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Saturday, June 23, 2012

This week in 1937: PUCK, THE JOKER, and CRACKERS

A bumper post today with no less than three Amalgamated Press comics from my collection that were all on sale this week in 1937! I've a lot to cover so I'll try to keep it brief.

Let's begin with Puck No.1,717 and an excellent cover (above) by Roy Wilson to illustrate Don and Doris. The strip had begun a year earlier as Don the Day-dreamer about a boy who dreams of having great adventures, but by 1937 the everyday realities of ordinary but amusing antics had taken over...

Long before Black Bob amazed us, was the real life canine superstar Rin-Tin-Tin whose life was later fictionalised in radio, films and in the pages of Puck

Compared to the other two comics showcased today, Puck was the old-timer, having been around since 1904. The contents of this 12 page issue were mainly adventure based, with exciting serials such as Captain Moonlight. The three panels showing the decent of the windmill sails not only break away from the traditional layout but feature artwork that is more sequential than most UK adventure strips of the period. Artwork by Walter Booth.

Booth was also the artist on Rob the Rover, Britain's first adventure strip. This particular strip is quite eerie because it features the fiery fate of an airship just six weeks after the real-life tragedy of the Hindenburg disaster! Dozens of airships had exploded over the years (including the British R-101 with the loss of 48 lives in 1930) but the proximity of this strip to the Hindenburg tragedy seems a little too close for comfort. The schedules of publishing comics back then usually meant that strips were drawn six to eight weeks ahead of publication so this was presumably bad timing rather than bad taste.

Moving onto The Joker No.504, there's a wonderfully illustrated masthead (by who, I do not know) above a lively Alfie the Air Tramp strip by John Jukes I think.

Inside, Buck Tupp and Flannelfoot draw comedy from the then-popular craze for cowboys and Indians.

Bright and Gay was a feature based on the sort of comedy patter seen in variety hall double acts of the time...

On page 6 of that issue, an ad for Jolly Comic, which at the time had the UK license to publish Popeye by Elzie Segar (as seen in a previous post)...

The back page of Joker brought us the serial Chang The Yellow Pirate (the sort of racist description that's quite rightly embarrassing these days). Art by Colin Merritt.

Finally, here's Crackers No.436. This comic was 2d for 12 pages and ran from 1929 to 1941. The cover strip features The Adventures of Bob and Betty Britten, drawn by Alex Akerbladh. According to Denis Gifford's Encyclopedia of British Comic Characters this was the first full colour British adventure strip!

Inside, there was a busy mixture of more adventure strips, text stories, features, and a couple of humour strips.

One of the humour strips was Happy Harry and Sister Sue by the great Roy Wilson (whose style influenced so many artists of the day). Beneath it, a feature that would inflame sensibilities today. Editors nowadays would have a fit at the notion of encouraging children to be interested in such items, yet even up to the 1960s activity pages such as Mr.Knowall in Smash! would show kids how to play tricks with matches. 

On the back page, Terry and Trixie, The Stars of the Circus. Like the cover, this was also drawn by the Swedish born Alex Akerbladh. You may have noticed that several few strips I've shown today feature a boy and a girl in equal billing. An early indication of equal rights in comics perhaps?

Below is a photo of how part of a newsagent's counter display may have looked this day 75 years ago, back in the times when comics were beside the till, making them look smarter and more attractive to customers instead of being rammed into shelves as they are today.  

Wednesday, June 20, 2012

Bits 'n' bobs: Artwork, Nightmares, surveys and more

I've a lot to mention and I'm short on time so here's a quick runaround of half a dozen items packaged into one convenient post.

Art for Sale

I'm selling off a few pages of my old artwork from Viz and Buster. (No pages from Toxic, Beano or Dandy I'm afraid. I don't sell those.) Fancy an original Tom Thug page, or a Viz calendar page with a Titanic theme? Zip over to my eBay page and check out what's on offer and help pay my mortgage. Bidding ends on Sunday. Thanks in advance!


Nightmare ends

For 45 years comic fans have wondered who the artist of Nobby's Nightmares was in Pow! comic. Some said it was Cyril Price (not even close) whilst I suggested it might be Walter Bell (miles off). This week, cartoonist supreme Nigel Parkinson (like the Dalek supreme but taller and with a sense of humour) checked out his ex-file copies of Pow! and discovered the artist's name was Lewis Williams, revealing it on the Comics UK forum. No, I'd never heard of him before either, but we have now! 

Mr.Williams also drew Georgie's Germs on occasion for Wham!, along with Mini-Maxie for Smash! (although apparently the latter was a reprint). Thanks to Nigel for clearing up the decades-old mystery! 


Vote Toxic!

