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Monday, September 29, 2008

Rick Random returns

Out now from Prion Books is a chunky 656 page softback, Rick Random Space Detective, reprinting ten issues of the classic 1950s comic digest Super Detective Library.

Edited by, and with an introduction from, comics expert Steve Holland, the book features the work of artist Ron Turner throughout. This is wonderful work, showcasing Turner's imaginative view of the future with his smooth distinctive linework. Turner's work is easy on the eye, clearly illustrated, and his artistic skills show him to be a master of black and white work. (He would later prove to be just as skilled in colour work too of course, as his Daleks strips would prove ten years later.)

The stories are more sophisticated than the fare that was appearing in Fleetway's weekly comics of the same period. At 64 pages per story, and thankfully no modern "decompressed" pacing, there's a lot of meat on the bones.

I only have two criticisms. One is a minor point, that the stories don't carry specific dates. We're told they're from the mid to late Fifties, but nothing more accurate than that. The other criticism is that some pages haven't reproduced as well as expected. This is because the source material is the comics themselves, as sadly all the original art has been sold / stolen / destroyed / lost over the years. This means that, unavoidably, some of the finer detail has "dropped out" on a few pages. However, I must emphasize that overall the reproduction is very good and better than some of the repro work in the War Picture Library collection last year. In short, this is a fine collection of one of the best British comic strips to add to your bookshelves.

RRP is £14.95 but it is currently much cheaper from Amazon.

Monday, September 22, 2008

You will be Illuminated!

There's been news recently of music from Doctor Who being played at the Proms, but icons from the series are currently featuring at a prom of a different type, - Blackpool Promenade! (chortle, guffaw, etc).

This year's Blackpool Illuminations include Daleks and the TARDIS along the Golden Mile, near Central Pier and opposite the Doctor Who Exhibition. The Dalek models are a larger scale than the BBC props but are a faithful reproduction, down to the transolar discs or whatever they're called on the base (as first seen in the 1960s Dalek annuals and TV21 strip).

By the way; you may also spot Superman standing atop Louis Tussauds Waxworks in the above photo!

This isn't the first time Doctor Who has featured in Blackpool Illuminations. A few years ago other Who-themed designs were part of the "lights", but those were illustrations rather than the three-dimensional models of 2008.

Speaking of Doctor Who, last week saw the publication of the 400th issue of Doctor Who Magazine. It's been 29 years since it began (as Doctor Who Weekly) and the mag still features a regular Doctor Who comic strip every issue. This month sees the start of a new story, with a ten page episode written by Dan McDaid, with art by Martin Geraghty (pencils), David A. Roach (inks), and James Offredi (colours).

The 76 page issue comes bagged with a massive free poster showing every Doctor Who mag cover since 1979, and a flipside poster of some bloke named David Tennant reading issue one. £3.99 from newsagents and supermarkets.

Saturday, September 20, 2008

The new Viz Annual

The latest Viz annual (sub-titled The Last Turkey in the Shop) is out now, featuring 160 pages packed with comic strips from issues 152 to 161 of the ongoing monthly. Priced at £10.99, the large hardback includes characters such as The Fat Slags, Sid the Sexist, The Real Ale Twats, Elton John's Bandit Beater, Roger Mellie, and many more. Artists include Paul Palmer, Cat Sullivan, Davey Jones, Simon Thorp, Alex Collier, and myself. (My contribution is Suicidal Syd on page 139 if anyone's interested.)

Viz often receives a strange reception from comic fans. Hard core aficionados of British comics tend to ignore it, despite it being the closest thing in style to their beloved "traditional" comics. Likewise, it's also usually ignored by champions of "adult comics", even though Viz is the most successful British adult comic ever. (Then again, Viz is a humour comic, - something the po-faced stalwarts of "graphic novels" tend to dismiss in their quest to have comics accepted as serious literature.)

You're unlikely to find much (if any) mention of Viz at UK comic conventions. (Apart from the people who mistakenly think you're talking about the Manga company Viz Media.) It's "too cartoony" for the tastes of most fanboys who drool over Alex Ross artwork, believing all comics should be photo-realistic or dark and grim. There have been Viz panels and events in the past admittedly; most successfully the Simon Donald / Alex Collier stage roadshow "Swearing is both Big and Clever" at the Bristol Comic Expo a few years ago. Overall though, the worlds of Viz and comic fandom don't interact. Viz is a comic that the general public is familiar with, - something that some graphic novels can only aspire to. (At its peak several years ago, Viz was selling over a million copies an issue.)

There's also the "vulgar" aspect that puts some gentle souls off Viz of course. They wrongly believe the comic to be solely about swearing and dirty jokes. In truth, much of Viz's humour comes from social satire and complete daftness. It was the legion of Viz clones (Zit, Smut, Poot, etc) which were heavy on filth and vulgarity, but none of those have survived.

The format of Viz: The Last Turkey in the Shop is akin to a Fleetway annual of the 1970s: 160 pages, hardback. Inside, the art style is mostly a parody of 1950s British comics, 22 panels to a page and hand-lettered strips. Yet although its readers will be unfamiliar with those aspects, the humour itself is sharp and modern.

The book is currently available to order from Amazon for £6.59

Sunday, September 14, 2008

Return of The Hotspur!

Tucked away on DC Thomson's website is an announcement that coming up is the publication of The Hotspur Book for Boys 1966, - a "re-mastered deluxe edition" of the original annual published in 1965.

This is a curious choice of reprint, but one which should test the market to see if there is sufficient nostalgic interest in the Thomson adventure comics to warrant similar books in the future. This particular book was the first of the Hotspur annuals.

