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Tuesday, December 30, 2008

My books of the year

I had intended this posting to be a thorough review of at least half a dozen great books and graphic novels I enjoyed this year. Unfortunately the winter bug has hit me, hence this breezy look at just four of the best. Reviews of the others will follow soon.

My choices are in no particular order, except for this first one. Laika was simply the best book I've read all year. (Although I believe it was actually published at the end of 2007?) A good comic should entertain, and an excellent comic should inspire an emotional response, whether that be laughter, excitement, intrigue, etc. In the case of Nick Abadzis' Laika I'm not ashamed to admit that the story of the little dog who became the world's first Cosmonaut moved me to tears. All the more so because of course the story of Laika is true.

Admittedly Abadzis has embelleshed the story to create a more dramatic and involving narrative but the basics are still true, and he has researched the background thoroughly to include all the facts. I haven't seen Nick in years but when I knew him in the 1980s he was a cartoonist for Marvel UK. Since then his style has matured and his storytelling skills have developed significantly.

Those odd people who dislike dogs might be blaisé about such a story but for the rest of you, if you buy this book seek out the beautifully designed hardback because this is a graphic novel you'll be proud to own.

Visit Nick Abadzis' Laika website here:

The History of The Beano is a huge coffee table book that needs a coffee table with sturdy legs to support it. At 350 pages, covering the 70 year history of the comic plus an index to all the stories and the issues they appeared in, this really is the definitive book on The Beano. Wisely, it's written by DC Thomson insider and ex-Dandy editor Morris Heggie, who has been able to access the company's vaults for some long-unseen gems.

All the top creators are covered, such as Dudley Watkins and Ken Reid, and some old Beanos are reproduced in their entirety, including issue No.1 from 1938 and the top selling issue from 1950.

Derek the Sheep is a character that appeared in The Beano and, unusually, comic creator Gary Northfield got to keep the rights! A French edition of Derek's adventures was published earlier this year (see review here) and now a hardback British edition is available from all good stockists. Like his Beano predecessor Davy Law, Gary's artwork is deceptively simple but incredibly funny. The style of humour is completely different to what one might expect from a Beano strip and should appeal to all tastes. Really unique, very funny.

Girls with Slingshots is a web comic that's now been collected in book form and available from The first volume collects the first 200 strips, which is basically "two girls, a bar, and a talking cactus" and is very witty. Creator Danielle Corsetto has a sharp sense of humour and I can really see this developing into something big. The book has some nice bonus items too such as pencil versions and commissions, and even a photo of Danelle's ass, so go for it fanboys! Check out the Girls With Slingshots website here:

Right, I'm off to try and sort out this head cold before New Year's Eve! Happy New Year readers!

Friday, December 26, 2008

Christmas Annual Covers

As a postscript to the recent blogs on Christmas Comic Covers here's a handful of children's annual covers that had a seasonal theme. The hardback annual was of course an essential present on Christmas day for many kids, and hopefully still is for some.

First off (above) a three panel Korky the Cat gag cover to The Dandy Book 1970 drawn and coloured by Charlie Grigg. Although these Annual covers usually featured one full page illustation this wasn't the first time The Dandy Book had run a strip on its cover. Personally I thought it made the book stand out from the crowd but it's a practice that hasn't been used on annual covers for many years now.

Next, the very first Shiver and Shake Annual dated 1974 with artwork by Mike Lacey. The "Two Books in One" cover boast wasn't convincing. As with the weekly version, the centre 50% of the pages were the Shake section, but unlike the stapled comic, this squarebound annual couldn't be separated into its alleged "two books" without ripping it out and causing permanent damage. Cor, what a swizz!

The second of the three Dandy Books in this blog shows the cover for the 1968 edition. Again drawn by Charlie Grigg, the black background helps to turn it into a strong memorable image.

