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Wednesday, April 30, 2014

Comics Unmasked!

This Friday sees the start of a comics exhibition set to run all summer. Comics Unmasked: Art and Anarchy in the UK is at the British Library from May 2nd to 19th August 2014.

The exhibition focuses on the anti-establishment edge that British comics have often featured, from children's comics such as Action to adult 'underground' titles such as Knockabout Comics

Sounds great! I'll definitely be visiting at some point. Here's the info from their website:

Comics Unmasked is the UK’s largest ever exhibition of mainstream and underground comics, showcasing works that uncompromisingly address politics, gender, violence, sexuality and altered states. It explores the full anarchic range of the medium with works that challenge categorisation, preconceptions and the status quo, alongside original scripts, preparatory sketches and final artwork that demystify the creative process.
Enter the subversive and revelatory world of comics, from the earliest pioneers to today’s digital innovators.
Parental guidance
Parental guidance is advised for visitors under 16 years of age due to the explicit nature of some of the exhibits on display. Within the exhibition, there is a separate section examining sexual themes which visitors can by-pass if they wish.
Please be aware that the Library retains the right to request proof of age. Visitors under 16 years of age who are unaccompanied by an adult will not be admitted.

For more information see here:

Below: From my own collection, Zip Comics No.1 (1973). Cover by Rand Holmes. A British underground comic that was available in newsagents.

Sunday, April 27, 2014

BATSOWL - The British Batman of 1918

As most of you will know, this year marks the 75th anniversary of Batman. However, the notion of costumed 'bat-men' didn't originate with Bob Kane's creation. One such earlier character was Batsowl, who starred in a series of prose stories in the British comic Illustrated Chips in 1918. 

I'm not suggesting for a moment that there was any connection of course. Bob Kane was born in 1915, so it's highly unlikely he'd have seen a British comic when he was three years old. However, there are some interesting similarities between the two characters, not least being the costume, as you can see from the header illustration above.

Like Batman, Batsowl's other identity was a wealthy figure. In this case, an Earl, Desmond Devance...

He also had a secret underground laboratory, not dissimilar to the Batcave...

...and his appearance struck terror into people...

Sadly, like most British comics of the time, Batsowl is uncredited. I don't know how long the serial ran as I only have one episode, which is the one I'm showing here. It's from Illustrated Chips No.1477, dated December 21st 1918. This was one of the comics presented as a facsimile in 1972 in the Six Comics of World War One collection. (More info about those comics here.) 

It's highly likely that both Batman and Batsowl were both partially influenced by The Phantom of the Opera, written in 1909, and The Scarlet Pimpernel (which was adapted as a very popular London play in 1905).

Click on the image below to read this chapter of Batsowl and see the 'British Batman' for yourselves...

Comic Heroes 23

Late last year, Comic Heroes magazine (published by British outfit Future Publishing) underwent a metamorphosis. Previously it had been sold in a card envelope, packaged with the preview comic Sidekick and a free gift or two (usually badges and a poster). A few issues ago it ditched those extraneous parts, absorbed Sidekick into its back pages, switched from bi-monthly to quarterly, increased its size, its paper quality, - and its price. Now it's a chunky 164 page magazine costing £9.99 an issue. 

Ten quid for a magazine? Is it worth it? Well, yes, if you're "serious about comics" (the new strapline on the cover). There's a lot of material in here. Issue 23 has recently been published and amongst its contents it includes an interview with Denny O'Neill on his Batman years, a long feature on the history of Wonder Woman, a celebration of Hellboy's 20th anniversary, news on the new Amazing Spider-Man comic and much more. 

As you've guessed, although it's a UK magazine, Comic Heroes focuses mainly on American comics. That's to be expected, with superheroes being so big at the cinema thesedays. However, the mag does cover other areas too. Amongst such features, this issue includes interviews with Emma Vieceli, Rob Williams, James Robinson, Grant Morrison and others, plus an item by Lee Sullivan on capturing likenesses for TV and movie adaptations. 

