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Tuesday, July 27, 2010

Alan Moore Unearths origins of UK fandom

Yesterday's edition of the New York Times included a feature on Alan Moore, covering his latest project Unearthing. Always one to surprise his fans, Alan's latest creation isn't a book or a comic, but is, as the NYT puts it, "a lengthy spoken-word recording accompanied by an atmospheric musical soundtrack and a book of photographs".

All well and good, but why am I mentioning it here? Well, the subject of Alan's narrative is none other than his fellow comics writer and long time friend and mentor Steve Moore (no relation). Steve was instrumental in creating some of the first comic fanzines in Britain, worked on the staff of Pow! in 1967 and, along with Phil Clarke and Mike Higgs, presented the very first comic convention in the UK in 1968. Alan covers these early pioneering days of comics fandom on Unearthing, giving Steve, Phil and Mike their due. (Steve of course later went on to create strips for Warrior, Phil set up one of the UK's first and lasting comic shops Nostalgia & Comics, and Mike created The Cloak, Moonbird, and other popular strips.)

"After all those years of working within the comics industry and quietly going mad, this is what erupts" said Alan to the New York Times. Unearthing also pays tribute to Shooter's Hill, the area where Steve Moore lives and which has been mentioned in the writings of Dickens and Wordsworth.

Steve Moore is said to be amazed and amused by the project's focus on his life.

Promo clips of Unearthing are on YouTube. I've embedded one here which will hopefully play if you click on it:

You can pre-order Unearthing on import from Amazon HERE.

My thanks to Cathy Frumerman for the info. (Cathy's book On the Trail of The Prisoner can be ordered from )

Saturday, July 24, 2010

The Best of The Victor is coming!

Here's something I bet most of us hadn't anticipated. This October, Prion Books are publishing The Best of The Victor, a 176 page hardback dedicated to the classic D.C. Thomson adventure weekly. The book is edited by ex-Dandy editor Morris Heggie and if it's anything like last year's book on Bunty that Morris compiled hopefully it will cover the history of Victor by looking at various strips throughout its run.

More news as I receive it, but for now you can pre-order the book from Amazon for £11.89. (Otherwise the R.R.P. is £16.99)

Any guesses as to what the "explosive free gift inside" might be? It'd have to be something flat for shops to stock it on the bookshelves so my guess is it's one of those carboard/brown paper "thunder bangs". Time will tell...

Also on the schedule is The Best of Action from Titan Books. Again, more info soon...

Thursday, July 22, 2010

Tripwire, Thor, Dandy, Dredd and more!

A quick round up of some titles available now...

Tripwire magazine has returned for its annual outing and it's a great issue! 124 pages covering a wide variety of media subjects including interviews with Michael Moorcock (mentioning his Tarzan and Fleetway comics work), Roger Langridge, Garen Ewing, Dave McKean, Paul Cornell, Mark Schultz and others plus features on DC Comics, Futurama, the sfx of Iron Man 2 and lots more. Editor Joel Meadows is doing a fantastic job on this and Tripwire is a maturely written, laid back magazine with clear layouts that's a pleasure to read. £6.95 UK / $9.99 US / $10.95 Canada. The issue is ready for the San Diego Comic Con this weekend (hence the cover) so if you're attending have a great show and pick up a copy there.

Judge Dredd Megazine celebrates 300 issues this month with a bumper 84 page issue. It's an admirable achievement for any comic to last so long these days, especially a UK adventure title. Within its covers (by Cliff Robinson and Dylan Teague) are five new originated strips plus a host of features including the first part of a lengthy retrospective on Carlos Ezquerra. If that wasn't enough the comic comes bagged with a 64 page collection of the complete Armageddon series by Alan Grant and Ezquerra. All in all a bargain at £5.99. For more details visit:

Fans of vintage UK comics will be pleased to hear that the latest issue of Classics from the Comics is out now (No.172) and its 64 pages include a spotlight on strips from 1956. Until several issues ago the limit on Classics' nostalgia was 1960 so it's good to see the comic venturing further into the rich archive of D.C. Thomson material. The issue is £2 but if you have difficulty finding it you can subscribe by clicking HERE.

