Tuesday, February 26, 2008
While the news media creates a climate of fear and society seems be in a spiral of despair, the 21st Century also offers a wealth of entertainment to take our minds off the apocalypse on our doorsteps. One such distraction is the number of hidden gems on the internet, - and no, I don't mean porn. Wash yer minds out, - I'm talking about comics!
A few decades ago, a walk to the newsagent was all you needed to see what comics were available. Today it requires a bit more detective work to find additional various comic gems on the internet so I was pleased to hear from artist Simon Williams recently when he pointed me in the direction of his online comics Discotronic Funk Commandos!
As Simon's website tells us: "At last, I've finally got around to updating this, the Discotronic Funk Commandos page! Oh, and what an update I have for you! On this page, you will now find TWO comic stories featuring everyones favourite funky Superteam! Yes, folks...... presented here, for the very first time are the complete versions of the Funk Commando tales 'Lost In Music' and 'Enter Metalhead!' And this includes pages that have never been shown before ANYWHERE! You will be introduced to some cool new characters..... including the Grand Avenger, and Disco Inferno's evil henchman.... Grimwart! These stories were drawn during the years 1997 and 1999 - before I started my career as a professional comic artist.... so I hope you get a kick out of seeing my work from back then! Anyways, I hope you like these two titanic tales (which feature cameos from myself, and a certain Mr. Jason Cardy... see if you can spot us!). and rest assured that someday... the funky saga of the Discotronic Funk Commandos WILL be continued!"
Two full comics can be read online at:
It's good humoured escapist fun, and I found myself laughing out loud in several places. Not only is the story amusing but the artwork is enjoyable too; solid professional work all round.
You may be familiar with the work of Simon Williams from various Panini UK comics such as Marvel Rampage and Spectacular Spider-Man. Here's the cover he illustrated for the 2005 Incredible Hulk Annual:
More examples of Simon's work can be found on his nicely designed website at: http://soulmaninc.co.uk/index.html
Monday, February 25, 2008
Friday, February 22, 2008
Too busy for a long blog today but I thought you'd be interested in seeing this. After three issues of full page images promoting the free gifts, issue 4 of Wham! (11th July 1964) featured a comic strip. Not just any strip, the nameless 7-panel fun-fest by Leo Baxendale featured all the comics' humour characters fighting over who'd be the regular cover star.
The fightin' mad Biff won the scrap, and became the cover feature from issue 5, (but months later lost out to the more popular Tiddlers).
One character not featured on the cover was Frankie Stein, who made his debut appearance inside this very issue. Ken Reid's detailed black humour was a hit with readers and the character became one of Wham's most popular features. The strip was resurrected years later by IPC under the capable hands of Robert Nixon in Shiver & Shake comic, but IPC's chummier, cuddlier version was never a patch on the original.
Though somewhat delayed, the second issue of Elephantmen: War Toys should be on sale in comic stores next week. (Feb 28th in the USA, Feb 29th in the UK.)
More info on the issue here:
Cover by Moritat:
Variant cover by Ladronn:
Elephantmen is one of the finest comics published by Image at present. As well as the lead strip by Richard Starkings and Moritat the comic also features regular back up features on British comic artists, (I believe Gerry Haylock is to be spotlighted in Elephantmen War Toys No.2.) amongst other features.
Also included in the latest issue will be my regular Brickman page. This issue features a cameo appearance by the Suburban Satanists, characters I created in 1997 for Egmont Sweden & Norway. This is their first appearance in an American comic. The intro to the strip takes the form of a spoof horror comics cover, as you can see at the top of this posting. The story features the return of The Poker, - who plunged into the depths of Hell way back in Harrier's Brickman comic in 1986! (Beat THAT for a death record Captain America!)
Advance copies of Elephantmen: War Toys No.2 will be on sale at the Active Images stand at WonderCon this weekend.
Saturday, February 16, 2008
No, the bloke who played The Master in the 1996 Doctor Who tv movie isn't taking on the role of Billy Bunter. Eric Roberts was an artist who drew the Billy Bunter comic strip for a short time in Knockout in the 1950s.
