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Monday, September 28, 2009

The Misadventures of Jane

Picked this up from Forbidden Planet the other day; the latest release from Titan Books, - and what a classy book it is. The Misadventures of Jane is a quality hardback, with dust jacket, presenting classic strips from World War 2 and additional features not seen for over 60 years.

As every schoolboy (over the age of 70) knows, Jane was the Daily Mirror's popular cheesecake serial strip written by J.H.G. ("Don") Freeman and illustrated by Norman Pett. Jane's misadventures, which inevitably led to her being in a state of undress or nudity, seem very tame and quite refined today, but in the 1940s were considered to be quite racy. Yet even back then I understand the strip was taken in good humour by all, which of course was its intention.

The book contains two long black and white complete serials: N.A.A.F.I. Say Die! and Behind the Front from the war years plus a great selection of bonus features from Jane's Journal which have never been reprinted before. These include pin up art and an eight page full colour adventure. There are also rare photographs of artist Norman Pett at work with his model Chrystabel Leighton-Porter.

The black and white strips were previously reprinted in the softback Jane At War many years ago, but this time the strips are printed on far better paper with better reproduction.

Edited by David Leach, The Misadventures of Jane is another top quality book from Titan that is sure to appeal to aficionados of newspaper strips, glamour art and wartime memorabilia. At the height of the strip's popularity it was read by four million people a day! At the R.R.P. of £12.99 it's well worth the money, and Forbidden Planet are currently selling it even cheaper at an excellent discount on their online shop HERE.

Friday, September 25, 2009

The new Viz Annual for 2010

The latest Viz Annual has just been published and once again is a chunky 160 page hardback similar to the British annuals of yesteryear. Viz: The Council Gritter is a collection of strips and features from issues 162 to 171 of the regular monthly, with its non-stop adult comedy showing why Viz is still the UK's best selling original comic.

With its format spoofing the 1950s style of 20 panels a page, the book is packed with strips including The Fat Slags, Roger Mellie, 8 Ace, Suicidal Syd, Major Misunderstanding, and many more including the hilarious Black Bob spoof Black Bag, The Faithful Border Binliner.

Parodies of redtop newspaper stories are also included, as are the hilarious "reader's letters" and spoofs of Miriam Stoppard's agony column.

Contributors include Simon Thorp, Davey Jones, Graham Dury, Alex Coller, Simon Ecob, Cat Sullivan, Paul Palmer, Christina Martin, James MacDougall and many others.

Viz: The Council Gritter has a R.R.P. of £10.99 but is currently available from Amazon at £6.04.

Wednesday, September 23, 2009

Four new Commando comics out tomorrow

News just in: here are the covers and plot details of the four issues of Commando in shops tomorrow, and on sale until 7th October, priced £1.30 each. Thanks to Commando editor Callum Laird at D.C. Thomson for the info...

Commando No 4231: THE KING’S COSSACK

Charging across the Russian steppes with sword in hand, Major Jack Faraday was in his natural element, eager to get to grips with the enemy. But how did a British army officer come to be leading a wild Cossack squadron anyway?
Jack’s companion, Trooper Tom Tuttle, was wondering the same thing himself as he clung desperately to his saddle, too busy trying not to fall off to worry about such details as shrapnel and flying bullets!

Story: Alan Hemus
Art: Janek Matysiak
Cover: janek Matysiak

Commando No 4232: R.A.F. COMMANDO!

The wartime exploits of Britain’s Royal Marine and Army Commandos are world-famous, but the Royal Air Force had their Commando units too. These were the RAF Servicing Commandos, a highly-trained elite who served on recently-captured airfields, readying aircraft for battle, often under enemy fire…and sometimes having to fend off counter-attacks from those determined to get their old airstrips back!