A more recent classic is reprinted in a free 56 page comic in the latest Dandy Xtreme. Jamie Smart's My Own Genie is a brilliant compendium of his creator-owned strip and is genuinely funny. The rest of Dandy Xtreme No.3501 is a lively mix too, with work by Nigel Parkinson, Wayne Thomson, that man Smart again and others. £2.50 from newsagents.

Summer Specials may be obsolete today but D.C. Thomson have instead channeled their seaside muse into this week's Beano which is the first of six "Summer of Fun" issues. Despite the beach scene on the cover the strips themselves don't have a seaside theme but the idea is to give readers a good package for the six week holiday. This issue features five gifts including cut-out cardboard masks, a Flick-A-Disc-Shooter, and a poster of the cover of Beano No.1.

The strips include artwork by Nigel Parkinson, Hunt Emerson, Nick Brennan, Dave Sutherland, myself and others. It also features the winner of the recent Comic Idol poll, which is the funny and fast paced cat vs dog strip Meebo & Zuky by Iain McLaughlin and Laura Howell. (Si Co came a surprising third, which will no doubt please the scaremongers at the News of the World.)
The Beano No.3544 is £2.50 from newsagents.

Also out now is The Beano's "big brother" BeanoMAX, the monthly companion comic to the weekly, which is bagged with four free gifts.

Over at Egmont, the latest issue of Toxic (No.166) celebrates the summer with an inflatable giant eyeball! (A blow-up beach ball.) Other gifts include a Shrek sticker album and stickers to tie in with the movie and a pull out Shrek puzzle mag.

Inside Toxic itself, my Team Toxic strip sees the crew take their annual holiday to Skegpool with disastrous consequences for Skegpool Tower. Other strips in this issue include Robin Hoodie by Laura Howell.

More humour, but of an adult nature, in the latest edition of Khaki Shorts, the A5 sized small press comic. The irreverent funnymag has now notched up 25 issues and copies of the self-proclaimed "finger tingling, lip licking, back slapping, chop busting bonanza" can be yours for a mere pound plus postage from:

Want more barmy comedy? Check out The Carrotty Kid, a brilliantly funny web-strip by Andy Fanton. This is destined for greatness, I can feel it in me ink.

Across the Atlantic the current issue of Thor features the artwork of an artist who'll be familiar to readers of Sonic the Comic and 2000AD. It's Richard Elson proving himself to be a natural for Marvel. By the power of Odin, Thor No.611 is $2.99 (about £2.25 in UK comic shops).

Finally, the new issue of Doctor Who Magazine (No.425) is out this week, featuring news, interviews and reviews and a brand new comic strip.

Wednesday, July 21, 2010

Commando comics out today

The latest batch of Commando comics have invaded newsagents across the land. Editor Calum Laird provides the intelligence report...

Commando 4311: THE BUGLER

The plaintive notes of the Last Post sounded eerily over a lonely clearing in the Malayan jungle as Colour-Sergeant Jimmy Morrison mourned the loss of an old friend.
They had fought and suffered together for many years in the steamy, dangerous heat of the tropics — but not always on the same side!

Story: Ian Clark

Art: Ibanez

Cover: Ibanez

Originally No 2720 from 1993


Like the famous Musketeers of old, the four young German pilots, fresh from training, believed in the motto, “All for One and One for All!”
It stood them in good stead in their early combat patrols, while their Focke -Wulf Fw190s were still the scourge of the skies. But they were to need their light-hearted comradeship even more in the dark days that lay ahead for the German Luftwaffe.

Story Ian Clark

Art: José Maria Jorge

Cover Art: José Maria Jorge

Originally No 2713 from 1993

Commando 4313: MERCY MISSION?

The First World War, Mesopotamia, and First Lieutenant Paul Wardle is a doctor in the Royal Army Medical Corps. He has vowed only to save lives — never to take them — even during vicious conflict.
When he and his wounded patients are stranded on a grounded hospital ship, taken over by a ruthless German Naval commander with a grudge, the situation looks increasingly desperate. For the sake of the wounded, Paul will have to fight for their survival. Can he stick to the principles he values so highly…?

