Saturday, June 14, 2014

VULCAN (1975)


In the 1970s many British strips owned by IPC were being translated and reprinted abroad via Syndication International in various foreign comics. Then someone had the idea of packaging an entire comic full of UK reprints that could be sold in Britain as well as Germany. The result was Vulcan, a co-production between Swiss publisher Gevacur and British publisher IPC, and printed in Germany.


Vulcan was a 32 page comic on cheap but glossy paper, half of its contents in full colour. An expensive format at the time, but made feasible because after doing the English language print run, the printer then changed the black plate for a translated version in German, and continued printing. The German edition was entitled Kobra, and was exactly the same as Vulcan except for the language.

The first issues of Vulcan and Kobra were published on the same day, February 22nd 1975. Perhaps IPC were unsure of its sales potential so Vulcan was only distributed in Scotland as a sort of test launch. It continued this way for 30 issues.



The contents of Vulcan featured reprints of some of the best adventure stories that had appeared in Fleetway comics of the 1960s. All the earliest episodes of Mytek the Mighty, Kelly's Eye, The Spider, The Trigan Empire, The Steel Claw, Saber: King of the Jungle, and Robot Archie. Actually, the four pages of Robot Archie were completely redrawn versions based on old scripts, including giving Archie's human pals longer hair to make them more contemporary. This may seem an unnecessary expense but perhaps it was because the original strips had already been reprinted overseas. 


Vulcan was smaller and differently proportioned than the original comics it took its material from. For the reprints, strips had to be resized to fit. Sometimes the resizing was subtle, but often not. Here's one of the slightly better results. First, the original page from Valiant dated 3rd April 1965...

...then the resized reprint from Vulcan 27th September 1975...


It seems that Vulcan had sold well enough in Scotland to warrant a relaunch across the UK. Readers South of the border had no idea that this Scottish comic existed, so all the serials in the comic had to conclude in the final Scottish edition dated 20th September 1975. Brand new endings were drawn to wrap up the reprints in a hasty manner!  

New ending for Reg Bunn's The Spider drawn by Joe Colquhoun...


New ending for Jesus Blasco's The Steel Claw drawn by John Stokes...


New ending for Solano Lopez' Kelly's Eye drawn by John Stokes...


The following week saw a fresh start with a new Vulcan No.1, published on 20th September 1975, reprinting stories that had not appeared in the Scottish edition. For once, the cover was brand new (a smashing Mike Western job) rather than enlarging an interior panel for the cover as was the norm. For those of us living in England, this was a new comic, and we were totally unaware it had already been running for 30 weeks in Scotland!


Mike Western also drew a new cover for issue 2 of the new series...


One attraction of Vulcan was that it featured 8 full colour pages of The Trigan Empire every week. The pages were edited and resized from Ranger and Look and Learn but Don Lawrence's artwork was still superb.


Unfortunately, Vulcan didn't fare too well as a national comic. With the 28th issue (No.58 including the Scottish series) came this announcement...


Final issue of Vulcan.
The following week, the first Valiant and Vulcan appeared on 3rd April 1976 with this Carlos Ezquerra cover.


The problem with Valiant absorbing a reprint comic was that most of the stories had previously appeared in Valiant several years before. The solution was to edit and wind up the reprints as quickly as possible by presenting Vulcan as a pull-out 'mini-mag' - four normal pages for readers to fold into an 8 page comic...


The cheap newsprint of Valiant did the reduced reprints no favours at all...


After just three weeks, the stories were concluded and the Vulcan mini-mag was dropped, although the comic was still Valiant and Vulcan on the masthead for a while longer.

In Germany, Kobra had been more successful, and ran for three years in all.

Vulcan was an odd experiment by IPC. It was good to see such classic material collected into one comic, but the presentation often let it down. I'm not sure newsagents knew where to stock it, as due to its small format (close to American comic book size) some put it in the spinner racks with Marvel and DC titles. I think it must have been on firm sale because I remember several different issues hanging around those spinner racks for months. 

For some insight into Vulcan's history there's a short piece by Dez Skinn over on the Down the Tubes website: http://downthetubes.net/?p=78

All scans from my collection except for the Kobra cover which is from the Comic Vine website: http://www.comicvine.com/kobra-7507/4000-332710/

Below: The free gift that appeared in the Scottish Vulcan No.1 (from my collection):

28 comments:

m.lawrenson said...

I've always wondered why comics in this era referred to themselves as papers. To my juvenile mind at the time, it made them seem very staid and unexciting.

Was it a euphemistic term aimed at the parents (rather than the kids who were readers) in order to reassure them that these periodicals had some literary merit, rather than being exploitative trash?

Lew Stringer said...