There's also a wealth of other features, including an article on the rise of digital comics.

Something that may interest fans of classic UK characters is that the 5 page revival of Smasher (the giant robot from Bullet) that appeared in Future's digital mag Comic Review the other week is printed in the Sidekick section of this issue of Comic Heroes. So if you couldn't read it before because you didn't have access to the app, now's your chance.

When Comic Heroes was launched several years ago, some people were predicting a short life for it due to its £7.99 cover price. Well, 23 issues later it's still here, and now £9.99. Can it continue to survive? Time will tell. Comic Heroes is mainly covering material that is aimed at the 16 to 30 cult comics/TV/movie demographic. That makes sense, although it would be nice to see a British magazine giving a handful of its pages to cover classic British material. (I wrote a couple of articles on UK comic history for the mag in its early days, but there's been little of that nature since.)

Comic Heroes No.23 is out now from WH Smith, Asda, selected newsagents, comic shops and other locations. Or you can read it as an app on an iPad or iPhone. More info:

Saturday, April 26, 2014

New comic pages in today's Guardian

Today's edition of The Guardian highlights something special within its Guardian Weekend magazine. There are six all-new exclusive comic stories featuring some of the top names in the comics industry teamed with literary authors. There are 26 pages of comic strip in total, plus additional features on some of the creators.

The strips are:
Masks by Gillian Flynn and Dave Gibbons
Having Renewed my Fire by Dave Eggers (who also drew the cover)
Thursdays, Six to Eight p.m. by Audrey Niffenegger and Eddie Campbell
Art and Anarchy by Michel Faber and Roger Langridge
Freefall by Margaret Atwood and Christian Ward
Do You Hear What I Hear? by A.M.Homes, adapted by Frazer Irving

If you're hoping to see strips in the style of traditional children's comics you won't find them here as these are stories of a more intellectual style. Not that it should put anyone off if course, as these are fine examples of the rich diversity of mature comics. 

It's a shame The Guardian chose 'Cartoon Special' as a header on their front page. Why is Britain so embarrassed by the word 'comics'? Yes, the public does sometimes call comics 'cartoons', but why feed that misnomer? Anyway, that's just a minor niggle. The important thing is this is an interesting collection of new UK comic material, so buy a copy today. 
The Guardian is £2.50 for the Saturday edition. 

Commando Nos.4699 to 4672

The latest batch of Commando comics were released a few days ago. Here's the info directly from DC Thomson...

Commando Issues 4699-4702 – On sale 24th April 2014

Commando No 4699 – Ground Attack!

The Hurricanes of the Desert Air Force were rightly feared by the men of the Afrika Korps. Screaming in from the searing blue skies, their guns wrought massive destruction. Pilot Officer Billy Hammond was one of the best of the ground attack boys, lightning fast, deadly accurate.
   So they sent him to a new squadron with new kites and new weapons — PP-3s, fearsome three-inch air-to-ground rockets. The only problem was that they had sent him to a squadron where an old enemy waited. One on his own side!

Story: Peter Grehan
Art: Carlos Pino
Cover: Carlos Pino

Commando No 4700 – The Silver Bugle

This is the story of Sam Curtis, light infantry commander, of the silver bugle that went with him to war, and of the fighting tradition that began nearly two centuries before, with the first raid of the light “Bobs” on the enemy-held island of Walcheren, and the day a dreadful curse fell on the Domburg windmill…


Reading the title and looking at Alvaro’s thunderous cover, you might be expecting a story about a haunted bugle (or something of the sort). If you are, disappointment awaits. Not that this isn’t a good story, because it is, but because the Bugle very much plays second fiddle (sorry!) to the two principal characters and the gulf that divides them. It’s classic Commando warfare…between men on the same side.
   Sostres’ inside art helps the mix along, with a striking mix of highly-detailed images backed with broader sweeps of the brush, his faces and expressions very nicely drawn.
   So, follow the bugle’s call and try out what was originally titled Short Step Into Danger.

