Monday, December 31, 2012

The Last Post

Final 'Adam Eterno'. LION 16/10/1976
Sadly, nothing lasts forever and, after six years, this will be my final blog posting for the foreseeable future. It's possible I may post again at some stage but for now I'm giving up blogging to focus more on paid work.

This is something I've been considering for a few weeks now, and with today being the end of the year it seemed an appropriate time to bring down the curtain. 2012 has not been a good year. I began the year as I usually do with some optimism but, as the months went on, work became scarcer. Being a freelancer holds no guarantee of security of course and one cannot expect it to. I'm just telling it like it is. 

Final 'Indestructible Man', JAG 29/3/1969
I've never been one to 'put my eggs in one basket' as the comics business is too precarious to depend on one comic for income. However within the space of a few months this year saw all my regular strips fall by the wayside. I half expected Super School to go from The Beano as that strip was appearing more sporadically, but this was followed by the closure of The Dandy and, the biggest blow, Toxic dropping Team Toxic on the comic's 10th anniversary. (It continues in the comic as reprints of my old material.) I'd been contributing to Toxic since issue 1 in 2002, so it was quite a disappointment to lose the work to put it mildly. I'm hoping to do new strips for the comic in 2013 but of course nothing is certain in freelancing.

In previous times there would be new comics springing up to replace work that was lost, but that happens with less regularity now to say the least. Retailers aren't as hospitable towards new titles as they used to be, sales are far lower than they were in the golden age of comics, so publishers naturally have to work within limited budgets. Subsequently, the comics industry has become a more competitive place because there's less work to go 'round. By nature I'm not a competitive person, and certainly not the sort to perceive other cartoonists as rivals to be knocked down to get what I want. There used to be room for all with no need for dirty tricks, but I'm noticing that changing and it's an unpleasant shift. On the whole, the comics industry is a very friendly and relaxed place and most comics folk will look out for each other as best they can. But there's always going to be one or two who'll undercut you and/or fabricate tales to give their own career a leg up. The comics biz is too small for such slyness. People like that always get rumbled eventually.

Final 'Two Faces of Janus', POW! 7/9/1968
I won't go into personal details too deeply but I'm also finding that being my Mum's carer is becoming more time-consuming and stressful, so overall, 2012 hasn't been great, and 2013 is looking grim so far. Changes have to be made. I've enjoyed writing this blog for the past six years but it can be quite time consuming and blogging is only a hobby after all. For example, the blog post on Knockout the other day took over two hours to research, scan, and write, and I can't afford the spare time to do it any longer. In 2013 my focus has to be firmly on finding new comics work and continuing to care for my Mum. No time for hobbies. It's going to be a make or break year. Either way, I guess you'll hear how it goes.


Final 'Rubberman', SMASH! 7/9/1968

When I started Blimey! back in December 2006 I gave no thought to how long I'd be writing it. I've never considered myself a comics 'expert' but I am enthusiastic about the history of comics. I wanted to share some thoughts about old British comics which were mainly neglected by other websites and I was very pleased with the response. (My only regret was spending some time a while back arguing with a couple of trolls and wasters here instead of ignoring them from the outset.)

Final 'Steel Claw', VALIANT 27/10/1973
If things pick up I may return to blogging occasionally as there's still a lot of old strips to cover. The history of British comics is so vast, with many comics and creators forgotten about or unknown by newer collectors, that more should be written. Since I started Blimey! a number of other blogs have started up, also with a focus on UK material. You'll find links to them on the sidebar of this blog, but I'll list a few here as well:

http://www.wackycomics.com/

http://petergraycartoonsandcomics.blogspot.co.uk/

http://kazoop.blogspot.co.uk/

http://john-adcock.blogspot.co.uk/

http://twoheadedthingies.blogspot.co.uk/

Mention should also be made of John Freeman's Down The Tubes website, which has been running longer than Blimey! and is an excellent place to keep up with developments in the British comics industry, as is the Forbidden Planet International blog. There's also Bear Alley by Steve Holland, a true expert of British adventure comics and pulp books. Bookmark 'em all today!

If you want to keep up with any developments of my career my website will continue to operate at http://www.lewstringer.com/ and I'll try to update my Deviantart page more often over at http://lewstringer.deviantart.com/ .