The Beano Book for the same year is also a close up of its cover star, illustrated by Dave Sutherland I think. This time it's Biffo the Bear being pelted with snowballs by Minnie the Minx, Roger the Dodger and Dennis the Menace. Fortunately Biffo has acquired a helmet from one of the Q-Bikes in order to protect himself. The fate of said Q-Biker isn't revealed. Perhaps Biffo ate him, being a bear and all.

Going further back in time the Film Fun Annual 1952, "The Family Favourite" seems to be aimed at a wider age range than most annuals. The cover design is strong but fairly humourless, merely serving to illustrate which movie stars appear in the strips inside.

Finally, The Dandy Book 1967 has Korky the Cat showing the season of goodwill to the mice by crushing them under a giant snowball. Another great Charlie Grigg cover!

Wednesday, December 24, 2008

Christmas - Tom Thug style

Here's a page of mine from Buster's 1990 Christmas issue starring Tom Thug, a character I originally created for Oink!. Although Tom was Buster's resident bully and usually had his comeuppance every week the editor asked that at Christmas time even Tom should have a happy ending. As with all the images on this blog, click on it to see it in a much larger and more readable size.

At this time Buster had recently moved to full colour interiors throughout the comic and this was the first Tom Thug colour Christmas strip. More would follow over the next several years but I remember being particularly pleased with this one, and going to town decorating the page for the season in traditional Christmas comic style.

Blimey! It's Another Blog About Comics! has now been online for two years, so my thanks to all of you who have dropped by, especially the regulars who keep coming back. Best wishes for the season!

Monday, December 22, 2008

Crikey! Full colour for the fanzine of British comics

The eighth issue of the self-titled "Great British Comic Magazine" Crikey! is now out, just in time for Christmas. I'm pleased to see that it continues to improve both in terms of writing and layout and, with this edition being in full colour throughout its 52 pages, is the best issue yet.

Sadly, since the previous issue editors Brian Clarke and Tom Sweetman have decided to leave the magazine, but Glenn B Fleming still holds the fort and accomplishes the task with impressive results. Firstly the interior colour, which has been made possible thanks to the input of Blaisé Books (Peter Hansen, Phil Clarke, and Mike Higgs). This has vastly improved the old strip pages sampled within, and with the quality of the strips under discussion here greytone would not have done them justice.

The feature that befefits from colour the most is an article on The Avengers strip that ran in the DC Thomson girls comic Diana in the 1960s. As old British comics are a niche interest anyway, and girls comics even more so, this strip has been a forgotten gem! The artwork was by Spanish artist Emilo Frejo Abegon whose talents were easily on a par with industry veterans such as Ron Embleton, and would not have looked out of place in TV 21. Hopefully this article in Crikey! will give the strip and its artist better recognition amongst collectors. Start watching for old copies of Diana to zoom up in price on eBay!

As ever, Crikey! manages to cover a good range of classic strips within its pages. Tony Ingram covers the story of Charley's War, Rod Barzilay tells us the background to Spaceship Away comic, Peter Hansen presents some luxurious Mickey Mouse Christmas covers, and much more.

Phil Clarke and Mike Higgs contribute quite a bit to this issue too. Both present us with a history of The Phantom in British comics, and Phil takes us on a trip into the past with photographs from the very first UK comic convention in 1968! This is a great item on British fandom's history, with shots of youthful looking versions of Steve Moore and Bram Stokes, plus Phil Clarke and Nick Landau in costume for the Con fancy dress.

My favourite item in this issue though has to be a brand new four page comic strip from my old cartoonist mentor Mike Higgs. In My Comicy Saturday, Mike illustrates an amusing and quite touching flashback to his childhood in the early 1950s. With stories of Saturday morning matinees, comics from the market, and a less paranoid time when kids went into town unaccompanied by parents, it reminded me of my own childhood in the Sixties, as I'm sure it will of many a reader. I'm only showing an extract of the strip here as the full four page version is worth the cover price of Crikey! in itself.

A few mistakes have still crept under the radar this issue: the colour Battle cover on page 19 is by David Sque, not Joe Colquhoun (who had sadly died by the time that issue was published). Secondly, although The Phantom appeared in TV Tornado it did not transfer over to TV21 when the two comics merged in 1968 (not 1969). Tarzan was the only jungle hero to appear in TV21.

