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Tuesday, July 31, 2007

Richard Elson Interviewed

My old pal and fellow comic artist Richard Elson is interviewed over at Sonic the Comic Online. Back in the 1990s I had an enjoyable time as one of the writers on Fleetway's Sonic the Comic and whenever I wrote a script for Richard he never failed to turn in an excellent job. STC (as it became known) had a loyal and vocal fan following and when the comic was canceled some of them decided to continue it with their own online version.

In recent years Richard Elson has been a contributor to both The Beano and 2000AD, proving what a versatile artist he is. You can read the interview with him by following this link.

Saturday, July 28, 2007

Shelf life

It strikes me that British comics might stand a better chance of attracting new readers if they were displayed more attractively in shops. Take a look at this picture I took the other day at a local town centre newsagent. Comics are shoved into the display rack, spilling out in some cases, or upside down or with titles obscured. It looks a bloody mess quite frankly. Partly the fault of publishers taping or bagging bulky free gifts with the comics, partly the fault of uncaring shop staff. Who wants to pay £2 or more for a comic that already looks like it's ready for the recycle bin?

And this was one of the neater displays! Don't even get me started on WH Smith!

Flashback to 40 years ago and comics were displayed flat, masthead logos prominent, on a newsagent's counter. A perfect "impulse purchase" as they now call items next to the checkout.

I'm not suggesting for a moment that shoddy displays are the main reason for falling sales today, but I'm sure they have some small impact. Admittedly with the huge number of titles out there (and those damned bulky gifts) comics can't be displayed flat now, but some sort of neater shelving system (and attentive staff) might help. It's all very well having shelves that show the full cover, but the comics are so flimsy that they often roll over with the weight of the gifts! Not only that, but the garish colours and "busy" cover design of all the titles gives the impact of a technicolour nightmare. No wonder I get migraines... ;-)

Thursday, July 26, 2007

'The Dandy' is dead. Long live 'The Dandy Xtreme'.

A double page ad (drawn by Nigel Parkinson) in today's Dandy answers what many have been asking. Is The Dandy to end? As it turns out, yes... and no.

The Dandy, record holder of the world's longest running comic, "ends" with the issue on sale now... but is immediately regenerated next week, like Doctor Who, into a new form. From next Thursday (2nd August) the publication has a title change to Dandy Xtreme, switches from weekly to fortnightly, ups its price from £1.30 to £1.99 and ventures further into the magazine field, rather than the traditional comic format. (Although comic strip favourites such as Cuddles and Dimples will remain - with Desperate Dan reprinting classic Dudley Watkins strips.) The numbering will continue from the weekly, so the first Dandy Xtreme is in reality issue No.3426.

These changes will no doubt have older readers shaking their heads in disbelief, and the great sorrow is that it's happened in the comic (sorry, magazine's) 70th anniversary year. However, The Dandy has always been first and foremost a children's publication and the facts are that 21st Century kids in the UK seem to prefer magazines to comics. (Why this is the case, when countries like Japan can still have a thriving comics industry, is a debate for another day perhaps.)

For us old timers, "our" Dandy has been gone for some time. "Our" Dandy was the Dandy of our childhood. For me, it was the variety-packed 16 pager of the mid-sixties, full of strips by Dudley Watkins, Jack Glass, Bill Holroyd, Eric Roberts and others. For fans now in their early thirties "their" Dandy would have been the Dandy of the mid-eighties, when it first went glossy. Nothing can take away "our" Dandy. History cannot be changed. Dandy Xtreme is for the children of today.

We might not like an old favourite comic changing with the times but it's a necessity for it to survive. It'll be interesting to see how it fares.
In this day and age publishing is equally about pleasing the retail giants as it is accommodating reader's tastes. It can be quite a juggling act. Hopefully the new format and price will encourage more retailers to stock it. (Distribution of the weekly has been quite poor recently. One local newsagent insisted "The Dandy? That finished years ago!")

One thing that springs to mind though is that if The Dandy was lagging behind The Beano in sales, will Dandy Xtreme also suffer from being too similar to BeanoMax? And will Dandy Xtreme's new promise to contain "Totally Gross" humour make it a copy of Toxic? Time will tell.

Farewell to The Dandy. Welcome to The Dandy Xtreme.

Wednesday, July 25, 2007

Remember League Ladders?

Free gifts in comics now seem to be mainly produced by outside firms who supply various cheap plastic novelties within an appropriate package for the relevant comic. Therefore similar mini pinball games etc could turn up in anything from Dandy to Spectacular Spider-Man just with a different backing card, and with most UK comics on the whole aimed at a younger reader than they used to be, free plastic toys are the standard.

