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Tuesday, May 31, 2011

Spirit of Hope now available for pre-order

No one could have failed to have been moved by the tragic earthquakes in New Zealand and Japan earlier this year, and by the tsunami which devastated large areas of Japan. In March, Tim Pilcher of the Comic Book Alliance put the call out to the comics community for contributions for a new charity comic book to raise funds to hopefully help those shattered communities in whatever small way it could.

Numerous comics creators quickly responded to the call, giving their services for free to donate brand new pages for the project. Spirit of Hope is its title and the book will feature 116 pages showcasing an amazing variety of styles. Overseeing the project is Alan Cowsill, an experienced editor known for his work at Marvel UK and, more recently, on the Marvel and DC Figurine Collection partworks.

Spirit of Hope is now available for pre-order. There are two covers to choose from. One by Jimmy Broxton:

The other by Mike Allred:

Here's the impressive list of contributors in no particular order:

Peter Hogan
Adrian Bamforth
Richmond Clements
Gary Spencer Millidge
Al Davison
Leonie O’Moore
Glenn Dakin
Darick Roberston (art shown here:)

Jason Atomic
Neil Roberts
Liam Sharpe
Jim Campbell
Michiru Morikawa
Rob Williams
Declan Shalvey
Jordie Bellaire
Brandon DeStefano
Leigh Gallagher
Nick Abadzis
Martin Eden
Alan Cowsill
John Ross
Maria Pickering
Gary Gilbert
Ant Jones
Grant Perkins
Eva Perkins
Geoffrey D. Wessel
Henry Flint
Emma Flint
David Leach
Glenn B Flemming
Al Ewing
Gary Erskine
Si Spencer
Jessica Kemp
Mark Buckingham (art shown here:)

Matt Gibbs
James Reekie
Chris Western
Martin Conaghan
Vicky Stonebridge
Paul McLaren
Sean Michael Wilson
Michiru Morkawa
Ant Williams
Rich Johnston
Mike Collins
Jason Cobley
Andrew Wildman
Steve Tanner
Graeme Howard
Benjamin Dickson
Martyn Pick
Alan Grant
Kev Hopgood
Paul H Birch
Gary Crutchley
Mats Engesten
Yel Zamor
John Robbins
S Thompson
Donna Barr
Jasper Bark
Vicky Stonebridge
Al Davison
Jon Haward
David Pugh
Nigel Lowrey
Tony Lee
Dan Boultwood
Ciaran Lucas
Lew Stringer
Simon Colby
Akiko Shimojima (supported by Sean Micheal Wilson) (art shown here:)

Natalie Abadzis
GM Jordan
Alex Moore

Copies of the book can now be ordered in advance at £14.99 + £3.00 p&p. Please state your preference of cover - Jimmy Broxton or Michael Allred. Advance orders will be sent out and will hopefully include 3 small limited edition prints of the covers and an extra picture. The address is: The Comic Book Alliance, PO Box 165, Marple, Cheshire SK6 7BL. Cheques & Postal Orders should be made out to 'The Comic Book Alliance'.

Having seen a preview of all the pages a few weeks ago I can safely say it is a stunning publication featuring a mixture of comic strips and full page illustrations. I'm very proud to be a part of it.

Monday, May 30, 2011

All the news that's fit to print

Recent times have seen the demise of comics news mag Wizard in the USA and the prestigious Comics Journal making its move to digital. Therefore it's heartening to see that here in the UK we can still support print editions of comics-dedicated magazines. (Update: The Comics Journal still exists as an annual in book format, but the regular magazine is no more.)

Comic Heroes reached its sixth issue recently and despite carrying a £7.99 price tag seems to have found a loyal readership. This issue comes packaged in a card envelope as usual, and this month the "free" gifts are the regular Sidekick comic (previewing upcoming comics), a DC Comics promo poster, and, great news chums, a set of League of Extraordinary Gentlemen fridge magnets with artwork by Kevin O'Neill.

