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Thursday, March 27, 2014

You'll get a fourpenny one!

One of the many good things about growing up in the 1960s were the stability of prices. At least that's how it seemed as a child, when comics remained the same price week after week. Then, one day in March 1968, the unthinkable happened... The Dandy and The Beano increased from 3d each to 4d each! (In decimal currency that's a rise from 1p to 1 and a half pence.)

This was the first price rise the two comics had received since 1960, when they had risen from 2d to 3d - but that had been accompanied by a page increase. (However, personally speaking, as I was only one year old in 1960 it had passed me by.) I still remember how unusual it felt in 1968 that two of my favourite comics were suddenly a penny more expensive (and no extra pages either). This was the first price increase in comics that I'd experienced, - and in the week of my 9th birthday too. (I was just recovering from a bad bout of measles as well. What a week!)

Of course inflation in the years following pushed the price of everything up, including every comic, and so it increased, more and more, until we have the £2 Beano of the present day. No doubt in 46 years time, £2 for a comic will seem a similar pittance that 4d seems to us today. 

There's the cover above (by Dudley Watkins) of the first fourpenny Beano. That price rise felt so unusual to me that this is one of the few 1960s Beanos I've retained. 

Here are a couple of other pages from that same issue. Lord Snooty, also by Dudley Watkins...

...and Dennis the Menace by the strip's original artist, Davy Law...

(Incidentally, if you're wondering why my name is written across the top of the cover; that's what newsagents did when you had copies reserved at the shop.)

Commando comics for March 27th

Direct from DC Thomson, here's the info for the four issues of Commando that are in the shops now, priced £2 each.

Commando Issues 4691-4694 – On Sale 27th March 2014:

Commando No 4691 – The Fighting Sappers
Young recruits Harry Blake and Charlie Yates had signed up for the infantry but ended up being sent to a tunnelling unit on the Western Front, part of a team of Royal Engineers — or “Sappers” as they were more commonly known.
   Although the Sappers usually laboured beneath the trenches, rather than in them — their work was every bit as dangerous. And soon the pals realised that the fighting underground could be every bit as fierce as that on the surface...
Story: Ferg Handley
Art: Vila
Cover: Janek Matysiak

Commando No 4692 – The Executioners
It was known to British and Germans alike in that bullet-raked valley as “The Villa In No-Man’s-Land” — a bleak, deserted house commanding vital sections of each front line. But this was no ordinary house…
   Nazi officers who took possession of it were found stiff and dead at their dinner-table. British patrols who moved up to investigate were never seen again. There were rumours of mysterious sounds heard underground, of secret passages and tunnels, of invisible voices and footsteps.
   Then Sergeant Gunson and three Commandos were detailed to investigate — and execute — whoever or whatever was haunting the “Villa In No-Man’s-Land”. 

Chaco’s cover and the title tell you the whole story, don’t they? A Commando squad on an assassination mission ready to strike…except that this Powell story has an unexpected surprise which takes the whole plot in a different direction. It does something that is difficult to pull off in a Commando story; it has all its action compressed into a short time frame and takes place in a very small area. That could easily be a recipe for a long series of repetitive pictures but, thanks to the skill of the author and artist Bielsa, it’s not.
  Go on, read it and see if you agree.

Calum Laird, Commando Editor

The Executioners originally Commando No 118 (May 1964), re-issued as No 647 (May 1972)

Story: Powell
Art: Bielsa
Cover: Chaco

Commando No 4693 – Hi-Jacked!
By 1945, Sergeant Joe Kellis and his Sherman tank crew knew that the end of the war in Europe was in sight. They were hoping that it might end quietly for them.
   Then their tank was hijacked by a couple of Italian deserters and they found themselves mixed up in a dangerous scheme involving stolen gold that could see them on the run from both sides. 
   A quiet end to the War…? Not a chance!

Story: Ferg Handley
Art: Morahin
Cover: Janek Matysiak

Commando 4694 – Sabotage Mission
The raiders’ objective was vital. If they reached and destroyed their target, it would be a bitter blow to the enemy. But the greatest danger the forward recce party faced came from within their own ranks…the result of an old grudge which could only mean BIG trouble. 


What’s in a name? Or rather, a title?
   Here, author Peter McKenzie’s working title was “A Question Of Trust”. Personally, I think that’s a great title  —  one which neatly sums up the underlying theme of this tough action-packed tale. 
   However, as good as it is, that title doesn’t quite match up with artist Jeff Bevan’s inventive, offbeat cover. The more robust, straight-forward “Sabotage Mission” fits the bill perfectly. Where possible we would always try to use a writer’s original title but the Commando editorial team from 1989 made the right decision in changing it.  