Twenty, thirty, forty years ago things were much different. Free gifts were a rare treat, not an expected regular feature. They were used to help launch a new comic or to give it a boost at occasional intervals. Producing the free gifts in-house, editors had to be inventive as the budget usually limited them to creating ideas from cardboard (or at a push, cardboard, elastic bands, and maybe a balloon).

The variety of free gifts they came up with will be a subject for a later blog, but amongst the most popular were the "Football League Ladders". Readers of the football magazine Shoot! will no doubt remember those, as they were given away in Shoot! No.1 (1969) and yearly thereafter for decades. However, the idea was older than the magazine itself, as Valiant proudly presented them free back in September 1964. (See photos.)

A simple concept: a single sheet of card, with pre-cut "Team Tabs" down each side which you'd press out and place in the pre-cut slots on the division "ladders". (Third and Fourth Division teams usually came free the following week.) Every Sunday we'd study the papers for each team's position, and change the tabs around to accurately reflect their latest standing. Even for a non-sporty type like me it seemed fascinating and would occupy a half hour or so.

I wonder how many readers kept up the chore throughout the whole season? Not me I'm afraid. I'd always give up after a few months, and the League Ladders would either be put away and forgotten, losing half the tabs in the process, or thrown away to make room for more comics.

Do the football mags still give away these Ladders at the start of every season? Somehow I doubt it, as I'm sure kids now just bookmark a footie page on the internet for the team positions instead. (Plus there are more divisions, more leagues... too complex for a simple cardboard chart perhaps?)

As I said earlier, I'll be writing a blog covering free gifts in general eventually, so if you have any memorable favourites, let me know and I'll try to include them. (I'll be mainly focusing on the 1960s to 1980s.)

Tuesday, July 24, 2007

Surf's Up! - and nutter Dolmann's back!

The latest Panini Pocketbook Silver Surfer Origins (digest sized, full colour, reprinting issues 1 to 5 from 1968/69) is on it's way to bookshops now, according to Panini UK.

This handy format is perfect for collectors who want a blast from the past but without the huge expense of the hardback Marvel Masterworks. (Several collections of John Romita's Spider-Man are already out there in Pocketbook form, along with the early Claremont X-Men books, a couple of Lee/Kirby Fantastic Four volumes, and the first Hulk stories. All at £3.99 each.)

Panini have also been busy publishing their own versions of Marvel Masterworks, albeit in paperback. However, the advantage over the U.S. editions is that the UK ones collect comics by year (12 issues) instead of in batches of ten as Marvel tend to do.

It would be nice to see more British material collected too, although Rebellion have been doing a fine job with their various 2000 AD softbacks recently, such as their superb Nemesis collection. Sadly, I doubt older characters such as Janus Stark or Adam Eterno could support enough sales to warrant individual collections.

However, all is not lost, in fact it's GREAT NEWS, CHUMS! 'Cos in October all your favourites (well, four of them) from Valiant and Smash! will be featured in an anthology collection entitled Albion Origins from Titan Books!
Cursitor Doom!
- The creepy looking mystic!
Janus Stark! -
Rubber-boned Victorian escapologist!
Kelly's Eye!
- Gem that makes its wearer invincible!
The House of Dolmann!
- Nutcase ventriloquist who gets pissed off when his puppets argue with themselves!
- all within a new cover by Brian Bolland! Ber-limey! See Amazon UK for ordering details! Waheyy!

Tuesday, July 17, 2007

Pre-Code Horror for Halloween 2007

For several years now Marvel Comics have been issuing hardback collections of their classic sixties comics in their Marvel Masterworks line. Now, having covered almost all of their Silver Age comics, they're also exploring other classics from their history. Golden Age collections of the early wartime Human Torch and Sub-Mariner comics have been out for some time but recently Marvel ventured into re-presenting their 1950s superhero revival with a nice collection called Atlas Era Heroes.

Now they're about to publish another batch of stories from that period, but this time it's Marvel's seldom-reprinted pre-code horror comics that are getting the luxury Masterworks treatment. October 31st sees the publication of Atlas Era Strange Tales; a 272 hardback reprinting Strange Tales Nos. 1 to 10 (June 1951 to September 1952), which includes strips by Joe Maneely, John Romita, Bill Everett, Russ Heath, Gene Colan, and many more.

This will certainly be exciting news for all fans of American pre-code horror comics. Priced at $54.99 the book isn't cheap (although for UK buyers, it's currently cheaper to buy them direct from the USA). However, who can resist a time-trip into the era of fifties horror?

Thanks to the great website
The Marvel Masterworks Resource Page for announcing this news. For more details about this book, visit this page of their site:

Sunday, July 15, 2007

Buster and Oink! artwork on eBay

I'm selling off some more of my original comic pages on eBay. These are some of the Tom Thug and Pete & His Pimple strips that were published in Buster and Oink! between 1988 and 1995.