As we've now come to expect, the contents of the 132 page issue show the variety of comics out there these days, with features ranging from the X-Men to Fables, with spotlights on Italian artist Lorenzo Mattotti to writer Matt Fraction.

If your tastes are solely devoted to UK comics there's a few items that should be of interest, including Gary Millidge talking about his forthcoming biography on Alan Moore... Rob Power talking about Battle Picture Weekly and Pat Mills saying how it rebooted the increasingly lifeless boys' adventure comic scene of the 1970s.

There are also extensive reviews and a section giving practical advice to aspiring inkers. All in all another great issue.

Another magazine that appeared recently was Multiverse No.2. Slimmer than Comic Heroes and, at £2.50, substantially cheaper, it still packs a lot into its 52 pages. Very nicely designed by Barry Renshaw and published/edited by Mike Conroy, Multiverse offers us a bit more depth to the news stories that websites might perhaps only cover superficially.

The majority of items in Multiverse focus on American comics. That's understandable. The mag is only sold in comic book stores, not newsagents, so it's targeting that demographic of teen to adult readers. Although it'd be nice to see an item on current British mainstream comics I'm not sure if Multiverse's readers would warm to it. Unlike Comic Heroes, there aren't any nostalgic features on old comics in Multiverse, because its aim is to focus on current developments which is fair enough. No one would wish the two magazines to be too similar, and I find that Multiverse and Comic Heroes compliment each other and are both essential reads for anyone interested in comics.

As good as online comic news sites are, it's useful to have the information in print. (Not to mention it being easier on the eyes.) When it comes to having a relaxing read, digital still can't compete with paper just yet.

There are two main attractions with digital. A) the news is free, and B) they can immediately post their opinions and interact with like-minded fans. (Or, given the number of arguments on the net, not so like-minded.) However, the really important stuff, such as a well-written article one can relax and enjoy, is still presented better in paper format in my opinion.

Thirty years or more ago I was a regular subscriber to fanzines such as Bem and Comic Media News. Eventually all those fanzines faded away, so it's good to see two professional comics mags still holding their own. Remember the fates of Wizard and The Comics Journal and give your support to Multiverse and Comic Heroes.

Comic Heroes is available from WH Smith and other newsagents. Multiverse is available from comics specialist shops such as Nostalgia & Comics.

Commando wins Eagle Award

The results of this year's Eagle Awards were presented at the MCM Expo in London on Friday night and DC Thomson's Commando won the award for Favourite British Black and White Comic.

The Eagle Awards were introduced in 1976 and although recognized as pre-eminent international accolades it has to be said that most mainstream British comics tend to slip under the radar of most voters. It's therefore quite an achievement for Britain's longest running adventure comic to receive this recognition, particularly in this, its 50th anniversary year.

"It goes without saying that everyone at Commando HQ was highly delighted", said Commando editor Calum Laird. "But it’s not all about the small handful of us here, the award is a fitting recognition of the work of all those who have put so much into the title over the last 50 years. It is their efforts that have made Commando so highly-regarded the comics world."

Calum also gave thanks to blogs such as Blimey! and Down the Tubes for promoting Commando over the past few years: "This includes our legion of supporters (you) who have helped keep awareness of Commando so high in the minds of comic-buyers. I regard you as very much part of our team."

(Not a problem Calum. It's a pleasure to promote such a comic institution and well done to all the creators and staff of Commando for this recognition of their highly professional standards. Here's to the next half century!)

Visit the slick new Commando website now to read previews of the latest issues, interviews with some of the creators, and lots of other goodies:

Visit the Bleeding Cool website for a full list of this year's Eagle Awards Winners plus a video of Dave Gibbons' acceptance speech for the well-deserved Roll of Honour Award:

Sunday, May 29, 2011

Comic Oddities: Sticker Fun Books (1960s)

Kids love stickers and, back in the Sixties, most kids loved comics too. Someone had the idea of combining the two and the result was a range of Sticker Fun Books published by both WDL (World Distributors Limited) and Century 21 Publishing.