I'll also be selling off more of my old artwork on eBay next year, so please keep an eye on the following link to see what I put up for auction soon. (Ironically, earlier this year I joked that I was selling off my artwork to pay my mortgage. Guess I shouldn't have tempted fate.)

http://www.ebay.co.uk/sch/graphite47/m.html?_nkw=&_armrs=1&_from=&_ipg=&_trksid=p3686 

Trying to end on a positive note, I'm pleased that Rasher will be continuing in The Beano for at least the next few weeks, and the next few days will be busy as I have three Smasher pages to draw for The Dandy Annual 2014 (out next summer). I also have a couple of bits and bobs coming up in BeanoMax soon, and hopefully I'll be drawing a few more pages for Viz next year too. 

I should also mention that I'm on the guest list for the Bristol Comic Expo (11th-12th May 2013) so all being well I'll see you there!  


Final 'Thor', SMASH! 8/3/1969
My apologies if this post has been quite bleak. I hope it doesn't come across as a pathetic attempt of sympathy-seeking as that's not my intention at all. Many people are having a rough time with the economy being as it is right now and I'm not suggesting I should be exempt from that. I just thought I'd be open with you all as you've been a good crowd supporting this blog and you deserve to know the full story, rather than a flippant 'Taking a break' post. 

Anyway, there's just over 1,000 posts on this blog (with this one being No.1,003) so some of you who have discovered Blimey! in recent years may not have seen all of it. If you enter a keyword (such as Ken Reid or Eagle for example) into the search window at the top of the right hand side of this post you'll hopefully find something you're interested in that you haven't read before.   

The New Year dawns tomorrow so I hope it's a prosperous one for all of us. Thanks for following this blog over the years and may 2013 bring all of us good fortune, good health, and happiness.   


Final 'The Umbrella Men', DANDY 13/8/1966


Sunday, December 30, 2012

The Funny Folks of 1875

  
So here we are, at the furthest point back in time that this blog has ever ventured. The dawn of time. Well, the dawn of British comics to be more precise, which is the dawn of time for a blog about British comics I guess.

As Denis Gifford's book The Complete Catalogue of British Comics tells us, the earliest regular 'comic' (a collection of strips and jokes) was a fortnightly publication in 1825 entitled The Glasgow Looking Glass which, as its title suggests, originated in Glasgow. (I recall that this fact was also confirmed by collector John McShane years ago, - or perhaps he was the one to inform Denis, I'm not sure.)  Yes, British comics originated from Scotland, and of course comics from North of the border have led the way in the UK for the last 75 years as well. 

1st Ally Sloper (1867) from 'Victorian Comics'

The first regular British comic character was Ally Sloper, who first appeared in the satirical paper Judy on 14th August 1867. (See the scan above from Denis Gifford's book Victorian Comics.) Written by C.H. Ross and drawn by his wife Marie Duval, Ally Sloper became a recurring character and a collection of his strips and cartoons was published in the 216 page paperback book Ally Sloper: A Moral Lesson in 1873.   

The first publication to set the standard that British comics would follow for decades was Funny Folks, with issue 1 published by James Henderson in 1874. This was an 8 page tabloid with a 50/50 split of text and cartoons/strips, - the format that comics such as Comic Cuts, Illustrated Chips, and others would imitate for years. Funny Folks ran for 20 years, but the issues I have in my collection are all early editions from 1875 which I'm showing here.


Bear in mind that in the 19th Century such publications were aimed at adults, not children. Subsequently their content is a mixture of political comment, satire, and social observation. The covers of Funny Folks were filled with a large cartoon by John Proctor reflecting on the news of the day, very much like the political/social comment cartoons in newspapers of today.

Inside, page 2 led off with 'Mrs.Grundy' opining on current events. As we can see from this example, complaining about England giving overseas aid, little has changed in 137 years. In places it reads like an editorial from the Daily Mail.


Considering that Funny Folks is regarded as an early comic, the actual comic strip content was minimal. (Some issues featured no strips at all.) There were plenty of well illustrated cartoons though, such as this one of society's lost souls waiting for the pub to open. (Again, little has changed.)


Some comic strips were reprinted from overseas publications and translated into English, such as The New Hat in issue 11, from a German paper...


