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Friday, December 31, 2010

The Old and the New

In the late 1960s I used to visit a second hand bookstall after I'd been to the Saturday morning ABC Minors matinees at the local Ritz cinema. Rooting through the stall for American comics was a perfect way to follow up a weekly fix of Flash Gordon serials and classic MGM and Warners cartoons. One day I found a comic I'd never seen before; Fantastic Tales No.4.

Fantastic Tales was in fact a British title; a 68 page "shilling comic" published by Top Sellers, the company who would later publish various full colour reprints of Tarzan, Korak, Laurel and Hardy and more. I think this particular issue was published in 1963/64, but on the second hand stall it cost me 6d back around 1968. Inside was a selection of various black and white short twist-in-the-tale supernatural stories reprinted from U.S. titles published by ACG (American Comics Group). Leading off the comic was an 8 pager that became one of my favourite stories of the genre, The Old and the New illustrated by Ogden Whitney. A story that originally appeared in ACG's Forbidden Worlds No.60, in 1952.

Now, for your New Year's Eve entertainment, you can read it too. Click on each image to see it larger, then you may have to click on it again to see it in full readable size..

Reading it now, the story isn't particularly shocking, but there's still something about it that fascinates me. Ogden Whitney, (famous for his work on Herbie for ACG) illustrates it superbly and right from the start there's an air of impending danger and something "not quite right". Whitney uses effective composition to pull the reader right into the story, such as page 4 panel 6, as we become helpless onlookers with the couple, and page 7 panel 2, where the girl turns directly to us as though we are in the back seat of the car.

Reading it for the first time in 2010 you might think it's a bit cheesy by modern standards, but I hope you enjoy it. These are the kind of stories that inspired The Twilight Zone and if you like those wonderful old Rod Serling shows you should enjoy this.

The same story was reprinted again several years later in one of Alan Class' comics, Suspense but the reproduction was poor. This time they used the actual cover too, although it ruins a major part of the story somewhat:

Here's the cover in its original form on the 1952 comic Forbidden Worlds where the story first appeared:

Wherever you're heading this New Year's Eve have a safe night, and if you end up at a party at a house you've never visited before, be sure to check the date.
Happy New Year 2011!

Thursday, December 30, 2010

The Freedom Collective

I received an interesting package a few weeks ago from longtime comic fan Iain Henderson which included this fine comic, The Freedom Collective. Published a few years ago by Glasgow's Rough Cut Comics the 32 page one-shot is well worth a look.

Edited and co-created by Iain Henderson (or Igor Sloano as he's called here) the idea behind The Freedom Collective is What If Stan Lee and Jack Kirby had been born behind the Iron Curtain? What kind of comic might they have produced at the height of the Cold War?

Like most people with an interest in comics I'm a huge fan of the Lee/Kirby comics of the 1960s. However it can't be denied that some of the anti-Communist stories in the Marvel Comics of the era were a tad over the top. This seemed only natural at the time of course, and what The Freedom Collective does is to cleverly mirror that from the Soviet perspective. "Communism's Mightiest Super-Heroes" are a Red reflection of Marvel's Avengers, with "MIG-4" instead of Iron Man, "Mastodon" instead of the Hulk, "Ajys the Ice Goddess" instead of Thor, "Homeland, Spirit of the Soil" instead of Giant-Man, and "Krimson Kommissar" instead of Captain America.

The script and inks are by Colin Barr with pencils by Dom Regan. The plot involves the Collective traveling to America to "rescue" a defector and his family from the evil clutches of capitalism. Everything is played straight and in doing so it heightens just how extreme Marvel used to be with their propaganda. Of course it leads the reader to chuckle along with the creators who are obviously enjoying turning our expectations upside down. In lesser hands this would have been done as a basic humour strip but here it's produced with intelligence and wryness.

As an added bonus even the ads in the comic follow the same conceit, inviting readers to send for the Kremlin Kraft Photo Retouching Kit and to Record Your Parents Voices At Home. There's also a letters page too, with of course any "subversive" anti-Soviet comments blacked out and the editor threatening the young readers with KGB intervention.

All in all it's brilliant. Simply brilliant. If you didn't buy a copy when it came out, put it on your list for 2011.