I'm not sure exactly how many of these books were produced as I only had the four shown here. However the format appears to have been the same for all: large size, card covers, 8 interior pages. Stapled into the centre pages was a large sheet of full colour gummed stickers. The artwork on the stickers showed various segments from the stories within the books. For example some might show an arm and part of a torso, others showing part of an aircraft, another showing a face etc. The idea being that you'd stick the segments into their appropriate places in the story, adding colour to otherwise black and white strips.

There wasn't a sticker to cover every piece of black and white artwork, so for additional fun you were expected to colour the rest yourself. As you can see from the examples, I didn't really bother personally.

Basically then, these were colouring books that would do part of the job for you once you'd put the sticker segments in place. Although this passed the time pleasantly enough the results could be a bit rough if the stickers weren't quite placed properly, as shown in the scans here.

The Captain Scarlet and Joe 90 books each featured a story in comic strip format. Stylistically they looked just like the sort of strips that would turn up in the TV21 Annuals so were no doubt produced by the same team. Jim Watson provided the artwork, - a frequent contributor to the Century 21 comics and annuals.

In 1966, a couple of years prior to Century 21's Captain Scarlet and Joe 90 editions, WDL had produced Sticker Fun Books for Batman and Thunderbirds. Same format, but these only featured full page illustrations accompanied by short text to tell the story. In fact the Thunderbirds one didn't even have a story, just a series of eight illustrations introducing the basic premise.

Although simplistic by modern standards the Sticker Fun Books were an enjoyable enough piece of Sixties nostalgia. Priced at 2/6d each (12 and a half pence) they were over four times the price of the average comic, but they'd be given as Christmas stocking fillers or perhaps as an extra birthday present.

Saturday, May 28, 2011

In the shops now

Here's a brief roundup of some of the British comics that are available right now...

Spaceship Away No.23 £7.50
The first issue under the new editor Des Shaw, the thrice-a-year Spaceship Away pretty much carries on as before but with a few tweaks. The illustration on the cover is just part of a wonderful new illustration by Don Harley that takes up the centre spread.

Brand new Dan Dare strips this issue are part three of Parsecular Tales by Tim Booth, and part one of Pre-Emptive Strike by John Freeman and Mike Nicoll. There's an amusing crossover with Ray Aspen's humour strips Mekki and Our Bertie, and the reprint strips are Shadow Over Britain from Express Weekly and Garth from the Daily Mirror. Features include an interview with David Motton, scriptwriter on Dan Dare in the 1960s.

Spaceship Away is available at some comic specialist shops or you can buy it online here:

The cover of Judge Dredd Megazine this month looks like the sort of comic Eagle set out to challenge. Fortunately in a tolerant society both types of comic can live in harmony. Yes, it's Judge Dredd as a zombie, - or rather the modern idea of zombies; flesh-eating ghouls. Brendan McCarthy provides the striking cover artwork and also for the relevant 10 page Dredd story inside, written by Rob Williams.

Other contents include Anderson Psi Division by Alan Grant with stunning artwork by Boo Cook; Numbercruncher part 6 by Si Spurrier and PJ Holden; and the first part of the new Samizdat Squad story by Arthur Wyatt and Paul Marshall. Features include interviews with Steve Dillon and Matt Brooker.

The comic comes bagged with a full colour Flesh graphic novel and the whole package costs £5.49. Worth it though!

The horror theme continues in this week's Doctor Who Adventures with a startling photo cover showcasing the latest TV episode. The magazine has had a redesign recently and is all the better for it. Admittedly it's strictly aimed at kids but the feature pages are still less literate than children's comics of my day which is a shame. That said, the four page comic strip Reality Cheque by Christopher Couper and John Ross is a well structured articulate piece that's leagues ahead of the early Doctor Who strips of TV Comic. Bagged with a few gifts for its usual price of £2.50.

A surprise, unadvertised, publication this week was The Ultimate Beano Summer Special No.1. Legend has it Summer Specials ended because retailers hated one publication taking up shelf space for months, but DC Thomson have an exclusive arrangement with WH Smith for this issue, which is only available in their stores.