Scott Montgomery, Deputy Editor
Sabotage Mission, originally Commando No 2321 (October 1989) 

Story: Peter Mckenzie
Art: Ibanez
Cover: Jeff Bevan

Tuesday, March 25, 2014

Psycho Gran returns in her own comic

One of the stars of 1980s cult comic Oink! makes her welcome return this week in her own title. David Leach's Psycho Gran No.1 will be available to buy as a digital comic from Titan Comics on the ComiXology app as from tomorrow (March 26th), - a day now known as Gran-day! 

I'm really pleased to see this happening as David's style of comedy has always amused me and over the years his artwork has continued to develop and reach new heights. Psycho Gran is too good a character to keep down, - and she just wouldn't allow it anyway. 
The cover to PSYCHO GRAN No.1.

Here's the official press release:

First published in the British kid's comic, Oink! Back in 1986 Psycho Gran is the psychotically demented brain-child of cartoonist and comic book editor, David Leach – winner of Channel Four's Come Dine With Me, editor and writer of the Wallace and Gromit newspaper strip and the Adventure Time comic magazine and editor of Roman Dirge's Lenore. David is also the co-creator of cult 1990's strip The Driver for the British cult comic, Toxic!.
Psycho Gran (or Psycho Besta as she's known in Norway) is a five-foot high, mauve-haired, bespectacled psychotic granny with a pan-dimensional, sentient handbag called Percy, a flying dog called Archie and a pathological loathing of rudeness. Join her for an all-new 29 page, full-colour journey into a surrealist slap-stick world of rampaging kaiju (that’s giant monsters to you!), neo-Nazis skin-heads, bag snatchers, death-row inmates, explosive diarrhea, those annoying SOBs who will insist on using their bloody mobile phones in cinemas and innocent people just minding their own buisness.
She puts the Old into Old Skool! 

On sale date: March 26th. Available here: 

“Dark humour cartoons used to be a strong part of British comics, now sadly long gone, apart from a few adult comics and great strips like Psycho-Gran. I have particularly fond memories of David's "The Driver" and "Dinner Ladies From Hell" and his Psycho-Gran is in the same hilarious mould. It's an excellent representation of the British black comedy we need so much more of.”
– Pat Mills, creator of 2000AD, Action, Battle writer and creator of Sláine, Nemesis the Warlock, Marshal Law, Charley's War and the ABC Warriors.

“While old comedy comic characters wither in the creaking care home of bad stewardship, David Leach's, old but un-withered, bad, batty, toothless, ruthless, fearless, frightening, horrible, hilarious, Psycho Gran marches on in her surgical stockings, getting stronger by the day. Bless him!”
– David Lloyd, artist and co-creator of V For Vendetta.

"Um, how about ‘...David Leach's Psycho Gran is a satisfying blend of top-notch draughtsmanship and gruesome silliness...’ Or something like that? A bit short, I know, but I put the dot-dot-dots in to make it look like it's come from a longer review. “ 
– Davey Jones, Former Viz Editor.

"David Leach takes comic violence to the next level with the powerful and genuinely funny imagery of Psycho Gran. The most Gran-tastic comic book you'll ever read!"
– Lew Stringer, creator of Combat Colin and regular Viz and Beano artist extraordinaire.

“Psycho Gran is unique and genuinely disturbing, and so is her creator.” – Peter Hogan writer of Resident Alien and Tom Strong 

“I grew up with Pyscho Gran as an inspiration for not only how to draw comics, but how to live my life. She was drawn in a style I'd never seen before in children's comics, and the humour was so dark and so BRUTAL, it affected me in ways no other comic had.  A real eye-opener for what children's comics could, and should, be.”– Jamie Smart, creator of Bear, Corporate Skull and Desperate Dan and Dandy relaunch artist.

“Terror has a new face…. and a purple rinse …With Psycho Gran, David Leach forges a new genre of Octogenarian ultra-violence, surreal and disturbing but a right ‘bloody’ laugh. Harry Brown it’s time to collect your pension” 
– Stuart Jennett artist and writer of Chronos Commandos.

Make it a date, - Psycho Gran No.1 - on sale from your Internet on Wednesday!

David Leach at work.

The Psycho Gran FACEBOOK page went live on Feb 10 2014 and already has 156 likes.

The FACEBOOK Oink! page has 684 members

Psycho Gran appears in the Digital comics, Aces Weekly which was recently voted Best Digital Comic of 2013.

She has appeared Norway in the NEMI magazine where she is known as Psycho Besta.

After a 25-year absence she returned in the Japanese Tsunami appeal book, Spirit of Hope in 2011.

