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Monday, April 30, 2012

This week in 2068: TV21

Best licensed comic ever.
 On sale exactly 44 years ago in the very same week as the issue of Lion shown in the previous post was this edition of TV21. Of course, as it was the coolest comic on the stands it was dated 100 years ahead, May 4th 2068. 

By this time in TV21's run, Captain Scarlet had become a large influence on the comic, with the Spectrum logo becoming part of the masthead and different colour themes for each cover. The great Mike Noble illustrated the cover and the following three pages of the Captain Scarlet strip. You'll note that the cover headline proved to be quite alarmist in the end but it was a good way to hook the reader!

The other main draw in TV21 at this time was Thunderbirds, illustrated by Frank Bellamy. Originally three pages when it debuted in 1966, the strip had reduced to two by 1968 but Bellamy's dynamic artwork was still worth the cover price alone. (Although personally I found the style too heavy when I was a kid and always preferred Mike Noble's pages.)

Other strips this week included ex-Agent 21, Mr.Magnet by Rab Hamilton, with the strip going through a silly phase where Agent 21 had gained magnetic powers. Stingray, once TV21's main strip, had now been reduced to a page and a half in black and white, and, with Mike Noble busy drawing Captain Scarlet, Zero X was now drawn by Jim Watson...

Other features included The Munsters humour strip, a Project S.W.O.R.D. prose story, a reader's page and the perennial Corgi Model Club News

Want to see some advertisements from that issue to put it into its sixties context? Here's the latest incentive from Lyons Maid for their Zoom ice lolly. A straightforward but attractively designed ad...

I preferred Wall's Woppa

...whilst Kellog's Corn Flakes were featuring cut-out 'National Costume' models on the back of their boxes. I'm afraid it seemed a bit too educational for me back then and I went for Sugar Smacks and its free Captain Scarlet badges... 

No Morris Dancers then?

Saturday, April 28, 2012

This week in 1968: LION

Cover artwork by Geoff Campion
 British superheroes! In the issue of Lion that was on sale this week in 1968 the comic had changed a bit since the 1964 issue we looked at a few weeks ago. The standard regulars were still around, such as Carson's Cubs, Robot Archie, and Zip Nolan, but the influence of the Batman TV show and the increasing popularity of Marvel Comics had inspired the arrival of a few home-grown superheroes. 

The Spider had arrived in Lion in 1965 as a master crook but by 1968 his adventures were becoming even more fantastic in nature. This episode sees The Spider and a whole team of British superheroes battle the evil Limbo, climaxing with The Spider being banished to another dimension! 

The artwork on the first two pages is by series regular Reg Bunn, but pages three and four are clearly the work of someone else, presumably because Bunn was perhaps ill or otherwise unable to complete this episode in time...

This issue saw the very first appearance of Lion's newest superheroes, Gadgetman and Gimmick-Kid! It's completely daft but there's something very likable about it and the solid artwork is a treat. Sadly the strip only had a brief life, running just six months and ending in October of the that year. 

The Phantom Viking had joined Lion when Champion merged into the comic in 1966. The super-Viking was obviously the UK's version of Marvel's Thor, right down to his winged helmet and human alter-ego. Perhaps readers saw through it as The Phantom Viking never really achieved comic greatness, running for just two years. 

At first glance I thought this was the work of Jose Ortiz, but it's by Nevio Zeccara according to Steve Holland's Fleetway Companion index (and Steve usually knows his stuff regarding adventure comics). Nice inking technique on the underwater sequence on page two...

Want to see some classic ads that appeared in this issue of Lion 44 years ago? Here's a very stylish sixties Anglo bubble gum ad in comic strip form. There were a few different Anglo Ace strips in this campaign...

Om-nom-nom. Chew. Blow. Repeat forever.
Decimalisation was coming, slowly but surely, with the arrival of the 5p and 10p coins giving us a taster three years before the full system was introduced...

New fangled not-proper money.
The die-cast model vehicles of Dinky Toys (and their rivals Corgi) were still very popular in 1968. A model Ford Escort could be yours for 6/11d (34 and a half pence)...

Impress the ladies.
This week also saw the launch of Fleetway's latest adventure comic, Jag and Lion's centre pages showed us what to expect. You can read more about Jag by clicking here

War! Football! The comic for blokey boys!

Fleetway liked to name their comics after big cats.