Don't expect to see the tabloid glossy special of old though. This is a 64 page A4 size softback book consisting solely of reprints from Beano Summer Specials of old. More of a publication about old specials rather than one itself, with each page carrying the date of its original source. Although the pages are scanned from the old issues, the reproduction on the quality glossy paper is excellent and it's a fine showcase of classics from Davy Law, Dave Sutherland, Jim Petrie and others. £4.99

This week's Dandy is one of those bumper 44 page special issues that DC Thomson now produce every time there's a school holiday. The cover is in the tall format to give it prominence on the shelves, and the back cover also carries the Dandy logo to thwart retailers who stack the comics back to front. Unfortunately it didn't thwart by local Smiths who had it displayed upside down.

Contents are 100% new, with brilliant work from Jamie Smart, Wayne Thomson, Andy Fanton, Nigel Parkinson and the usual regulars. £2.50

The latest Toxic is also a bumper issue for the school break. I was ill when this issue was being put together so Team Toxic is reprint this time, but I did provide artwork for two double page feature pages; Pirate Maze and Toxic Footy Awards. There's also new strips featuring Gorilla Kid by Jason Loborik and Anthony Williams and Robin Hoodie by Luke Paton and Laura Howell. Plus a bunch of features and a pile of bagged gifts. £2.75

The adult comic Clint has now reached issue 8 and seems to be giving priority to artwork on covers at last instead of pasty-faced celebrities like Frankie Boyle. The 100 page monthly hasn't really lived up to the expectations of it being a new British adventure comic as its strips are all reliant on American reprint or material that wouldn't be here if it wasn't also being published in the USA (eg: Kick Ass 2). That said, for those of us who haven't bought the US comics this is an economical way of obtaining them.

This issue sees the start of Image Comics' Who Is Jake Ellis, full of fast paced intrigue and like a sleazy version of Randall and Hopkirk (Deceased). We also get part 3 of Mark Millar's Superior, with great artwork from Leinil Yu; the final part of black comedy The Pro by Garth Ennis and Amanda Conner; another chapter of Turf by Jonathan Ross and Tommy Lee Edwards; and the aforementioned Kick Ass 2 by Mark Millar and John Romita Jr. The violence and language won't be to everyone's tastes but, y'know, it's only a comic. £3.99

Finally, the latest issue of Viz just dropped through my adults-only letterbox. 52 pages of irreverent fun, sharp satire, and sweary comic characters beneath another great cover by Simon Thorp. Guaranteed to offend someone, somewhere, from humourless priests to mad beardy hermits. (At time of press Bin Laden was not available for comment.) £3.20

Tuesday, May 24, 2011

The Phoenix shows off its plumage

Here's the logo for The Phoenix, the brand new British comic coming out next year. They have a date too, - January 2012. The months will either fly by or we'll be spitting feathers in anticipation of drinking in the comic's goodness. (Don't worry. I'm sure the comic itself won't have bird puns that bad.)

The Phoenix blog has been updated with the info, so keep an eye on over the coming months for all the news. A brand new weekly comic! Exciting innit?

Incoming Commandos

Here's the four issues of Commando that will be out this week. Thanks again to editor Calum Laird at DC Thomson for the info:

Commando No 4395: Nightmare In Stalingrad

Take a mission to a city under siege where two armies were locked in a battle to the death. Add in a sadistic and murderous NKVD officer and a mind-control device, powerful enough to turn any man into a fighting fury, and what do you have?
Just another day at the office for the Convict Commandos…

Story: Alan Hebden
Art: Benet
Cover Art: Benet

Did you know you can vote for your favourite bunch of Commando Heroes on our Facebook page? Headline Heroes, Convict Commandos or Ramsey’s Raiders.

Commando No 4396: GUERRILLA ACE

Karl Braun a German fighter pilot who hates the Nazi regime deserts and stows away on a ship to the Far East. When he gets to the Philippines, though, war has followed him and he finds himself a prisoner at a small jungle airstrip.
His Australian captors want to hit back at the invading Japanese and hatch a plan to use a battered Avro Anson aircraft as a makeshift bomber. They also have a P40 Tomahawk fighter but no pilot…or do they?