Igor Sloano's Freedom Collective MySpace page:

Rough Cut Comics website:

Monday, December 27, 2010

Annuals of Christmas 1970

When IPC had taken the Odhams comics under its wing in 1968 Smash! had been the only remnant of the five "Power Comics". IPC swiftly revamped Smash! into a clone of Lion and Valiant, but they still had the annuals to produce. Although Pow! and Wham! comics had ended a couple of years earlier I assume the annuals still sold well, so IPC retained the titles and published that year's Pow! Annual with a completely new line-up of characters never seen before, - or since!

The book's 80 pages featured ten brand new strips
all superby illustrated, mostly featuring new British superheroes! Here's the line up:

Here's a few of the characters. Bathed by the light of a passing UFO, Sandy Laker gained magnetic powers to become Magno, Man of Magnetism...

When Bob Shane saved the lift of Neptunius the hermit he was granted the power to become Aquavenger...

Accidentally sent back in time to the 20th Century, Mr.Tomorrow, Criminal from the Future, uses his knowledge to try and rule the world. (He fails by the way.)

Zapped in an accident at work, power plant worker Eddie Edwards becomes the superhero Electro...

...and who could fail to fear Norstad of the Deep?

The book is a bit of a mystery. Why did IPC go to the expense of creating 80 pages of new characters instead of filling it with funnies and Spider-Man reprints as in previous years? (IPC still had the rights to use Marvel characters as they ran them in TV21 around that time.) I don't recognize the artwork but it looks European. Was this reprinted in other countries, or did they just use European artists to save money? Whatever the story is behind the book, Pow! Annual 1970 remains a unique collector's item.

When it came to that year's Smash Annual IPC decided to revamp it in the same way they had the weekly. Therefore it leapt from the 80 page format it had during Odhams' run to a massive 160 pages, albeit with lots of reprint. A striking Geoff Campion cover showed us home-grown superhero Tri-Man bashing three crooks, whilst inside the Tri-Man strip was a nice full colour job by Ron Turner, giving us a totally different colour scheme for the costume. (The strip's weekly artist was Solano Lopez.)

Lopez was also the regular weekly artist on Master of the Marsh and Janus Stark, but not here. His annual assignment had been taken up by another artist. (It looks like the style of the artist who had drawn The Two Faces of Janus for Pow! but I don't know his name.)

Cursitor Doom's regular artist, Eric Bradbury, was present though, illustrating an atmospheric 8 pager. Or at least it would have been atmospheric if the art editor hadn't added green to it.

The funnies were present too, with Leo Baxendale providing us with Bad Penny and a couple of great Swots and Blots strips...

Amongst the reprints were Gordon Hogg's The Beat Boys, otherwise known as The Wacks when they had originally appeared in Wham!

Speaking of Wham! IPC decided to leave well alone with the annual for that year and instead of revamping the title it became the last resting place for the old weekly characters. For one final time, they all appeared together in the Wham! Annual 1971...

The lively cover by Gordon Hogg led into a spread on the inside with the characters causing havoc in the Bloody Tower...

Various collectors and sellers on eBay etc often think that Leo Baxendale contributed to every issue of Wham! and every annual. This is not the case and has led to confusion by some people over what actually is Leo's style. Most of the strips in the Wham! Annual 1970 were drawn by Cyril Price or Gordon Hogg, with a few by Terry Bave, Norman Mansbridge, and Mike Brown. This Tiddlers strip for example is by Cyril Price...

Georgie's Germs is also by Cyril Price. Lovely artwork and completely different to Baxendale's style...

Glugg was by Gordon Hogg. Quite a rough ending for ol' Glugg here...

Although Eagle-Eye, Junior Spy was initially by Baxendale in the weekly, before being taken over by Mike Lacey and others, the strips in this annual were drawn by Mike Brown, which is signed by him as you can see...

I'm not sure who the artist was on Frankie Stein in this book but it's definitely not by Ken Reid. (Whoever the artist was he went on the draw The Spooks of St.Lukes for Thunder weekly.)

Although the book is using fill-in artists on most of the strips it's still a great swan-song to the much loved characters. The writers are uncredited but it's possible it's entirely the work of Les Lilley who, according to his obituary (written by Denis Gifford) had written entire Wham annuals.

The following year IPC would turn Wham! Annual into a reprint vehicle for old Eagle strips bizarrely enough, and then merge Pow! Annual into it for 1973 and 1974. However, for the 1971 book, it ends with General Nitt and his Barmy Army in one final battle with General Hardup...