Yes I'm sure that was part of it. Also, it's probably derived from the 'story papers' such as Champion and Triumph (full of prose stories) that preceded the adventure comics. Third reason would be that perhaps some editors considered 'comics' to literally mean humour publications.

I agree that it was a dull way to describe a comic. To me, 'papers' were newspapers. Everyone I knew called them comics.

Bill Fleming said...

Lew thank you for this great tour of Vulcan's history. To my shame I really only came back into the world of British comics a few years ago after a lifetime immersed in the superhero genre. Now blissfully free of spandex I revel in my Brit comic roots and love the insights of diamond chaps like your good self.

Thank you Lew!

paddykool said...

Comics were treated terribly and there was a stigma of sorts attached to this "low art"It's insulting to think that they were thought of as only kidztuff as if children too were worthless. Good comics will always transcend age anyway .Let anyone try to write and draw a comic, I say !! The term story papers would have been used earlier. I can still recall my late mother talking about "penny dreadfuls" too. Come to think of it ...that's a GREAT name!!

Paul McScotty -Muir said...

Nice post Lew, I wasn't aware at the time that Vulcan was only available in Scotland and couldn't figure out why there was another number one (the UK version) on the shelves a few months after picking up number 1 (in Scotland) - not sure if it said anything inside the last Scottish edition or first UK edition about the changes (as I had stopped buying it around issue 20 of the Scottish edition) still I always thought it was a cool comic nicely showing off the great Trigan Empire strip and loved the US type size (and a great name imho)-

Lew Stringer said...

Hi Paul, No there was no mention in the comic itself of a relaunch. The last Scottish edition just told of 'exciting news' of the following week's free toy gun, so quite a few Scots must have been perplexed by the 'No.1' of the 'new paper' the following week.

Bill, you're welcome. I've been meaning to blog about Vulcan for ages. Finally got around to it!

Paddykool, I think in the UK comics will always be regarded as something to look down on unfortunately. Especially as less people of each generation read them. I've had some odd reactions myself from people when I tell them what I do. Tell them you're a cartoonist and they'll be impressed. Tell them you draw comics and some will think you're educationally subnormal. :)

David Leach said...

Vulcan was one of my favourite comics and the first one I ever collected, indeed I still have all 32 issues. I think that's where my love of Kelly's Eye, The Steel Claw, Mytex the Mighty and all the rest came from. Also it's worth remembering that that potato gun given away with issue #1 (of the English version) was red and simply brilliant. I seem to remember it was metal, although I could be wrong about that.
Anyway, Lew this was a lovely article and brought back many fond memories! I loved this comic.

Lew Stringer said...

Hi David, The spud gun was plastic but there were metal ones available in shops because I had one as a kid. (I'm sure I must still have it somewhere.)

I must still have the Vulcan gift too, so if I find it I'll add a photo to this posting. Thanks for commenting.

paddykool said...

Vulcan was an interesting experiment alright. It was aping the more glossy and thunder -stealing American Marvel and DCs but in retrospect the reprinted artwork was very sophisticated compared to the superhero titles. i suppose it wasn't as "action packed" though. I originally read all the stories in Valiant and Lion and as I mentioned elsewhere have some great runs of those titles....some bound into hardback books. The larger size makes them really hefty and worthy tomes to handle, although the paper needs to be handled with a little care.

paddykool said...

Lew .i remember the metal spud guns really well. i also have some great little western derringer spud guns from the early 1960's. They featured a hollow bullet which was pushed into the spud to charge it and a removable shell in which was placed a single{ or [sometimes MANY more] explosive caps. They were a neat little toy . I also remember buying the blue metal spudguns in Woolies .

Lew Stringer said...

Those spud guns sound a bit different to the one I had. With mine you had to push the gun into a potato, forcing a tiny bit of spud into the barrel. Then a squeeze of the trigger would slide the barrel up the gun and fire the spud-bullet via compressed air.

I had cap-guns too but they didn't have a spud/cap combo like yours. :)

Lew Stringer said...

Re: your previous comment paddykool, in a way I think Vulcan was IPC's answer to compete with Marvel UK, but not understanding how to go about it. I felt several things let Vulcan down: a) the small size which made some finer lines drop out at times, b) the clumsy attempts at resizing which were distracting, c) the cheap-looking design of the comic with often odd choices for which panels they enlarged on the covers, and 5) no reader participation pages or editorials to make the reader feel connected to the comic.

That said, I was 16 at the time so probably outside its target range and if young David Leach enjoyed it they must have been doing something right.

Kris Shaw said...

Good lord! Someone needs to reprint this stuff in hardcover or trade paperback and TAKE MY MONEY!

Lew Stringer said...

If only they would Kris. The rights are currently held by Time-Warner who also own DC Comics, but DC don't seem the slightest bit interested.