Story: Ian Clark
Art: Gordon Livingstone
Cover: Gordon Livingstone


In July 1939, RAF Flight Lieutenant Mike Storm was posted to Yugoslavia to instruct that country’s pilots to fly Hurricane fighters. He soon clashed with a Luftwaffe rival, Hauptmann Konrad Schwarz, an expert but ruthless Messerschmitt Bf109 pilot.
Years later, with World War Two raging, their paths would cross again. This time Mike somehow found himself flying Yugoslav 109s against their German counterparts.
The skies soon erupted in a MESSERSCHMITT STORM

Story: Alan Hebden
Art: José Maria Jorge
Cover: José Maria Jorge


Burma 1945. First Lieutenant Jack Hibbert had a reputation for being unorthodox, much to the annoyance of his superiors.
However, when a strategically important bridge must be secured, Jack is the one who gets the job. Will he play by the rules this time? It doesn’t look like it when he commandeers an ancient paddle steamer to embark on

Story: Ferg Handley
Art: Olivera
Cover: Ian Kennedy

Visit the Commando website to subscribe:

Toxic comes to BICS

Toxic, Egmont's popular long-running comic-mag for boys, will be exhibiting at this year's British International Comic Show at the ThinkTank, Millennium Point in Birmingham on October 3rd/4th.

Toxic will have a table at the show, and visitors will be able to meet editors and artists/writers on the comic including Robin Hoodie artist Laura Howell, editor Andy Davidson, sub-editor (and small press writer/artist) Luke Paton, and myself at various times over the weekend, chatting and sketching.

For more details of the show (and the many more guests and events that will be featured there) visit the website at:

Meanwhile the latest issue of Toxic is out today with a load of free gifts....

...and features Team Toxic facing the threat of the SOCK HORROR...

On sale now at all good, bad, and average, newsagents, supermarkets etc.
Official Toxic website:

Tuesday, September 22, 2009

Comics on newsreels of the past

Realising that the old Pathé newsreels were now available online, I thought I'd have a quick search to see if they ever ran items on comics, - and indeed they did!

In the days before most people had television (and even before the invention of tv) the short weekly newsreels from British Pathé, shown before a film at the cinema, were the only way for the public to see news footage. Often the items included lighthearted subjects, just as the tv news does today, to lift the spirits of the viewers.

There are some brilliant finds on the Pathé news website including several items on comics and associated media. Here's a few of the fascinating items I found. Click on the text links after each picture to visit the site and view the actual footage....

From 1937, an enthusiast who pre-dates fandom! Music hall comedian Barry Ono talks about his passion for collecting Victorian Penny Dreadfuls. Ono knows his stuff, his theatrical experience making him a good speaker, and it's a pity the footage isn't much longer as I'm sure his full lecture was fascinating. (Someone invent a time machine and invite this bloke to the next comic con.) He would eventually bequeath his large collection to the British Museum.

1943: Daily Mirror cartoonist Norman Pett talking about his work as he draws the latest Jane comic strip.

1946: Frank Richards, creator of Billy Bunter, at home in his study.

1955: End of the four-month national press strike, with some nice footage of newsagents shops of the period (no untidy bagged comics back then).

1956: Dan Dare creator Frank Hampson at home working on the latest Eagle strip, with the family and friends he used as models for his work.

1968: The Roy Lichtenstein exhibition at the Tate gallery, and how comics appealed to the whole family.

Monday, September 21, 2009

45 Year Flashback: WHAM! No.15

On this day in 1964 thousands of kids received a free "WHAM-pire Bat" in their copy of Wham! comic No.15. The weekly had only been launched by Odhams a few months earlier, and free gifts were a rarity in those days, so did this boom issue signal that Wham! had perhaps not performed as well as expected?

Whatever the case, Wham! would of course survive for another few years, until early 1968 when it merged into Pow!. By that time it wasn't as vibrant as it was at its launch, but this particular issue we're looking at represented Wham! in its prime.

When Leo Baxendale left D.C. Thomson to create a new comic for Odhams he had envisioned a 16 page "Super-Beano" featuring artists such as himself, Ken Reid, Davy Law, and Paddy Brennan. What actually emerged was a 24 page comic with only Baxendale and Reid leaving Thomsons to work on it, along with numerous new artists such as Gordon Hogg and Graham Allen. Nevertheless, the result was spectacular!

