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Wednesday, October 31, 2012

Dracula of the newsagents

In 1972 the publishers New English Library, who brought us Target magazine the same year, launched Dracula comic in UK newsagents. With just 24 pages for 13p it was considerably more expensive than other comics. (Most IPC comics were 3p for 32 pages back then, whilst Mighty World of Marvel was 40 pages for 5p.)

However, this was no ordinary comic. Its contents featured Spanish strips translated into English, it was full colour throughout (at a time when most British comics were mainly black and white) and was printed on quality paper stock. Dracula was closer in format to the partwork magazines that were increasing in number around that time, and, like a partwork, page numbers continued from issue to issue. (eg: No.3 featured pages 41 to 60.) The comic was printed in Spain, so I'm guessing there may have been a Spanish edition over there.

It should be mentioned that Dracula... didn't feature Dracula. I suppose the name was considered familiar enough to convey horror, so was appropriate for a horror comic. The contents featured an anthology of short stories. The lead strip was Wolff, a barbarian warrior type pitted against sorcery and illustrated by Estaban Maroto... 

Sir Leo, a Victorian investigator of the strange and unknown was a regular in later issues. Drawn by Jose Bea, the artwork was striking and eerie. A great artist for horror, he also draw one-off strips for the comic. Here's a selection of his pages...

Agar-Agar had a more science fiction feel, and a definite psychedelic aspect to the artwork by Alberto Solsona...

The comic always concluded with a complete horror story illustrated by Enric Sio...

I was 13 when Dracula was launched and simply too young to appreciate the sophistication of the stories and artwork at the time. After the first issue I rejected it in favour of Marvel comics and Lion, but now I respect the comic far more. To those of us used to traditional comics, the colour scheme of the strips in Dracula may seem garish but they're actually very effective. This was definitely a product of its time although perhaps it never found its audience as it only ran for 12 issues. 

One has to give New English Library credit for trying though. Dracula was a beautifully produced horror/fantasy comic with stunning artwork and copies are well worth seeking out on eBay. I understand NEL also published a bound collection of all 12 issues. 

Happy Hallowe'en!   

Tuesday, October 30, 2012

PSYCHO GRAN is back!

The latest edition of Aces Weekly, the all-new digital anthology comic produced in the UK and available to the world, features the long-awaited return of Psycho Gran, a character who first appeared in Oink! comic back in 1986.

As with the original strips, this 2012 revival of Psycho Gran is written and drawn by the strip's creator David Leach. I asked David to pen a few words about the return of Britain's hardest granny and he kindly obliged in his inimitable manner.

Over to you, David....

She's glad to be back, she'd be banging around in my psyche for the last couple of years being a nuisance so it was either start drawing her again or go postal.

That said, it's nice to have her back in my noggins, she sees the world in a funny light and it always makes me laugh when I think up something for her to do.

I was very pleased to discover I hadn't forgotten how to draw her, but I did take the time to revamp her costume, get her out of all black and introduce some much needed colour to her ensemble, likewise i found it exciting to try and expand her universe, giving her Archie the dog was fun and he's opening up avenues to explore story wise, although you don't see him in the Aces Weekly strip.

I don't know if it's an age thing, but a lot more of the stories I'm coming up with for her explore her sexuality in a way I find rather surprising.

David Leach at the KAPOW! comics convention
Also, for a while and in particular the strip in Aces Weekly I was finding it hard to come up with satisfying endings and then it occurred to me I was making a mistake and trying to make her nice! When I realised that she was just 'psycho'  it made coming up with stories easier. For a while I considered giving her a grand-daughter as a sidekick of sorts, a Tuesday Addams so to speak, but I couldn't make it work. I've also considered giving her a strange butler and a large gothic house to live in but that didn't feel right either, I haven't given up on any of that yet.

For the Aces story, I had the idea almost straight away, but it originally ended with the man's scream blowing out the windows, the street's window, all the windows of a skyscrapper until you pull back to see an astronaut floating in space attached to the international space station. The windows on that shatter and finally his visor shatters, all the time the reader would keep pulling back. And that was the story. I also set it on a bus.

Along the way I decided to relocate it to a quiet carriage of a train, which made more sense. For a long time the ending was going to be as above until I realised the ending I finally came up with. I wanted the reader to think she was doing something nice for people.

The only other thing I changed was with his ears, I'd drawn a picture that made me laugh out loud, that of the boy with his gonads hanging out of his ears, after they've popped out his earplugs but I dropped this on advice from Bambos. I regret that now, I think it would be just as funny with him looking up silently screaming with his balls hanging from his ears.