Billy Bunter first appeared 100 years ago, and his Centenary was yesterday (since the story paper The Magnet No.1 introduced him to the world). I confess I know very little about the character outside of the Reg Parlett strips that ran in Valiant for years, and a vague memory of the Billy Bunter tv series. (Adult actors dressed as public schoolboys. Very strange.) More info on the character can be found on Wikipedia assuming it's correct.
The strips shown here are from Eric Roberts' original artwork. Roberts is better known today as the artist who drew Winker Watson and Dirty Dick for years in The Dandy, but in the 1950s he was freelancing for the Amalgamated Press. I'm not sure how many Billy Bunter strips he drew. It's likely he was just a fill-in artist. (Update: He did more than I assumed. See comments below.)
I've always liked the work of Eric Roberts. It's true that his characters seem a bit limited in design (look how his Mr.Quelch looks exactly like Mr.Creep of Winker Watson fame) but his bold brushwork and use of blacks appealed to me. The strip you see here was drawn in three half pages. (There may well have been a fourth, with the title affixed perhaps, but that has been lost over the years I imagine.) I've scanned in the entire half page that Eric called "Part 1" (above) and segments of the other two halves for you to study his work here.
The originals are huge (the art area for each half page is 390mm wide by 239mm high, plus margins) but hopefully these scans will appear the right size or larger on your screens so that you can appreciate them. As always, click on the images to see them full size. (You'll notice a difference in paper shade between panels 4 and 5 of the half page scan but that's just due to it being scanned as two halves and reassembled in Photoshop.)
As you can see, Bunter himself is more pear-shaped than usually portrayed. Under Eric Roberts' style he's all arse and stumpy legs. I've no idea which issue of Knockout this story originally appeared in, but it's reprinted in its entirety in Mike Higgs' collection The Big Fat Bunter Book (Hawk Books 1989).
For an excellent article on Billy Bunter see Steve Holland's recent blog entry here:
Update: On his brilliant Bear Alley blog, comics expert Steve Holland reveals:
"Roberts was on the strip for about 18 months following the death of Frank Minnitt, who had drawn the strip for nearly 20 years. Roberts was already a Knockout veteran himself, having drawn 'Mike' (later 'Mike & Dimps') for the paper since 1945; later he drew 'Sinbad Simms' for Knockout (1957-60) and 'Winker Watson' for Dandy (1967-79)."
Friday, February 15, 2008
Gary Northfield's popular Beano strip Derek the Sheep has been collected into a 64 page softback book for the French market. Published by Actes-Sud-l'An 2 the full colour Norbert le Mouton album collects the early Derek material.
"The stories are pretty much a 'Year One' of Derek's strips from The Beano, give or take a couple of months" says Gary. "All the artwork has been remastered; re-scanned at a much higher resolution, re-tweaked and re-coloured with some extra panels to keep the story lengths uniform. I even had to redraw the last story as I'd lost the original artwork!"
Norbert le Mouton was launched at the Angouleme comics festival a few weeks ago, with impressive results. "We sold out of the 40 copies the publishers had taken along by Saturday lunchtime," said Gary, "and had to pinch the editor's personal stash of 12 copies for Sunday, which we sold before I sped off for my train".
Derek the Sheep is an unusual Beano strip in that the creator retains the copyright. It's also unusual in that its style is nothing like the Beano "house style" (if such a thing still exists), - a factor that made the strip stand out. Gary's style is basic but genuinely funny and that, along with its great comedy timing, made it a hit with the readers.
Fans of the strip in the UK will be pleased to hear that Bloomsbury will be publishing a Derek the Sheep hardback this September. "It will comprise the same stories (as Norbert le Mouton)" says Gary, "but with Beano-esque speech bubbles as opposed to handwritten, and with a totally different cover".
Pages from Norbert le Mouton can be seen at the publisher's website here:
Saturday, February 09, 2008
If you'll forgive a blog about my own work for a change, I've been updating my new website over at lewstringer.com, adding a few scans of old artwork. The site is still under construction but it's the place I'll eventually move to, from the ad-laden lewcomix.tripod.com.
The additions on my new site include the first episodes of Combat Colin and, one I'd almost forgotten about, Macho Man!