This week's issue of Toxic features a survey form for readers to vote for what they like, and dislike, about the UK's top selling boy's mag. A section spotlights my Team Toxic strip and asks readers "Do you like Team Toxic" (Yes, No, or Haven't heard of them.) With options like that I suspect some kids will tick "Haven't heard of them" just for a laugh, so if you do read Toxic and you do like my work I'd appreciate your votes. The strip is already down to being a reprint every other issue so every vote counts. 


School's out for summer

Sadly I've heard this week that my Super School strip is being rested from The Beano. I don't know if it'll return, but it's been great fun drawing it and fulfilling a dream to work for that comic. I think I drew about 70 over the past few years and Tom Paterson filled in on a couple. They still have a couple unpublished so they may turn up as fillers in the future. Thanks to all of you who wrote to say you enjoyed the strip and to those of you who voted for it, giving it an impressive vote count on its debut according to the 2008 Beano poll.

My personal favourite Super School image


Tripwire seeks funding

Art by Jon Haward and Nigel Dobbyn
Editor Joel Meadows is seeking crowdfunding for the publication of a special anniversary issue to mark 20 years of his comics and media magazine Tripwire. The book will feature specially commissioned artwork from people such as Howard Chaykin, Glenn Dakin, Mike Kaluta, Mike Perkins, and Jon Haward and Nigel Dobbyn amongst others. You can find out more info in John Freeman's report on Down the Tubes.   



Commando Nos. 4507 to 4510

A great cover painting by Ian Kennedy to lead off the previews of the four Commando comics that go on sale Thursday 21st June (or today, if you're lucky). Thanks again to Calum Laird at DC Thomson for supplying the info...

Commando No 4507 — The Spy Catchers

Espionage is as much a part of warfare as infantry or artillery. Knowing what your enemy is planning is a great help when it comes to stopping him. But all the time you’re watching him, he’s watching you, isn’t he?
   Which is why you need spy catchers, men who will sniff out the spies and neutralise them.
   British Army lorry-driver Arnie Kershaw loved to read about the adventures of such men…but even he never dreamt for a moment that he’d be caught up in their activities for real.

Story: Alan Hebden
Art: Olivera
Cover: Ian Kennedy

Commando No 4508 — The Voyage Of HMS Onion Wagon

How did a motley crew of British and New Zealand sailors end up on a British Army Bedford lorry in the desert? How did a routine operation so very quickly go wrong and become an unexpected voyage into danger?
   Hop aboard HMS Onion Wagon and find out!

Story: Peter Grehan
Art: Vila
Cover: Ian Kennedy


Commando No 4509 — Cold Steel

Ten Desperate Men…
Armed to the teeth, they slipped and slithered from the hull of a submarine into a wave-battered rubber dinghy.
   A grim cargo of trouble on a life-or-death mission.
   Ten desperate men who were destined to become…
…Ten dauntless heroes
Secret, dangerous, well-nigh impossible missions have been firm favourites with Commando readers (and editors) since the earliest days. The title was less than a year old when Gordon Livingstone’s trademark art gave life to ten men on the deadliest of missions. (The ten-man mission is another theme that’s been visited and re-visited over the years without getting stale.) Author Kenner’s tale sets the men at their officer’s throat from the off…as soon as they settle with the Nazis he’s likely to be next.

All that AND Ken Barr’s menacing cover? What a bargain for a shilling!

Cold Steel originally Commando No 22 (April 1962)

Story: Kenner
Art: Gordon Livingstone
Cover: Ken Barr

Commando No 4510 — Freedom — Or Death!

To a Gurkha soldier honour is all important, and young Lal had a very important debt of honour to settle with his officer, Lieutenant Archie Cameron. So when the two men were captured by the Japs and sent to different POW camps, Lal was determined to free Archie. There was only one snag, though. First he had to get free himself!


As young readers, whenever my brothers or I started to read a jungle-based Commando book we always hoped it would feature Gurkha soldiers. There was always something just so…for want of a better word, cool about those stoic, loyal and deadly efficient fighting men from Nepal, armed with their iconic, curved Kukri blades. And I was always glad that they fought on our side. Even twenty-five years after this great jungle tale was first published, I still feel the same way about the amazing Gurkhas.

Scott Montgomery, Deputy Editor

Freedom — Or Death, originally Commando No 2062 (February 1987)

Story: Bill Fear
Art: Keith Shone
Cover: Jeff Bevan

Monday, June 18, 2012

This week in 1957: THE COMET

The Comet, published by The Amalgamated Press, underwent a few format changes during its 13 year lifespan (1946 to 1959). Initially it was a tabloid comic, but in the 1950s a number of British publishers began approximating the popular American comic book size, and The Comet also adopted that format. From the time this issue saw print, this week in 1957, The Comet had 16 pages 185mm wide by 240mm high. Four of the pages were in full colour (using the three colour dark blue/red /yellow process, but no black) with the rest in black and white.