If you're interested in bidding on these original pages of artwork, visit:

Thursday, July 12, 2007

Dandy Summer Special published

Despite fan rumour that there wouldn't be a Dandy Summer Special this year, the 2007 edition has just been published and is in the shops now.

This once-a-year treat has been published regularly since 1964, although it's changed considerably since the early years. Back in the sixties, the Dandy Summer Special (and its Beano equivalent) were 32 page tabloid-sized comics, truly distinct from their 16 page newsprint weekly versions. Over the years the weeklies have evolved into summer special style comics themselves (32 pages, glossy, full colour throughout) so the actual Summer Specials have to try harder to be... special.

The solution is that the Dandy Summer Special now comes bagged with a free toy. (In this year's case, a "Triple-Loading Disc-Launcher". Yes, free gift guns are back in fashion.) It also has more pages than Specials of yesteryear; 44 pages instead of 32, and is full colour. (The old Specials had some pages in black and white.)

I was pleased to see there's a suitable holiday theme to most of the strips, as some Specials of recent years didn't follow that tradition. However, the images of deckchairs, Blackpool Tower, and Brighton Pier of the sixties comics have been replaced by beach mats and generic beaches, reflecting changes in society's holiday habits.

There's a good mixture of fun features, games and puzzles breaking up the strips too, adding to the "special" feel to the comic, so I'm sure today's kids will be just as pleased with this publication as we were with our Summer Specials of years ago. Artists in the 2007 Special include Ken Harrison (who provides an excellent cover), Wayne Thomson, Jamie Smart, Nigel Parkinson, Steve Bright, Nick Brennan and Karl Dixon.

Recent news reports claim that we face a summer of rampaging kids embarking on crime because they're bored in the summer holidays. Pathetic! Strewth kids, just read comics or play with your toys like we did, ya spoilt brats, and stop moaning. ;-) Start with this publication, which should keep you happy for half an hour at least.

Dandy Summer Special 2007 D.C. Thomson, £2.99 (Interestingly, the cover price is also accompanied by an equally prominent "Spain 5.20 €" suggesting that plenty of copies of this will be available at Spanish holiday resorts.)

Wednesday, July 11, 2007

Adam Eterno cursed to wander the web

Remember Adam Eterno? The Man Who Would Not Die? Cursed to live forever, drifting through time haphazardly from one age to the next? This popular strip appeared in Thunder in 1970, moved over to Lion when the two comics merged, and ended up in Valiant when Lion was absorbed into that comic in 1974. The strip then lasted until Valiant's final issue in 1976.

One of the most memorable heroes from the IPC stable, Adam Eterno now has his own website which re-presents those classic strips for readers to enjoy again. The strip's history has been extensively researched and the reproduction of the pages is clear. Well worth a visit! See

Bellamy's Life of Churchill online

Just a brief blog tonight, but I wanted to bring to the attention of anyone who hasn't seen it yet that the classic 1957/58 Eagle strip The Happy Warrior is currently being featured online at the ComicsUK website. Illustrated by Frank Bellamy, this strip told the life story of Winston Churchill and is highly regarded by comic fans for Bellamy's superb artistry and luxurious colour work. These pages are some of the finest pieces of comic art to have appeared in British comics.

While you're over at the Comics UK site, check out the section called The Full Strip for some marvelous samples of old UK comic strips, including a fairly forgotten but bonkers favourite I used to read called New World For Old that ran in Jag weekly in 1968.

Monday, July 09, 2007

Dandy goes fortnightly - official

After fan speculation on comics messageboards, it has now been confirmed that the world's longest running comic The Dandy is to switch from weekly to fortnightly publication at the end of this month. Confirmation came from publisher DC Thomson's own website subscription page. (See clipping above, and visit HERE to subscribe.)

Launched in 1937, The Dandy will celebrate its 70th anniversary in December. It was published weekly since issue 1, but switched to fortnightly frequency during World War 2 to save paper and was published on alternate weeks with The Beano, (which also went fortnightly then). Both comics resumed weekly publication again in the 1950s.

It's thought the first new fortnightly edition will be the one dated August 4th (on sale August 2nd). Content changes are also rumoured. The Beano continues as a weekly comic.

More information in due course.

2000AD spills its guts

If there's one type of comics history book I can't stand it's the type that fills its pages with tedious resum├ęs of comic character's lives, recounting their adventures blow by blow in text form. If I was interested in the plots, I'd seek out back issues of the comics themselves, (or reprints) not read second-hand accounts in words only. For me, such "backstory history" is as boring as listening to someone tell you the entire story of last night's episode of CSI, when you'd rather wait for the DVD to come out. Comics; they work best in words and pictures, not as written text. That's the point of them being done as comics.

And breathe....

