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Monday, August 31, 2009

The Mouse of Ideas

Bank Holiday Monday always used to feature movie clip-show Disney Time on tv so maybe it's appropriate that the breaking news for today is that Disney are to acquire Marvel Entertainment in a shares and cash deal for $4 billion (£2.5bn). Yes, Mickey Mouse and Spider-Man under the same roof!

More details from the link above and also thousands of other websites as the internet cracks in half with speculation about what this surprising business deal will mean in practice.

My guess is it'll be business as usual for Marvel Comics with hardly any visible changes. Don't worry, - Goofy isn't going to join the Fantastic Four anytime soon.

...OR IS HE?

Monday, August 24, 2009

Another "political correctness gone mad" myth embellished by the media

Once again comics are in the news and, once again with monotonous predictability, it's the right-of-centre papers that are exaggerating another story into "political correctness gone mad".

This time the subject is the new Dennis and Gnasher cartoon series which starts on CBBC on September 7th. The Sun revved up its readers into purple faced rage on August 12th with an article entitled "Dennis De-Menaced" which claimed that for the new cartoon the BBC have "banned" catapults from the tv show, that Dennis would no longer be slippered by his Dad, and "even his dog Gnasher has been targeted. He will no longer sink his teeth in people or engage in his trademark wanton destruction".

The Sun's story followed a traditional psychological redtop technique: printing alleged political correct quotes from anonymous "insiders" and "sources" to get their readers revved up, then a counter-claim from a named source at the end of the article. But by the the time the readers have reached the final quote they've already absorbed the myth and the red mist has descended.

This news was picked up by other sources, including The Daily Telegraph, Daily Mail, Digital Spy, and right-wing organizations such as the loathsome National Front, all seeing the story as another indication that Britain had gone to the dogs. And their readers believed them.

Numerous angry comments online followed the reports. One poster to the This is Bristol news site said:

When will the BBC stop employing Guardian reading socialist luvvies who pander to the weakest and wooly of the middle classes? The world has gone man." (sic)

"One of the best characters from my youth - destroyed!" stated a contributor to The Sun's forum, whilst another declared "this p.c stuff is going mad and must be stopped!!! soon we wont be able to breathe without it being either racist or bad for children!!"

If only any of these half-wits had bothered checking their sources before falling for another myth they'd have seen a different story. For a start, corporal punishment isn't in the cartoon because it hasn't been used in the comic for a generation! Hardly the fault of the BBC if society moves on.

As for the other complaints, if The Sun's readers had looked at the CBBC Dennis and Gnasher website instead of being played for fools they may have noticed a few things in the trailer which crush the myths outright.

will no longer sink his teeth in people".... WRONG!

"They have banned The Beano's bully from using his trusty catapult" - WRONG!

"Dennis also looks less menacing, with his scowl replaced by a charming boyish grin" - WRONG! (Of course he does have other expressions too, including a grin, - but it'd be pretty dull animation otherwise!)

Some papers even claimed Dennis was no longer a "menace", despite the Dennis and Gnasher website describing him as "the Number One menace in Beanotown".

Today The Daily Telegraph moved the panic-mongering up a notch by quoting the daughters of the late Davy Law (Dennis the Menace's original artist) as saying their father would have been "horrified by the transformation". This is exactly the same technique The Daily Mail used two years ago when it wrongly claimed Desperate Dan was being toned down, quoting Dudley Watkins' daughter as saying her father would have been "horrified". Quite a distasteful practice to involve the families of the artists in this way in my opinion.

The way in which the national press can so easily and rapidly manipulate their readers with disinformation is quite disturbing. Yes, the "new" Dennis does look different to the way he was in the 1950s, but what these media reports ignore is that any changes have happened gradually over the past 50 years, not overnight by the BBC as they suggest. But if they admitted that they wouldn't have a story to pad out the pages of their bulging papers, and they wouldn't be achieving their usual remit - winding up "Little Englanders" into such a beetroot-faced apoplexy that they feel the right-of-centre papers are their only comfort zone.

