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Saturday, November 30, 2013

Today's Independent

The Independent newspaper has often given comics the recognition they deserve, reporting on comics-related topics and reviewing graphic novels just as they would any other area of the arts. In today's edition's Independent Magazine supplement, journalist Rhodri Marsden has written an article about the comic speech balloon. The inspiration being that this weekend would have been the 76th anniversary of The Dandy

Rhodri Marsden contacted me in preparation of this feature as he'd read the posting on my blog last year showing that, contrary to some sources, The Dandy was not the first comic to use the speech balloon. He puts the record straight for a wider audience in showing how the speech balloon began to develop long before comics came along. Fellow comic artist Woodrow Phoenix and I both get a mention, talking about the efficiency of the speech balloon and how text under panels was used to convince parents that comics had literary merit. 

Although the American newspaper cartoon The Yellow Kid is credited with first putting the speech balloon within the panel, The Dandy hadn't directly "nicked the idea from the Americans" as Rhodri suggests, as other British comics such as Picture Fun and Funny Wonder had used it before The Dandy. Nevertheless, it's always good to see an article in a national newspaper covering a comics-related subject and treating it with respect. 

Website of The Independent newspaper:

My earlier blog post about speech balloons:

Thursday, November 28, 2013

WHAM! ANNUAL cover gallery

One of the liveliest annuals of the 1960s was the Wham! Annual. Originally published by Odhams, and later by IPC, its first few years reflected the robustness and humour of the weekly. It outlived the weekly by several years, albeit ending up considerably different to how it started. 

Here are all the covers to the annuals, starting with the first one above, the Wham! Annual 1966 (published in 1965). I'm not sure who drew the cover. Possibly Terry Willers, who did quite a bit for the weekly?

The early books had the cover scene continue over to the inside front cover, which was a great introduction to the book, making the readers feel like they were escaping into a brightly coloured world of fun and daftness. These interior pages are drawn by Gordon Hogg...

A year later, and here's the cover to Wham! Annual 1967. Artwork by the brilliant Graham Allen...

Graham Allen also drew the inside front cover strip. Again, it gives the reader a sense of entering into the book, especially with a 'hole' having been blasted open behind the logo. (Please excuse the bits of dialogue I added in biro back when I was seven!)

Another 12 months later and it's the annual for 1968. Again, Graham Allen is the artist for the cover and the interior strip that continues from it...

I always felt that the background blue for the Wham! Annual 1969 cover was too dark, but it's a good cover all the same. Again by Graham Allen, who also drew the interior strip.

The Wham! Annual 1970 had a change of artist with Mike Brown. No interior strip continued from the cover this time...

The Wham! Annual 1971 changed artists again, with Gordon Hogg providing the art. He also drew the interior spread that followed it...

By the 1970s The Wham! Annual had been living on borrowed time, with the weekly having merged into Pow! in early 1968. Perhaps that's why new publishers IPC decided to completely revamp the book with the one for 1972. Transformed into an adventure annual, its contents featured none of the familiar Wham! characters. Instead, it was mainly full of reprints from Eagle and other old Odhams comics. (That said, I have a personal fondness for this one as my grandad bought it me when we were on a day trip to Blackpool on September 23rd, 1971. I still have the receipt inside it as a bookmark!)

The following year saw another change, as two annuals merged as Wham! and Pow! Annual 1973. Although the two weeklies had joined forces in 1968, it had been Pow! which had been the dominant title, not vice-versa in the case of the annual. Again, no characters from Wham! (or Pow!) were featured in this book. Old Eagle characters such as Harris Tweed (renamed Bulldog Breed) and other Odhams material featured instead.

The final annual was the Wham! and Pow! Annual 1974. Even the old logos had been redesigned this time! However, inside, some familiar faces returned, such as The Cloak, The Two Faces of Janus, and Footsie the Clown, albeit only as reprints. The cover was by Joe Colquhoun.

So there you have it; all nine Wham! annual covers. Click on each image to see them much larger.

Monday, November 25, 2013

Fleetway Annuals 1974

I've shown a couple of these things before ( but, if you missed those posts, this is a leaflet that was issued to newsagents and booksellers for customers to pick up at the counter. The idea being to let people know the range of annuals on offer, and for them to place an order with the shop. 

And what a range it was! Back then, publishers aimed to appeal to every age group. The commonsense idea being that as readers grew older the publisher could still profit from them. Just look at the titles available 40 years ago; annuals for everyone from toddler to adult. As you can see, IPC alone published no less than 72 different annuals that year, - and then there'd also be many other titles from DC Thomson and others. An incredible amount of books. 