Beyond that, I've just finished the first issue of a proposed 4 book mini series of Psycho Gran and am about to start work on issue 2! And I'm illustrating a book about murderers, which after Psycho Gran is very therapeutic.


As it's an online comic it's never too late to subscribe to Aces Weekly so you won't miss out on any issues. Sign up now to catch up with the five published issues so far:

Friday, October 26, 2012

This week in 1938: RADIO FUN No.3

You've seen samples of Radio Fun on this blog from the 1940s and 1950s but here's a few pages from No.3, the earliest edition in my collection, which was on sale exactly 74 years ago this week, in October 1938.

In these early issues, Radio Fun had a bright full colour cover. Sadly WW2 put paid to that and printing limitations confined it to red spot colour for the rest of its long run. Here though is an eye-catching full colour cover where publishers Amalgamated Press are clearly trying to emulate the style of their rival comics Dandy and Beano. Like their rivals, Radio Fun even had an animal star on the cover, even though it had nothing to do with radio! However, despite lovely artwork by Roy Wilson, George the Jolly Gee-Gee was no Korky the Cat. By issue 18 (seen here) the nag was relegated inside the comic, whilst Big Hearted Arthur (Askey) was promoted to a more fitting position on the cover. 

Like its DC Thomson rivals, Radio Fun had 28 pages in this pre-war era. The contents were evenly divided between comic strip and prose stories. Variety act Flanagan and Allen were the stars of the first strip inside the comic. Artwork by veteran illustrator Alex Akerbladh, a Swedish born artist who had been working for AP comics since 1909. 

That master of comic strip slapstick Reg Parlett was on top form drawing Revnell and West, featuring two standards of classic British comics; scrumping and spanking. 

Whilst it was obviously a bit of fun for the comic to show comedy performers getting involved in scrapes, it seemed more surreal when the same practice was employed for the adventure strips. Here's the actor Clark Gable portrayed as having a lifestyle of deadly danger and intrigue. Artwork by George Heath...

The centre pages of this issue featured a fantastic strip drawn by George Parlett. Radio Fun Music Hall broke out of the conventions of traditional framed panels, preferring to use a fluid mixture of artwork and hand-lettered text. Notice how tight the blouse is on Sweet Nell (or "a nice bit of stuff" as she's called here). Clearly, Radio Fun was aimed at kids and their dads!

On the back page, Big-Hearted Arthur, another Reg Parlett strip. As I mentioned earlier, this would become the cover strip for a while from issue 18. 

I hope you've enjoyed this brief time-trip to 1938. Click on the images to see them much larger, and you may need to click again to see them larger still.

Where, or when, will we visit next? I've no idea! Find out soon!

Thursday, October 25, 2012

The Prisoner of Smash!

Back in the 1960s and 1970s, numerous British TV adventure shows had a comic strip version running in one or other of the many weekly comics of the time. From series that are now almost forgotten such as No Hiding Place and Orlando to the ever popular Thunderbirds and Doctor Who, it seemed natural for comics such as TV Express and TV21 to reflect the popularity of the small screen heroes. 

There were exceptions of course. Although The Avengers, The Champions, Department S, The Saint and Danger Man all appeared as weekly comic strips, other shows such as Jason King, Randall and Hopkirk (Deceased) and The Prisoner never did. It's not too surprising regarding the latter as its quirky, satirical, surreal tone didn't really lend itself to the style of British children's comics at the time. 

Except... there was an instance when The Prisoner appeared in a UK comic strip. The issue in question was Smash! No.109 and the character appeared as a guest star in Charlie's Choice, illustrated by Brian Lewis. 

The plot of Charlie's Choice was simple but intriguing. Every week a different character from a contemporary TV show or historical documentary would emerge from Charlie's magical portable television, with hilarious consequences. (Well, slightly amusing consequences at least.) Brian Lewis was often (but not always) the artist and he skillfully captured the likenesses of the actors. His version of Patrick McGoohan here is excellent. 

With this Prisoner spoof, none of the complexities of the series are addressed. It's just a simple story of Number Six on the run, escaping "that place" (the Village) and eventually returning due to his own error. Nevertheless, Brian Lewis could easily turn his hand to humour and adventure artwork and if there had been a comic strip version of The Prisoner back then I think the more realistic style Lewis used on strips such as Moon Madness would have suited it perfectly.

The Prisoner did eventually appear in comic form of course. Jack Kirby's aborted and never-published version in the 1970s would have been interesting, and in the 1980s, Dean Motter's The Prisoner: Shattered Visage was published by DC Comics in the USA. 