At £16.99 the book is far more expensive than The Beano Annual, but no doubt has a much more limited circulation, hence a higher unit cost.

The promotional blurbs for the book proclaims: "So macho! In 1966 boys were boisterous and men were men.... 128 pages of testosterone packed story telling". Tongue-in-cheek promos like that, plus the cover illustration of two young men surfing, one astride the other's shoulders, gives the project a knowing wink to a post-modern audience and, with today's falling circulations, good luck to them.

Tuesday, September 09, 2008

Comics International back on track

It looks like the delays that have plagued the UK's top comics newszine this year are gradually being rectified as Comics International No.207 will be in comic stores soon, around six weeks since the previous issue. While still not quite on the 4-weekly frequency of old, it is nevertheless a promising improvement on its schedule.

As usual the reader has a choice of four covers. What's noticeable from the supplied images is that the layout has been improved with fonts chosen to give the covers a much more dynamic look.

The press release for issue 207 follows, containing the information on what looks to be another packed issue:

In the latest issue of Europe’s comics industry trade paper, writer Karl Kesel, artist Ramon Bachs and editor Steve Wacker talk exclusively to CI about making monkeys out of superheroes in Marvel Ape while a special Apes in Comics feature provides the lowdown on four colour primates.

Comics International No.207 goes on sale week commencing September 29. Featuring four alternate covers [pictured] and priced at the usual £2.99/$4.99, the 100-page issue also contains Selling Captain America to the World, in which a host of top creators offer their views on how those outside America might react to the in-development movie that features Marvel’s patriotic superhero in action during World War II. Also included alongside a comprehensive news section are a host of regular features and columns as well as numerous other exclusives, among them:

• The writer/artist team of Joshua Ortega and Liam Sharp discussing Gears of War, DC/WildStorm’s tie-in with Microsoft’s soon-to-be-released sequel to its top-selling computer game.

• Vertigo’s new Unknown Soldier faces tribal genocide and other horrors in 2 1st century Uganda – Joshua Dysart and artist Alberto Ponticelli reveal the hard work and passion that went into melding comicbook fiction with real life tragedy.

• Jason Wilson’s Smuggling Vacation has caused a stir in the British media. The cartoonist discusses the genesis of his controversial debut graphic novel.

• Writer Peter Milligan plumbs The Depths as he offers his thoughts on Namor and reveals the outlines his Sub-Mariner six-parter for Marvel.

El Diablo is being revived and writer Jai Nitz reveals his intentions for the new version of DC’s 1960s hero. Artist Phil Hester talks about the project from his point of view while also discussing Golly, the series he is writing for Image.

Thunderbirds are Go! CI’s unique in-depth examination of TV SF in British comics continues with the third in a six-part series devoted to strip spin offs from Gerry Anderson shows. This time the focus is the the ever popular rescue drama series that made SuperMarionation a household word.

Official website:

Sunday, September 07, 2008

Beano original art for £9.50....sort of

For over twenty years D.C. Thomson have been producing annual hardback collections of classic Dandy / Beano reprint material. The format of some of the previous books have annoyed some fans because some of the old strips were re-coloured, redesigned, or presented incomplete. However, this year's compendium should delight every UK comic collector. Why? The Beano and The Dandy: Comics in the Classroom (R.R.P. £9.50) features scans of strips from the actual artwork, warts and all.

This is the next best thing to owning the original pages. The scans of decades-old artwork (from Thomson's finest: Dudley Watkins, Davy Law, Alan Morely, and Leo Baxendale) shows up all the inklines, margin notes, colour guides, whiteout corrections, paste ups etc. The only difference being the pages here are reproduced around A4 size whereas the original pages would have been drawn twice-up back then (a massive A2 size). Nevertheless, this is the closest most of us will get to owning a Dandy or Beano "original".

The whole book isn't like that unfortunately, as I suspect the "untidiness" of the pages might put off readers who don't appreciate original art. However, the rest of the book features pages scanned from the old comics, - yellowed paper and all. (Such as the first Winker Watson strip by Eric Roberts below.) A far more accurate way of showing what old Beano and Dandy comics looked like than "bleaching out" the flaws (which often destroys the finer line work too).

There are many great strips in this book, including the first and last episodes of the bizarre Our Teacher's A Walrus; a selection of 1960s Dennis the Menace strips; very early Leo Baxendale Bash Street Kids original art; the previously unpublished final Jocks and Geordies strip, and Biffo the Bear starting a cockfight to get out of school.

In keeping with the book's classroom theme, the overall design is one of a school scrapbook, with tape and paper clips added to the margins, along with ink blots. Whether or not today's kids will know what an ink blot is doesn't matter, as hopefully the high quality of the material within will keep readers of all ages completely absorbed.


The celebrations of The Beano's 70th Anniversary continue in a few weeks with the publication of a weighty 352 page coffee table book The History of The Beano: The Story So Far, compiled by ex-Dandy editor Morris Heggie. Available for pre-order now from Amazon.

Wednesday, September 03, 2008

Best of Look-In: The 80s

I've just received the above photo of the latest Look-In annual from the book's designer Alistair McGown. Look-In: Best of the 80s is a companion volume to last year's Seventies collection and this time round features complete serials of Buck Rodgers, Robin of Sherwood (Mike Noble), The A-Team and CHiPs, plus Danger Mouse, Cannon and Ball (Bill Titcombe) and more, plus of course a selection of the magazine features that appeared in Look-In for that period. Not exactly a decade I'm interested in tv-wise, but the cover features Debbie Harry so that makes up for Metal Mickey's presence.

The book is published by Prion and should be in the shops in early October. The R.R.P. is £12.99 but Amazon are currently selling it for £7.79.

More information at this nicely designed site:

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