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Sunday, April 25, 2010

Giovannini's Last of the Mohicans

Tell Me Why was a children's educational weekly published by Fleetway in 1968. The large-format 20 page full colour glossy magazine was an English language version of a similar mag which hailed from Holland. Its tone was slightly "younger" than companion magazine Look and Learn and tended to use more illustrations than the older publication.

Some of the content of Tell Me Why was presented in picture strip form, and illustrated by some artists that readers would be familiar with. One such talent was Italian artist Ruggero Giovannini, known for his work in the early 1960s on Olac the Gladiator for Tiger comic.

Giovannini died in 1983, aged 61, but his work is still admired and respected amongst fans and professionals. In 1968 he illustrated an adaptation of James Fenimore Cooper's Last of the Mohicans for Tell Me Why so I thought readers of this blog might like to see some pages from it.

I'm not sure how many parts the strip ran to, as I didn't have Tell Me Why after issue No.8 (1/6d was quite expensive for a weekly back then) but it's a shame this timeless artwork hasn't been collected into graphic novel form.

The detail of Giovannini's linework is effective without being overdone or cluttered. It's easy to see why his artwork remains so respected.

Magazines such as Tell Me Why often reveal some forgotten comic strip gems like this. Giovannini himself illustrated a Ben Hur strip for Look and Learn, - recently reprinted when the magazine was revived as a 48 week partwork.

In 1970 IPC (who were now handling all of Fleetway's publications) revamped Tell Me Why as a new title: World of Wonder. The new weekly had more pages, but it was very similar to Look and Learn and had replaced Tell Me Why's more strip-based approach to education with the traditional illustrated text features. A great pity. Edited by Bob Bartholemew (half of "Alf and Bart" from the Odhams letters pages) World of Wonder was quite successful but declining sales eventually led to it folding in 1975.

Saturday, April 24, 2010

Memories of Eric Roberts

The artist Eric Roberts had one of the most distinctive styles to grace British comics from the 1950s up until the early 1980s. His strong, clear ink line was a pleasure to see and his characters could suddenly leap into flustered panic that never failed to amuse. Probably best known for his strip Mike on the cover of A.P.'s Knockout in the 1950s and his long running strips Winker Watson and Dirty Dick for D.C. Thomson's Dandy, little has been known of the artist's background because anonymity was usually the norm in those pre-comic convention, pre-internet days.

Recently, blogger / cartoonist Peter Gray managed to contact Eric's daughter, Erica Farmer, and Erica has kindly lent her thoughts to Peter's blog, providing interesting anecdotes and background to the fondly-remembered work of her father.

You can read Erica's comments on Peter's blog here.

Above: The opening page to the Winker Watson strip in The Dandy Book published in 1963.

Below: The very first Dirty Dick story, running as a centre-spread in The Dandy No.986, dated October 15th 1960.

Wednesday, April 21, 2010

Captain Britain and The Siege of Camelot

The fourth volume of Panini UK's excellent collections of early Captain Britain adventures is out this week! Beneath a striking cover by Staz Johnson (shown above) Captain Britain: The Siege of Camelot reprints the conclusion of the Captain Britain / Black Knight series from Hulk Weekly Nos.42 - 55 and 57 - 63 drawn by John Stokes, as well as the Captain Britain strips from Marvel Super Heroes Nos.377 - 389 and The Daredevils Nos. 1 - 11 chronicling the stories by Dave Thorpe, Alan Moore and Alan Davis.

The book also includes exclusive introductions by Steve Parkhouse (writer of the Black Knight series) and David Thorpe, as well as the feature and art from the Captain Britain Summer Special and Inside Comics - A short history of Captain Britain by Alan Moore. There's also a wonderful brand new exclusive frontispiece drawn by John Stokes. Here's a preview of his original artwork...

The remainder of the Alan Davis / Alan Moore material, along with the Jamie Delano tales, will be collected in volume 5.

I for one have been looking forward to this book for many months and I'm sure fans of Captain Britain and British comics in general will welcome it. Collectors of IPC's old comics will be familiar with the work of John Stokes from Buster's Fishboy and Marney the Fox and Valiant's Star Trek strips, and The Black Knight stories he drew for Marvel UK are of the same high standard. Volume 3 of this Captain Britain series, The Lion and The Spider collected the earlier Black Knight strips so it's good to see volume 4 completing the run.

My thanks to Brady Webb at Panini UK for supplying the images and content info.

Commando - latest

Another four issues of D.C. Thomson's Commando are in the shops today. Here's editor Calum Laird to tell us more...