I did a kind of parody of the devices and situations of the series in a Combat Colin serial in The Transformers around 1989/90. Here's part one... 

(This Combat Colin chapter and the rest of the story can be seen in my book Brickman Begins, available here: )

I've always liked the original Prisoner TV series and about ten years ago I created The Unmutual Website as a small news site. However after a couple of years I didn't have time to continue running it so I handed it over to a pal, Rick Davy, who is far more knowledgeable about the series than I and who has expanded the site into a fantastic news and information source. Here's the link:

Incidentally, here's a couple of comic strips I did for that website. A mixture of traditional cartoon and CGI imagery:

"Unmutual" was a phrase used in The Prisoner episode 'A Change of Mind' to refer to residents who refused to cooperate with the oppressive rules and establishment of The Village. Likewise, The Unmutual Website has no connection with any fan club regarding the TV series and is an independent news source that is free for all. 

If you're interested in The Prisoner and its themes, or if you've never heard of it and you're wondering what the heck I'm on about,  take a look around that site. You should find a few things of interest.  

Halloween comes early

The current issues of The Beano, The Dandy, and BeanoMax all feature a spooky theme to some of the stories to represent Halloween. 

As any visit to a shop from Poundland to Asda will reveal, Halloween is big business for retailers these days with masks, toy skeletons, fake blood, witch costumes and all kind of horror-themed goodies for sale. Therefore it makes sense for children's comics to get a piece of supernatural action. Such 'Halloween Specials' were unknown 40 or 50 years ago, and over the last few decades have pretty much replaced the old traditional firework issues. (Although The Dandy and Beano did do a few firework strips last year.) 

This week's Beano kicks off with a great cover by Nigel Parkinson and inside he's also drawn a three page Dennis the Menace strip featuring... Frankenswine! There's also Ratz by Hunt Emerson, Minnie the Minx by Laura Howell, Ball Boy by Dave Eastbury and lots more, including a one-off Horrornation Street puzzle page that I did. 

Over in The Dandy, a nice eye-catching Desperate Dan cover by Jamie Smart opens the proceedings. Halloween strips inside include The Bogies and Corporal Clott by Nigel Auchterlounie, Bananaman by Wayne Thompson, and My Dad's A Doofus by Jamie Smart. (Remember to keep checking that Dandy countdown clock as we head towards the final print edition!) 

BeanoMax No.70 has been out a few weeks now but also has a monster theme. Spooky stories include The Monster Invasion of Beanotown drawn by Nigel Parkinson, Cuthbert and the Rumpled Pumpkin by Dave Sutherland, and Gnasher's Bite by Barrie Appleby. 

The Beano is priced £1.50, The Dandy is £1.99, and BeanoMax is £3.99 (the latter being bagged with toys). All are available now.

Tuesday, October 23, 2012

The Zaucer of Zilk goes Stateside

Those of you who may have missed The Zaucer of Zilk when it was recently serialised in 2000AD have a chance to catch it again with US publisher IDW's two-issue mini-series collecting the tale. Issue 1 came out last week. 

What's it about? "Don't ask. Just buy!" as Jack Kirby once said of his own work. To explain The Zaucer of Zilk would dilute the experience. If I tell you that Brendan McCarthy and Al Ewing are the creators you'll know it's going to be worth your time. Psychedelic, timeless, Yellow Submariney, Alicey Wonderlandy, Wizard of Ozzy... you get the point. Magically daft fun.

Yes, Brendan McCarthy! Back in comics again and doing great work as ever, coupled with the writing talents of Al Ewing! You can't go wrong.  

The Zaucer of Zilk No.1 is out now in the USA and in UK comic shops. Issue 2 will be out soon, and here's a preview of the cover...

Publisher IDW will also be doing another 2000AD character soon, as Judge Dredd gets his own American comic with all-new material. In fact, IDW are doing some great comics these days including Mars Attacks (with artwork by John McCrea), Transformers Regeneration One (a sequel to the Marvel UK comic, by Simon Furman and Andrew Wildman), Popeye (new stories written by Roger Langridge), Classic Popeye (reprinting complete 1940s Bud Sagendorf issues), Haunted Horror (Craig Yoe's collection of pre-code horror comics), Doctor Who and many more. 

Latest Commando comics - out this week

Thanks to Scott Montgomery at D.C. Thomson for the info and images...