Macho Man (seen above) was a superhero spoof strip I did for occasional issues of Marvel UK's Secret Wars comic whenever they had a half page to spare. I think I only did a dozen, maybe less, but it was fun to do. They were great days at Marvel UK and many of us still in the business today had some of our first work published there. In fact it's been 25 years this summer since The Daredevils No.7 published my first cartoon. Mike Collins also had his first work published in that title around the same time, and a couple of guys by the names of Alan Moore and Alan Davis were doing impressive work for the comic back then too.
I'll run a blog on The Daredevils at a later date....
Thursday, February 07, 2008
The two comics were clearly intended to rival each other. Previously, Thomson's had launched tough war comic Warlord, and IPC had followed with similarly gritty war title Battle Picture Weekly. With both war comics proving to be very successful the publishers decided that there was a market for a more edgier style of boys' comic than traditional fare such as Hostspur or Tiger.
How then, did Bullet and Action compare alongside each other? Both had the same price and format, - 32 pages for 7p, - and both had strong, attention grabbing covers. However, inside the comics it was evident from the outset that Action had the edge.
Bullet kicked off with an introduction page stating its remit: "packed with action fast and furious" and main character Fireball preparing the reader for his "super thrill-packed story" and "other rough tough action stories". It sounded a little polite compared to the unrestrained Action intro page: "Look Out! Action is deadly!", "ACTION is the paper of the '70s", and "Read it and get caught in the blast!". And while Bullet was tempting the readers with prizes of pocket calulators Action was enticing them with cash. And it even featured a photo of Steve McManus breathing fire. (Steve would later go on to edit 2000AD and is now in a managerial position at Egmont.)
Bullet wasn't as radical. Although not as staid as those in other Thomson adventure comics, the characters were not too different from traditional material. Lead strip Smasher, a giant menacing robot, wasn't exactly cutting edge, and main story Fireball, clocking in at 9 pages, owed more to Sixties icons Jason King and Simon Templar than Seventies star Dirty Harry.
Football strip Twisty was a little more street-cred though, featuring a teenage footballer "left with a slightly deformed leg after a car crash" who's often knocked about by his thieving Uncle. Vic's Vengeance was probably the closest to the promised "rough tough" mandate, about a teenager vowing revenge on the London gangsters who caused his Dad's death.
Compared to Action, Bullet still seemed to be playing it very safe. In tv terms Bullet was like Swap Shop compared to Action being like Tiswas. I've no idea if Bullet took more risks in subsequent weeks because I dropped it in favour of Action, which seemed to have its finger on the button. However, as we know, Action's increasing recklessness and violent content led to its undoing.
Kids were ready for a modern comic but the media saw it as a scapegoat for a more violent society. As with the anti-horror comics crusade of the 1950s, "concerned" parents and establishment rent-a-gobs found it easier to blame a comic for social problems than to look at the issues in a wider context. Presumably it gives such pious people a sense of closure if they convince themselves that forcing a comic off the shelves prevents crime, even though no evidence exists that comics ever caused juvenile deliquency. In fact, from experience I'd wager that the opposite is true: that most comic fans don't have criminal records, or show signs of violent tendencies. If anything, such comics offer a cathartic effect, not incite violence or abuse.
So who won the rivalry between Bullet and Action? For longevity, Bullet had the edge; 147 issues, merging with Warlord on December 2nd 1978. Action had run to just 36 issues before it was pulled off the shelves, and, returning two months later with less controversial content, ran for another 50 weeks before merging into Battle on November 12th 1977.
Today, the children's comics section of newsagents is tamer than ever before. With 2000 AD and even Panini's Marvel reprints moved to a higher shelf out of the reach of children in WH Smith, kids fare is little more than a rack full of tv-based activity magazines. Over thirty years on, the stories in Action still seem relevant and could easily appeal to 21st Century kids who enjoy dramatic video games. Perhaps the time is ripe for an Action revival, or something similar. Perhaps such a publication could make comics "cool" again for modern kids? If only a publisher would risk it...
For much more info on Action visit the fantastic Sevenpenny Nightmare website:
Tuesday, February 05, 2008
REDEYE MAGAZINE PUBLISHER JOINS COMICS INTERNATIONAL EDITORIAL TEAM
COSMIC PUBLISHING is pleased to announce it has hired Barry Renshaw to the position of Production Editor on Europe's leading trade paper, Comics International.