Incidentally, that same year IPC produced a spin-off called the Smash! Fun Book, which I covered on this blog here:

Sunday, December 26, 2010

Fleetway Annuals for 1986

Here's a flyer that was issued in comics in 1985 to advertise the 1986 range of IPC annuals. Recognize any that you had 25 years ago?

What a sad state of affairs that there are so few comic annuals published today, mostly replaced by merchandise-connected titles. However, the writing was on the wall 25 years ago with tv and merchandise related books such as Barbie, Grange Hill, and BMX beginning to make their presence felt and an already-dwindling number of comic annuals on the list. Even many of the books that were published that year (eg: Cor!!, Jackpot, Jinty,etc) no longer had their weekly comics. The sun was beginning to set on IPC's once mighty comics empire. For example, compare this list to the one for 1973 when IPC's comic titles dominated the market:

On a personal note, the Jackpot Annual 1986 featured my first artwork for IPC; drawing a four page Scooper story.

Saturday, December 25, 2010

Merry Christmas to all readers!

Found by the Dandy staff in a drawer in the office recently was the artwork for this fantastic piece by original Korky the Cat artist James Crichton. The year is unknown, but I'd guess it's the early 1950s or earlier. (If anyone knows for certain, please let me know.) It would have been used as a Christmas card for staff and freelancers.

Thanks to everyone for following the blog this year. I've been running Blimey! for four years now and I appreciate your feedback and the time you take to read my posts. I hope I've covered material that you're interested in! A very Merry Christmas to you all.

Friday, December 24, 2010

Christmas 1968: Lion

For this year's final flashback to old Christmas comics, here's the issue of Lion that was on sale in 1968, kicking off, quite literally, with a cover by the ever reliable Geoff Campion.

Inside, the Carson's Cubs strip that the cover referred to was illustrated by its usual artist, Fred T. Holmes, whose work is sometimes mistaken with Campion's.

Not every strip made a link with Christmas and some that did had a very weak connection, such as this panel from The Day the World Drowned drawn by Ted Kearon:

This issue saw the start of a new serial, The Mind Stealers. It has no Christmas reference but I thought you'd like to see it as it shows how atmospheric and creepy Tom Kerr's artwork could be before he became known as an artist of more lightweight stories. Great stuff!:

Robot Archie, renamed Robot Archie Time Traveller for a two month period during November '68 to January '69, found himself in the 18th Century for Christmas, even becoming a snowman. Here's that week's episode in full. Art by Ted Kearon:

The bonus features that comics had for Christmas were often entertaining too. Here's a Christmas Quiz for you to indulge in:

Finally, on the back page, some light relief at Mowser's Christmas Party drawn by Reg Parlett:

Enjoy your Christmas Eve celebrations tonight readers! Merry Christmas!

Christmas 1960: The Beezer

By 1960 The Beezer was still a relatively young comic compared to its sister titles in the D.C. Thomson stable. It only had 12 pages at this time, but the massive tabloid size, a dying format for comics by the 1960s, was a boon to The Beezer and its companion comic The Topper.

Pop, Dick and Harry are on the cover, drawn by Tom Bannister, wherein Dad's arrogance leads to his comeuppance in a typicaly tightly written script of the period.

Inside, The Black Sapper makes a bid for freedom through a department store, illustrated by Jack Glass, one of my favourite D.C. Thomson adventure artists. I loved the fact that his inkline wasn't too slick and polished, but had a sketchy energy about it.

Ginger, on page 5 a while before he returned to his cover position, is a straightforward but perfectly executed Dudley Watkins job. Ginger's Christmas presents (a trumpet, a Cowboy and Indian outfit, and a toy aeroplane) are a world away from what kids would want today.

The Beezer had quality artwork on every page in 1960, with all contributors at the top of their game. Page 8 in particular, as it features a Leo Baxendale Banana Bunch illustration. This was the start of Leo's most productive decade, which would see his influence reach across all British humour comics. An influence that is still in evidence to this day, 50 year later.

Another Tom Bannister page, Colonel Blink, was always worth a read as it was almost always incredibly funny. Inspired by Mr.Magoo, but a true classic in its own right. I'd venture that it was regularly funnier than Magoo.

On the back page, Bill Ritchie's Baby Crockett was a gentle way to round off such a madcap issue, and what better way to end the Christmas issue than with carol singing?

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