Some strips were more richly rendered than others. Here's The Serenade from the back page of issue 11 (February 20th 1875) with cross hatching aplenty...


A week later, and the back cover of issue 12 (Feb 27th 1875) has a different artist and another technique (the large headed caricature)...


Comics have always featured humour based on a series of unfortunate events (a tradition still upheld in some Viz strips) and an early example was A Nice Long Day In Town in Funny Folks No.22 (May 8th 1875)...


Jokes about punching the wife just aren't acceptable today (and never seemed right to my mind even when Andy Capp was doing it) so this cartoon from issue 24 (May 22nd 1875) appears jarring in a modern context. Notice also the typical advertisements of the time for iron tonic, hats, and, er, a pamphlet on "Lady-Helps". (It's about advice on domestic services. What were you thinking?)

 
Funny Folks No.25 (May 29th 1875) was full of cartoons and comment pertaining to the Irish Derby. Proctor's cover cartoon couldn't resist a comment about home rule which was also in the news at the time, complete with a stereotypical caricature of an Irishman that would naturally be frowned upon today.


Of all the cartoons inside that issue, this one caught my eye. A loosely drawn and, in places, surreal full page illustration by Montbard of The Derby Night-Mare...

 
Pympkins's Public Dinner from Funny Folks No.27 (June 12th 1875) is an amusing nine-panel strip which actually features speech balloons. Nicely illustrated too.

 
Funny Folks was definitely inspirational for other publishers, as Ally Sloper's Half Holiday (1884) virtually copied the format with Sloper spinning off from the pages of Judy into his own title. As I mentioned earlier, Comic Cuts (1890) and others followed that format too. The combination of cartoons, social/political comment/satire and a few short strips gradually evolved over the decades into the comics we know today. 

These days, the closest equivalent to Funny Folks would be Private Eye, perhaps raising the question that as Funny Folks has always been considered a comic, should Private Eye be redefined as one too? I imagine the majority of its readers, and its editor, would say not, but in essence Private Eye is more deserving of the name 'comic' than some childrens' activity magazines listed as such on the stands today.


For more information on the early comics I'd recommend Victorian Comics by Denis Gifford. It doesn't feature any artwork from Funny Folks but it has plenty of full page covers from The Big Budget, Illustrated Chips, Funny Wonder and other titles of the era. It was published in 1976 but copies still turn up today. (I bought the one above in superb condition from eBay recently.)

Saturday, December 29, 2012

KNOCKOUT No.1 (1939... and 1971!)

  
The original Knockout comic (or The Knock-Out Comic to use its initial hyphenation) was launched by the Amalgamated Press with issue dated March 4th 1939. It was clear from the outset that, like A.P.'s Radio Fun, Knock-Out was intended to be a rival to D.C. Thomson's relative newcomers Dandy and Beano. The size was similar, as was the page count (28), the mixture of humour strips, adventure serials, and prose stories, the arched logo design and the price. Knock-Out even featured animal stars on its cover to rival Korky and Big Eggo, although Our Crazy Broadcasters lacked the charm of the characters that inspired it, despite nice artwork by Walter Bell. 

Inside, Knock-Out No.1 led off with Kiddo the Boy King, a sort of higher ranking Lord Snooty but not as appealing. Good art by Frank Minnitt though. Beneath it was the more original Stone-Henge Kit, who would prove to have much more longevity, running for 701 issues! Art on this first episode is by Norman Ward. 


On the facing page was Knock-Out's own page three girl, Merry Margie - The Invisible Mender, drawn by Frank Minnitt. No doubt this strip was inspired by The Dandy's Invisible Dick, and I'm sure readers could see through this character as she only lasted for 34 weeks. 


Robots (or 'Mechanical Men') were becoming popular in pulp magazines and Knock-Out had its own in the form of The Steam Man (great name). This precursor to Robot Archie was illustrated by Joseph Walker. Sadly the series ran out of steam with issue 50.




Frank Richards' Billy Bunter had been running as a prose series in The Magnet for years so it seemed a natural to feature him in Knock-Out as a comic strip. Initially drawn by Charles H. Chapman, Billy Bunter became the comic's biggest success, running in every issue (taking over the comic as Billy Bunter's Knockout at one point) and continuing into Valiant for many years when the two comics merged in 1963.