Friday, April 27, 2012

Format change for Commando

Don't let the headline worry you. DC Thomson's long-running Commando is still in its 64 page pocket size format but it's now printed on thicker paper stock giving it a chunkier appearance. I'm sure most readers will welcome this move as the previous paper stock was very thin.

I was tempted to run with the headline 'Thicker Commandos' but thought better of it. Anyway, here's the info from editor Calum Laird on the latest four issues that are out now. (Hopefully! My local shops haven't received theirs yet.)

Commando No 4491 — Hero In A Heli

It takes nerve and skill to hold a bucking, weaving Sea King in position over a casualty while one of your crewmates is winched down to try to pluck him to safety. Lieutenant Jamie Price had both these qualities which helped make his crew one of the best in the business.
   Yet his brother Owen, a Sea Harrier pilot, ranked him only as a glorified bus driver, never missing a chance to sneer.
   He never dreamt that he’d have to trust his life to that bus driver in the hostile skies over the Falklands Islands.

Story: Steve Taylor
Art: Keith Page
Cover: Keith Page

The second in our mini-series of Falklands tales 30 years on.

Commando No 4492 — The Blood Feud

So how did it come to pass that Warrant Officer Greg Blake was about to take on a menacing German Zeppelin during the First World War, armed with only a Martini-Henry rifle?
   It’s a thrilling tale — one which stretches back to the Boer War, and tells of a bitter blood feud that spanned a generation…

Story: Mac MacDonald
Art: Vila
Cover: Ian Kennedy

Commando No 4493 — Glider Pilot

Like great birds of prey the gliders swoop into enemy territory, defying the might of the Luftwaffe and the savage assault of the flak batteries.
   Once on the ground their bellies open to spill out bands of fighting men who strike terror into German hearts — the famous airborne Commandos. They give no mercy — and ask none, these men who have been taught to kill…

Introduction by Calum Laird, Editor

Spoiler alert! In 1962, when this gold nugget was first unearthed, the plot device of the trainee who couldn’t quite cut it was new to Commando. We’ve used it many times since, because it’s still an excellent premise for a story. Eric Hebden makes fine use of it here.
   The inside art by Bonato has a clean, clear line to help the story-telling. He’s sparing in his backgrounds, keeping the emphasis where it should be, on the characters who are taking the fight to the enemy on his own ground.
   You can’t fault Ken Barr’s cover composition or execution for drama and colour — no wonder the original title was so small, no-one wanted to cover any of it up.

Glider Pilot originally Commando No 32 (April 1962)

Story: Eric Hebden
Art: Bonato
Cover: Ken Barr

Commando No 4494 — Don’t Give Up!

As a Japanese dive-bomber roared in to destroy their trucks, a group of British soldiers scattered for cover. Every man knew they now faced a long trek through the Burmese jungle, trying desperately to stay ahead of the enemy advance.
   It wouldn’t be easy, buy they must never give up.

Introduction by Scott Montgomery, Deputy Editor

Commando stories are fictional, of course. However, our tales do not shy away from the grimness of war, while still providing solid action yarns.
   As a young Commando reader — many years ago — I always found jungle stories to be especially hard-hitting. I could just imagine being immersed in that all-encompassing, claustrophobic atmosphere, where the enemy could strike out of nowhere at any time…
   This story reflects all of the above, as a motley crew of heroes — including one man who, in reality, isn’t particularly heroic — strive against the odds to blow up a bridge while all the time ensuring that they “Don’t Give Up!”

Don’t Give Up!, originally Commando No 2105 (April 1987)

Story: R.A. Montague
Art: Cecil Rigby
Cover: Ian Kennedy

Thursday, April 26, 2012

Sonic Unseen ...until now!

Back in 1993 when Fleetway Editions launched Sonic the Comic I thought I'd send them some art samples to see if I could be assigned a job drawing the strip. Editor Richard Burton turned me down on the basis that my style wasn't quite what they were looking for. He was right of course, as the approach they were taking was closer to an adventure comic style. Although I'd tried to move away from the traditional humour comics elements with my sample pages the Buster influence was still evident. 

Initially I was a little disappointed that my pages were rejected but it turned out fine as Richard offered me work as a scriptwriter on the comic instead. I was used to writing my own material and had written scripts for Oink! but adventure comics were a new challenge. Nothing too heavy was required though. The required tone was for light adventure with elements of humour so it certainly sounded like it'd be a fun gig. My first script appeared in Sonic the Comic No.30 and I became a regular writer on the comic not long after that for the rest of the title's run. (Or until reprints shoved me aside anyway.) I really enjoyed writing scripts for such brilliant artists as Richard Elson, Roberto Corona, and the great Mick McMahon.