The cover feature at this time was Buffalo Bill. Westerns were a popular theme in the 1950s so it made sense to follow suit, with Buffalo Bill given a complete seven page story every week. I'm not sure who illustrated this story though I'm afraid.

Billy Bunter had a two page strip in The Comet at the same time his strip was also running in Knockout

The centre pages ran the historical serial Claude Duval - The Gay Cavalier. (No sniggering at the back there.) The artist Patrick Nicolle is credited by some sources as the artist of this strip but the heavy brushstrokes of this episode don't look like his work to me. Perhaps a fill in? (UPDATE: Possibly by Fred Holmes?)

Jet Ace Logan became a popular character of the era, and later moved to Tiger when Comet merged into it in 1959. Some solid work here by John Gillatt, who had a long career illustrating various strips for Fleetway and IPC such as Football Family Robinson and a long run on Billy's Boots. He was also one of the artists on Scorer for the Daily Mirror.

The Comet also featured a Lone Ranger strip (possibly a reprint), again capitalizing on the Western craze. On the back page, the only light relief in the comic , the Chuckle Club joke page, with a 10 shilling (50p) prize for every joke published. At the foot of the page is a "Great News, Readers" announcement of a new look for The Comet, which from next week would drop the cover strip in favour of a painting.

The Comet was presumably aimed at an older reader than most British comics in that the stories featured considerably more text and dialogue than, for example, The Beano or even Eagle. Perhaps this was A.P.'s way of making it seem more literate, defending the comic from the mood of the times which had become suspicious of comics due to the fearmongering whipped up by the anti horror/crime comics campaign. Sadly, the fact that the comic folded two years later might suggest it backfired and that the verbose tales put off the audience they were trying to attract. If anything, comic storytelling of the time was becoming more streamlined, and the heavy word count that The Comet featured was going against such developments. 

Saturday, June 16, 2012


The Odhams era of 'Power Comics' (Wham!, Smash!, Pow!, Fantastic, and Terrific) ran for just under five years in all, from June 1964 with the launch of Wham! until March 1969 when IPC revamped Smash! into a more traditional boys adventure weekly. (However the 'Power Comics' label wasn't actually applied to them until 1966.) Although each title except for Terrific had several Annuals there was only ever one Summer Special devoted to the comics.

In 1968, with Wham! and Terrific already canceled, and perhaps knowing that this would be their only chance to produce a 'Power Comics' special, Odhams combined all the surviving titles into one big 56 pager with Smash! Pow! It's Fantastic Summer Special.

The cover made it clear that the emphasis would be on Marvel reprint, but to clarify its Britishness and summer theme, a hand coloured stock photo of Blackpool Tower was used as a backdrop to a Spider-Man image. (With the tower being the tallest structure in town, where was Spidey swinging from? My guess is he'd attached his webbing to the helicopter that routinely patrols Blackpool's seafront. Yes, that'd be it.) Please forgive the tatty cover. I've lost count of how many times I re-read this much-loved comic when I was younger.

Odhams had been holding some Marvel material back that they hadn't used in the weeklies, so this was ideal for the special. Therefore it kicked off with the Spider-Man/Doctor Strange team-up from the American Amazing Spider-Man Annual No.2. Classic work by Stan Lee and Steve Ditko, although Odhams policy was to remove the credits.

Very few British characters were featured in the special unfortunately, but we did get a brand new Cloak story by Mike Higgs. Personally I didn't care about some other strips being excluded as long as The Cloak was in there...

Click on each image to see it full size.

Power House Pin-Ups, a popular back page feature of Fantastic, also featured in the Summer Special. Here's one of Thor, alongside a reprint of a Thor story from Journey Into Mystery Annual No.1.

The centrespread  featured an excellent Fantastic Four pin-up by Jack Kirby and Joe Sinnott. This had originally appeared in Fantastic Four Annual No.5 but in the UK version the colouring was far superior than the flat tones of the American original. I had this pinned on my bedroom wall when I was a kid, (along with most of the pin-ups from the back of Fantastic and Terrific) and you might still be able to see the holes made by the drawing pins in the corners.

Sammy Shrink, who had originated in Wham! before moving to Pow!, had a half page strip in the special, drawn by Terry Bave. That advert for Smash! underneath the strip summed up the comic nicely. It truly was "the comic with everything".

More reprints, with this one of Daredevil No.1 by Stan Lee and the great Bill Everett...

A brand new three page adventure for Smash's Brian's Brain, drawn by Barrie Mitchell...

Also from Smash!, a new Swots and the Blots page. This looks like the work of Leo Baxendale (or perhaps a Leo Baxendale/Mike Brown collaboration) which would be unusual if it was as, except for one issue, Leo only drew The Swots and the Blots after IPC revamped Smash! in 1969 (despite some historians crediting him with the strip since 1966). Any opinions welcome.