Commando Issues 4543-4546 – On Sale 25 October 2012

Commando No 4543 – Focke-Wulf Hi-Jack

In 1941, the Luftwaffe’s sleek and deadly Focke-Wulf 190 appeared from nowhere to terrorise the RAF. Even their best fighter, the Supermarine Spitfire MkV, was no match for it. The British needed an intact Fw190 to discover its weaknesses…and a way to defeat it.
   The top brass came up with a simple but dangerous plan. A crack Commando squad would lead a raid to steal a Focke-Wulf from right under the Jerries’ noses! All they needed was a pilot.
   That’s when Flight Lieutenant Tam McDermott stepped up. Fluent in German and with a working knowledge of Luftwaffe aircraft, he was perfect – if only he could survive his Commando training!

Story: Alan Hebden
Art: Rezzonico
Cover: Janek Matysiak

Commando No 4544 – The Sorcerer’s Apprentice

Private Frankie Horton was far from the best soldier ever to serve in the Eighth Army. His rifle was likely to be the dirtiest and his uniform the scruffiest in his squad. He also had a tendency to dream, particularly about being a magician – an ambition he had had since childhood.
   No-one would have believed it if they were told that, thanks to Frankie, an almost certain German victory in North Africa would be averted.
   Not even Frankie. And he believed in magic.

Story: Alan Hebden
Art: Keith Page
Cover: Keith Page

Commando No 4545 – Clash Of Steel

Popski’s Private Army

Every regiment has its daredevil, the one man who doesn’t know the meaning of fear. In Popski’s Private Army there were nothing else but daredevils, each one more daring than the next.
   This is the story of a Desert Army sergeant, who accidentally came to make up a foursome with three of the toughest and craziest of Popski’s desert pirates.
   Men said you had to be certified crazy to qualify for the PPA. Well, maybe Sergeant Dave Jones was at that…Crazy-brave!


When I tell you that this is a fantastic Commando story, you’d be quite entitled to think, “Well, he would say that wouldn’t he?” And that would be fair enough. However, it really is true and I can say it because it was created long before I had anything to do with Commando – even as a reader.
   Starting with Ken Barr’s brooding cover with its hint of action in the binocular lens and moving to Alonso’s brilliant “pants-on-fire” realisation of the Henderson script, it really is action-packed from start to finish. The fistfight scenes throughout are a work of artistic magic.
   As you’ll have gathered, I really like this one…and I think you will too.

Calum Laird, Editor

Clash Of Steel originally Commando No 50 (December 1962)

Story: Henderson
Art: Alonso
Cover: Ken Barr

Commando No 4546 – A Touch Of Courage

Do you believe in magic? No? Well, Englishman Sam Benson wasn’t too sure either. While out in Australia he saw an aboriginal ceremony where the natives touched a totem believing it would give them courage.
   Little did he know that several months later, while fighting the Japanese on the far-off island of Ketta, that same ritual would save his life!


Here’s another gem of a story from our Silver Collection – a silver gem, is that possible?
   Back in the 1980s, I was a Commando reader and, as well as the stories, I used to enjoy the inside feature pages too. Sometimes they’d be weapons specs, aircraft illustrations, weird vehicles, quizzes, or World War II trivia, amongst many other things.
   Now, over 25 years later, it’s a privilege (and brilliantly surreal) to be regularly writing a Commando feature page! So, for the trivia buffs among you, if you’re interested, the original version of this feature page consisted of what…?
   A rather stern-faced photo of top England goalkeeper Peter Shilton – in Commando’s ‘Stars Of Soccer’ series!

Scott Montgomery, Deputy Editor

A Touch Of Courage, originally Commando No 2082 (April 1987)

Story: Cyril Walker
Art: Cecil Rigby
Cover: Jeff Bevan

Sunday, October 21, 2012

The Beano and Dandy Collection (UPDATED NEWS)

This was unexpected! There's a new partwork coming soon and this time the spotlight will be on The Beano and The Dandy! 

The Beano and Dandy Collection will comprise of a magazine focusing on a different character every issue, packaged with a hand-painted figurine of that character. The magazine will include four pages of comic strip from the archives plus background features on the highlighted character, an ongoing history of comics, and a look back at what else was happening in that relevant year. Figurines scheduled for the early issues include Dennis the Menace, Roger the Dodger, Desperate Dan, and Plug. 

It sounds like this will be similar to the long-running partworks that feature figurines of Marvel and DC superheroes but it's great to see British comics in the spotlight for a change. An ideal new launch for the 75th anniversaries of the two comics and it ensures that The Dandy will still have a regular presence on the shelves of newsagents in some form at least. (Although bear in mind that, after the initial launch issues, shops sometimes only stock partworks on standing order.)