Story: Ferg Handley

Art: Vila

Cover Art: Nicholas Forder

Commando 4314:

The North African Desert is a hostile environment at the best of times, pushing men and machines to their limits — and beyond. As a place to fight a modern mechanised war it has to be one of the worst imaginable.
Yet Major Orde Gatwin, his band of oddbods and a motley collection of experimental machinery were there and had to do just that. Would they be strong enough to survive when they were TESTED TO DESTRUCTION

Story: Alan Hebden

Art: Benet

Cover Art: Benet

Tuesday, July 20, 2010

40 Year Flashback: TV COMIC and POPEYE Holiday Specials 1970

Polystyle were one of the few British comic companies who had their logo on their comics. The red and green parrot and the legend "A Polystyle Publication" adorned their junior titles for a while from around 1970.

The 1970 TV Comic Holiday Special may have lacked the size of the Thomson specials, or the thickness of the IPC editions, but its 48 glossy pages still contained a lot of material. They were mostly single page "funnies" but a handful of adventure stories were included as well, such as a four page Bill Lacey drawn Catweazle story based on the popular children's tv series starring Geoffrey Bayldon.

The superb ventriloqist Ray Allen, who sadly died recently, was the talent behind Tich and Quackers, two new puppets he'd introduced to his act in 1968. The strip ran in TV Comic for a while and this is the page from the 1970 Holiday Special. (Not sure who the artist is. Bill Mevin?)

It wasn't only contemporary tv stars who appeared in TV Comic. During the late 1960s Bob Monkhouse hosted a tv show presenting clips of old silent comedy films entitled Mad Movies. The Keystone Kops often featured in these clips and became the stars of the Mad Movies strip in the comic.

Tom and Jerry were other characters who had begun to bring laughter to a new generation thanks to television screening their classic MGM shorts. The strip version debuted on the cover of TV Comic in 1969 and the cat and mouse antics took up eight pages in the 1970 special. Here's a two page full colour seaside strip by Bill Titcombe...

TV Comic had its own originated characters too, such as Mighty Moth who ran (or flew) in the weekly for decades. The somewhat bizarre concept involved a super-tough moth being detested by a man he called "Dad", and "Dad's" attempts to kill or avoid the moth. The strip was the creation of Dick Millington who drew it from 1959 to the final issue in 1984 (although I suspect the later ones may have been reprints)

Surely the strangest strip in the TV Comic Holiday Special was this Doctor Who episode with the Third Doctor in drag. (Although Pertwee would actually disguise himself as a charlady in a later Doctor Who episode on tv!) The characterization of The Doctor in this strip bears little resemblance to the one on tv, but as the special would be in production just as Pertwee's stint was starting perhaps they were taking a shot in the dark.

Popeye was always a popular character in TV Comic and for many years was awarded his own Popeye Holiday Special. The cover (below, by Bill Mevin) is brand new but the contents of the 48 page comic feature were American strips by Bud Sagendorf. The artist had been the art assistant to Popeye's creator E.C. Segar so was a natural to take over the strip after Segar passed away.

The special collects many of the U.S. Sunday strips resized into the British page format. You'll notice that although the pages work perfectly, the story doesn't really get going until panel four. This is because in some territories where the strip was sold papers would drop the first three panels if they needed the space, so the gags had to be structured accordingly. Obviously Polystyle didn't feel the need to do this.
What Polystyle did do though was to edit out some Americanisms where they saw fit, so "dollars" became "pounds" and "gal" became "girl", although the editing was quite inconsistent.

Another U.S. newspaper feature to make it into the special was Ripley's Believe It or Not! Perhaps this was part of the deal on buying the Popeye strips, or perhaps Polystyle felt it added a nice balance to the comic. Either way, the quirky articles didn't seem out of place.

Filling out the Popeye special were a few puzzles and the usual centrespread board game.