Reporting directly to editor Mike Conroy, Renshaw comes to CI from Redeye Magazine, the quarterly title focusing on today's British comics scene that he has self-published since 2004. He will be responsible for getting the 100-page magazine back on track and maintaining its monthly schedule.
"CI has certainly had more than its fair share of scheduling problems since Cosmic took it over at the end of 2006. It would be stupid of me to pretend otherwise," admitted Conroy. "Much of the problem has been down to difficulty in finding the right person to assist me on the production side. That's not to say there aren't people out there with the suitable qualities and background but Barry has everything I'm looking for and – as he's proven with Redeye – the experience to back it up.
"Everyone I spoke to during my search had nothing but praise for him," he added. "Obviously the proof of the pudding and all that but – thanks to him – we're already well advanced on CI #206 even though #205 has only just gone off to the printer!"
With #205 due to hit shops at the beginning of February and #206 set to follow on February 29, Conroy is confident enough in Renshaw's abilities to begin planning major features for forthcoming issues. "CI will still be a news magazine but I've strengthened our ties with the major publishers so we're able to look further ahead. I'm also looking to expand CI's audience and intend to cover feature the big comicbook movie releases. Lined up over the next few issues are Wanted [#207], Iron Man [#208 – which also cover features Indiana Jones IV], Incredible Hulk [#209], The Dark Knight and Hellboy 2 [#211], Punisher War Zone [#212] and The Spirit [#216] as well as Star Trek XI, which will help promote our continuing series focusing on TV SF in comics. We'll also be spotlighting some of the films further down the pipeline – Wonder Woman, X-Men Origins: Wolverine, Watchmen, Sin City 2, G.I. Joe and Thor – but I'm well aware that I'm editing Comics International so I won't be neglecting comics readers. I just wish I could reveal some of the major projects we'll be covering in upcoming issues but I've agreed to stay shtum until the publishers have made their announcements."
The latest addition to Cosmic's CI team, Renshaw joins Associate Editor, Columns: Joel (TripWire) Meadows and Consulting Editor Richard Burton, the former Comic Media News publisher, who edited 2000 AD from 1987 to 1993.
Speaking of his appointment, Renshaw said, "The early issues of CI were instrumental in my wanting to become part of the industry when I was younger. I would never have thought that years down the line, I'd be part of the team that would be responsible for getting the magazine into the hands of other readers. It was surprising but gratifying to find out that my work on Redeye had impressed Mike enough for him to include me in his vision of what he wants CI to become. Along with Mike, Joel and the rest of the team, I hope to put to rest the problems of the past and forge ahead with a stronger magazine."
ABOUT BARRY RENSHAW: A Manchester-based illustrator/writer/editor, Renshaw is best known for the Engine Comics line of publications, including the series Seven Sentinels, the critically acclaimed Rough Guide to Self-Publishing and the award winning Redeye Magazine, which was described as a `must have' by aintitcool.com. A regular on the convention circuit, he is an activist for the resurgent independent British comics industry and for raising the positive profile of the medium.
ABOUT COMICS INTERNATIONAL:
Comics International was launched in April 1990 to fill a need for a trade magazine for the US and UK comics industry. From its 48-page 4,000 copy launch, it has expanded to a 100-page monthly with many pages in full colour and a circulation in excess of 24,000. Read internationally by fans, collectors, publishers and creators, it is the independent guide to the world of English-language comics.
Official website: http://www.comics-international.co.uk/
EUROPES LEADING TRADE PAPER Comics International is to continue its
unique coverage of classic TV SF in British comics with six
instalments devoted to the shows of Gerry Anderson.
Written by Shaqui Le Vesconte, an expert on Anderson in comics, this
mammoth and exhaustive series is to showcase artwork by some of the
worlds top illustrators who brought the fantastic worlds of
International Rescue and Spectrum to life on the page, including such
greats as Frank Bellamy, Ron Embleton and Mike Noble.
This special series begins in CI #205 (March 2008) under a special
tribute cover [see below], with an overview of Andersons 45-year long
association with comics. With each succeeding 100-page issue also
featuring an appropriate Anderson cover, Part 2 (CI #206) focuses on
the early years spotlighting Four Feather Falls, Supercar, Fireball
XL5 and Stingray in the 60s weekly, TV Comic.