Of course there have been some changes made for the transition to tv, but they mainly seem to be cosmetic ones for the new art style. The Beano will be reflecting any changes in style from the issue on sale this Wednesday. The Dennis and Gnasher strip expands to four pages (drawn this week by Nigel Parkinson) and a souvenir booklet about the new tv cartoon is one of the free gifts. The Beano website has also had a makeover recently, with more inside info and other tweaks.

The official Dennis and Gnasher website is here:

...and the Dennis and Gnasher Annual 2010 will be in bookstores next week.

What a shame none of the newspapers reported the positive aspects of the story: being proud of Dennis the Menace, a character that has endured for over 50 years by only making minor concessions to a changing society. A British comics character that is once again crossing over into television instead of the other way around. And perhaps, just perhaps, they might wish the tv series well and hope it boosts the sales of The Beano, - a long established British comic that those same traditionalists would be "horrified" to see go.

Sunday, August 23, 2009

Garth by Frank Bellamy, - back in print

Garth makes his return to comics this Autumn in the pages of Spaceship Away, reprinting classic strips by Frank Bellamy.

Beginning in 1943 and running throughout the prime decades of British newspaper strips, Garth was a popular feature of the Daily Mirror until the strip was axed in 1997. Originated by Steve Dowling and John Allard, the daily strip featured the adventures of a mysterious strongman simply known as "Garth" who became involved in dangerous situations across the world and could travel in time by inhabiting the bodies of figures of the past (a similar plot device later used in the Quantum Leap tv series).

Frank Bellamy took over the artwork from John Allard in 1971 and immediately became a favourite of comic fans for his dynamic layouts and depictions of the many beautiful women Garth encountered. Whilst Dowling and Allard's work had been gripping and atmospheric it was Bellamy's tenure which most fans seem to regard more highly.

Garth had always appeared in black and white, back in the days when newspapers felt that adults didn't need garish colour on every page. However for Spaceship Away the strips have been coloured by John Ridgway, and as the samples here show, compliment Bellamy's work very well. The first serial being reprinted is The Bubble Man which originally ran in the Mirror from 16th August 1975 to 28th November 1975. (Now if only Titan Books could reprint Garth right from the start, now that their James Bond series has completed.)

Spaceship Away No.19 is the issue in which it kicks off, and the comic also features brand new Dan Dare strips, plus other classic British strips and new material. It's out in October and can be ordered online from the official website here:

(Thanks to John Freeman at the Down the Tubes blog for the preview artwork. Check out his site for regular UK comics news.)

Wednesday, August 19, 2009

Pathetic Sharks return for the Summer

The latest issue of Viz is out now and features the return of The Pathetic Sharks. Originated by Chris Donald 30 years ago the five feeble and rather fey sharks have been occasional visitors to Viz comic numerous times ever since. I was invited to take over the art and script duties around 20 years ago and we produced a Pathetic Sharks Bumper Special for the younger market in June 1991.

Since then however the Sharks have remained aimed at the adult age group, along with their fellow Viz co-stars, where a more mature satirical edge can benefit the humour. In the current issue (No.188) the Sharks arrive on a British beach on a typical summer's day (except it's not raining) and proceed to irritate any holidaymaker within earshot.

For those readers who complain that British comics today have too few panels per page, check out Viz where 20 panels or more a page is the norm. Originally designed like that for Viz to spoof old comics, the format has now become the established style of Viz itself as most modern readers would be unfamiliar with the 1950s style of comics it lampoons. Not that parodying bygone comic formulas is Viz's only aim of course. Far from it, as its humour is always topical, so topical in fact that the comic's deadline is usually just two weeks before it hits the shelves!

With Viz being 30 years old this year, an exhibition of original artwork will be shown at the Cartoon Museum, Little Russell Street, London from 4th November 2009 to 24th January 2010 ( ).

Viz No.188, which also features favourites such as Roger Mellie, Eight Ace, Millie Tant, and Meddlesome Ratbag is £3 and on sale in all good newsagents, supermarkets, and even some bad ones.