There were several other strips and features in the special such as a Human Torch/Iceman team-up from Strange Tales, a Mr.Knowall puzzle spread, a feature on Avengers mansion from Avengers King Size Special No.1 and more pin-ups, including this back page composition of the X-Men.

The Marvel character most notable by his absence in the special was The Incredible Hulk, probably because Odhams had already used all the available Hulk stories and had caught up with the US editions. These days an editor would use stock art and produce a quick 'Hulk's Greatest Battles' feature, but such things were not really done back then. 

Smash! Pow! It's Fantastic Summer Special was a unique item that really did make the summer of '68 special. A shame there would be never be any more.
Advert for the special from FANTASTIC No.73, 6th July 1968

Friday, June 15, 2012

The day Captain America forgot his trousers

It was 1967. The summer of love. And when the Masters of Evil are attacking and you've got to lead The Avengers into battle, who's got time to remember their trousers?

The Odhams 'Power Comics' remain my all-time favourites but when they made mistakes, they made some real clangers. 

When reprinting Marvel strips, Odhams were supplied with black and white copies of the artwork and, presumably, some sort of colour guide, probably in the form of the original comics. That colour guide wasn't always adhered to. The mistakes could sometimes be minute, but a few times... well, see the cover of Terrific No.20 above, with Captain America charging into battle bare legged. They quite often made the mistake of giving him bare arms but this was something else. For a Living Legend of World War 2 who was trying to retain the respect of those around him, hot pants were not a good look.

In the background, you'll notice that Thor's hoping for a tan as well.

I'm also showing the original printing here from Avengers No.15. I hope you'll forgive the tatty cover. This was the third Marvel comic I bought and I hadn't quite developed the habit of trying to keep them in near mint condition when I was eight. 

Another big clanger, but not quite as funny, had taken place a year earlier in 1966, with The Hulk's first cover appearance on Smash! As most comic fans know, in his first issue in America in 1962 The Hulk had grey skin, but as it didn't print consistently they changed it to green from issue 2. Presumably no one told Odhams...

And to top it off, The Hulk had a preference for white nail varnish. Who'd have guessed? "The strangest man of all time!!" Indeed, and he's wearing a yellow dress.

Thursday, June 14, 2012

This week in 1938: LARKS

Larks was one of the Amalgamated Press comics which fell victim to paper shortages of World War 2. Launched in 1927 it folded in 1940. A pity, as from the evidence of this issue it was a lively and entertaining comic that was making an effort to be a bit more contemporary than some other A.P. titles. 

This is the issue that would have been on sale this week in 1938. The logo's 3-D effect is quite powerful and unusual for the time, and having it flanked by two pocket cartoons instead of the cast of characters that traditionally paraded across such comics meant it was trying to raise a titter from the word go. 

The cover strip, Dad Walker and Wally, was by Bertie Brown. This seems to be part on an ongoing plot about an "Old Crock's Race" with, no doubt, the pair caught up an amusing adventure on their travels every week. A.P. seemed to have quite a few of their characters embarking on journeys, harking back to Weary Willie and Tired Tim in Chips. It's certainly a useful plot device as it means the setting can be different and unpredictable each week, although historically the most popular humour strips have been those in the same familiar suburban setting every week (classroom, home, etc). 

At this time, Larks had slightly less comic strip than other A.P. titles. Instead of the usual 50/50 comics/prose stories split, Larks had three and a third pages of strips, with the rest given to prose stories and short features. One such feature was this Picture Story Puzzle. This type of pictogram has often been used in comics over the years but not so much in recent times.

Page three was packed full of strips. You'll notice that, unlike most A.P. strips, there's no text beneath the panels. There's been a few strips called The Happy Family over the years but this version is drawn by Don Newhouse, who was the mentor of Roy Wilson. Unfortunately Newhouse became overshadowed by his ex-assistant's success but as this strip proves, his talents were considerable. Note the use of close-ups, a refreshing change from the usual full figure shots in old comics.

Luke and Len, The Odd Job Men, was drawn by Wally Robertson. Nice stuff. I'm not quite sure who drew Piccaninny Pete. George Parlett perhaps?

On page 5, Peggy The Pride of the Force was definitely a George Parlett strip. "A handful of sweet san fairy ann" says the chief copper. That's a polite way of putting across a certain expression but it still seems a little aggressive for a children's comic.

The prose story The Hermit of Mortan Mere featured an early British masked hero, - The Black Rider...

On the back page, James Cagney, the Famous Film Star "On the Aztec Trail". Cagney's life was undoubtedly more exciting than most, but probably not quite this dangerous. The artwork was by George Heath, father of Private Eye cartoonist Micheal Heath, and grandfather of ex-Marvel UK staffer and sometimes Combat Colin colourist Sophie Heath!

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