However, several years ago Titan Books published one volume of The Steel Claw, one volume of The Spider (retitled King of Crooks) and an Albion Origins book containing Kelly's Eye and others. Worth seeking out if you don't have them.

mj said...

I was into comics then, why don't i remember Vulcan? Maybe because I'd seen the stories before in other papers...I mean comics! Thanks Lew.

Colin Jones said...

Lew, you say Vulcan looked cheap but to me a lot of British comics looked cheap which is why I liked Marvel UK. That's what I hated about Dez Skinn's relaunch of the Marvel weeklies in 1979 - they all looked cheap and amateurish and by the early '80s they looked abysmal. By then I'd abandoned Marvel UK and was only buying imported U.S. Marvel comics.

Lew Stringer said...

MJ, Vulcan wasn't around for long so it was easy to miss I think. I don't recall many newsagents stocking it as I always bought mine from the same shop in town.

Colin, I thought Vulcan looked cheaper than most comics because its design just wasn't as good as it's companion and rival titles. Admittedly it was limited because all the cover copy had to be in black for an easy transition for the German version. Also, despite having slick photogravure printing, they still used flat basic colours on the covers for some reason.

Phil Rushton said...

For the record there was also a softback Vulcan Annual and a Summer Special. The latter even included an original Trigan Empire text story with new artwork by Don Lawrence.

Lew Stringer said...

Hi Phil, Yes as you may have seen I've just uploaded a blog post about the Holiday Special and will do one on the Vulcan Annual soon.

John said...

Hi Lew, the page from Robot Archie in this post was drawn by Dutch artist Bert Bus. It was first published in the Dutch comic Sjors. From Lambiek.net: "He returned to Sjors in 1971 to draw a modernized version of the British comic 'Archie, de Man van Staal'. Bus illustrated ten stories with 'Archie'". The last newly drawn Archie-story by Bus appeared in 1974.

I think this sheds some light on your remark about the new look: "Actually, the four pages of Robot Archie were completely redrawn versions based on old scripts, including giving Archie's human pals longer hair to make them more contemporary. This may seem an unnecessary expense but perhaps it was because the original strips had already been reprinted overseas."
Most if not all Archie-stories by Bert Bus were reprinted in Vulcan.

Best, John

Lew Stringer said...

Thanks John! That's very informative.

Hibernia Comics said...

Really great post Lew.
On spud guns, I was telling the kids of these last week, and they looked at me with pity!
I have only a handful of Vulcan, but the format was great but the paper was odd, good for the artwork, but very delicate.
I see you have linked Dez's recollections, and as for Bert Bus and Archie, Gil Page was involved in that, as well as commissioning all new Janus Stark stories that appeared in France by Tully and Lopez, well after the story had finished in the UK. The image in the Trigan text story in your next piece on Vulcan was used as the cover for the Hawke collection.
Great stuff Lew.

Lew Stringer said...

I thought I'd seen that vertical Trigan image on a book. Of course! The cover of the Hawk Books collection, as you said. I should have remembered that as I must have visited Mike Higgs' studio when he was putting the book together.

Mike W said...

Really intersting blog about Vulcan. I just wish that the Mytek stories could be collected into a graphic novel. When young they always seemed so long rather than some serial stories which were over in about 8 weeks. Gogra always seemed to escape to fight another day!

Lew Stringer said...

Most of the main serials in Valiant had long story arcs. I think comic readers back then had long attention spans and more loyalty to the comics.

Yes, it'd be great to see a Mytek collection! Highly unlikely unfortunately, as IPC / Time-Warner don't seem remotely interested in reprinting their old strips, or letting others do it. A shame, as we're the generation who'd be interested in buying such books while we're still this side of pension age.

Martin Gray said...

Well, that was fascinating - the (to many of us) secret history of Vulcan. I remember the first time I saw it, in Co Durham, I honestly expected it to be something to do with Mr Spock...

Kevin Williamson said...

Great blog, and some wonderful info in the comments section...

Just wanted to add some info about the 1st issue of the national edition. I have a copy without the banner heading "No 1 of a great new paper!". It's just the yellow background strip without any writing at all. I bought it with a collection of a few Vulcan issues, which contained both Scottish and national editions, and came from Scotland. So I believe there may have been a unique version printed for Scotland to avoid the confusion of it actually being issue 29 there. Admittedly, this is only an assumption on my part, but I can't really come up with another explanation.

Plus, regarding the colour of the potato gun, my original one which I still have from 1975 is blue! I haven't seen any red ones, but I believe a potato gun with the same design was also used as a free gift with an issue of the Hornet, as well as an issue of Tornado, and possible Eagle as well, so possibly there were colour variations with those gifts which might have been substituted.

Have fun out there!

Lew Stringer said...

Interesting theory about the yellow banner, Kevin, and it makes sense. I think you're right.

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