Sorting through some artwork the other day I came across photocopies of the two Sonic sample pages I did 19 years ago, so here they are. The second one was done in full colour but I'm afraid I only have a black and white copy to show here. As you can see, my version of Sonic isn't quite "on model" so I think the editor made the right decision. Also, rather than use Doctor Robotnik or his Badniks, I created my own villains. I'm still quite pleased with the design of them although they're not really in keeping with the Sonic universe so, again, it's understandable that the pages were rejected.

Anyway, I hope you get a kick out of seeing these never-before-published pages!

More info on my Sonic the Comic work on this website:

Just to give you an idea of the villain in colour

Tuesday, April 24, 2012

The end of Kid Cops?

This week's issue of The Dandy features the return of Alf and Sadie from Health and Safety in my Kid Cops strip, - and this time they're out for revenge! Have Sergeant Nick and Officer Bobby finally met their match?

Perhaps, - as this issue features my final Kid Cops page for the time being! I'll be taking a break for a few weeks and then there's the start of my brand new strip, - an all-new character I've created for The Dandy. I'm drawing the first episode today. It'll run for six weeks and will probably begin in June. I'll reveal more at a later date. Stay tuned!

The Dandy No.3579 goes on sale Wednesday April 25th priced £1.99.

Saturday, April 21, 2012

The Sloperian: A brand new magazine about British comics

A new fanzine dedicated to vintage British comics has just been launched. Entitled The Sloperian, the 40 page publication is a must-buy for anyone interested in the history of UK comics and their creators.

The Sloperian is edited by Alan Clark, who was the editor of the much-missed Golden Fun fanzine of a few decades ago as well as the author of The Best of British Comic Art and other books on British comics. As you have no doubt guessed, The Sloperian derives its name from Ally Sloper, the oldest recurring character in UK comics. Clark quite rightly considers Sloper to be "as important as America's Yellow Kid and the creations of Europe's Rodolphe Topffer and Wilhelm Busch" and hopes that his new magazine will educate and inform readers about the character and his creators. 

Issue one begins with an appreciation of W.G. Baxter, Ally Sloper's definitive artist, accompanied by long-unseen illustrations from publications such as Ally Sloper's Half Holiday and C.H. Ross's Variety Paper

It's not all about Ally Sloper though. Wisely, The Sloperian casts its net wider and includes articles on other papers and creators. There's a six page gallery of strips and covers by H. O'Neill for example, a feature on Black Bob artist Jack Prout, the story of D.C. Thomson story paper scriptwriter Gilbert Dalton, the history of Weary Willie and Tired Tim, and a nice long feature on the career of A.T. 'Charlie' Pease, artist of numerous humour strips for the A.P. comics.

All of the articles are well researched and well written. The layout of the pages is easy on the eye and there are numerous illustrations scanned from the comics to accompany each feature. Some of the fine line illustrations suffer slightly from the digital printing process but this is something that can be rectified in future issues and is certainly not a major issue. 

The Sloperian is just the sort of publication we need. An intelligently written fanzine spotlighting creators and characters that would otherwise be in danger of being forgotten forever. There is a rich history of British comics that some scholars completely ignore, not out of malice but simply because the material isn't available for many to research. Thankfully Alan Clark and his contributors (Len Hawkey and Ray Moore) have combined their knowledge into this essential publication. 

The Sloperian will be published irregularly and issue No.1 is available to buy now directly from Alan Clark on eBay. Considering the amount of information and illustrations packed within its pages the price of £5 is an absolute bargain. Order your copy here

Friday, April 20, 2012

The Avengers arrive in the UK

A few years ago Panini UK launched Marvel Heroes as a comic magazine for children featuring brand new Marvel comic strip by British creators. Last year, after 35 issues, Marvel's owners Disney decreed that the UK could no longer generate its own material and should use content that they supplied instead. They also changed the magazine title to Marvel Super Heroes

This week, the title changes again just in time for a certain movie premiere. Now it's Marvel Super Heroes featuring The Avengers, - although it's obvious by the cover that kids will just refer to it as The Avengers comic. 