Part 3 (#207) is dedicated to the many strip incarnations of
Thunderbirds while Part 4 (#208) features Captain Scarlet and the
Mysterons and everyones favourite programmable boy genius, Joe 90.
Comics based on Andersons live action projects, UFO, Space:1999 and
others are explored in Part 5 (#209) while Part 6 (#210) wraps it all
up with a look at Project SWORD, Agent 21, Starcruiser and those other
Anderson concepts seen only in comics form.
Andersons many creations have not just appeared in British titles. His
vivid futures hold global appeal to young and old alike. Accordingly,
the six-parter will also explore various international editions.
Monday, February 04, 2008
Carol Day ran from 1956 - 1967 and was syndicated in 70 newspapers around the world. The story concerns Carol's life and loves and the people she encounters. It might well be dismissed as a "soap" today but it's far more realized and sophisticated than that. Artist David Wright was a master of light and shadow, evoking atmosphere with his linework. Although the style is photo-realistic the rendering displays comic techniques at their finest. Pure gold.
The Carol Day website is expertly designed and features two complete serials so far, with a third to follow soon. The strips are from David Wright's own scrapbook which he clipped from the Daily Mail. The website also features actual size scans of his original artwork for fans to study, and the originals are available to buy from the website.
Sadly, David Wright passed away many years ago, but the website is a fine tribute to his strip which I'm sure will attract fans old and new to his thoughtfully crafted artwork. http://www.carol-day.com/index.html
Sunday, February 03, 2008
There's a certain satisfaction for comic fans seeing The Mammoth Book of Best Horror Comics in High Street bookshops. Fifty years ago many of the stories within this collection were originally published in the sort of horror comics that outraged "decent folk" to the point that the comics were banned under the Children And Young Persons (Harmful Publications) Act 1955. Even the word "horror" was forbidden in a comic title.
The Act may have inconvenienced British publishers but it didn't really prevent "horror comics" coming into Britain of course, hence the availability of American comics such as Eerie, Nightmare, and Vampire Tales etc in newsagents in the 1970s. However, I understand The Mammoth Book of Best Horror Comics is the first time that any British publisher has compiled such a collection of pre-code horror strips.
Edited by Peter Normanton (who can usually be found editing the excellent From the Tomb magazine) the chunky 544 page book features around 160 pages of Fifties pre-code horror comics including such crackers as Hitler's Head and Terror of the Stolen Legs. Then the book continues with sections on subsequent years covering the likes of Skywald's Psycho, Charlton's Ghostly Haunts, Kitchen Sink's Death Rattle, and right up to the present with strips by modern-day horror masters such as David Hitchcock.
The book's contents are entirely black and white, which is a shame for the colour strips reproduced in greytone, but the reproduction is good. There are no reprints of EC, Marvel, or Warren material as those have been covered profusely in other books. Editor Normanton knows his stuff, and there's a great selection of material from the past fifty-plus years here which represents the genre well.
This isn't a text-heavy history of horror comics. Short introductions give us the necessary information but the book lets the strips speak for themselves.
Published by Robinson, The Mammoth Book of Best Horror Comics (r.r.p. £12.99) is available from bookshops such as Waterstones or from Amazon. A companion book on Best War Comics has been available for quite some time, and The Mammoth Book of Best Crime Comics is scheduled for later this year.
Friday, February 01, 2008
By 1970 TV21 was a shadow of its former self, and was being packaged by a company called Martspress. The license to publish strips based on Gerry Anderson's shows had not been renewed (instead it went to Polystyle and Countdown) and tv content was minimal. The Star Trek strip was its major draw, now taking up all three full colour pages, and the rest of the comic (reduced in size from its tabloid heyday) was a mixture of a couple of other tv strips (Land of the Giants, Tarzan) and new non-tv adventure strips.
Later that year, more budget cuts were evident, dropping all tv strips except for Star Trek, and adding several reprint strips... including a handful of Marvel characters.