The centre pages of Knock-Out No.1 featured several short strips, including Simon the Simple Sleuth by Hugh McNeill.

 
Sexton Blake was another popular prose fiction character (originating in 1893) who had a comic strip series in Knock-Out. This also proved very successful for the comic. The artwork in this first episode is by Joseph Walker.




One of the best remembered Knock-Out characters was Our Ernie, Mrs.Entwistle's Little Lad. It seemed anything was possible in this strip, with the plots taking surreal turns. Later, the strip would always end with the catchphrase "Daft, I call it!" Artwork by Charles Holt originally.


The free gift in No.1 was a Paint Box and Brush (or alternatively a bag of sweets). An ad for No.2 showed the readers what they could expect the following week; a Popeye mask, an edible pipe, and spinach made of sweets! Popeye wasn't a character in Knock-Out but he was extremely popular at the time due to the movies and newspaper strips.



The original Knock-Out lasted for 24 years before merging into Valiant in 1963. Eight years later, IPC decided to revive the title with the un-hyphenated Knockout in June 1971. The cover strip was The Super Seven, drawn by Mike Lacey. 




Like its predecessor, the new Knockout was again trying hard to imitate Dandy and Beano. Those two weeklies were then 20 pages for 2p so IPC followed suit with their new launch. Unlike other IPC comics of the time, Knockout had every page in colour, - albeit mostly single colours (known as spot colour) but it still looked bright and cheerful. 

One of the strips I liked most in Knockout was Pete's Pockets, drawn by the prolific Mike Lacey. As schoolkids we did tend to have all sorts in our blazer pockets, and this strip took it to ludicrous, and amusing, extremes.


The editorial page was a bit... bland in its design to say the least, but at least the advert for the next issue looked lively.


The centre spread featured The Toffs and The Toughs, drawn by Reg Parlett. Unfortunately the off-register colour doesn't do it much favours but it's an enjoyable strip and Reg's work was of course a pleasure to see. This sort of upper/lower class rivalry was always a good theme to use in humour strips.


In one of its more blatant imitations of a D.C. Thomson character, Knockout had its version of The Dandy's Dirty Dick with Mucky Mick, drawn by John Geering...


The only adventure strip in Knockout No.1 was Barry and Boing. I really disliked this strip I'm afraid, but I'm showing it here for the benefit of the many who did enjoy it. D.C. Thomson could do light adventure strips perfectly (eg: General Jumbo, Billy the Cat) but although IPC were masters of straight adventure stories (The Steel Claw, Hook Jaw, etc) they seemed to veer too far into silliness when they attempted more juvenile adventure strips. (Thunder's Steel Commando for example.) The plot of Barry and Boing is fine, but a crying robot and his annoying "Boing" sound effects? It all seemed a bit wet and made me cringe. Nice artwork on this first episode though. Mike White perhaps?



Joker became Knockout's most popular character, and here's the first episode, drawn by Sid Burgon...


New comics always start out as 'dummy' issues before publishers give them a green light (or consign them to oblivion). Subsequently, by the time a comic appears in print, using the dummy strips for its first issue, its artists may not be available to draw following issues. I think this may have been the case with The Katts, with this first episode drawn by Leo Baxendale but taken over by other artists from issue two.


The new Knockout didn't fare as well as the original version. After just two years (106 issues) it folded and was absorbed by Whizzer and Chips

Comparing the two versions of Knockout it's evident how comic styles changed between 1939 and 1971, just as styles of today are often different to those of the 1970s. Yet the objective of comics always remains the same, - to entertain!   

Friday, December 28, 2012

Aces Weekly - Don't miss out!


One of the new British comics launched this year was Aces Weekly, an anthology of brand new strips by a variety of creators. Similar to the traditional weekly comics of old in fact, but with important differences. Aces Weekly is exclusively digital, and all the strips are creator-owned. When you buy Aces Weekly you're not lining the bulging bank account of some big corporation. The comic is based on a profit-sharing scheme and although all the work is done up front for nothing, any profits are then divided equally amongst the contributors. 

Aces Weekly is the brainchild of V for Vendetta artist David Lloyd, who set up the concept with his own money earlier this year. The editor is Bambos Georgiou, who has numerous years of experience as an editor, writer, letterer and artist, and the contributors range from all over the world. Each volume of the comic consists of seven weekly issues for just £6.99 / $9.99 / €7.99 - a pound an issue! You can't say fairer than that.

