengers?!?

  
Two comics merging into one was a commonplace arrangement in the 1970s UK comic scene. Usually it was two similar titles, such as Lion and Thunder, or comics that complimented each other well such as Buster and Jet. One of the more unusual pairings was The Avengers and The Savage Sword of Conan which joined forces 37 years ago this week.

The Savage Sword of Conan had been launched by Marvel UK as one of their 36 page weeklies in early 1975. It failed to find an audience and after just 18 weeks needed to be merged into another title. One would have thought that Marvel UK's Planet of the Apes would have been a more likely home, but that comic was selling well and didn't need it. Presumably The Avengers comic was in need of a boost, so the stage was set and The Avengers and The Savage Sword of Conan became a reality. The cover even featured Conan the Barbarian running alongside The Avengers, in all-new artwork. (Not sure of the artist. Keith Pollard? Rick Hoberg? Pablo Marcos inks?) Conan wasn't actually part of the team in the stories though of course.

Admittedly The Avengers comic had previously shared its pages (and temporary cover billing) with Master of Kung Fu, but at least Shang Chi shared the same universe as The Avengers. Conan just seemed an odd fit. 

This was of course in the days when Marvel UK comics had black and white interior pages. At least by this time they'd abandoned the heavy use of Letratone so the artwork could be seen clearly and sharply. This definitely benefited artists such as Gene Colan.




However, Barry Smith's work didn't fare as well. At least not in this issue, as much of Smith's fine line detail has been lost.


It's particularly evident in this page, where the battle scene is barely legible, but (UPDATE) as Phil Rushton explains in the comments below this post: "It's not entirely surprising that the B&W reproduction of the Conan story looks a bit unfinished. As I remember it the majority of the artwork for that particular issue got lost in the post, forcing Marvel to use a copy of Barry's uninked pages instead!"


Barry Smith's other work, reprinted from a Doctor Strange story in that same issue, fares better. 


As you probably know, back then Marvel UK chopped up the strips into two or three part weekly serials so they could fit three or four different strips into one comic. This necessitated creating new splash pages for the start of some episodes. These pages, rarely credited, often featured some nice work and have never been reprinted anywhere since, as far as I know.


A Bullpen page in the comics that week explained how the merger was due to reader demand. An unlikely story, but even more shocking was the unnecessary apostrophe in the headline. 


The back page featured an ad for the latest Marvel Treasury Edition imported from the USA. 100 pages of Barry Smith's Conan in full colour. One of the few Treasury Editions I've kept. And all for only 50p.

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