The only downside of this issue, for me, was the presence of a paid advert for a certain fan club which I'm afraid I cannot endorse because of numerous reasons explained here. Nevertheless, that should not of course deter anyone from buying Crikey! which is well deserving of your support and certainly well worth the £3.99 cover price.

Now that it's back to quarterly frequency, the next issue of Crikey! is scheduled for late February 2009, featuring articles on The Perishers, Marvel UK, and an interview with Romero on his work on Modesty Blaise. For now though, there's plenty to read in issue 8 which is available to buy on subscription from the Crikey! website:

Friday, December 19, 2008

Christmas Comic Covers - Part 10

Here's the final group of Christmas comic covers, and it brings this blog bang up to date with a selection of Christmas comics available right now. Firstly, this year's Christmas edition of The Beano, and it's a bumper 48 page issue packed with seasonal fun under a cover by Jimmy Hansen. Highlight is a new 16 page Bash Street Kids strip by Nigel Parkinson. There's also a two page remix of The Night Before Christmas by Laura Howell and Hunt Emerson, plus lots of other strips including the first Christmas Super School strip drawn by some bloke called Stringer.

2000AD celebrates Christmas with its now traditional 100 page special issue, on sale for three weeks. The Judge Dredd / Strontium Dog cover is by Carlos Ezquerra and the contents include festive helpings of Dredd and Sinister Dexter, plus a new strip, Marauder, by Robbie Morrison and Richard Elson.

Doctor Who Magazine will celebrate its 30th anniversary next year, but for now the Christmas edition features the start of a new comic strip by Dan McDaid, with Mike Collins returning to illustrate it.

For younger readers, the BBC's top selling Doctor Who Adventures has a busy cover as usual. In today's kids' comic world, a "competition" is now called a "win" and the contents are a mix of activity pages, pin ups, sparse features, and one comic strip. It's a world away from the days of the comparatively sophisticated TV Century 21...

Egmont's Toxic also has a lively mixture of feature content promoting the latest in films, DVDs, games and toys, but this festive edition has more comic strip pages including Rex by John Short and Alex Paterson, Robin Hoodie by John Short and Laura Howell, and four pages of Team Toxic by that Stringer bloke again.

Panini's Marvel Legends has no festive aspect to its reprint content but that hasn't prevented editor Brady Webb from adding some traditional Christmas comic snow to the logo, and a Santa hat to Captain America in the corner box. Cheer up Cap! It's Christmas and you might even be back from the dead again soon! Cover by Adi Granov.

Judge Dredd Megazine celebrates the season of goodwill by having Dredd arrest Santa on the cover, drawn by Greg Staples. One of the best British comics around at the moment, the Megazine features a good mixture of strips and comic-related articles.

Next, the ever-topical adult comic Viz reflects the financial state of the UK with its Merry Credit Crunchmas cover by the brilliant Simon Thorp. Strips by various cartoonists (including myself) are within plus the usual satirical features.

(Updated 20/12/08): Finally, the first Christmas issue of The DFC with a wraparound party cover by Dave Shelton. It's a bumper 64 page issue, no ads, packed with new comic strips oozing with today's talent. Remember this comic is subscription only, - is this the shape of British comics of the future? Time will tell. Put on your party hat and conga over to to subscribe.

So there you have it; ten blogs of festive celebration, covering over 100 years of comics. I hope you've enjoyed this selection box of covers from Christmas past.

As you can see from today's gallery it's a pity that the traditional Christmas cover seems to be fizzling out. Unexpectedly, it's mainly the adventure comics that seem to be maintaining it, whilst, apart from The Beano and the humour/adventure anthology The DFC , children's humour comics are mostly avoiding it. (Neither Dandy Xtreme or Beano Max had festive covers this year, although their contents did reflect Christmas somewhat.) Critics may assume this is due to "political correctness gone mad" but, as is often the case, the anti-pc brigade would be wrong. Truth is such changes are inevitable as children's comics / magazines increasingly depend on reflecting the multimedia world, using their covers to promote films (as Toxic does this year) or simply because the traditional comic has more or less died out.