Story: Ferg Handley
Art: Morahin
Cover Art: Ian Kennedy

Commando No 4379: DESERT MONSTER

“No, Herr Hauptman, I have not been out in the sun too long. With my own eyes I saw it…it had six sides, as many guns as a pocket-battleship and moved like a great crab at about one hundred kilometres an hour. A tank? No, it wasn’t a tank. It was more like a monster…”
And after that report from a badly-frightened radio operator came into Nazi HQ, a wave of fear swept the desert. What was the Thing that struck from the shadows like a prehistoric beast? Only four men knew…and they were all listed as dead!

Introduction by Calum Laird, Commando Editor

It’s strange, I remembered this story very clearly from 40-odd years ago yet it wasn’t until I read it again for its re-issue that it struck me that whoever came up with the idea for the A-Team had been beaten to the punch by decades. Not only do we have the mechanical wizards, we even have a cigar-smoking hero!
At the age of 11, the creation of The Thing — the Desert Monster — fired my imagination so much that I tried to build a model of one myself. Of course I didn’t manage but that just made the heroes so much the better.
So, I challenge you have a look at this one and tell me that Lars, Alf, Jack and Tex — created and given form by Messrs Skentleberry and Quesada — aren’t better that their modern counterparts. The A*-Team, that’s them!

Story: Skentleberry
Art: Quesada
Cover Art: Lopez Espi
First Published as No 298 (November 1967)

Commando No 4398: LUCKY LARRIGAN

A truckload of Italians who wanted only one thing — to surrender. They’d had enough of the war, getting shot at by their own side as well as the British, and now they simply wanted out. They would surrender to anyone who would have them.
But what was that over there, glinting in the sun? A gold pocket-watch, and beside it and English pilot, staked out to die of thirst…

Introduction by Scott Montgomery, Commando Deputy Editor

Commando heroes have had their share of charms and mascots through the decades and, at first glance, this story seems to be about English pilot Ben Larrigan’s lucky gold pocket-watch and whether it’ll see him safely through the war.
However, a truck-full of cowardly Italian soldiers, desperate to surrender, are the real stars especially Gino Coppa, the hyperactive sergeant who refers to himself in the third person and unexpectedly bursts into song with his chums every now and then. He’s a marvellous creation, appearing in a memorable desert adventure.
We’re lucky that the Commando vaults are full of such gems and I’m lucky to have had the chance to select and share this brilliant tale with you 30 years on.

Story: Cyril Walker
Art: Enriquez
Cover: Ian Kennedy

First Published as No 1528 (July 1981)

Sunday, May 22, 2011

Hunt Emerson's latest work

Most of you will be familiar with the work of Hunt Emerson, a master cartoonist equally at home drawing material for Fortean Times, Fiesta, The Beano, or his comic album adaptations of Lady Chatterley's Lover and The Rime of the Ancient Mariner for Knockabout... but did you know that he was also a musician?

Hunt's latest musical venture has been in association with the band Stately Homes of England to release the single Josephine. The song was written and sung by John Otway originally about 20 years ago when it was first released.

Personally I prefer this new version of Otway's classic. Sung by Hunt Emerson who is in fine voice here, Josephine is, as Hunt's website puts it "an epic tale of innocence lost set on a village green during traditional revels" and is "dripping with pagan passions".

The CD features eight tracks with a variety of mixes of the song and comes in a stunningly illustrated sleeve which also contains two art cards. You can also buy a version accompanied by four A3 prints all signed by Hunt. (His version of The Green Man of folklore looks fantastic.)

Want a taster of what's on the CD? Visit Hunt Emerson's website where you can listen to the short version of Josephine and then order your copy of the CD and the prints:

Saturday, May 21, 2011

No more Heroes

As you may have already heard elsewhere, Panini UK will no longer be allowed to produce new material featuring Marvel characters. This is a decision made by Disney, who acquired Marvel in 2009.