On the back covers of the Polystyle specials that year (as they'd done the previous year) there was an ad for the three Polystyle weeklies, Pippin, Playland, and TV Comic. This was a commercial move that neither IPC or D.C. Thomson adopted at the time but it made sense for underdog Polystyle to promote their titles wherever they could.

More Summer Special blogs soon.

Tuesday, July 13, 2010

40 Year Flashback: SMASH! Holiday Special 1970

Over the next few blogs if and when time permits I'll be taking a glance at some of the Summer Specials that were available 40 years ago. Today I'm giving the Smash! Holiday Special a quick look.

This was the second and final Holiday Special devoted solely to Smash! although there had been the Smash! Pow! It's Fantastic Summer Special in 1968 and there would be a Valiant and Smash! special in 1971. However for 1970 this edition was part of IPC's range of mammoth 96 page specials which always felt worth the money.

How could IPC produce such a chunky volume for the cost of a mere three shillings? Simple. Most of the content was reprint from the archives of Fleetway and Odhams and only eight of the 96 pages were in colour. Reprints would have their original titles altered in a weak attempt to pretend these were new characters, with The Tiddlers and Super Sir from Wham! becoming The Horrors and Puffing Billy, and The Wacks becoming The Beat Boys. Nevertheless much of the material seemed "new" to the young readers of 1970 and it provided a good long summer read.

Of the brand new material, Janus Stark led off the special with the master escapologist taking up a challenge from a rival, inevitably ending up saving his rival's life. The artwork was by J.G. Quiros who signed the last page, presumably unnoticed by IPC who usually whited out signatures back then.

A text story of Master of the Marsh was notable because it featured three illustrations by Mike Noble. The artist was famed for his work on TV21 and Look-In but for a short time in 1970 he also produced a few items for IPC. As expected, Noble's illustrations here featured the usual dynamic energy seen in his strip work.

Most of the few colour pages were given to photo features but pages 56 and 57 contained illustrations by Geoff Campion for Warriors of the World. This feature used to run on the cover of Smash! in 1969 and given the amount of space on the pages in the Special I'm wondering if these were unused covers.

Sammy Shrink made an appearance in a new two-pager drawn by Terry Bave. This little character must have been hugely popular with readers as he started out in Wham, moved to Pow, then to Smash, then was revived for Knockout and moved to Whizzer and Chips when that comic merged into it.

There was also a brand new Bad Penny strip; a really fast paced seaside romp which looks like the artwork of Mike Brown.

Wrapping up the Smash! Holiday Special was a 17 page story entitled Planet Underwater. At least that's the title here. The strip was an edited reprint from a series of single-page episodes of the 1964 serial The Drowned World from Buster written by Ken Bulmer with artwork by Solano Lopez.

As a child Planet Underwater was the highlight of my Smash! Holiday Special. I was totally captivated by Solano's dark claustrophobic artwork and the struggles of the hero Tug Tempest. In retrospect some of the scenes are ludicrous, such as the one below with the whale turning up in the flooded town, but the scene that followed with the train crash and collapsing bridge was truly nightmarish. A great example of the sort of eerie tension that Fleetway could convey in their comics back then. Exciting stuff!

I'll review another 1970 summer special soon!

Monday, July 12, 2010

The Very Best of Black Bob

The collection of classic Black Bob strips mentioned here in May has now been published and, like the Dandy Wonder Dog of the title, it's a champion.

The Very Best of Black Bob is a solid value for money hardback with 208 pages for £9.99. Compiled by ex-Dandy editor Morris Heggie, who also provides an introduction and background info, the book reprints a good selection of Black Bob strips from the 1950s wonderfully illustrated by Jack Prout. Comic expert Ray Moore provides an index at the back of the collection with story titles, dates, reprint dates etc.

Inspired by the success of the MGM film Lassie Come Home the adventures of Black Bob began as a text story written by freelancer Kelman Frost in The Dandy in November 1944 and then as a picture-strip story in The Weekly News from 1946. These strips were later reprinted in The Dandy.

Black Bob
was one of my favourite adventure strips as a young child and my Mum used it to teach me to read before I started school. Even back in the early 1960s the strip looked archaic and seemingly permanently set in the 1940s, but to me that was part of its charm. That and, of course, the clever collie known as Black Bob. I grew up in a house where pets were part of the family so the fictitious Black Bob became a friend along with the dogs and cats of my childhood.