Saturday, March 22, 2014

Treasure Island - adapted by Dudley Watkins

A few weeks ago one of The Broons trilogy of comics that was free in The Sunday Post showed a few pages from an adaptation of Treasure Island drawn by Dudley Watkins. I was intrigued about this and Down the Tubes editor Jeremy Briggs kindly sent me a spare copy of the book. (In exchange for which I've agreed to do a drawing for him. I haven't forgotten, Jeremy! Will do it this week.) Here are a few pages from that book.

Dudley Watkins (the original artist of Desperate Dan, Lord Snooty, and others) drew his adaptation of Robert Louis Stevenson's Treasure Island in 1949 for serialization in the People's Journal, published by DC Thomson. He also drew adaptations of other classics for the magazine, such as Oliver Twist, Robinson Crusoe, and Kidnapped, and the stories were later collected into book form and published in the 1950s. In effect, these were precursors to the 'graphic novel', although all the dialogue appeared in the text beneath the pictures, not in word balloons.

The format of this Treasure Island book is a compact A5 size hardback with 124 pages. Although best known for Desperate Dan, Watkins was able to adapt his style with more detail for his adventure strips. The results are richly illustrated images that depict the story perfectly. 

My classmates and I read the prose edition of Treasure Island at junior school and the sequence with the dreaded 'black spot' had us so engrossed we immediately played out that scene at break-time in the playground. Pretending to keel over dead with fright seemed hilarious when we were eight.

I've always been amazed at the amount of high quality work that Dudley Watkins turned out, week after week. He really was one of the best comic artists we've ever seen.

Serialized reprints of Treasure Island began in The Topper No.1 in 1953, with added colour. Personally I prefer seeing the strip in black and white as intended.

The book also contained a few feature pages, presumably newly drawn for the collection, showing what a dangerous experience it would have been to encounter pirates.

Readers accustomed to Dudley Watkins' lighter adventure strips (such as Jimmy's Magic Patch) might have found this dark, grim adaptation quite a change, but I'm sure the atmpspheric, blood-curdling story would have them transfixed. It would be great if this Treasure Island book (and Watkins' other strip adaptations) were re-issued. The quality of the work is too impressive to be consigned to history.  

Friday, March 21, 2014

To INFINITY and beyond

Back in the 1970s and 1980s many of us eagerly looked forward to the latest issues of comics fanzines thudding through our letterboxes. Back in those pre-Internet days, the likes of Bem and Comic Media News were the only way we could obtain news and opinion about comics. Today, we have similar publications in digital form, and one of the latest, Infinity, has just released its seventh issue.

Edited by Russell Willis, Infinity is a 60 page magazine about "graphic novels, comics, and sequential art". It veers away from the mainstream superhero comics (there are already numerous blogs and news sites about those) to cover a broader canvas. Highlights of the latest issue feature a six page article by Paul Gravett on Jamie Hernadez' Locaz, a lengthy review of Charley's War, and a 10 page interview with Martin Lock, who was one of the instrumental figures in 70s/80s fandom and indie comics, publishing the aforementioned Bem fanzine and Harrier Comics.

There are also various other reviews and features, plus an amusing four page strip, The Wanbies, by Tim West and Neil McClements. 

What I like most about Infinity is that it has a positive attitude to comics. Anyone can be a critic, and the Internet is plagued by the sort of sneering lazy negativity that considers it a badge of honour to kick creativity down. We all know that comics are struggling to compete with newer entertainment, so it's great that sources such as Infinity are all about emphasising the potential of comics and showing what a perfect form it is for any kind of story. It's a great place to find out about new comics you might otherwise miss, and you can even buy digital versions of graphic novels from the app.

Infinity is digital-only, but it's free! You can either download it from the Sequential app for the iPad, or view issues online on 

You can find out more about Infinity at its official website:

Wednesday, March 19, 2014

Steve Moore 1949 - 2014

I was sorry to hear today of the passing of Steve Moore, a familiar name in British comics. Steve began his comic career in 1967, as the office junior at Odhams on such titles as Fantastic and Pow! He was also very active as one of the founders of comics fandom in the UK at that time, publishing the fanzine Orpheus. Together with Phil Clarke and Mike Higgs, Steve organized the very first British comic convention, which was held in Birmingham in 1968. It was even given a plug in Pow!'s News From the Floor of 64 feature at the time...

Having honed his writing skills working at Odhams and IPC, Steve went freelance in 1972. He produced scripts for Dez Skinn's House of Hammer, as well as for Tornado, 2000AD, Doctor Who Magazine, Hulk Comic, various annuals, and more. 