Thank Grud that Thrill-Power Overload by David Bishop is nothing like that. This is exactly the sort of comics history book I like. It tells the story behind the comic and its characters, which means it has a depth that's much more rewarding than a collection of plot synopses. Here is the history of 2000AD, the weekly science fiction action comic, celebrating its 30th anniversary, and revealing its struggles and triumphs against the odds, including opposition from within IPC (its original publisher).

Most importantly, it's a story written by an insider, for David Bishop was one of several editors that 2000AD has had steering it over the past three decades. Using his contacts and his experience, Bishop set out to chart the definitive story behind the self-proclaimed "Galaxy's Greatest Comic". In researching the book, Bishop interviewed as many people connected with 2000AD as he could, including editors, artists, writers and publishers. A few turned him down, but the majority were happy to reveal their candid views on the comic and some pull no punches.

A 250 page weighty hardback on quality paper, Thrill-Power Overload is full colour throughout and is well illustrated with artwork from 30 years of the weekly, stemming right back to the unpublished dummy issue of the comic when it was titled AD2000. (See photo above.) Most of the copy here has appeared before, as a series of features for Judge Dredd Megazine a few years ago, but it's good to see it reformatted and collected, plus there's new material too, to bring it up to date.

Although the book doesn't hold back on its revelations of the highs and lows of the comic, Thrill-Power Overload remains a positive read because it's a celebration of such a positive event: 30 years of a British weekly comic. 2000AD may have its establishment critics, and may not appeal to some of the traditionalist British comic collectors but it's survived longer than Lion, Valiant, and many of the other much-respected "old school" weeklies. In fact, it's the only surviving UK comic of the many that were launched in the 1970s. Not bad for a title that met such resistance in the beginning and was only expected by some to survive six months. However, it went on to launch the careers of some of the top names in the world of comics, such as Dave Gibbons, Alan Moore, Kevin O'Neill, Alan Davis, Mike McMahon, Brian Bolland and many more.

Thrill-Power Overload is a hefty book at a hefty price (£34.99 RRP) but are currently offering it for a reasonable £23.10.

Tuesday, July 03, 2007

Spaceship Away... the official Dan Dare comic

A new issue of the thrice-yearly Spaceship Away was published recently (issue 12). For those who haven't heard of this title, it's a 44 page full colour comic magazine featuring brand new Dan Dare strips that are produced exactly as they looked in the 1950's Eagle. In fact, the strips are so exact that the serials are broken into two page installments (complete with Eagle logo and 1950s layout) plus they're often drawn by Don Harley, one of the original Dan Dare artists! Those cynics who say "comics aren't like they used to be" should be pleased that this comic for one proves them wrong.

Spaceship Away is a labour of love published by dedicated Dan Dare fan Rod Barzilay. However it has full permission of the copyright owners, the Dan Dare Corporation, which means that this isn't "fan fiction" or "small press" as such; it's an official semi-professional Dan Dare comic, as legitimate a home as Eagle was to chronicle the ongoing adventures of the "Pilot of the Future".

In recent issues Rod has expanded the page count to include more sf comic strips such as Jet Morgan (Journey into Space, reprinted from Express Weekly) and Hal Starr (by Jeff Hawke creator Sydney Jordan, newly coloured by John Ridgway). The comic also includes other brand new Dan Dare stories by Keith Page and Tim Booth, plus a few one-page humour strips (the standout one being Dan Bear by Andy Boyce) and various features and exclusive artwork.

In my experience, most of the comic fans who bemoan the lack of UK adventure comics aren't subscribing to Spaceship Away for some reason. Admittedly the price is high at £6.99 an issue, but quality colour reproduction as seen here isn't cheap, and a limited print run will push the unit cost up. Also, the subject matter may be considered too dated for some tastes, and not "grim and gritty" enough for some 20 something fanboys. (Rod states in the current issue that three quarters of the readership are in the 50 to 70 age group. Hey, if that doesn't make it an "adult comic" then what does?) However, I always thought that the concept of being a comics fan was to appreciate good storytelling and artwork, in which regard Spaceship Away should appeal to all age groups, irrespective of whether one was a child of the Fifties or not. (Personally speaking, I never read Eagle as a kid, but I can really appreciate the strip now.)

Spaceship Away reminds me of the comics of yesteryear in that it's an anthology title, so there's plenty going on in its pages. The only thing that lets it down a little in my opinion is the awkward title masthead design, which betrays its PC desktop publishing origins and detracts from the professionalism of the rest of the comic. Perhaps Graham Bleathman (who is spotlighted inside this issue) could be commissioned to design a new logo?

If you wish the UK still had "proper comics" and you've never given Spaceship Away a try, here's your chance. All the back issues are still available from the publisher at where you can also subscribe to future issues. No.12 is out now, and issue 13 will be published in October.

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