The beauty of digital comics is that they're always available, so for those of you who haven't yet subscribed, here's what you're missing. In Volume One...

SHOOT FOR THE MOON
by Alexandre Tefenkgi and Mauricet

PROGENITOR
by Phil Hester, John McCrea and Matthew Wilson

VALLEY OF SHADOWS
by David Jackson and David Lloyd

RETURN OF THE HUMAN
by JC Vaughan and Mark Wheatley

PARADISE MECHANISM
by David Hitchcock from a plot by Kerry Hitchcock

COMBAT COLIN
by Lew Stringer

THRUD THE BARBARIAN
by Carl Critchlow

PSYCHO GRAN
by David Leach

A TALE FROM GIMBLEY
by Phil Elliott

DR QUEER
by Mychalio Kazybrid and Bambos Georgiou

HARMONY
by Estéban Hernandez

CHLOROFORMS
by Lucy Stone and Rory Walker




...and in Volume Two, which began a few weeks ago...

THE CAT THAT CAME TO CALL
by Kathryn Layno

SANTA CLAUS VS THE NAZIS
by Benjamin Dickson and Gavin Mitchell

BLUE CAT
by James Hudnall and Val Mayerik

THE KEPT WOMAN
by Algesiras and Yishan Li

LEGION ZERO
by Ferg Handley and Kev Hopgood

CATALYST ISLAND
by Henry Flint




Remember, Aces Weekly is exclusively digital. There's no point in 'waiting for the print edition' because there isn't going to be one. Producing a print edition would bump up the price considerably (due to paying printers, distributors, and retailers) and would make it unfeasible. I appreciate that some people can't access some digital comics because they require an iPad, but Aces Weekly can be read on any computer or tablet device. (Except, I understand, for small devices such as iPhones.)


Intrigued? Want to support a new UK / international comic? Follow the link to the Aces Weekly website and subscribe today!
http://www.acesweekly.co.uk/home


Horizon: Book One - The Falling

  
Andrew Wildman has been an artist for a long time. Many of you will remember his work on Marvel's The Transformers (and more recently his new Transformers work for IDW), his pages for Spider-Man and Force Works, and his Frontier graphic novel. He's also worked as a designer, illustrator and storyboard artist. All of this experience has led Andrew to become an excellent sequential artist as his new self-published graphic novel Horizon superbly reveals.

Andrew funded Horizon through indiegogo, and Book One: The Falling is now available. The 52 page softback is an absorbing read. When I received my copy I intended just to read the first few pages and put it away for later, but I found myself captivated by the flow of the story and the intriguing plot. Before I knew it I'd completed the book. 

Horizon is the story of 15 year old Alisanne, a girl who feels out of place at home and at school, and the person she depended on the most, her father, is gone. Falling asleep (we assume) she awakes (or does she) in a world that's not quite right, with empty streets, dead ends and closed doors. Yet this is a place where answers can be found if Alisanne works it out. 


The story is part metaphor, part dream-interpretation, and deeper than it might seem on first reading. There are basic similarities to Alice in Wonderland and The Wizard of Oz but only in the initial setup. It's a fairly quick read, as Andrew uses a decompressed technique and the dialogue and narrative is minimal on many of the pages. Usually I'd feel short-changed by that but in the case of Horizon I really felt rewarded by the mysteries of the plot and by Andrew's superbly skillful artwork. It's a book that works on one level on the first reading, then also invites a second and third reading when you start guessing at the source of the narrative captions and the significance of other characters.

As I mentioned, this is only Book One, so we have to wait a while for the next chapter, but the story breaks at a place where we're sufficiently intrigued without it being a cliffhanger, so it works well. 

Horizon Book One: The Falling can be bought now directly from Andrew Wildman at this link: http://www.horizongraphicnovel.com/shop.html

Thursday, December 27, 2012

Gerry Anderson, Rest In Peace


I didn't bother with sporting heroes when I was growing up. My heroes were people with powerful imaginations who could take me into a realm of escapism. People like Stan Lee, Steve Ditko, Jack Kirby, Leo Baxendale... and Gerry Anderson.