Commando 4287: GUIDED MISSILE

Over the Austrian mountains in 1944, a German Dornier 217K bomber launched a strange, rocket-like craft, which performed a high-flying dance of death with an RAF Lancaster. And no matter how the Lanc jinked and turned, the rocket kept closing, until it finally destroyed its prey.
Despite the markings, these planes were both German-made and only models, but the secret rocket was one which could change the whole course of the war…if the Nazis were allowed to perfect the real thing!

Story: Bernard Gregg
Inside art: Vila
Cover art: Ian Kennedy

Commando 4288: BOMBS ON TARGET!

Dropping bombs accurately wasn’t easy. Often they fell wide and wrecked innocent targets…like the night death rained down on a small English country town because a Nazi pilot lost his nerve.
The response of the survivors was to help pay for a bomber to strike back. This is the story of that one Lancaster and its remarkable record…

Story: Cyril Walker
Inside art: Ian Kennedy
Cover art: Ian Kennedy

This is number four of the five books of Ian Kennedy’s inside artwork. The three previous re-issues resulted in calls for the other two to be pulled from the vaults. Number five is available on the website as an exclusive web comic at

Commando No 4289: FLY INTO FEAR!

Sergeant Tom Sellers longed to fly, eagerly joining the RAF during the Second World War. Training didn’t go well, though — he was nervous when night-flying, failed vital coursework and didn’t make the grade. Disappointed, he accepted his lot and re-trained as an RAF mechanic, posted out East.
There, Tom found himself caught up in a major behind-the-lines operation with the Chindits in Burma.
Then he ended up back in the air, doing vital reconnaissance work. Would his old anxieties come back? Would he FLY INTO FEAR

Story: Ferg Handley
Inside art: Morahin
Cover art: Ian Kennedy

Commando 4290: War Of The Wagtail

Wagtail. It doesn’t sound very warlike, does it?
But, in the hands of a British desert strike force, a Wagtail recce kite would become a very warlike flyer indeed.

Story: Alan Hebden
Inside art: Benet
Cover art: Benet

Calum also provided a teaser for next month's issues: "Next month we celebrate VE-Day 65 by running four new War’s End stories plus a re-issue of the seven-part series commissioned for VE-day 50 which many readers won’t be old enough to have seen."

Sunday, April 18, 2010

Dalek vs Dalek - 45 years on

Last night's episode of Doctor Who (Victory of the Daleks) featured a scene with Daleks confronting each other, one of which was a shiny new red Dalek.

Exactly 45 years ago the issue of TV Century 21 on sale that week in 1965 featured a scene with Daleks confronting each other, one of which was a shiny new red Dalek. The issue even bore the cover date April 17th, - and April 17th 2010 is when Victory of the Daleks was broadcast. Spooky! Not so much Doctor Who as Doctor Woooo!

The date is coincidence of course, and the storyline in the strip and the tv series are completely different. However I'm sure that iconic TV21 Dalek confrontation must have influenced either writer Mark Gatiss or the people working on the new series. The Dalek strip has been reprinted several times over the years so it's well known in the Doctor Who fan circles in which the current Who team have their roots. Besides, it's not the first time the comic strip has influenced the tv series, as the design of the Dalek saucer will attest.

At any rate, that TV21 page has always been one of my favourites, particularly the confrontational Dalek vs Dalek image which burned into my mind when I was six. Fantastic to see a similar moment captured on screen exactly 45 years later!

Saturday, April 17, 2010

Dave Gibbons - Local hero

When the subject of fame cropped up during a panel discussion years ago I remember Dave Gibbons saying that whilst it's nice to be appreciated by the fans, true fame is being recognized by strangers whilst shopping in Tesco. (Or words to that effect, my apologies if I'm misremembering it Dave.)

In any event I'm sure that Dave has been recognized in public quite a few times since then, and will no doubt be recognized in Tesco now that his local paper The Herts Advertiser has interviewed him. "St Albans Comic Legend Dave Gibbons" talks at length in a fascinating article detailing his career. Unlike most local press features on comics the interviewer clearly understands and appreciates the subject and it makes for a great interview. Read it online at:

By the way, I thought I'd use one of Dave's early pieces at the top of this post. It's his first cover for 2000AD (Prog 9) back in 1977 (the issue that was on sale 33 years ago this week!). Whilst digging it out I also found Starburst No.1 , edited and published by Dez Skinn, which featured this long-forgotten one-off strip by Dave (below).Although Starbust issue one is dated January 1978 I suspect the strip is older than that, possibly a reprint from a fanzine perhaps? (UPDATE: Litterbug first appeared in Dez Skinn's fanzine Fantasy Advertiser No.52, March 1974. Thanks to Ewan for the info. Although it's a very nicely drawn strip Dave's work clearly improved in leaps and bounds in the three years between Litterbug and Harlem Heroes.)