This issue of Wham! shows the comic in its typical robust style. The cover strip Biff (often by Baxendale but this time by Graham Allen) is a harder-edged precursor to Shiner who would appear in Whizzer and Chips five years on. The premise of Biff is simply a boy who always gets into fights, and back then a "fight" meant a punch on the hooter rather than the knife-wielding, ear biting thuggery in today's schools. Even so, it's hard to imagine today's comics relishing in such amoral comedy violence. That's what made Wham! so effective; it was irresponsible and it didn't care, - and funny with it.

Inside, Leo Baxendale's Eagle Eye, Junior Spy was a riot of busy slapstick adventure. Fourteen panels crammed into one page, but then look at page two, - a huge full page panel to show the impact of the explosion triggered by baddie (today we'd call him a terrorist) Grimly Feendish, - a mushroom cloud of "ten million tons of smelly, slimy swamp and assorted things". Baxendale's doing something revolutionary here. Full page panels were common for stand alone sets such as The Banana Bunch in Beezer, or occasionally in annuals, but unheard of as part of a humour story in a weekly.

Over the page, a more suburban strip: The Wacks. Gordon Hogg drawing this fun attempt to cash in on the moptop craze of the year. Opposite, the regular Wham! pop page which The Wacks always hosted, this week featuring The Honeycombs.

Kelpie the Boy Wizard came next, adding variety to the comic with a fantasy serial nicely illustrated by John Burns, (who is still working today, often drawing Nikolai Dante for 2000AD).

Next up was The Tiddlers, back in the days before they became a Bash Street clone when they had a teacher who was as irreverent as them. Here we see the Headmaster of Canal Road School preparing to face the anarchic kids by having an Aspirin sandwich...

An Aspirin sandwich?!? Yes, another example of how reckless the comic was, but I never heard of anyone stupid enough to imitate it, or complaining about it. It was just funny.

A few pages on, the centrespread, featuring at this point in time General Nitt and his Barmy Army. Another strip originated by Baxendale but here ghosted by Graham Allen. Leo was producing a huge amount of pages for Wham! but obviously couldn't draw the whole comic, so "ghosts" were brought in to help out. Graham Allen would prove to be the best of these, soon developing his own distinctive style and becoming one of the UK's top humour artists on later strips such as Tuffy McGrew for Pow! and King Kat for the Daily Star.

Danny Dare - He's Dan Dare's Number One Fan featured on pages 14 and 15 of this issue. A fairly dull strip but notable because the Dan Dare sequences of Danny's imagination were initially drawn by Dan Dare artists of the day. In this case it looks like the work of Don Harley. Not sure who drew the humour sequences, (Artie Jackson perhaps?) but definitely not Baxendale.

Brian Lewis, a fantastic artist who died far too young, ghosted Baxendale on The Pest of the West on page 17, displaying a drawing skill far beyond that of most ghost artists. Fortunately Brian was allowed to develop his own humour style, and of course he was also a highly accomplished adventure artist.

The jewel in the crown was in these early issues found near the back of the comic: Frankie Stein drawn by Ken Reid, surely the greatest humour artist of British comics? At this time Frankie Stein was a serial, and the title character only appears briefly in this episode, but look how Ken builds up the comedy with the two kids Cyril and 'Arry. Both characters are created just for this episode, but Ken manages to give them personality, building up Cyril's confidence until it's shattered in the final panel by the emergence of Frankie.

Notice also how wordy the Frankie Stein pages are compared to comics of today. Yet such verbosity helped to develop the comedy, and the dialogue itself is so natural.

At the back of the comic: Georgie's Germs, drawn by Leo Baxendale, although usually by ghost artists. (A simple way to determine if Leo drew the strips in Wham! is that he usually signed his pages.) This inventive strip was like a grimier version of The Numskulls, although recent years have now seen that strip use "gross" humour.

On the back page was Footsie the Clown; a rather tame strip compared to much of the interior material. Another Baxendale ghost artist at work here, but I'm not sure who. Footsie would later move to the inside, replaced by the caveboy Glugg, a more bouncy strip.

All in all, Wham! was a great comic in this, its first year. Its intention was to compete directly with The Beano; although with Wham! being twice the price that probably put paid to that. Even so, Wham! was definitely more modern and energetic than its rivals of the time, and felt exciting and fresh to read, - and very 1960s.

