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Saturday, June 09, 2012

Flashback to 1969: SUPER PICTURE SPECIAL

Once upon a time, in the 1960s to be precise, digest-sized British comics featuring complete stories were plentiful, particularly from Fleetway/IPC. War Picture Library, Air Ace Picture Library, the Stupendous series (featuring The Steel Claw alternating with The Spider), Lion, Valiant and Buster Picture Libraries, Top Secret... the list goes on, or used to. Today, D.C. Thomson's Commando is the sole survivor of that type of comic.

Occasionally there would be reprint collections of some of the libraries, usually containing 224 pages such as the Battle Picture Library Holiday Specials of the 1960s for a price of 2/6d (12 and a half pence). A bargain, considering the regular 68 pagers cost a shilling (5p). 

In the summer of 1969 IPC published a chunky compilation to beat them all. The Super Picture Special, with 448 pages for five bob (25p). Instead of sticking to one theme, this book covered the lot; war, sport, sci-fi, western, and humour.

The back cover.
I chanced upon this book as a kid whilst perusing the comics at the local market bookstall in 1969. Although slightly battered and second hand, it looked intriguing so I bought it for the asking price (a shilling, or perhaps just 6d if I recall correctly). Sadly I never bothered with the Picture Libraries again. I was mainly into Marvel Comics, TV21 and UK humour comics, and the digest comics seemed heavy going to me at the time, and aimed at a slightly older reader. My loss, obviously. Subsequently I've never really pursued this field of British comics and I remain shamefully ignorant as to the names of most of the superb artists who illustrated these tales. However, I'm showing the contents here today so that, hopefully, some expert on the subject may be able to identify the artists that are unknown to me. 

Whilst some strips are from the early 1960s, I believe others may date back to the late 1950s.

I can identify the humour strips, and all are reprinted from Buster weekly, but with their names changed. Alfy Alien by Nadal/Juan Rafart was originally Milkiway, and was also reprinted in Smash! weekly in 1970 as Monty Muddle. Kip Carson (also by Nadal) originally appeared as Lazy Sprockett, but was also reprinted as Hymer Loafer in Valiant and Slumberjack in the Boys World Annual! Another Nadal strip, Norman Knowall was originally Big 'Ead! and was reprinted in Smash! under that name in 1970. 

Here are the contents. What a great package of quality material...

Art by Juan Rafart

Art by Nadal

Rick Random by Ron Turner

Art by Nadal

 Those were the days!


Mike said...

I've often wondered what format those were in. Turns out it's the same but thicker! Like the modern Commando mini reprint books (though those are a bit taller than the original comics).
There was also a Battler Britton annual and a Combat Picture Annual (from Combat Picture Library, published by Micron), but those were hardback books with dustjackets. They also contained text stories and features, and some of the comic stories were broken up into parts.

Lew Stringer said...

There was also Giant War Picture Library in a bizarre format printing two pages vertically on each page, so the books were as wide as ordinary digests but twice as high! It was published in 1964/65.

I remember those rivals digests to Fleetway and Thomson, - such as the Combat one you mention. They never seemed as high quality, but there were plenty around.

Togher Historical Association said...

I remember being surrounded by these digests as a kid. Air Ace , Battle , War etc etc. I always thought at the time that some of them were related to their parent titles.Y'know - Valiant , Battle , et al. But in an apparent twist in the space time continuum or to put it another way , a case of the chicken and the egg , some were around well before any weekly title sporting the same name. Am I dreaming Lew? I know this whole topic of the digests deserves a larger series of posts to do the subject justice. I also remember some of the cheaper digests having very shoddy artwork , what could only be described as padding in comparison to the Fleetway / D.C. Thomson runs. Also thought some of them heavy going ( attention span - wise ) and obviously geared towards a mature market. I'm rambling now :-) Well done for unearthing this treasure though. Over 400 pages jeezaloo! Was it a complete reprint or were one or two original?


The Cap.

Lew Stringer said...

I believe it was all reprint, Cap.

Comics Bonfire said...

What a fantastic find, I was similarly more interested in the main IPC/Fleetway titles when i was a young lad, finding commando and fellow digests a bit hard going. Now as an adult I'm picking up all the old digests I can, they tend to be fairly cheap and common down this part of the world. the other day I picked up a nice collection of valiant, lion, rick random and the double height war digests for about a $1 apiece.

