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Saturday, June 25, 2011

Comic Heroes 7 hits the stands

Distribution on Future Publishing's Comic Heroes must be improving as I found three copies in my corner shop this morning. (Usually only WH Smith and one independent shop in town sells it around here.) The latest issue, No.7, is once again packed with a variety of features.

There's not so much to please fans of traditional British comics this time unfortunately. (Partly my fault as I haven't submitted any such features to the mag for a while but I would hope others might also submit some articles.) However for fans of 1980s comics there is an article on Marvel UK's fan fave Transformers comic including comments by Simon Furman.

The rest of the mag is quite superhero-centric, but that's to be expected with a summer of superhero movie blockbusters. There's a fair bit on Batman in this issue, including an interview with Batman Incorporated writer Grant Morrison, a look at the changing face of Batman over the decades, and a feature on the new video game Arkham City.

There are also articles on Supergirl, the Captain America movie, The Punisher, and an interview with the legendary Joe Simon. Outside of the superhero sphere Paul Gravett spotlights the French artist Winshluss whose latest book Pinocchio is a must-buy brilliant adult spin on the classic story. (Out now from Knockabout and not to be missed. Available from Amazon here.)

Comic Heroes always features a section which gives practical advice to aspiring professionals. This issue it looks at the art of comic book lettering with contributions about their experiences from top letterers Simon Bowland, Joe Caramanga, Jim Campbell, Brandon DeStefano, Ellie Deville, Annie Parkhouse, Nate Piekos, Clem Robins, John Roshell, and Ian Sharman.

Add to this a bunch of other features, reviews, the additional Sidekick comic (previewing pages from upcoming comics), a free poster and a free glow-in-the-dark Green Lantern ring that would only fit the very young or the extremely petite and you have another worthy package for your hard earned £7.99.

Gene Colan passes away

Above: Two pages from Tomb of Dracula No.1 (1972).

Gene Colan, one of the truly original greats of American comics passed away at the age of 84 on June 23rd 2011. His career spanned from the mid 1940s to the present day, covering an incredible amount of work including mystery and horror strips, Iron Man, Daredevil, Doctor Strange, Night Force, Howard the Duck, and, perhaps his most highly regarded run on a title, illustrating all 70 issues of Marvel's Tomb of Dracula (1972-79).

A master of illustrating mood and shadow, Gene Colan's fluid and highly distinctive style won him countless fans and the respect of his peers.

News of the artist's passing has quickly spread on the internet and tributes are already springing forth. Marvel Comics will be featuring a tribute to him in the back of the relaunched Daredevil No.1 in July.

Above: Two pages from 'Slow Glass' (Unknown Worlds of Science Fiction No.1, 1975)

Tuesday, June 21, 2011

National Army Museum to host exhibition of Commando comics

Opening on September 1st, a major exhibition of artwork from DC Thomson's Commando comic is to be displayed at the National Army Museum in London. The event commemorates the 50th anniversary of the long-running comic and according to Commando editor Calum Laird "upwards of 70 Commando covers will be on display, from every period of our history". You can find out more about the museum by visiting its website:

Speaking of Commando, the latest four issues will be on sale this week. Here's Calum Laird with all the info:

The four Commandos which come out this Thursday are a major milestone for Commando. They include No 4404 which is our 50th birthday edition, specially written for the occasion. I think it has all the ingredients which we have tried to mix in over the years and I hope everyone will enjoy it.

We certainly enjoyed working on it and no, there are no prizes for spotting any in jokes.

The actual birthday is the 27th of the month, next Monday. Cakes and crates of (non-alcoholic) ale may be addressed to the Commando Office.

Commando 4403: The Defector? — Which side is he on?

Lieutenant Levka Kosilev was a man of principle, a man who would repay a debt of honour. The Russian officer had only survived the dark days of World War II thanks to the actions of a brave American corporal and his squad. He knew how much he owed them.
Some years later Levka — now an observer with the forces of the North during the Korean War — expectedly found himself in a position to settle the debt. To do so, however, he would have to defect. Could he do it?

Story: Freg Handley
Inside Art: Keith Page
Cover Art: Keith Page

Commando 4404: Misfit Squad

Dave, Brian, Pete and Sid were undoubtedly the worst soldiers their C.O. had ever come across. He doubted they would ever get through their basic training. But Sergeant Rod Black thought differently, he could see something in the four that no one else could.
And one night in June some 50 years ago he and his misfit squad got the chance to prove him right…or wrong!