New Spaceship Away out soon!

As reported here last month, the classic Daily Mirror newspaper strip Garth is to be reprinted in the next issue of Spaceship Away. Drawn by Frank Bellamy and in colour for the first time thanks to John Ridgway, Garth will be a welcome addition to the line up of strips which include Nick Hazard and Jet Morgan reprints alongside brand new Dan Dare strips.

Visit to order your copy now!

Thursday, September 17, 2009

This weekend in The Guardian / The Observer

As their week-long series of classic comics freebies draws to a close tomorrow with a reprint of a Seventies issue of Whizzer and Chips, both The Guardian and The Observer prepare to launch their next giveaways. Not comics, but they may interest budding artists. More info from Press Officer Hayley Dunlop....

The Guardian and Observer Guides to Drawing and Painting - free with the Guardian on Saturday (19 September) and The Observer on Sunday, are produced in collaboration with the Slade School of Art and the University of Gloucestershire. The guides will prove to be a useful starting point for anyone interested in learning how to draw (including the comic artists of the future!) or wanting to 'brush-up' (*groan*) on their existing skills. More details at:

And here's a nice write-up of the drawing guide from the University of Gloucestershire:

Monday, September 14, 2009

Commando marches on

The latest issues of D.C. Thomson's long-running war and adventure comic Commando are in the shops now. Launched in 1961 the digest-sized comic is still in exactly the same format as it was when it began, (64 black and white pages) and even uses the same logo it's had since issue No.1. The only surviving British comic of all the many titles that were launched in the Sixties, Commando's resistance to new fads and formats is undoubtedly part of its appeal.

Publishing eight issues a month, in sets of four issues every two weeks, the current issues on sale until September 24th are as follows....

Commando 4227 THE BLACK EAGLE

Talk about jumping out of the frying pan and into the fire…
After surviving the ferocious battles of civil war that gripped Britain in the mid-17th Century, young Scots Tam Nicol and Jock Mackie ended up unwilling crewmen on a buccaneer ship in the Caribbean.
Now, come hell or high water, they have to endure the dangers of life aboard The Black Eagle!


When the Germans rolled into Norway in 1940, they expected some resistance. Resistance they confidently expected to crush.
At first all seemed to go according to plan — a number of Norwegians even welcomed the new rulers of the country.
Not all, though. One man in particular was determined to make the Nazis’ stay a Norwegian Nightmare


Yuri Murayev − ex-soviet Spetsnaz, ex-SAS advisor − had settled in the West, trying to put his past well behind him. But there’s always one last enemy for a hard case like Yuri to tackle!

Commando No 4230 FOUR VOLUNTEERS

The first rule of any army is − “Never volunteer for nuthin’!” Yet here were four normally sane British soldiers stepping forward to take part in a very deadly mission.
Each of the four had his own personal reason for his action… and each would find his decision tested to the full in the desperate days which lay ahead.

Thanks to Commando editor Callum Laird for the information.

Sunday, September 13, 2009

Guardian comic reprints exceed expectations

The series of classic UK comic reprints that began in The Guardian yesterday have proven to be better reproductions than anticipated. In fact they're pretty close to being exact facsimiles.

Yesterday saw the first comic giveaway, a copy of Jackie from 1975; all 36 pages reprinted on glossy stock similar to the original. Today, The Observer gives away a reprint of The Beano No.2000 from 1980.

Comparing the reprinted Beano beside the original there are few differences between them. The paper stock on the reprint is slightly better than the 1980 version and the comic is stapled rather than glued (as old D.C. Thomson comics were), but otherwise it's pretty close. The reprint has been scanned from the original comic so this has meant a slight difference in the shade of blue, and a few other minor variations, but it's a great restoration job and a fine facsimile.

Beano No.2000 is a good choice of reprint too, considering issue 3500 is in the shops right now. The differences 1,500 issues on are quite considerable. Today's Beano is full colour, has almost twice as many pages and is glossy, - and costs £1.25 compared to its 8p counterpart in 1980.