Dave will be a guest at the UniComics Festival in St Albans next weekend, organised by the University of Hertfordshire. He will be holding two artist workshops at the city library on Saturday April 24 at 10.30am and 1.30pm, demonstrating such skills as character designs and page layouts. More info:

Sunday, April 11, 2010

Eagle's 60th Anniversary

This week is the 60th anniversary of the launch of Eagle, probably the most fondly remembered of all British comics. I have to confess I didn't follow it when I was a kid in the Sixties. I had one issue in 1968 and although it whiled away a holiday train journey to Blackpool I wasn't enamored enough to buy it regularly. (Not really surprising, as Eagle was on the decline by then.)

Much has been written about Eagle over the past 60 years, and will no doubt continue to be written. I'll avoid covering the origins of the comic (created by Rev. Marcus Morris, with Dan Dare by Frank Hampson and his studio) as that's been extensively covered elsewhere. My knowledge and experience of the comic isn't sufficient enough to contribute anything too comprehensive but for a little tribute here's a whirlwind journey through its history. Hold on tight because we're going to be skimming across the 19 years of Eagle's timeline like a pebble on a lake...

At the top of this post: The cover to the first issue; bold, confident, and more mature than other comics of the period it's easy to see why it grabbed the attention of boys of 1950. Its contents were a busy mixture of strips and educational features - and a generous dollop of colour, - and it managed to sell a million copies from the kick off, even without having a single free gift. In yer face, plassy-bagged modern comics and your 11 free gifts!

Apart from Dan Dare on the cover, the early Eagle was also remembered for its marvelously detailed cutaways by Leslie Ashwell-Wood that graced the centre pages...

Eagle was very contemporary and pages such as this explained how the technology of 1950 worked. It really makes the reader feel part of the era...

Moving on to 1956 (told you to hang on tight) Eagle had really settled into its prime with spectacular covers such as this...

Below: 1960 and things had changed. Eagle was no longer published by Hulton Press and Odhams (Longacre Press) had taken the reins. But the comic was still going strong, and celebrated its 10th anniversary...

1962: Things changed even more as Dan Dare lost his cover spot to a layout of panels representing various interior strips...

Some Eagle purists look upon this era with dismay, but the content was still impressive. Frank Bellamy took over the centrespread with the story of Montgomery of Alamein, a highpoint for British comics...

The quality of other strips was also still high, with Jesus Blasco on The Vengeance Trail. (Although Blasco would soon leave to draw The Steel Claw for the new Valiant comic.)

However, it was Dan Dare's relegation to a black and white strip which angered many long time fans...

Perhaps the revamp hadn't proven good sales-wise, because later that year Eagle had another facelift, this time featuring fully painted covers of racing cars...

One of Eagle's finest characters debuted in that same issue (27th October 1962); Heros the Spartan, illustrated by Frank Bellamy...

1963 and another change, - Dan Dare was back on the cover and now drawn by Keith Watson. (The rest of the story inside was still in black and white though.) Inside, strips such as Heros and the features continued, and were joined by new strips such as Can You Catch A Crook and Reg Parlett's XYZ Cars but the general tone of the comic was that it was gradually being dumbed down, perhaps partly due to the merger with Swift...

Another merger came about in 1964 as Eagle absorbed Boys' World. By 1966, as shown below, Eagle had basically become another adventure weekly. The cover feature Did It Ever Happen (and in this case, yes it did) was the sort of thing that Valiant used, and new strips such as The Guinea Pig and The Iron Man (no, not the Marvel version) were the sort of material one would find in Lion.

Some nice Brian Lewis cartoon work on Blunderbirds though...

Worse was to come. The covers no longer featured Dan Dare...

...because by 1967 the strip had gone reprint. To add insult to injury, initially the reprints were reduced in size in order to cram in more features...

Eagle was initially created in part as a cerebral alternative to American comic imports, so it must have been particularly galling for some to find that in 1968 it began reprinting Tales of Asgard from Marvel's Thor...

And yet... compared to many comics Eagle was still a classy comic. Here it was, struggling to stay afloat and following the beat of the drum instead of leading the parade as it had once done (to coin a bunch of metaphors) but it was still quality stuff. No longer a glossy comic, but it had artists such as Gerry Haylock on The Guinea Pig and José Ortiz on Sky Buccaneers...