Sometimes, partworks only have a trial launch in selected areas (as the Marvel Graphic Novel Collection did before being relaunched nationwide) and I don't know if that applies to this publication. 
UPDATE 24/10/12: The publishers have informed me that The Beano and Dandy Collection was launched on September 5th but is only available in Newcastle at present, as a test launch.

Visit the official website here:

Saturday, October 20, 2012

This week in 1968: The fate of FANTASTIC

When Odhams began reprinting strips from Marvel Comics (starting with The Incredible Hulk in Smash! in 1966) it was, for many of us, our first exposure to the American superheroes. Therefore Fantastic was warmly welcomed by many when it launched in early 1967 reprinting the first adventures of The Mighty Thor, Iron Man, and the X-Men

For some, superheroes were an acquired taste and it seems that most UK comic readers preferred the standard adventure stories of Victor or Lion to the extravagances of the heroes created by Stan Lee, Jack Kirby and all. Therefore, with its 89th issue (and having already absorbed its sister paper Terrific) Fantastic left the world of comics forever, as it geared up to merge into Smash! and Pow!

The cover (above) wasn't particularly fantastic, being a composite of vignettes from various Marvel comics and a newly drawn head shot of the villainous Mandarin. You'll notice there's not even a 'Great News Inside, Chums' topline for this last issue, but that was more Fleetway's gimmick than Odhams'. 

Inside, all the stories reached their conclusions. Fantastic had been serialising the story from Avengers King-Size Special No.1 for a few weeks, and this issue saw the final part. The tagged-on caption in the last panel promised that Thor, X-Men and The Avengers would still be around the following week in Smash and Pow but that was quite disingenuous, as we'll see later.

Due to the oddities of scheduling, the continuity of the X-Men was in advance of The Avengers strips, so whilst Fantastic had been reprinting Avengers stories from 1967, the same issue featured X-Men stories from early 1968. This created some confusion with an X-Men/Avengers crossover featuring a different team of Avengers than readers were familiar with. The Black Panther was a particular anomaly, as his introduction in the Fantastic Four stories hadn't even been reprinted yet, never mind his induction into the Avengers! 

No matter. It featured superheroes hitting each other and that's all we wanted to see when we were nine. Its final page featured the dramatic death of Magneto! Hang on... he survived, right? Not for readers of Fantastic as this was the last X-Men story to be reprinted. It would be many years before Marvel UK got around to reprinting this story, so for a generation of comic readers this was Magneto's fate. Ditto Professor X, who had "died" a few weeks earlier, with his resurrection never to be reprinted.

Fantastic had also been reprinting the Hulk and Doctor Strange strips, but those had concluded a few weeks earlier. To fill up a couple of spare pages in the final issue, editors Alf and Bart included a short SF story from one of Marvel's mystery comics. Following it, on page 26, came the official announcement that Fantastic was ending. I quite like the way the fatalistic editors broke the news. "It all has to come to an end SOME time! That's life!

Following the Thor story came another announcement on the inside back cover, promising that all the Marvel characters, including the Hulk, would be in one "book length tale" in Smash! and Pow! the following week. Untrue, as it turned out.

The following Saturday saw the united comic hit the stands with its gobfull of a title Smash! and Pow! incorporating Fantastic. The comic featured 36 pages and was very much a continuation of Smash and Pow, featuring a good balance of humour strips, adventure serials and a couple of Marvel reprints. 

Thor was the only strip to actually make the transition from Fantastic and, because of the larger page size of Smash, the strip was now resized to fit approximately two Marvel pages onto one UK page. 

The other Marvel strip wasn't the promised Avengers or the X-Men. Neither of those strips would again appear in an Odhams comic. Instead, readers were treated to a serialisation of Fantastic Four Annual No.3. Admittedly, over the coming weeks it would feature most of Marvel's characters but it wasn't exactly the "book length tale" advertised. Part one ran to just three pages. Another shock for readers was that it took place in a continuity prior to the stories they'd read in Fantastic. As a pasted on caption helpfully told us "This story is set at a time when Professor X was still alive and leading the X-Men!"

When the reprint of Reed and Sue's wedding was concluded, Smash continued with reprints of the Fantastic Four, along with Thor, until the final Odhams issue in 1969. Then, UK comics bid goodbye to Marvel heroes for a few years as IPC revamped Smash! into a traditional boys comic. 

Fantastic may have only been around for a year and a half but for those of us who were children back then it certainly lived up to its name. It was truly a fantastic way to immerse oneself in the Marvel universe every Saturday.

Flashback to the first issue:
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