This is a great start to The Guardian's classic comics series and things look promising for the week ahead where collectible items will include the Bunty Summer Special from 1972 and the first issue of Tammy.

Above image taken from The Guardian website, showing the rare Tammy No.1 that will be free in The Guardian on Thursday.

Yesterday saw The Guardian's Guide supplement run an article on that era of UK comics. Unfortunately I was misquoted as saying of British humour comics: "It's a genre that doesn't exist any more" when in fact I was only referring to a style of comic of the 1950s that Viz spoofs. Of course the genre itself still exists, - I make my living out of it! Newspapers eh?

Tuesday, September 08, 2009

Record-breaking Beano out this week

Tomorrow (Wednesday 8th Sept.) sees The Beano reach its milestone issue No.3500, the first British weekly comic to ever reach that impressive number. Although its companion comic The Dandy was launched in 1937, seven months before The Beano, it's now lagging behind numerically due to it going fortnightly in 2007 when it changed its name to Dandy Xtreme.

The only other UK comic to have published more than 3,500 issues is the digest war title Commando, which launched in 1961 and releases eight issues a month. An impressive feat in itself, but The Beano is the only weekly to have achieved that record. It's taken 71 years to reach issue 3500, including a few years during and after World War 2 when it was published fortnightly due to paper shortages.

The celebrations in the comic are fairly low-key, with just an announcement on the cover and a page inside showing the stylistic changes to Dennis the Menace since he made his debut in 1951. (Perhaps by coincidence rather than design, this week also saw the launch of the new Dennis and Gnasher cartoon series on CBBC, - every weekday at 3.45pm.)

All the regulars are set to appear in tomorrow's landmark issue, including The Bash Street Kids, The Numskulls, Ratz, and my strip Super School (sneak peek below of a panel prior it being coloured by The Beano staff).

The Beano No.3500; 32 full colour pages for £1.25. Available from newsagents and supermarkets all over the UK.

The redesigned, improved Beano website can be found here:

A news item about Dennis and The Beano has appeared on BBC Scotland. See here to view the video:

Sunday, September 06, 2009

Bear Alley launches its first books

The first collections of classic UK comic strips from Steve Holland's Bear Alley Books are out now. Cursitor Doom and The Phantom Patrol collect strips from, respectively, Smash! and Swift from the 1960s.

I confess I didn't buy Cursitor Doom as I already have the strips in the original comics, but I did go for The Phantom Patrol and was very impressed by the book. The format is the same as Titan's Modesty Blaise and James Bond collections; softback, laminated cover and nice white interior pages. There are a few teething problems; the printer has overdone the magenta on the covers, spoiling the excellent Chris Weston cover a little, and one of the pages came loose on my copy. However, these are minor quibbles and I certainly didn't feel I hadn't gotten my money's worth.

The book collects the complete run of The Phantom Patrol strips which appeared in Swift weekly from February 1962 to March 1963. The story is typical of the imaginative plots that appeared in British weeklies of the period: a British infantry patrol and their tank are transported back in time to fight alongside warriors of the past. The script was by Willie Patterson and the artwork by Gerry Embleton.

What came as a pleasant surprise was how well the artwork is reproduced here. Scanning from old comics often produces substandard results, with linework disappearing or muddying up, depending on the restoration process. However, Steve Holland obviously knows his stuff, and has put in long hours to ensure the art here is clear as can be. The printing is digital, so if one looks closely there's slight pixelation, but it doesn't distract the reader. The pages that were done in a grey wash come out superbly too.

This is quality work from a period when British comics were at their peak. The launch of Eagle a decade earlier had raised the bar for UK comics and adventure strips not only began to proliferate but also started to feature top class artists who really knew how to illustrate good dramatic boys' comic strip fiction. By 1962, when The Phantom Patrol appeared, the standard was very high.

With a limited print run of just 300, The Phantom Patrol is sure to be a rare treasure enjoyed by a lucky few. To make sure you're one of those fortunate readers, order your copy today from Bear Alley Books:

The back of the book gives us a glimpse of an upcoming volume from Bear Alley. The title isn't mentioned but the image shown is a panel from Slave of The Screamer, a strip with artwork by Jesus Blasco which ran in Valiant around 1970. There will also be two volumes of Johnny Future coming soon, and a humour collection (top secret as yet), so it looks like Bear Alley will be reviving lots of nostalgic memories in the months to come.