Some of his best remembered work was for Warrior comic in 1982 on Father Shandor (with artist David Jackson) and, under the pseudonym of Pedro Henry, writing Laser Eraser and Pressbutton. 

With an interest in the strange and paranormal, Steve was one of the founders of Fortean Times in the early seventies. Amongst his closest friends was the writer Alan Moore (no relation) who he had known for over 40 years. Alan has always said that Steve Moore was a mentor to him, teaching him the craft of writing. For the past few years, Steve and Alan had been collaborating on The Moon and Serpent Bumper Book of Magic for Top Shelf Productions.

Back when he began his long career, Steve was nicknamed 'Sunny Steve Moore' by the editors at Odhams (who were keen to imitate Marvel's knack of nicknaming creators). Here he is, being a good sport, from the pages of Fantastic No.50, 27th January 1968...

Although he was an organizer of the first comic convention in Britain, Steve rarely attended comic conventions himself. I met him once or twice when he was a guest at a London event in the 1980s and he came across as a very modest and decent person. My sincere condolences to his family and friends on his untimely passing. 

More information here:

The Lakes International Comic Art Festival

I'm very pleased to say that I've been invited as a guest at the Lakes International Comic Art Festival on 17th to 19th October 2014 at Kendal in Cumbria. I heard very good things about this event last year from those who attended so I'm looking forward to being there this autumn. I hope to see some of you there! 

Here's the official press release with the latest news:

Kendal, UK, 19th March 2014: Britain has a long tradition of humour comics such as The Beano, Dandy and VIZ – so it should come as no surprise that the cheeky gang at the Lakes International Comic Art Festival have lined up a number of comic creators well known for delivering a chuckle or two thanks to their work (as well as, on occasion, a more sober tale).
The latest guests announced to join a stellar line up of comics talent in Kendal in October are Guardian cartoonist Stephen Collins, Nick Abadzis (creator of the critically-acclaimed Hugo Tate and the incredible Cora's Breakfast, pictured above), Beano and VIZ artist Lew Stringer, Cornwall’s Donya Todd (creator of Death & The Girls), Lizz Lunney (creator of many a surrealist animal!) and Flemish cartoonist Peter van Heirseele, the brains behind the absurdist comic Cowboy Henk.
The Lakes International Comic Art Festival (17th – 19th October 2014) is a new kind of comic art event in the UK. Modelled on a European-style festival it aims to take over the market town of Kendal, on the edge of the Lake District, with comic art presenting the widest range of genres. Events include a 24 Hour Comic Marathon, children’s comic workshops, talks, signings, Great War in Comics art exhibition and a Comics Fair.
Previously announced guests for the Festival include The Walking Dead artist Charlie Adlard; Fables artist Mark Buckingham; acclaimed independent comics creator Oliver East; Watchmen co-creator Dave Gibbons; top designer and comics creator Rian Hughes; 2000AD artist Jock; self-taught Japanese artist Junko; Dutch underground comics artist Joost Swarte; writer Robbie Morrison; artist Sean Phillips; digital comics frontiersman Scott McCloud; leading US comics writer Gail Simone; Jeff Smith; COSTA Award winner Bryan Talbot; Vampire Academy artist Emma Vieceli; and Jonathan Edwards, who has designed the event’s “Mascot Family”.
"I'm excited to be asked to attend The Lakes Comic Art Festival - it's an honour,” enthuses Nick Abadzis. “I've heard lovely things about the 'Angouleme of the North' and in anticipation of seeing old friends and meeting many new ones to celebrate the art and language of comics, I'm greatly looking forward to my visit to Kendal."

"'I'm really excited to be coming to the Festival," says Donya Todd, "joining in all the fun and drawing with a bunch of cool people.'

• Tickets for the Lakes International Comic Art Festival go on sale from 25th April 2014.

Tuesday, March 18, 2014

The Internet's gone BANANAS...

...over the news that broke yesterday about the Bananaman movie! 

Here's the official website:

Elstree Studios are involved. Speculation on the Internet is rife. Will it be live action or CGI? Who's in it? How far will it divert from the comics? 

And will it guest star Bananaman's niece Bananagirl, who was in the Super School strip I used to do for The Beano? (Probably not, but as everyone else is reporting the news with an image of Bananaman I thought I'd feature Bananagirl on my post instead.) 

All I know about the project is what's on the official website, which is practically nothing. Looks like we'll have to wait and see.

Bananaman originated in Nutty comic, moved over to The Dandy, and now resides in The Beano every week. Let's hope this news brings the comic new readers. (Next Beano is out tomorrow, priced £2.)