I was saddened by the news that Gerry Anderson passed away yesterday, December 26th, at the age of 83. For those of us of a certain age, Mr.Anderson was a huge influence on our childhoods, bringing us excitement and entertainment with his Supermarionation TV shows. 

A SUPERCAR toy I had for Christmas 1964.
The first Gerry Anderson show I remember, vaguely, was Supercar, transmitted in the very early sixties. His next project, Fireball XL5, entrenched itself deeper into my memory, from its captivating title sequence to its fantastic theme song Fireball, sung by Don Spencer over the closing credits. This was followed by Stingray, which had impact from its opening titles, again, through to another great song, Aqua Marina, over the end credits, sung by Gary Miller.


The thing about the series produced by Gerry Anderson (and his then-wife Sylvia Anderson) was that although they were puppet shows aimed at children and the basic premise was quite simple (heroes of a security organization investigate mysteries/tackle bad guys) the actual storylines and direction treated its audience in a mature manner. Yes, there was sometimes the goofy comic relief (Zoony the Lazoon in Fireball XL5 for example) but the stories were solidly written adventure shows. 

From TV21 International Extra, 1965
Another important aspect to the shows was that they portrayed an optimistic future. A 21st Century where the world was mostly at peace with itself, with threats mainly coming from space aliens or undersea races that would be dealt with quickly and securely. For those of us growing up in the 1960s this was all part of the zeitgeist of a clean, bright tomorrow. We know differently now of course, in the realities of our dark and bitter 21st Century, but such lack of pessimism back then was, I believe, extremely beneficial to our childhoods and Gerry Anderson was a positive influence in that. 

Without Gerry Anderson there would of course be no TV Century 21, the standout adventure comic of the 1960s. The comic was a co-production between City Magazines and Anderson's Century 21 Productions so Gerry was 'hands on' in many respects. (Even one of his top writers, Alan Fennell, was the editor of TV21.) This led to a highly successful spin-off comic for girls, Lady Penelope in 1966 and, in 1969, the not as-successful but still enjoyable Joe 90 Top Secret


Gerry Anderson's biggest hit was Thunderbirds, debuting in 1965 with hour-length episodes (as opposed to the other series' half hours). This was also the only Anderson series to have a movie spin-off (two in fact). In 1966, TV21 ran a photo-strip adaptation of the first movie, Thunderbirds Are Go...



Captain Scarlet was the next production, screening in 1967. With more sophisticated puppets and a darker edge to the stories (alien Mysterons killing people to resurrect them as their terrorist duplicates) it lacked some of the optimism of previous shows. However, many young viewers such as myself saw this as a necessary development. The Anderson shows were growing with us. By 1970, and the debut of Anderson's first live-action series UFO, his faithful audience were ready for a series with more adult appeal.

Art by Mike Noble.

Gerry Anderson continued with productions such as The Protectors and Space 1999 and, when his original audience had moved on, he returned to stories for a new generation with series such as Terrahawks. In 2005 a revamped Captain Scarlet arrived on ITV with brand new stories under the name Gerry Anderson's New Captain Scarlet, featuring CGI animation. The series was badly served by ITV, with each episode chopped into two segments as part of a Saturday morning TV show along with other items.


It's saddening that Gerry Anderson is no longer with us but he leaves us with a fantastic amount of truly great TV shows. All of his Supermarionation series have been released on DVD over the years, along with UFO and other shows. I would also recommend the sometimes-overlooked New Captain Scarlet series which came out on DVD several years ago. Some sets may no longer be available but I'm sure they'll all be re-released eventually. As for the comics inspired by his TV shows, several Century 21 books are available reprinting strips from TV21 and Countdown.  

Mr.Anderson was diagnosed with mixed dementia two years ago and his condition became worse in recent months. A distressing condition for the sufferer and the family. May he now rest in peace.  

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

Below: Me with some of my Thunderbirds (and other) toys (and my dog Judy) back in the summer of 1966. Happy days.




Reader Iain Henderson has reminded me what an unusual version of Thunderbird 5 that toy in the photo was. It bore little resemblance to the satellite of the TV series, adding flashing lights and wheels as it moved around the floor with its battery-powered 'bump-n-go' action. I still have the toy in its box so here's a few photographs of it I took this evening:






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