Although Panini UK already publish Avengers Assemble (running reprints of recent Marvel material) for older readers, this new Avengers comic is aimed at the younger end of the market. It contains an 11 page comic strip from Marvel's "adventures" line and various puzzles, fact files, posters and suchlike. Plus a cover-mounted toy in the form of a Grabber Claw. 36 pages for £2.50.

Yesterday also saw the publication of ThunderCats No.2, also from Panini UK. However this title does feature all-new British comic strip. A 13 page story by Ferg Handley, illustrated by Cosmo White with Kat Nicholson on colours. And they did the cover too. Very nice work. This has the potential to become this generation's Sonic the Comic hopefully. 

ThunderCats also features activity pages, fact files and posters, plus a two-page photo strip using ThunderCats action figures which actually works better than you might imagine. Bagged with a toy it's 36 pages for £2.99. 

The shelves of UK newsagents are certainly packed these days. Admittedly many of the titles don't feature comic strip, or feature reprint from overseas, but with titles such as ThunderCats, Beano, Toxic, Dandy, 2000AD, BeanoMAX, Commando, and more it's obvious that the mainstream UK comics industry is not as dead as some critics claim. 

Thursday, April 19, 2012

Toxic No.202 out now

The latest issue of Egmont's top selling boy's mag Toxic is in the shops now and features all new material including several strips. 

There's another in the I-Spy series (above) of Casey Court style double page spreads that I drew and this time it's a wrestling theme. I also provided half a dozen illustrations for the Super Heroes vs Team Toxic feature, as well as a new Team Toxic adventure, Supermanic. Here's a preview below...

Other strips in this issue are Busted Bieber, Luke's Spooks, Rabbids, Mad City's Star Signings, Minimonos, and Captain Gross.

This issue comes bagged with several gifts including an Alien Space Blaster, stickers and a joke spider.

Toxic No.202. 40 pages for £2.75.


Tuesday, April 17, 2012

This week in 1966: SMASH!

Although Smash! is often associated with Marvel reprint as part of its content there was a time before The Incredible Hulk arrived in its pages when the contents were all home grown. One such example is this early issue of Smash! (No.12) which went on sale this week in 1966.

The Man from B.U.N.G.L.E. was the usual star of the cover at this time but he was pushed aside this week for a promotion of The Legend Testers serial. And what a striking image by the fantastic Jordi Bernet. "Rollo Stones" was the name of one of The Legend Testers, and there's no prizes for guessing what inspired that moniker. I'm sure the huge title under the logo this week caused a few double takes from Rolling Stones fans, and possibly a few new readers, which of course was the intention.

The first strip inside this issue's 28 pages was the latest chapter of The Moon Madness drawn impeccably by Brian Lewis. The premise of this series (bits of alien body being drawn together) was completely daft, but it was played totally straight and for many of us who were kids at the time it proved to be completely gripping. When I was seven I couldn't wait for the next chapter every week! (More on Moon Madness in an earlier blog post here.)

Another artist who always gave 100% was Ken Reid, who, in my opinion, was doing the best work of his career at Odhams. Here's the hilarious Queen of the Seas (which was later reprinted in Buster)...

The Legend Testers was about two time travellers from the far future who were assigned to various points in history to test the authenticity of various museum artifacts. A job not as dull as it sounds as you can see, leading Rollo Stones and Danny Charters into deadly danger every week. Spanish artist Jordi Bernet is well known now for his crime series Torpedo and for his recent work on Jonah Hex...

Brian Lewis had an incredible versatility to his style. Here he is drawing Space Jinx, showing he was as much as master of slapstick "bigfoot" art as he was of the realistic style he used on Moon Madness. He also drew many of the Charlie's Choice episodes for Smash!

If you're wondering how The Man from B.U.N.G.L.E. got out of his death plunge on the cover, here's the solution on the Mister Knowall page. Did you guess correctly?

This issue also featured The Swots and The Blots by Ron Spencer, Bad Penny and Danger Mouse by Artie Jackson, The Tellybugs by George Parlett, The Ghost Patrol (a reprint of Swift's The Phantom Patrol) by Gerry Embleton, The Nervs by Graham Allen, Percy's Pets by Stan McMurtry, Brian's Brain by Bert Vandeput, and Ronnie Rich by Gordon Hogg. What a great line up of artistic talent!

And last but not least, on the back page, was Grimly Feendish which this week was drawn by Artie Jackson...

Smash! - Definitely my favourite comic of 1966. 
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