Viz website:

Tuesday, August 18, 2009

Panini launch GI JOE comic with new UK material

Panini UK have just launched another title to their growing line of originated adventure comics. Joining Spectacular Spider-Man and Marvel Heroes on the shelves is the first issue of G.I. Joe, - a £2.25 full colour title featuring 16 pages of brand new comic strip every issue.

The comic is based on the long established Hasbro brand of action figure toys which has recently been adapted into a major live action movie G.I. Joe: The Rise of Cobra. The material within Panini's comic reflects the updates to the franchise shown in the new movie but the basic concept has been seen in British comics before, dating back to
IPC's Battle Action Force weekly in 1983 and Marvel UK's Action Force comic in 1987. (Action Force being the British name back then, when it was assumed that British kids wouldn't relate to the American sounding GI Joe. A practice begun in 1966 when the original Hasbro GI Joe dolls were imported into the UK by Palitoy and reboxed as Action Man.) To add to this diverse history, Panini were also the publishers of the Action Man comic a few years ago.

The strip in the first issue of Panini's new G.I. Joe comic is written by Ferg Handley (Commando, Spectacular Spider-Man) and drawn by John Royale (Spectacular Spider-Man). Future issues will also see artwork by Kev Hopgood and Mike Collins. There are also activity features, a pull-out poster, Tech Specs, etc as one might expect in a magazine aimed at 7 to 12 year old boys but, pleasingly, the mag isn't dumbed down too young as some titles are for this age range.

Retailers are encouraged to shelve G.I. Joe alongside Toxic, Transformers, and Match of the Day magazine, which presumably are seen as its main competition. Being a regular contributor to Toxic I naturally hope it doesn't take away readers from that title but at the same time I sincerely hope G.I. Joe does really well. The success of Spectacular Spider-Man and Marvel Heroes has proven there is still a market for boys adventure comics so hopefully G.I. Joe will continue that trend. Such comics may have to borrow American characters these days but they're still giving work to UK creators and that's a healthy outlook indeed.

Edited by Simon Frith, G.I. Joe magazine is 36 pages for £2.25 and carries a free gift every issue. It's published every four weeks.

Panini Comics website:

Above: Some of the various British comics available in newsagents today.

Sunday, August 16, 2009

Images from Auto Assembly 2009

Above: Artwork for the event by Andrew Wildman and Simon Williams.

The Transformers convention Auto Assembly went well yesterday, and is in fact still going on as I type these words. (I was only there for the Saturday afternoon.) Organizer Simon Plumbe said that 498 tickets had been sold prior to the event and no doubt more were sold on the door putting the attendance at over 500, the highest for a Transformers Con in Europe. Not a bad figure at all, as some tv/movie cult shows attract far less for their events.

It was good to finally attend one of these Transformers fan events after having to decline for various reasons in previous years. I was pleasantly surprised that a fair number of attendees did know my work, even though it's been nearly 20 years since I'd contributed to a Transformers comic (Combat Colin). Thanks to all those who dropped by the signing table for a sketch and a chat.

It was also great to meet up again with my fellow artists from the Marvel UK Transformers days, and to meet the new generation of artists who freelance for the modern Transformers comic.

Here's a few photos from Saturday...

1: Event organizer Simon Plumbe (near stage in white T-shirt) and his colleagues as the attendees gather for the day's events.

2: A view of the audience for our panel, "The Marvel Era".

3: A wide selection of Transformers toys and original artwork from the comics on display.

4: Artist's Alley: Left to right behind the table; Simon Williams, Jason Cardy, Kat Nicholson, Lee Bradley, Mike Collins, Andrew Wildman (standing in background), and, just about visible to Andrew's left, Staz Johnson.

5: Fans line up for sketches of their favourite characters.

Thanks to Simon Plumbe and his colleagues for organizing the event. For more info see their website at:

Friday, August 14, 2009

Auto Assembly - this weekend!