Such excellent covers too. I don't think there's a bad design amongst them. (Although I remember thinking that the Eagle Annual's photo cover was a bit bland.) Some great annuals here, including one-off collections of Dan Dare and Trigan Empire strips, the second of the merged Wham and Pow annuals (with a smashing Joe Colquhoun cover), the second (and final) of IPC's Marvel annuals (with a Geoff Campion Spider-Man cover) and the first Shiver and Shake Annual. Curiously, there was even a Tiger Tim Annual in 1974. IPC's oldest character in that selection. 

Sadly, almost all of the titles shown here are no more. I think a Shoot Annual is still published, and the magazine itself is still in business along with NME and Angler's Mail, but everything else is long gone. Many of the 1974 comic annuals had survived beyond their weekly versions anyway, so they were living on borrowed time even back then, but it's a shame the demand for annuals isn't the same today. Nevertheless, I hope you enjoy this peek into the past of 40 years ago. 

As a bonus, here's a full size scan of Joe Colquhoun's brilliant cover of the western character Jeff Arnold for the Wham! and Pow! Annual 1974. Unfortunately the entire content was reprint from various Odhams titles (including Eagle), but at least the reprints were good - Mike Higgs' The Cloak for one. This would be the swansong for the book, but what a great cover to go out on!

Saturday, November 23, 2013

Doctor Who cover gallery

I'm sure a billion other blogs will be posting about Doctor Who today on this 50th anniversary of the show so I thought I'd join in the celebrations. Here's a brief look at just a few of the comic covers that The Doctor appeared on during the first ten years, starting with Walt Howarth's painting of William Hartnell as the first Doctor for the first Doctor Who Annual above.

Next up, here's one of John Canning's TV Comic covers featuring the second Doctor, Patrick Troughton (issue 796, March 18th 1967). You may notice that Canning managed to get his name on the cover by blatantly making it part of the shop front.

By 1971 the Doctor Who comic strip had moved to TV Comic's new sister publication Countdown. Here's a Harry Lindfield cover to issue 27 featuring Jon Pertwee as the third Doctor.

Countdown's falling sales led to a big revamp in 1972 and a title change to TV Action, but the Dr.Who strip continued, now with a regular cover spot. The artist by now was Gerry Haylock who captured Jon Pertwee's likeness perfectly.

Using the Daleks as the foes in the strip during the revamp was a good idea to retain the readers interest. Here's another Gerry Haylock cover from a few weeks later.

TV Action had run a competition in its first issue for readers to create a new monster for the Doctor to battle. The winning entry, The Ugrakks, was announced in issue 72, chosen by a team of judges including the comic's editor Dennis Hooper, Doctor Who producer Barry Letts and Jon Pertwee himself. The monster then appeared in issue 79 (August 19th 1972) with the lucky winner himself also appearing on the cover...

Another revamp for the comic with issue 101 led to cover strips being dropped in favour of full page illustrations representing that week's 'Big Story' (the strips took turns to feature in one seven page complete story inside). Doctor Who had a few turns, including these two striking images. 

TV Action's fortunes sadly continued to fall and it was merged into TV Comic, taking Doctor Who with it. In 1979, Marvel UK acquired the strip rights and have been publishing Doctor Who Weekly (or Doctor Who Magazine as it soon became) ever since. Happy 50th, Doctor Who!

Thursday, November 21, 2013

Tom Paterson arrives in the Christmas Viz

Veteran humour artist Tom Paterson makes his very welcome first appearance to the pages of Viz in the Christmas issue that goes on sale today. 

Tom, a highly respected cartoonist who has worked in the comics industry for 40 years, is well known for his hilarious artwork on strips such as Sweeny Toddler for Whoopee! and Calamity James for The Beano. Now he's turned his hand to the adult comic market to produce Jasper the Gasper for Viz.

If the name sounds familiar it's because it's a spoof of the classic Ken Reid strip, Jasper the Grasper from Wham! But where Ken's character was a grasping Victorian miser, Tom's Jasper is gasping for a fag. Don't worry if you're not familiar with Ken Reid's 1965 strip; Tom's character is brilliant in its own right.

The excellent strip runs to two packed pages, with Tom using a similar style to that which he developed in the 1990s for Buster's Watford Gapp, King of the Rap.

The latest Viz also features many other strips by creators such as Paul Palmer, Davey Jones, Simon Thorp and myself. Out now. £3.20 with a free 2014 calendar. 

Cover by Simon Thorp

Marvel Action Hour

Marvel Action Hour was another attempt by Marvel UK to utilize American reprints in a British comic format. The slim 24 page fortnightly was printed on matt paper and featured Fantastic Four stories from the late 1970s and Iron Man strips from the 1980s. The first issue was cover dated 9th October 1996, and priced 75p. The free gift was a chew bar.