Collies are apparently the most intelligent breed of dog, and I can verify that with the collie-cross dog I had for 18 years whose memory and understanding of language was superior to that of some children. However Black Bob exceeds them all, with his sharp mind and skills able to resolve dangerous situations in tales to delight and amaze. In his very first picture strip we're told "he knew very well how to open a car door" and later goes on to stop a runaway horse, fetch a fire hose to put out a burning rail truck, and fashion a crutch for a disabled tramp.

These heartwarming tales of selflessness and bravery from a dog were, I believe, inspirational for readers of The Dandy. If a "mere" dog could be so noble then surely we, as "superior" humans, could aspire to be the same or even better. Such stories of self-sacrifice and basic goodness were the backbone of Thomson adventure strips, particularly in the Black Bob tales.

Bob is a very sympathetic figure too. Often he becomes separated from his master Andrew Glenn, sometimes lost miles away, and the stories deal with his plight to be reunited with his owner. In this way the stories really pull at the heartstrings, which is not a bad thing to bring out feelings of compassion from the readers.

Of course, all this is assuming the readers actually like dogs. Those vain souls who are indifferent or hateful of animals probably never got the appeal of Black Bob at all and won't see the point of this collection. Perhaps people who don't like "old fashioned" looking strips won't like it either. That's their prerogative (and their loss in my opinion).

However for the rest of us The Very Best of Black Bob is a marvelous book for children, dog lovers, and collectors of nostalgia. I hope it proves to be a success and perhaps, just perhaps, will inspire D.C. Thomson (and Waverley Books) to produce The Complete Jonah next year.

The Very Best of Black Bob published by Waverley Books. £9.99 r.r.p.
ISBN 978-1-84934-028-1

Saturday, July 10, 2010

Marvelman Family's Finest No.1

Last year Marvel Comics bought the rights to the classic British superhero Marvelman and whilst speculation is still rife as to their position on the 1980s material, the company have just issued a comic reprinting some of the 1950s strips.

Despite the dark brooding figure on Marko Djurdjevic's cover, Marvelman Family's Finest No.1 gathers together five lighthearted short strips from the years 1954-57 from the pages of Marvelman Nos. 72, 102, and 222, Young Marvelman No.57, and Marvelman Family No.3. The artwork is by Mick Anglo, George Parlett, Don Lawrence and Norman Light and the format is similar to the Marvelman comics of old; glossy colour covers and black and white pulp paper interiors. There's also bonus features showing the development of Doug Braithwaite's variant cover, and a 1950's cover gallery.

Although it holds a curiosity value for comic historians I'm at a loss to understand exactly who Marvel think their core audience for this comic is. The problem as I see it is that although Marvel declare this an "All Ages" title on its barcode I can't really imagine many children enjoying it, assuming that children even visit the comic shops where distribution of this comic is limited to. (Sorry folks, you won't find this in your local newsagent.) The strips are very dated, and perhaps too unsophisticated for modern children and, if the online reaction so far is anything to go by, the same aspects will also put off the 20-plus fan market I think, which is Marvel's usual target audience these days.

That said, if one approaches the stories with a sense of post-modern irony one should get a kick out of it. The plots are completely barmy. In the lead story Gargunza decides that he's going to eliminate mountains from the Earth because they're "a curse to mankind". You see, "They get covered in snow, which melts, and the water rushes down, flooding towns and villages".

In another story two gardeners argue about the size of their marrows, prompting the King of he Vegetables to cause chaos on the surface world.

Were these stories deliberately written tongue in cheek for fun, or hacked out with little thought to the plots and dialogue? I suspect it's the former, and 50 years later we can now appreciate their humour in a new light. That's what these strips are all about; completely lighthearted daftness and Marvelman Family's Finest is a nice alternative to the grim and gritty tone of most current U.S. comics.

Marvelman Family's Finest No.1 (of 6) is $3.99 from comic specialist stores.

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