Tuesday, January 02, 2007
Countdown for TV Action
While TV Century 21 rightfully receives great praise for its place in comics history, a similar comic which followed is less well known. Countdown was launched by Polystyle Publications in early 1971, and was basically TV21 under a new name. By this time the publishers of TV21 had lost or relinquished the rights to comic strips based on Gerry Anderson tv shows and Polystyle had acquired them. Establishing the similarity between the two comics even further, the editor of Countdown was TV21's ex-art editor Dennis Hooper. Apparently Hooper was an admirer of the Doctor Who tv series so a strip version of that appeared in Countdown too, liberated from its previous home in TV Comic and upgraded with a higher standard of stories and artwork.
I always regarded Countdown as an excellent comic and avidly bought it every week. This was a title published in an age where comics didn't "dumb down" (as many do today) and it featured intelligent plots, artwork by the best in the business (such as John Burns, Gerry Haylock, Harry Lindfield), and sophisticated features on space exploration and UFO sightings. (Unlike most other UK comics of the period it also featured art credits on its strips.) One of the standout strips was a serial which itself was titled Countdown. Not based on any tv series, it concerned the struggles of a group of freedom fighters opposing a ruthless Earth dictatorship. And this was several years before Blake's 7!
Sadly, perhaps Countdown was too sophisticated for its readers. Or perhaps it was just a little "behind the times" now that the space race was over. Whatever the reason, budget cuts meant a few reprints crept in (not that we minded as they were reprints from TV21!) and other desperate measures were evident, with the logo being tweaked and finally a complete change of title to TV Action with issue No.59! The emphasis on science fiction/fact was diminished, and a swing towards strip versions of action shows like Cannon, The Protectors, and Hawaii Five-O became the norm.
Whilst TV Action continued to have reasonably good plot-based strips and strong artwork, it made the mistake (in my opinion) of trying to imitate its competitor Look-In and introduced pull-out posters of pop stars. Did their target audience of 7 to 12 year old boys really want pin ups of Donny Osmond and Elton John? Apparently not, as readers continued to leave (me being one of them) and the comic was cancelled with No.132 (merging into TV Comic).
Today, the UK comics industry is saturated with license-based comics and magazines, but they each focus on individual properties. Anthology tv-theme comics like Countdown and TV21 and are a thing of the past. That's a shame, as it means less variety within the pages. The strength of the anthologies was that as one tv strips popularity faded it could be replaced by a new one whilst keeping the title going. (Which is how TV Comic and Look-In survived for so many years.) It also meant that tv programmes that perhaps were not strong enough to carry their own titles could still appear as strips within an anthology.
Will the likes of such variety comics be seen again? Or do copyright holders today demand that their tv properties have solo titles? Time will tell. In the meantime, old issues of Countdown are definitely worth seeking out as great examples of the tv-theme comic and as a high point of British comics in general.