To end on an upbeat note, if cynical Atheists like me can still enjoy Christmas comic covers then I'm sure many others do too and that they'll continue. Come back in 12 months time for the covers of Christmas 2009! ;-)

Wednesday, December 17, 2008

Christmas Comic Covers - Part 9

For the penultimate blog in this theme let's kick off with a rarely seen Marvelman cover from Christmas 1954. As most comic fans know, Marvelman was created by Mick Anglo after the UK Captain Marvel reprint comic had to cease because the American original had been canceled. Marvelman was more or less a carbon copy of Captain Marvel, but nevertheless had a loyal following. My thanks to reader Dave Whitwell for sending me this scan.

Dave also sent me the scan above; the festive edition of Ally Sloper's Half Holiday from 1890, making it the oldest comic in this series of blogs. From what I've seen, this comic paper always had an edge to its humour, something British comics later lost somewhat. Artwork is by W.F. Thomas and you can read more about Ally Sloper here:

Over 100 years later, licensed comics were the norm. Egmont's very popular Sonic the Comic always had a bit more depth to its stories than most merchandise-inspired comics though, and a good selection of artists for its 100% British content. This dynamic Christmas 1998 cover is by Richard Elson.

Whist Sonic the Comic was the licensed comic hit of the Nineties, Marvel UK's Transformers was the big seller of the Eighties. This festive 1989 wraparound cover is by Andrew Wildman, just one of the many artists to provide brand new UK content to this title.

For the first five years of publication, Fleetway's Buster was a tabloid sized comic. This issue from 1964 was the last Christmas edition in that large size, and features a lively cover by Nadal.

This Christmas 1972 issue of Valiant is fantastic, summing up Dickens' A Christmas Carol in just four panels! Marvelous artwork as always by Mike Western.

Above, the Christmas Wham! for 1966, with artwork on The Tiddlers strip by Mike Lacey.

The early 21st Century saw Pete Nash use modern technology to the advantage of creating the independent computer generated comic Striker. Sadly, outside of Roy of the Rovers football comics have never had much longevity and Striker was no exception. This issue is from Christmas 2004.

Oink! had a relatively short lifespan too, but still managed to be one of the most memorable and inventive British comics published. This Ian Jackson cover is from Christmas 1987.

As a special Christmas bonus, here's a page that appeared inside that issue of Oink! designed by me. Yes, after 21 years it's your chance to once again cut out and make your very own Skinhead Fairy! Perfect for the top of your tree.

That's all the classic Christmas covers for now. Sorry if your own favourites haven't been included but I hope the diversity and age of the selections have proven popular. This theme isn't quite finished yet though. In Part 10: Christmas covers of today!

Tuesday, December 16, 2008

Christmas Comic Covers - Part 8

Today's selection of Christmas covers begins with the festive Sparky from 1973 and it's a great job drawn by Bill Ritchie. Unusually for a D.C. Thomson comic, it's a wraparound cover. Sparky always had its own identity and was the more experimental of the Thomson "funnies" of the period.

TV21 never really bothered with celebratory Christmas issues, perhaps thinking they were too juvenile. However this 1967 edition (or rather 2067 edition as the cover date would have us believe) did feature a Christmas message and a photo of a Spectrum Pursuit Vehicle on a snowy mountain so that's close enough to be included here.

Girls comics are an area that this blog has tended to neglect, mainly because, like nursery comics, I never read or collected them. As small compensation, here's a couple of Christmas Tammy covers from the Eighties. The first is from 1980 and cover features the popular Bella
ballerina strip drawn by John Armstrong. The second cover is from 1983, by veteran Spanish girls’ comic artist Purita Campos. Both covers are taken from the excellent website, a fan site dedicated to the highly regarded supernatural weekly Misty.