Putting Marvel superheroes in TV21 seemed a bizarre move, but by that time the name of the comic had become irrelevant to its content anyway. However, Spider-Man had been on British tv... well, in certain regions anyway, a few years earlier when the sixties cartoon series had aired. This seemed to be justification enough for Spider-Man, Ghost Rider (original cowboy version), The Silver Surfer, Ringo Kid, and Homer the Happy Ghost to arrive in the weekly's pages.
Ringo Kid was a western strip that Marvel had published in the 1950s. It had some nice artwork by the excellent Joe Maneely and John Severin. Unfortunately, like all the Marvel reprints in the comic, artwork was edited to fit more panels on a page to make it look more like a traditional British comic format. Odhams had also done this in the sixties, and Dez Skinn would do it again when he became editor of Marvel UK in the late seventies, but it's a technique that doesn't always work if panels are cropped or extended badly.
Homer the Happy Ghost was a Marvel humour strip from the mid-Fifties. Obviously inspired by Harvey Comics' Casper the Friendly Ghost, these strips were presumably added to give the comic a balance with humour and adventure. Although written by Stan Lee, the strip wasn't that great.
Initially Spider-Man (or The Spider-Man as TV21 called it) took up the centre pages in full colour. The strips were recoloured by Martspress staff, which didn't necessarily improve on the originals. Stories were also re-lettered because dialogue was often altered, - sometimes slightly, sometimes a lot.
The most radical changes in script came at the end of TV21's run. Issue 105, the final issue, wrapped up a condensed Silver Surfer story from Marvel's Silver Surfer No.18. In the original version the Surfer battles The Inhumans, who are as heroic and misunderstood as the Surfer himself, then flees to vent his anger at the stars. In the TV21 reprint, the story changes them to "mad creatures who were bent on self destruction" and the Surfer helps to destroy these "forces of evil", leaving them all apparently dead!
The Spider-Man strip in that final issue also changes the script, with Spidey being pardoned by the city and deciding to retire at the end of the story. By this time (September 1971) TV21 was published by IPC, and they were about to merge it into Valiant. As had been their attitude when they took over Smash!, superheroes had no place in IPC's traditional weeklies.
Just before TV21 folded, the TV21 Annual 1972 was released, published by World Distributors (presumably packaging material farmed out to them by IPC) and contained the same Marvel characters as the weekly had. Again, the strips were edited and re-formatted to fit more panels on each page. (This was the only TV21 Annual to feature Marvel material.)
However, IPC's license to publish Marvel strips in the UK hadn't expired with TV21. A year later, in Autumn 1972, they published the undated Marvel Annual. This 128 page hardback featured early stories of Spider-Man, Conan, The Fantastic Four, and The Hulk. All the strips (except Conan) had been reprinted just a few years earlier in the Odhams weeklies, but here the pages were not reformatted.
I once heard a rumour that around this time IPC were planning a Marvel weekly, and this annual (like annuals always are) had been prepared in advance to tie in with that. Whatever the truth of it, that same year Marvel Comics set up a British office and The Mighty World of Marvel No.1 was launched at the end of September. Marvel no longer needed a UK publisher to handle their strips. They were doing it themselves, - editing and designing the comics in New York and using a British office to deal with printing, advertising and distribution. Eventually of course the UK office would expand to edit and package the comics themselves. Marvel UK had arrived.
Interestingly, IPC published a second and final Marvel Annual in 1973, after which Marvel UK took on that job too. Alan Class, who had reprinted so many Marvel strips in his comics in the sixties, carried on reprinting old Marvel monster/mystery stories for years afterwards, but dropped the superhero material.
Marvel UK went on to have its highs and lows of course, all of which will be told in Robin Kirby's book on the history of the company, to be published by Quality. Hopefully this long awaited volume will be out this year as I understand the finishing touches are being put to it right now. I'm not sure if the title has been decided upon yet (although I did suggest "Wham! Bam! Thank you Stan! Marvel Comics: Over priced, Over-sexed and Over here" - but I'm not sure if they're going with that. :-)).
I've touched upon the pre-Marvel UK days on this blog the last few days but Robin's book will cover it in much more depth. This is an area of British comics history that's often dismissed as "just reprint" but there's been much more to it than that and it needs to go on record. From what I've heard, the book will certainly do that, as it interviews staff and freelancers who worked for Marvel UK. More details will be given here in due course when the book is released.
Click here for Part 1: