Tuesday, March 28, 2017

Combat Colin's 30th Anniversary week

I hope you'll forgive me some self-indulgence (well, it is my blog after all) but today marks 30 years since my first Combat Colin strip appeared in print. It began in Marvel UK's Action Force No.5, published on March 28th 1987 (cover dated 4th April).
The first published strip.

At that time I'd been working full time in the comics industry for just three years, and was contributing strips to IPC's Oink! regularly as well as doing Robo-Capers for Marvel's Transformers. I was still relatively new in the business but keeping busy. 

The editor of Action Force, Richard Starkings, invited me to come up with an idea for a new humour strip for the comic. It needed to have some sort of militaristic angle to match the comic's theme, and my initial sketches (never submitted) had the character as a kid. I quickly dismissed that idea as it seemed too much like a Whizzer and Chips type strip. Eventually, I settled on the big gormless-looking character you're familiar with, except he was called Dimbo (a kind of spoof of the Rambo movie character). 

Marvel liked the idea, but the editors felt that the name Dimbo wasn't right and would date too quickly, as soon as the Rambo movies were out of the zeitgeist. They were quite correct, and I'm eternally grateful to Marvel UK editor Steve White who suggested the name Combat Colin as an alternative. (Steve himself became the inspiration for Colin's sidekick Semi-Automatic Steve, a name suggested by Richard Starkings.)

Richard commissioned me to produce Combat Colin as half-page strips and we were all set. 

The first few Combat Colin strips were self-contained gags, usually about Colin being an out-of-place mercenary type who lived with his parents. Gradually, I developed the character and his motivation and Colin and Steve became the local heroes fighting fantastic and bizarre threats to Wallytown. The strip became episodic, and I was allowed to develop the stories into short serials of two to six weeks. (This had always been an ambition of mine, inspired by the strips I grew up reading such as The Cloak and Eagle-Eye, Junior Spy.) Quite often though, they were just daft self-contained pages, which were equally fun to do. 
Action Force ran to just 50 issues, then merged into Transformers. Luckily, Combat Colin transferred over too, replacing my Robo-Capers strip. It would remain a fixture of the comic until the final issue in 1992.

I had a great time doing the Combat Colin strip, and the editors basically let me do what I wanted (within reason of course). The strips became increasingly bizarre and surreal at times (but still understandable enough for the target audience I hope) and I had a fantastic time on the strip. Colin even interacted with other Marvel characters on a few occasions...
The end of the Transformers comic meant the end of Combat Colin's time as a Marvel character, but I asked for the rights and was over the moon when Marvel's Paul Neary agreed, returning all rights to me. (In writing. I still have the letter.)

Since then, Combat Colin has returned sporadically, first in the three-issue Yampy Tales comic I self-published in 1996. (In case you didn't know, "yampy" is a Midlands term for crazy.)
...then in two specials I published in 1997 and 2000...

He's also appeared as a guest star in the new Brickman series I did for Elephantmen, published in the USA by Image Comics, which I later collected in the Brickman Returns comic I published in 2015...
Brand new Combat Colin stories have appeared in some issues of the digital comic Aces Weekly, and, time willing, I'll be doing more this year. Check out volumes 1, 8, 16, and 21 to read the new adventures.
http://www.acesweekly.co.uk/shop
What's next for the character? Well, starting this year I'm launching a Combat Colin comic, reprinting the old material right from the start in a series of issues. I'd hoped the first issue would be out now but I've been so busy on mainstream comics work it'll be out later, in May or June. I'll post more information soon of course.

Combat Colin still proves a popular request for sketches at conventions and it's a pleasure to now meet the readers who read it when they were kids in the 1980s. My thanks to everyone who has read the strip over the years, and special thanks to Richard Starkings for commissioning me to do it in the first place. Of all the strips I've worked on, Combat Colin remains my favourite gig. 


20 comments:

Peter Gray said...

look forward to the book...

Lew Stringer said...

As I've said before, it's not going to be a book, but a series of comics. There'll be one, hopefully two, issues this year, then three (I hope) next year.

Robert Carnegie said...

Hmm, clicking on the picture with the cut-out Colin and Steve finger-puppets brings up a "fraud warning" in my web browser (which is Opera, which is Chrome with pretensions.) The other pictures don't. Maybe saving me from myself....

Norman Boyd said...

Congratulations Lew! And you have no need to apologise when detailing the history of a British comic strip...no matter who the author!

Manic Man said...

Great Strip and characters when it started, great strip and characters now. Should be very proud of yourself, not a lot of small time UK characters have that kind of staying power ^_^

Lew Stringer said...

I don't know what's happened there, Robert. Rest assured it's not fraudulent!

Thanks, Norman and Manic. Combat Colin's staying power is only due to my persistence in keeping him going. Had he still been owned by Marvel I doubt we'd have ever seen him again after 1992. Keeping the rights to a character definitely has its advantages.

Phil Boyce said...

Is Colin your most successful character would you say? It'd be a toss up between him and Tom Thug I'm guessing? Huge fan of Combat Colin in Transformers, just a shame Marvel never gave you the rights to the brilliant Robo Capers too, they'd be a great back-up strip for the new comic, though I can understand why they didn't. Really looking forward to reading the Action Force strips which will be new to me!

Lew Stringer said...

To be fair to Marvel, I never asked them for the rights to my other strips. Perhaps I should have but I didn't want to push my luck. Hard to say whether Colin or Tom was the most successful. Probably Tom Thug, as the strip ran for ten years (then another three as a reprint). That said, Combat Colin was being seen by 220,000 readers when Transformers was at its height, and it's Colin that most people I meet at cons seem to favour.

Colin Jones said...

Is there any particular reason why you called him Combat Colin rather than Combat Carl, Clive, Cuthbert or Kevin ?

Lew Stringer said...

If you'd read my post before commenting, Colin, you'd have seen that I didn't name him. I'd imagine Steve chose that name because it flows better than the others you suggested.

Colin Jones said...

Oops...sorry, Lew. I did read the post last night but only made the comment this afternoon - I just forgot in the meantime :)

Robert Carnegie said...

It's not doing the fraud thing now, but I may not do finger puppets after all... that is a nice meta-fictional page, though.

I haven't investigated the cause - but if your pictures are in a vast mysterious store somewhere in the internet, maybe this one was temporarily appearing with an IP address that was recently reported for someone else's criminal use. Colin must have caught up with them, one page is usually enough ;-)

Tiniebras said...

I still have my "tatty piece of cardboard which provez i am an official member of the combat colin fan club... and i reed his brill adveturez in the tranzformerz comic every week. So there." I presume that as an official fan club member I will receive all new comicz for no moneeez!

Hedley Williams said...

Love the Christmas panel - congratulations Lew and continued success
best wishes from Detroit
Hedley

qamar said...

Congratulations. And good to hear you got the rights.

Lew Stringer said...

I don't store my images on the 'net, Richard. I just scan them as I need them, although once they're on Blogger they're archived on the 'net of course. It's probably just a Blogger glitch, as it happened to me when I clicked on an image on another blog today.

Tiniebras, that card allows you to pay TWICE as much as anyone else. (Only joking.)

Thanks for the nice words, folks!

Darren Gregson said...

Combat Colin also appeared in the Marvel Bumper comic. Were those reprints or new strips? They were some of my favourites. I am very much looking forward to the new reprint comics. Great work sir!

Lew Stringer said...

You're right, Darren. I should add Bumper Comic to the blog post really. They were reprints of Combat Colin, but Marvel did pay a reprint fee, which was good. Not much admittedly (£6 a page or something) but it was better than nothing. Glad to hear you're on board for the Combat Colin comic! Thanks for posting.

Rods Toy Box said...

Can't wait for the comic to come out. Will be great having them all collected together to read at ease without having to pull all my old Transformer comics out of their files. I still feel like a Transformers comic isn't complete without Combat Colin in it.

Lew Stringer said...

Naturally I'm biased but I agree with you. :) Some people told me they contacted Titan or IDW to ask for a Combat Colin strip to be included in the new Transformers comics but their requests were ignored apparently.

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