The Nutty cover drawn by John Geering is from 1980, cover featuring Bananaman in his early days. (Note that the character is not only stockier here than he later became, but his colour scheme has a dash of red instead of the basic blue and yellow.)

The Valiant cover from December 1966 features another of its regular speculative articles on future technology. Here, a home under the sea is proposed, complete with a visit from Santa! Over 40 years later and we're still waiting. Artwork by Mike Western, one of Fleetway's finest.

Jimmy Hansen draws a lively party scene for the Christmas Whizzer and Chips from 1989.

Twenty years earlier, another party cover for Smash! from 1969, drawn by Mike Lacey.

Finally in this gallery, the Action Force cover from 1987, one of the Marvel UK weeklies of the time. The split cover features artwork by Jeff Anderson and Simon Coleby on the left, whilst the Combat Colin part on the right is by me!

Next time, the penultimate Christmas Cover gallery!

Sunday, December 14, 2008

Christmas Comic Covers - Part 7: International Comics

Britain and the USA aren't the only countries that produce Christmas editions of their comics. I'm not exactly sure how many other countries do, but here's a few festive comics from afar. Starting with the Nemi album for 2002 written and drawn by Lise Myhre, and published in her native Norway. Several of Norway's most popular comic characters such as Pondus and Ernie receive festive editions at Christmas time, in a slim 32 page full colour softback format such as this. (Although since Nemi became a regular monthly comic a few years ago I'm not sure if the character is still awarded a separate Christmas album as well.)

One of Norway's most popular titles, published by Egmont eight times a year, is Herman Hedning by Jonas Darnell. The Christmas 1998 edition is above, which is actually the Swedish edition from where the comic originates. (An identical edition is also published for the Norwegian language.) You'll notice that at that time this 52 page anthology also featured Fingal and Hans Finne, - the Swedish name for my Pete and His Pimple strip. Reprints of this old Oink! strip ran in Herman Hedning for its first year. My Suburban Satanists strip also featured in the comic regularly for several years.

Norway has a tradition of folk tales and one of its most beloved Christmas comics is the annual Tuss og Troll publication. This slim landscape comic is beautifully drawn by another of Norway's top female artists, Solveig Muren Sanden who is now 90 years old and, at least a few years ago, was still drawing comics.

Solveig Muren Sanden is also the artist of Smørbukk, who initially was created as a Norwegian Tintin type of character, although sources on the internet refer to Smørbukk as an anti-hero so I presume he developed somewhat.

Moving to France, and above is the December 1987 edition of Pilote with a rather downbeat cover by "Fred". This adult comic magazine anthology includes some stunning artwork in its 100 pages. The nearest UK equivalent in terms of format (serial strips plus text features on comics) would be our current Judge Dredd Megazine.

Over to Amsterdam for this next batch of covers, starting above with the Christmas 1984 issue of Eppo. The wraparound cover is by Evert Geradts. This 32 page glossy humour / adventure weekly also includes Storm by Don Lawrence, and Colin Wilson artwork on Blueberry.

Another Dutch comic, Kuifje, is their translated version of Belgian weekly Tintin. (Kuifje is pronounced "quiff", hence it being a suitable name for Tintin.) This festive edition is also from 1984 and the cover is by Dany, featuring characters from the strip Roze Bottell.

The same week of December 1984 brings us the wraparound cover to Robbedoes, the Dutch version of Belgian weekly Spirou. (Update: Cover of Spirou also shown, thanks to reader Dave Whitwell.) I'm not sure who drew this cover. You'll have noticed that the humour of these covers is more sophisticated and quiter than those of UK comics. Same goes for the content, which on the whole seems pitched at a slightly older reader than we've come to expect from The Beano or Buster. I'm not totally convinced a European style comic would work in British culture but The DFC seems to be the closest thing to it at present.

Finally, another Dutch weekly, this time from 1987, with popular kid characters Sjors en Sjimmie in their own comic. The cover has no gag, but it's a nice piece of design work.

Next time it's back to the UK for another gallery of British festive covers!

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