With so few pages to accommodate two US comics, the strips took it in turns to be serialized over two issues. For example, issue 1 featured a complete FF tale plus the first third of an Iron Man story, and No.2 featured the rest of the Iron Man story and 9 pages of the next FF adventure. 

The reproduction of the strips was excellent and the comics featured some fine John Buscema/Joe Sinnot Fantastic Four pages.

The original splash pages of the lead strips were replaced by newly drawn images by Jon Rushby and inked by Bambos Georgiou so the stories could begin  on the covers in traditional UK fashion.

The title was inspired by a cartoon series of the same name so clearly the comic was hoping to capitalize on that. Sadly, it wasn't to be. After just four issues the fortnightly was abruptly cancelled with no warning. So sudden was the decision that the next issue was advertised but never materialized. Sales must have been pretty low. Superheroes were a hit or miss affair with the British public back then. The Fantastic Four had never really been hugely popular in UK comics so it was never going to be an easy sell. 

Marvel Action Hour was one of the shortest-lived UK comics of all time but it was a worthwhile effort. The company have since enjoyed much more success with the 76 page 'Collectors Editions' reprinting three full comics, - aided no doubt by the massively successful Marvel movies of this century. 

Wednesday, November 20, 2013

Gallifrey in TV Action

This week's issue of Radio Times is, as you'd expect, dedicated to mostly celebrating the 50th anniversary of Doctor Who. Amongst its 26 pages of features about the series there's a mention that The Doctor's home planet of Gallifrey was first named in the comic TV Action months before it was mentioned in the TV series. 

I looked it up and, sure enough, there it was in TV Action No.126 (dated July 14th 1973). Not in the Doctor Who strip, but in an answer to a reader's letter. You can see the scan of the page above. 

How could this be? Well, the editor of TV Action (and the comic's previous title as Countdown) was Dennis Hooper, who was a big fan of Doctor Who. He had a close association with the BBC and the producers of Doctor Who, having previously being allowed to attend the filming of the serial The Daemons for a Countdown photo-feature. Hooper had also used several exclusive publicity photos in the comic, so he was clearly on good terms with the BBC. My guess is he simply asked the producers for the answer to the reader's question and they obliged, even though Gallifrey wouldn't be mentioned on TV until five months later in The Time Warrior serial. Today, the comic's revelation would break the Internet, but back in 1973 it passed without fanfare.

In case you're curious, here's the Dr. Who strip that appeared in that issue.  Artwork by Gerry Haylock, who always managed to draw a superb likeness of Jon Pertwee. Click images to see them larger.

Saturday, November 16, 2013

Baz and Co. - The Battling Brummies

Many of you are aware of the artwork of Mike Higgs from his popular strip The Cloak that ran in Pow! (and the merged Smash! and Pow!) in 1967 to 1969. You may also know him from his Space School strip in the early issues of Whizzer and Chips and his ThunderCap strip in Buster in the 1990s. Mike's done a lot of work over his career - some of it outside of children's comics such as compiling/designing many books about comics for Hawk Books or writing/drawing various childrens books. He's also produced a couple of newspaper strips - namely the long running Moonbird strip in the 1980s and for the Daily Mirror he created Baz and Co.

Baz and Co started life around 1990 when Mike submitted an idea for a new strip about a dog to the Daily Mirror. The paper's cartoon editor felt that they already had a cartoon dog in the form of Boot (in The Perishers strip) but liked Mike's style and suggested he might like to develop a different idea. The concept was that it'd be about a group of friends in their late teens/early twenties who were forming a band. Mike set to work and Baz and Co was born. The Mirror added the sub-title The Battling Brummies - basically because Mike was from Birmingham!

Mike was very pleased to have a strip in the Daily Mirror as their strips page had been a favourite of his as a child. (The Mirror was renowned for its great strips with characters such as Andy Capp and Jane becoming household names.) Baz and Co suited the paper well. On weekdays it would appear on the Mirror's pop page and on Saturdays it'd be one of the tiers along with Garth and the rest. 

Mike even managed to promote the idea of adults reading comics being acceptable by depicting Baz as a comics fan who frequented a comic shop. The shop's owner bore a striking resemblance to Mike's old friend Phil Clarke who was until several years ago the owner of Birmingham's Nostalgia and Comics store (still one of the UK's longest running - and best - comic shops). 

Baz and Co ran for over two years in the Daily Mirror before editorial shake ups led to a reduction in cartoon content. It was a good fun strip as can be seen from the few examples here and a worthy part of the Mirror's rich cartoon strip history. 
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