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Monday, November 19, 2012

Remembering a Valiant era

Books on British comics are few and far between these days so when a new one comes along it should be celebrated, - especially one as well produced as this. To be accurate, running at 36 pages, One-Eyed Jack and the Death of Valiant is more of a booklet than a book, but it covers its subject matter thoroughly with well written text and sharply reproduced images.

Valiant was Fleetway's flagship adventure comic for boys, which ran from 1962 until 1976, when it merged into Battle. The booklet focuses on the last years of the comic, serving as a postmortem of sorts as to why it folded. Don't get the impression it's too downbeat though, as the writer David McDonald offers us a fascinating behind-the-scenes look at the era. There are new interviews with editor/writer John Wagner and artist John Cooper, who drew the cop strip One-Eyed Jack. This is a story of a comic that needed to toughen up to adapt to changing times in a period when the old-style adventure comics were nearing their end. With John Wagner as its new editor, the Valiant of 1975 became an edgier comic, reflecting the new direction that Battle Picture Weekly had taken and preceding Action, which would debut the following year. However, for Valiant, it was perhaps a case of changing too much, too late.    

Even so, the new direction gave us the aforementioned One-Eyed Jack, the tough New York cop who would in a way become a kind of prototype for Judge Dredd. The booklet reprints an early One-Eyed Jack strip in full, along with the complete first episode of Death Wish, another strip that Wagner brought into Valiant.

There's also a fascinating feature on the work of Jan Shepheard, who was an art editor at Fleetway/IPC and on Valiant throughout its run. It's good to see Jan get her due as she created many of the distinctive story logos seen in IPC comics over the years including those for Judge Dredd and The Return of The Claw. Kevin O'Neill is also interviewed regarding the logo designs he himself created, and of his time working with Jan. 

This is really an essential book for anyone interested in the history of UK comics and the workings of IPC of the period. One-Eyed Jack and the Death of Valiant can be purchased directly from the publisher Hibernia Comics for just £3.99 (or as a digital download for only £1.50).   

You'll notice that the weblink also shows that Hibernia's Doomlord collection is also still available. Published a few years back under official license from the copyright holders, it's a very nicely produced 72 page volume reprinting The Deathlords of Nox story from the 1980s Eagle. With scripts by Alan Grant and John Wagner and artwork by Heinzl, the story is actually far better than I remembered and is well worth a read. It costs just £5 from the link above. (And while you're at it, buy Tales from the Emerald Isle too, - a worthy 2000AD tribute stripzine with some good artwork.)

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