Saturday, September 05, 2009

Free comics in The Guardian

Starting next Saturday, 12th September, The Guardian newspaper will be giving away a reproduction of a classic British comic every day for a week. As there is no Sunday edition of the paper, The Observer will also be involved in the scheme on September 13th.

The classic reprints all come from the Egmont and D.C.Thomson stable of comics, and appear to be mostly 1980s editions. Kicking off with a copy of girls' comic Jackie next Saturday, followed by The Beano No.2000 (from 1980) on Sunday, the rest of the week will see copies of Roy of the Rovers, Bunty, Dandy, Tammy, and Whizzer and Chips presented with the paper.

Although the free comics don't begin until next Saturday, today's edition of The Guardian begins their celebration of British comics with an article in the Guardian Weekend magazine supplement. The article, by Jon Ronson, tells of his visit to the offices of D.C. Thomson and his task of writing an episode of The Numskulls for The Beano. The nine page feature also includes the reactions of a few of today's kids to the classic comics The Guardian will be giving away. Quite pleasingly, they all seemed to enjoy the stories of yesteryear, which perhaps suggests that if such comics were revived in some form or another there might actually still be a market for them.

The articles can be read online at The Guardian website:

Monday Sept.14th will see The Guardian Media section run a feature on the recent nostalgia wave for comics (specifically the Egmont Classic Comics quarterly which will soon be publishing a Misty special) with interviews with Paul Gravett, myself, and others.

Whilst American comics and adult graphic novels are rightly praised by the media these days, the same respect is usually missing for children's British comics, as if producing entertainment instead of thought-provoking narratives is somehow less important. I'm about as far removed from being nationalistic as one could be, but we are in danger of forgetting the history of our own comics, which would be a huge loss because there has been some fantastic material produced over the last 100+ years. Will this week-long celebration of UK comics have a knock-on effect to give such comics greater respect? Will it stir publishers into testing the market with a new all-comic title for children? I'm not entirely optimistic but time will tell.

Wednesday, September 02, 2009

Crikey! A fanzine in the High Street

In a bold development for the fanzine of British comics, Crikey! has boosted its page count from 48 to 84, increased frequency from quarterly to bi-monthly, and has upgraded from black and white to glossy full colour stock for just a one pound increase in cover price. Most welcome of all, from the current issue (No.11) Crikey! is now available in Borders bookshops and selected newsagents across the UK.

The latest issue came out last week and I was pleased to see that even my corner shop had a copy. Contents of Crikey! No.11 are a good mixture showcasing the variety of British comics. There are interviews with Dez Skinn on his career, Steve Holland on his new Bear Alley Books venture, Pete Nash on Striker, and a talk with Euan Kerr on his long stint as editor of The Beano.

Other features include David A. Roach expertly writing on the life of artist David Wright; Tony Ingram's third part of the History of Marvel UK; Pat Mills on Tammy (corrected from the article in a recent issue); William Rudling on Jeff Hawke; Stephen Poppitt on Charlie Peace, and much more. Plenty to read for £4.99.

It's a vast improvement on some of the flaws of the earlier issues. It's lost most of the "Oi, do you remember when..." type of material that relied on hazy memories instead of proper research and it's good to see the writers adhere to the wise adage "Write about what you know" instead of making wild assumptions about the gaps in their collections. There are still a couple of mistakes but as far as I could see, nothing alarming. (Odhams began their Marvel reprints with The Hulk in Smash! not the Fantastic Four in Wham! as one article claims.) The coverage of a wider variety of comics suits Crikey! well and editors Glenn B. Fleming and Tony Ingram are to be congratulated on their accomplishments.

Filling 84 pages every two months is quite a task and I hope Crikey! continues to prosper and live up to its potential. If you don't have a Borders near you, or your independent newsagents don't stock it you can still order the magazine online directly from the publishers, and subscribe to future issues:

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