Anonymous said...

hey lew,
never heard or seen this format or series.
i am a fan of the spider. was he the sole feature of stupendous?

Lew Stringer said...

It would be a full length Spider story one issue, then a Steel Claw story the next. They'd alternate.

Ian Wheeler said...

Commando and War Picture Library were always my thing. And also the short-lived Eagle Picture libraries, a spin-off from the 80s Eagle comic (though not with Eagle characters).

Lew Stringer said...

Yes, I remember the Eagle libraries. Like the Buster ones of the time they were all resized reprint unfortunately, but they gave readers a chance to read some 1960s classics. Pity they didn't last too long, but sadly the new generation didn't seem to like the format, and comic sales in general were falling anyway.

Those collections of the libraries that Prion books put out a few years ago, edited by Steve Holland, were excellent.

Picture Library Collections

Mike said...

I think the Eagle Picture Library ran for only 15 issues. I have a couple and some of the artwork resizing is really obvious. A wide panel will have all the "action" (two people climbing in a window, and the speech bubbles) crammed over on one side, and the other two thirds are just a picture of a room. Some of it's done better, though.
Battle Picture Library did precede Battle Picture Weekly by possibly 10 years or more. A "second series" later emerged, using the same logo as Battle Picture Weekly, though I beleive it was all reprints of old "generic" war stories, rather than longer stories of the likes of Charley Bourne or Johnny Red.
Some "journalist" in the Independent once dug up a few old copies of Combat Picture Library and wrote a rambling, self-contradictory column on how reading such things as a kid turned Tony Blair into a warmonger (though somehow they had no effect on him!). Good thing he didn't see one of the issues I have, which ends with the line "when it came to World Test Match 2, the Japanese found that the games-loving Brits and Aussies were determined to bring home the ashes"

Lew Stringer said...

Regarding resizing, Mike, it was obvious resizing like that which clued me in as a kid that some strips were reprints when it occurred in the weeklies. A good composition doesn't lend itself to resizing, but I suppose they had no choice if they wanted to re-use the stories in a different page size or format.

As for the supposed negative influence of comics, yes it's odd how those shouting the loudest are magically unaffected by such "influences". It's almost as though their theories are complete hogwash. Not that I'd suggest such a thing of course. (I remember the hassle it caused last time I ventured it here. :-))

Anonymous said...

If a comic can have a positive influence , it can also have a negative one. Don't see anything *hogwash* about that.

Lew Stringer said...

Ah, Mister 3AM. Bang on cue. LOL!

Anonymous said...

Your obsession is showing again , Lew. Or do all your commenters live in Britain? LOLouder.

Lew Stringer said...

You seem to be the obsessed one, troll. Any mention on this blog of the "negative" effect of comics and you're like a dog after a rabbit. Hilarious.

Gareth said...

If the dangers of comics were as potent as some suggest there would have been thousands of people copying scenes from the printed page.

On topic, was this Super special part of the same Super Library family of comics as those that featured The Steel Claw and The Spider?

Lew Stringer said...

No, it's just that they both had 'super' in their title. The Fleetway Super Library ended about 18 months before the Super Picture Special was published and the special featured different characters.

Wesley Myers said...

Living in Canada I'd never seen these on the shelves in any shops.

Only once did a toy and hobby shop here have a bunch of the Microns for sale ( for $0.08 each). I bought a bunch of war ones and some westerns but I wished later I'd bought them all - they had boxes full on a table. That would have been early 80's.

The other year (Fall 2010), Costco had a bunch of the newer bound Carlton Commando compilations for $9.99 each. I bought all the different ones they had.

I did a bit of reading up about them and have subsequently got all of the new reprints and the Picture Library ones as well.

I must say I like the Picture Library ones better than Commando. I've been contemplating a subscription to Commando but the constant use of "ye gods" as the main exclamation is very annoying - even painful I'd say.

Did the original Commandos use that or is this some type of politically correct revisionism?

Lew Stringer said...

I've never followed Commando too closely but I doubt they'd have used anything stronger than that. I don't recall any British comic of the 1960s using what might be considered profanity. (Although I suppose "blimey", as in "God blind me" is close.)

dementeddad said...

I've just picked one of these up Lew and it's a delight.

Lew Stringer said...

It sure is.

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