At first glance this seems like a poor business decision. For the past several years Panini have been commissioning brand new strips for their boys adventure comics Marvel Heroes and Spectacular Spider-Man. Each story was approved by Marvel US, the comics have proven to be very popular, the strips are kid-friendly, have introduced many new readers to the Marvel universe, and it created material that Disney could export to other territories if they'd wished.

However it seems that Disney now only want Marvel strips to be produced in America which will then be exported for various homogeneous international editions. (Pretty much as already happens with the standard Marvel material that Panini use in their 76 page Collectors Editions.) I guess this cuts out the middle man and gives Disney more control but it may also present problems. Readers of Marvel Heroes and Spectacular Spider-Man are accustomed to a writing style tailored for children, in strips that vary from 7 to 11 pages in length. Will the Disney/Marvel material fit the same specifics or will Panini find they have to run 22 page stories or chop them up into shorter episodes they were never designed for?

Of course the worst aspect of this is the loss of work for many UK freelancers who were contributing to those titles. People like Ferg Handley, Andie Tong, Jon Haward, Mike Collins, Simon Williams, John McCrea, Gary Erskine, David Roach, Lee Townsend and many more. Bear in mind that Marvel Heroes and Spectacular Spider-Man were the only two boys adventure comics left in the UK other than DC Thomson's Commando and one realizes that this is a major blow to British comics. (One can only hope that Strip Magazine in October and The Phoenix next year can turn things around.)

The issue of Marvel Heroes (No.36) out now is the last one to feature UK originated material. The end of an era is appropriately marked with a Captain Britain/Captain America team up by Ferg Handley and Mike Collins. (Mike having worked on the first UK originated Spider-Man strip in Marvel UK's Spider-Man Nos.607-610 in 1984.)

Next month, Marvel Heroes changes its title to Marvel Super-Heroes but continues the numbering. The ad promises "Brand new comic strip adventures". New to the UK that is, but not originated here.

All is not lost though. Panini UK have licenses to properties other than Marvel, and new strip material will continue in Doctor Who Magazine and no doubt we'll eventually see new non-Marvel titles too. They're down but not out.

Sunday, May 15, 2011

Another enjoyable Expo in Bristol

Thanks to Mike Allwood, Phil Davis and the gang for yet another enjoyable Bristol International Comic and Small Press Expo which took place this weekend. Weather was mostly good, the company was great, and the atmosphere was relaxing and friendly.

It's always good to have a break from the drawing board and catch up with old comic pals (some I've known now for 30 years!), meet new people, and do some sketches for the readers. (Thanks to all of you who dropped by for a drawing on Saturday afternoon.)

Here's a handful of photos from the event...

It's the Etherington Brothers! Yes, the creators of Monkey Nuts for The DFC and Yore! for The Dandy (amongst many other things) were at the Expo. I had no hesitation in buying the beautifully produced Monkey Nuts hardback. Recommended! Throw them some money and own one yourself!

The Small Press part of the Expo took place at the Mercure Hotel, just a very short walk from the Ramada where the "Mainstream" comics were. Above is a shot of one of the Mercure halls on Saturday.
Elephantmen creator Richard Starkings (on the right, with artist Boo Cook beside him) flew over from California again for the Expo. If you've never read Elephantmen give it a go, starting with Book One: Wounded Animals. It's a comic with a good heart, and deserves the praise and success it's received.
Over at the Ramada, Panini UK had a table to display their impressive range of trade paperbacks and graphic novels. Left to right here's Panini editors Simon Frith and Brady Webb with artist Adrian Salmon attending his first Bristol Expo.
Also present were Gary Millidge and Bryan Talbot. Bryan's Grandville Mon Amour is out now and is worth every penny (see the trailer here) and Alan Moore:Storyteller by Gary will be published in July. (I had a look through this preview copy and was very impressed. Gary's done his homework and there's lots of previously unseen images and info in there. A whacking great 320 page hardcover, and you can order it here.)

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