Story: Mac MacDonald
Inside Art: Carlos Pino
Cover Art: Carlos Pino

Introduction to the 5oth birthday edition

Lots of things have changed over the last 50 years...the Berlin wall has risen and fallen, the moon now has bootprints on it and the internet has changed the world in a way that could not have been foreseen in June 1961.
But amongst all these changes, some things have remained unaltered. Take Commando for instance - it's still packed with action and adventure, everyman heroes and villains, and the best comic art still resides on and between its covers.
To celebrate our 50 years, a special story has been written. And it's got all those qualities that make Commando something special.
This is that story and the whole Commando team, past, present and future, hopes that you'll enjoy it as much as No1 was enjoyed in June 1961.

Commando 4405: Heads You Win Can’t Lose

When Ned Dolan flicked a penny in the air and David Bradford called tails, it looked as though he had signed his own death warrant — for the loser was to become bait for a deadly German sniper. And Dolan had never — but never — lost a toss with this special penny.

Story: Cyril Walker
Inside Art: J. Fuente
Cover Art: Penalva

Introduction by Calum Laird, Commando Editor

Re-reading this book after so many years, I began to think that I had chosen the wrong book. Sure, Penalva’s cracking cover with its crazy viewpoint was as I remembered it, but I didn’t recall the armoured cars. Then the jeeps arrived and I knew all was well. I even remembered the balloon which began, “fellow footsloggers of the humble infantry…” and the huge fist fight that followed.
In fact, the punch-ups are almost the signature of Snr Fuente’s inside artwork. He puts so much action and movement into them that they don’t seem like static pictures at all. Later I would work with author Cyril Walker’s material, something I’m sure I acquired a taste for in this tale of double-dealing and double-crossing.

Tails You Win Can’t Lose, originally Commando No 368 (November 1968), re-issued as No 1091 (January 1977).

Commando 4406: A Stirling Called Satan

It was dead unlucky, that Stirling bomber. Flying low it would catch most of the flak, flying high it was certain to be pounced on by enemy fighters. Every time the crew set off on another mission they wondered if it was going to be their last. Even its number, five-three-five, added up to thirteen…

Story: R.A. Montague
Inside Art: Mira
Cover Art: Keith Walker

Introduction by Mike Stirling, Beano Editor

To pick my favourite issue was a challenging mission, because I’ve enjoyed several lengthy engagements with Commando over the years. I’ve chosen A Stirling Called Satan for several reasons. Most importantly, I remember first encountering it in 1988.
I was fourteen, at secondary school and my favourite subject was history. I loved reading too, so Commando was a natural choice after moving on from The Beano and Roy of the Rovers. Imagine how excited I was when I saw my name on the cover — even if it was connected with Satan himself!
I was so captivated by idea that there was a plane called the “Stirling” that I actually bought, and built, a model kit version. Well, actually two versions; my first attempt at painting it was a disaster.
The story is classic Commando; ordinary guys doing extraordinary things. I always tried to imagine what I’d do in similar situations. I never ran away, but it’s easy to be brave in your imagination. There is a freaky superstitious undertone too — nothing is predictable in a Commando story.
I still enjoy Commando today, even amongst all the fabulous publications I’m privileged to read as part of my job. It just goes to prove that Commando’s brand of action and adventure resonates across ages.

A Stirling Called Satan, originally Commando No 869 (September 1974), re-issued as No 2159 (February 1988)

Monday, June 13, 2011

Get your season ticket. Here comes Comic Football!

Launching a new comic these days is a very risky business. Sales of all periodicals are gradually falling, retailers have more power over the sort of comics they stock and they charge enormous fees just for shelf space (that's before they take their cut of the cover price). There are also distribution costs and other overheads on top of print costs and contributor rates.

Small wonder then that most publishers are reluctant to try anything other than recognized brands or licensed merchandise tie-ins. All is not doom and gloom though. We have Strip Magazine coming in October, The Phoenix in January, and, right here, right now, is the new children's humour title Comic Football.

The brainchild of Pete Wildrianne and Clive Ward, Comic Football has its origins in a comic called Rammie which I covered here on this blog three years ago. Rammie was a comic sold at the Derby County matches and had limited distribution to newsagents. A similar title with some of the same content rejigged was used in Wolfie a comic for Wolverhampton Wanderers. Comic Football is a more general purpose football comic and is only available at present by subscription.