Frank Humphis was another Eagle regular, having been with the comic since the 1950s (on Riders of the Range) and drawing Blackbow the Cheyenne in the 1960s. (Incidentally this 1968 issue is the one solitary issue I had as a child)...

Sadly even quality artists couldn't save Eagle in the end. It didn't help that it began to feature a 12 page football section in 1968. Why did publishers of the Sixties think football would boost sales? (I always found when I was at school that kids who enjoyed football the most were never comic readers.) It didn't work for Eagle and it didn't work for TV21. By 1969 Eagle was being matched for a dispatch under IPC's new broom. Dan Dare was back on the cover to see the comic out but the content was just like any other adventure weekly of the time. Here's the cover to the penultimate issue, dated April 19th 1969...

Even the features had disappeared, replaced by reprints from other comics. Some new strips emerged but they were tailored to carry on over to Eagle's new home, such as The Waxer, drawn by Spider artist Reg Bunn...

In the end, a tired and worn out Eagle merged into one of its imitators, Lion. The announcement in their companion comics even used the cliché "Great News Pals"...

The merged Lion and Eagle wasn't a bad comic by any means, but the glory days were definitely over. Dan Dare survived as reprints but they were heavily re-inked to compensate for the lack of colour. Eagle was dead.

However the comic would live on in the hearts of its fans, who would ensure it would never be forgotten. Dan Dare has been reprinted in luxurious hardbacks, first by Mike Higgs (for Hawk Books) and now by Titan Books. Other Eagle strips such as Bellamy's historical material would be reprinted, and the thrice-a-year comic Spaceship Away features brand new Dan Dare strips. The Eagle Society publishes its magazine Eagle Times, and recently Titan published Classic Bible Stories, collecting some of the Christian strips by Frank Hampson.

In 1977 IPC 2000AD revived Dan Dare for a controversial new direction and in 1982 IPC revived Eagle as a brand new comic. Although the new Eagle is fondly remembered by fans who were children at the time it never had the impact of the original. Sixty years on, it doesn't look as though the original Eagle will ever be forgotten.

Comics UK feature on Eagle:

Saturday, April 10, 2010

Boule & Bill, Billy & Buddy, or Pete & Larry?

Did you know that a 1960s strip from legendary UK weekly Valiant was recently collected in a 48 page full colour softback book?

Well, sort of...

Last year Cinebook added another title to their growing line of excellent European comics translated into English with the publication of book one of Billy & Buddy (volume title: Remember This, Buddy?). The strip is an English language adaptation of long-running Belgian strip Boule et Bill, created by cartoonist Roba in 1959, about a boy named Boule and his cocker-spaniel Bill. It originally ran in Spirou and has been collected into over 30 albums for Europe.

However, this isn't the first time Boule et Bill has been translated for the British market. In the mid-1960s it appeared on the back page of Fleetway's Valiant under the title It's A Dog's Life.

In the modern day Billy & Buddy British collection, Boule is renamed Billy, and Bill has become Buddy. Back in the days of Valiant, Boule became Pete, and Bill became Larry.

Nevertheless, these are exactly the same strips that some of us read back in the Sixties...well, almost. The 1960s translations differ considerably to the 2009 versions. Here's a few examples to compare...

1965 version...

2009 version...

The first thing you'll notice, apart from the lack of colour (which Valiant dropped from its back page in 1965 to save money), is that the 1960s translations have a more colloquial British slant to the dialogue than the modern version. I would imagine the 2009 translations are actually closer to the Belgian originals but the Valiant versions do seem more naturalistic in a way.

Although both versions follow the same gags, the one from Valiant in this strip with the people from the animal protection group ends better because the punchline is in the dialogue, not distanced in a footnote as in the recent version...

Sometimes though, less is more. The 1965 Valiant version is too verbose here...

...but the modern translation gets to the point quicker and therefore moves the strip along faster...

When the strip appeared in Valiant, other little changes were also made, such as redrawing the European policemen as British Bobbies...

...a change that wasn't considered necessary for the modern version, presumably because Billy & Buddy is also sold in the USA and because UK police don't all wear helmets now...

Basically, both UK versions work for the eras they've appeared in and it's a pretty timeless strip. I remember this strip fondly from when I was a kid as the artwork seemed so unique to me. (I didn't know it was European back then.) It's good to see it collected by Cinebook. The gentle humour should appeal to anyone who appreciates children's humour strips and the artwork by Roba is first class.

Billy & Buddy vol.1 (which actually reprints Boule et Bill vol.6) is $11.95 or £5.99. You can visit the Cinebook website here:

...and the official Boule et Bill website is here:

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