I'll be a guest at the Auto Assembly convention tomorrow (Saturday 15th August) at the Holiday Inn in Birmingham.

It's an event to celebrate those giant morphing robots The Transformers and, although I've never had any involvement with that franchise, 20 years ago I produced regular back up strips Robo-Capers and Combat Colin for Marvel UK's Transformers comics.

Auto Assembly actually runs for two days, Saturday and Sunday, but I'll only be there for the Saturday events. I'm appearing on a panel interview with some of my old comics pals Mike Collins, Andrew Wildman, Lee Sullivan, and Staz Johnson at 1.00pm where we'll be talking about our days freelancing for Marvel UK, amongst other stuff I'm sure.

There are loads of other guests there too of course, and the full guest list and other info about the event can be seen here:

Monday, August 10, 2009

Giant Sized Band-Thing!

The 2008 Birmingham International Comics Show launch party saw the emergence of Giant Sized Band-Thing; four UK comic creators teaming up to perform for their peers. Behold! Liam Sharp on vocals! Phil Winslade on lead guitar! Paul H. Birch on bass! and Charlie Adlard on drums!

The next BICS event (now re-named the British International Comic Show) will take place on October 3rd - 4th at Millenium Point, Birmingham. More details here soon, but for now check out the website here:

Thursday, August 06, 2009

Toxic's best free gift ever?

The latest issue of Egmont's top boy's comic-mag Toxic comes bagged with a free gift that's a step above the usual plastic toy that most comics have these days. It's a hand-held electronic game!

Admittedly it's only a mono screen and graphics are limited to the sort of basic animation of a digital watch (and batteries are not included) but nevertheless this is a freebie of higher quality than has been seen in comics of late. The hand-held can be adjusted to feature several different games of the Tetris / Space Invader type, with various speeds/settings. A far cry from the days of a cardboard "Thunder Bang" or "Team Tabs" (although over-40's will no doubt have preferred the latter).

A blog on comic free gifts of the past will appear here soon.

On to the comic itself, and Toxic No.145 has more pages this issue with a bunch of comic strips. Jamie Smart's new strip Count Von Poo is back again, and also included is Rex by John Short and Alex Paterson, Robin Hoodie by John Short and Laura Howell, and two helpings of Team Toxic by me (one of which is reprint). Plus a new pull-out Team Toxic poster by Jon Rushby, and all the usual features on game cheats, new movies, as well as a host of puzzles and jokes for the holidays and an additional free gift of Ice Age stickers.
40 full colour pages. £2.99

Toxic website:

Saturday, August 01, 2009

Heeeere's Johnny!

Steve Holland's Bear Alley Books have just announced the third title in their new line of albums reprinting classic British comic strips. It's to be two volumes of Johnny Future, which originally appeared in Odhams' Fantastic weekly in 1967-68.

The first volume will also include The Missing Link, the original name for the strip before it, and the title character, evolved into the superhero Johnny Future. Overall, the strip ran through Fantastic issues 1 to 51 with episodes of various page lengths in black and white, plus a 14 page full colour complete story in the Fantastic Annual 1969. All strips were drawn by Louis Berjemo, whose beautiful and dynamic artwork gave the scripts a considerable lift.

Johnny Future was the only British strip in Fantastic, with the rest of the 40 page weekly taken up with reprints from U.S. Marvel Comics.

The Missing Link/Johnny Future is a fondly remembered strip by many readers who grew up with comics in the Sixties, including Alan Moore, who was inspired enough to name one of his characters Jonni Future when he created the anthology Tomorrow Stories for Wildstorm Comics.

Both volumes of Johnny Future are scheduled for October, and will include an foreword by veteran comics writer Steve Moore (who was actually on the staff of Odhams back then), an info-packed introduction by Steve Holland, and new covers by Garry Leach with Una Fricker.

Meanwhile, the first two books from Bear Alley, Cursitor Doom and The Phantom Patrol are coming this month, and can now be ordered from the Bear Alley Books blog at

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