Sunday, March 16, 2014

Review: The Tower King

It seems the only way some British comics classics are ever going to see the light of day again is if fans obtain permission to publish their own limited edition reprints. Such is the case with Hibernia Comics, who gained permission from the Dan Dare Corporation to publish a collection of The Tower King, a 32 year old strip from the pages of Eagle.

The Tower King was written by Alan Hebden and illustrated by José Ortiz, and for many of us was the highlight of the revived Eagle in 1982. This 80 page collection brings together all 24 chapters with superb reproduction on crisp white paper. The concept is brilliant boys adventure material; in the 1980s an accident with a solar power satellite triggers off the deletion of all electric power on Earth, bringing chaos and anarchy. Small groups of survivors battle for their lives in a sort of Medieval state with the remnants of what remain. One group is led by our hero, Mick Tempest, nicknamed 'The Tower King' because his people are located in the tower of London.

With the 'decompressed' methods of modern adventure comics it comes as a refreshing change to read such a tightly packed, fast-paced story. Admittedly, there's not much room for any characterization, but the action and inventiveness more than makes up for that. The structure of these old three-page episodes was to resolve the previous week's cliffhanger, pile on the action, intrigue, and excitement, and leave a new cliffhanger for the following week. Alan Hebden ably proves how absolutely brilliant he is at it. (Some modern-day stories in 2000AD seem so slow and gentle in comparison.) It's a storytelling technique that deserves far more respect from some quarters of fandom than it receives, but thankfully there are a lot of fans who do appreciate this classic method of episodic storytelling.

As for the artwork, José Ortiz was the perfect choice for this kind of tense, exciting action strip, making busy, detailed scenes look effortless. He depicts the world of The Tower King as a grimy, damaged and dangerous place, making even the sillier aspects of the plot appear convincing.

As was typical of many adventure serials of the time, the ending of The Tower King seems all too convenient and somewhat rushed. I'd guess this was due to Alan Hebden perhaps being told to wrap everything up at short notice. However, this in no way detracts from the overall story, and at least we get a proper ending, unlike some UK adventure strips which tended to leave things unresolved. 

If you remember this strip from the 1980s you'll no doubt be eager to revisit it, and if it's new to you it's an ideal way to read one of the best British adventure strips of its time. Editor David McDonald and designer Richard Pearce have done a great job on this collection. Limited to just 200 copies, The Tower King is available to buy now directly from the publisher:

Saturday, March 15, 2014

Invisible Dick revived

As mentioned on this blog last week (and covered in more detail on the Down The Tubes blog) the Glasgow League of Writers have been given permission by DC Thomson to revive several of their old adventure characters for a project outside of Thomsons. The first of those revivals, a revamping of Invisible Dick, was previewed yesterday in the digital comics news mag Comic Review No.7.

To avoid any innuendoes, the story is now simply titled Invisible. Written by Gary Chudleigh and drawn by Graeme Kennedy, the six page preview begins the tale of young Rick Dickson, who is bullied at school and suddenly discovers he has the ability to turn himself invisible. We learn that his father also had those abilities due to a magic bottle. This seems to be a nod to the original Invisible Dick from Rover in 1922 and the Dandy version of 1937, rather than the later 1960s Sparky version who used a torch to turn other things invisible. However, don't expect any strict continuity references. This is inspired by, rather than related to, any previous versions.

The story uses the slower pacing of modern comics, rather than the tight scriptwriting of the classic version. It's also very centred around the character of Rick himself, again using the modern technique of the hero narrating everything in floating captions. This may disappoint older readers expecting something closer to the old strip, but presumably the creators are trying to appeal to a new audience. That makes sense, as some older readers have already gone online to say they won't read digital comics. Which is ironic, considering they use the Internet to post those views, and are happy enough to read free scans of old comics. (Admittedly it'd be crazy to spend £200 on an iPad Mini solely to read comics, but a tablet has many more uses than that of course.) 

The artwork of Invisible seems a bit raw in places. It's engaging enough, and easy to follow what's going on, but there are some inconsistencies in perspective (such as a window and the door that are built into the same wall having two different vanishing points). Things like that become a little distracting unfortunately. 

However, it'd be unkind to be too critical of the strip. These old characters would not be revived at all without the enthusiasm of these creators. There are too few British adventure strips around these days, so I wish The Glasgow League of Writers all the best in this venture. Next Friday, Comic Review will publish another preview of a different strip. I'm already intrigued to see what we get. 

To access the Invisible strip you'll need to download the free Comic Heroes app, and then buy Comic Review No.7 for 99p. The digital magazine also features lots of other comic previews plus, as the name suggests, many comic reviews.

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