"We are looking at other outlet opportunities though not the conventional
news trade route at the moment" said Pete Wildrianne. "We launched at the Grass Roots show at the NEC last weekend, and distributed about 4000 comics to kids and parents."

It's quite understandable that publishers want to avoid the costly middle men of the retail trade but The DFC was also limited to subscription-only and that didn't really work out too well. Can Comic Football expand beyond that? "We are also looking to wholesale the comic to local junior football clubs" continued Pete Wildrianne. "They can then sell to their players and the profit goes to funding grass roots football. This is receiving a lot of interest, and we are exhibiting at two further major shows this month which target junior managers, coaches etc. We have also linked up with a company who provide fundraising nights for clubs, and another company who hold events across the country promoting street football."

So what's the comic itself actually like? Well, it's a nice 32 page A4 glossy package and features professional work from Karl Dixon, Nick Brennan, Duncan Scott, Nick Miller and others.
There are 14 strips in total, ranging from one to three pages in length, and two of them are serial strips. The editors previous experience on Rammie has served them well and it looks a smart package easily on par with any comic on the stands.

Would you like a free sample copy of the issue shown here? You can download a digital version or order the paper copy from the Comic Football website. Give it a go and support UK comics:

The website also gives you details on subscribing to the comic. It's just £9.99 for six months (six issues) delivered free to your home, or 12 months for £19.50. Remember, Comic Football is not available in the shops so at present this is your only way of obtaining copies.

Wednesday, June 01, 2011

A new beginning for the DC Universe

The internet was split in half yesterday, then shattered into tiny pieces, and then all the bits were ground into dust, scattered into a black hole, and came out the other side all bewildered, wide eyed and curious as DC Comics confirmed long-running rumours that all of their superhero universe titles would be relaunched in September.

Something like this needed to be done. Many of DC's comics had become new reader unfriendly due to all the baggage of continuity, crossovers and drawn out story arcs. The changes will come as a result of the current Flashpoint event running across the DC universe at present.

Have no doubt about it, this is a major relaunch. Every DC title will end this summer and restart with a new No.1 in September, and many characters will be redesigned and some will face a new status quo. (Rumour has it the Clark Kent/Lois Lane marriage will cease to exist.) As can be seen in the image at the top (promoting the new Justice League No.1) costumes have been tweaked (for better or worse), Superman appears younger (if that is indeed Kal-El), Wonder Woman's gained some muscle, and Green Lantern looks really excited about the whole thing in a Freudian way.

Here's the brief details: in September DC Comics will release 52 all-new No.1 issues, approximately 13 issues each week. (Assuming all the superstar creators can meet their deadlines.) On the same day as each comic is released a digital version will also be available for download. This is the first time a major comics publisher has gone day-and-date digtial across their line.

From our perspective, how will this affect international editions? Titan Magazines currently have the licence to produce DC comics in the UK. Their Batman Legends comic has had fluctuating frequency recently (monthly, then every 6 weeks, then monthly again) and the ailing Superman Legends was replaced by DC Universe Presents last year but that's gone to six-weekly now. A Justice League Legends title didn't fare too well a few years ago and was soon canceled. Will this give Titan the incentive and opportunity to try a few new UK DC titles, confident that the comics will be free of the burden of previous continuity? Or do the previous failures indicate that the UK newsstand readership isn't interested in DC characters other than Batman?

Will this bold move by DC actually work? I'm sure we remember things turned out when Marvel tried a similar thing with Heroes Reborn years ago. (The old continuity was restored a year later.) Will most titles stand alone so that new readers (and older readers returning to the fold) can understand (and afford) the storylines? Or will they make the same mistake of bringing in huge crossovers and confusing anyone who starts reading them later?

Time will tell, but if they really are dumping all the old continuity wouldn't that make their vast range of trade paperbacks redundant? Wouldn't it confuse new readers if, for example, they jump on board with Superman No.1, enjoy what they see, and then they pick up a Superman trade which features a completely different setup to the new comics?

This item just scratches the surface of the story. For more information keep your eyes on the regularly updated news sites such as these:

and of course of DC's own official website:

(Updated 6/6/2011 with new cover images.)
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