Calum Laird, Commando Editor

Silver Bugle, originally Commando No 137 (October 1964), re-issued as No 711 (January 1973)

Story: Eric Hebden
Art: Sostres
Cover: Alvaro

Commando No 4701 – Dangerous War

Lieutenant Jason Spark and his Commando team had completed another hazardous mission — blowing up an enemy radar station in Occupied France. While beating a hasty retreat, they found an unexpected prize — a high-ranking German officer who could provide the Top Brass with valuable secrets and intelligence.
   All Jason’s team had to do was bring their captive in alive. Little did they know that even if they did that, an even more dangerous assignment would await them…

Story: George Low
Art: Olivera
Cover: Janek Matysiak

Commando No 4702 – Operation “Viking”

Norway, a proud country, lay under Nazi rule. Slowly signs of resistance began to show, the beginning of a bitter war against the invaders.
   And although the defiant days of the marauding Vikings of old were long past, it was said that in one remote fiord the battle was being waged to the limit by the ghost of a Viking berserker many centuries dead…


Norway, with its icy Scandinavian landscapes and rich, Viking heritage, is an ideal setting for a Commando adventure. Set against the German occupation, here we have a brilliant yarn with a supernatural edge and a Berserker legend at the heart of it. 
   Featuring some exciting interior art by Denis McLoughlin and Ron Brown’s atmospheric underwater cover, we hope you agree that this is great fun. You’d go berserk if you missed out!

Scott Montgomery, Deputy Editor

Operation “Viking”, originally Commando No 2313 (September 1989), re-issued as No 3875 (January 2006)

Story: Alan Hemus
Art: Denis Mcloughlin
Cover: Ron Brown

Friday, April 25, 2014

Mullock's auction reminder, and how to bid online

Remember last week when I told you about the upcoming auction of rare comics and other memorabilia at Mullock's auction next Tuesday morning, 29th April? Well, here's the nifty catalogue that you'll be able to buy on the day if you attend. The cover is by Mike Higgs and it's A5 size, with 88 glossy pages listing the many items in the auction that day. 

Even if you can't make it to the auction you can still bid online, in real-time bids with a live video and audio feed! All you need to do is visit and register to bid. 

If you can make it, here's the address:

  • The Clive Pavilion
  • Ludlow Racecourse
  • Bromfield Ludlow
  • Shropshire
  • SY8 2BT
  • United Kingdom

10.30am. Tuesday 29th April. 

The Lakes International Comic Art Festival - Tickets on sale now!

I'm pleased to say I'm one of the many guests at this year's festival. Here's the latest press release...

The Lakes International Comic Art Festival is pleased to announce that tickets are now on sale for its massive weekend of comic events in Kendal, Cumbria in October (17th – 19th October 2014).

In just its second year the Festival features an increasingly stellar line up of comics creators and designers encompassing a wide range of genres, including international guests such as artist Becky Cloonan (who, along with her many independently-created works, was the first female artist to draw the main Batman title for DC Comics), digital comics guru Scott McCloud, top comics writer Gail Simone, Junko Mizuno,  the award-winning Wilfried Lupano and Jeremie Moreau (creators of the acclaimed graphic novel The Hartlepool Monkey), Bone creator Jeff Smith and Dutch cartoonist Joost Swarte – plus a host of home-grown British artists, writers and illustrators.

Just a few of the many creators in this year’s line-up are the legendary Watchmen co-creator, artist Dave Gibbons, Sunday Times-featured artist Nick Abadzis, Walking Dead artist Charlie Adlard, Doctor Who artists Mark Buckingham and Mike Collins, 2014 Eisner award nominee creator Rob Davis, Marvel Comics artist Gary Erskine, top designer Rian Hughes, 2000AD and Batman artist Jock, leading independent artist Sean Phlllips, The Beano and VIZ artist Lew Stringer and many top independent comic creators, such as Luther Arkwright and Grandville creator Bryan Talbot and Vampire Academy artist Emma Vieceli.

(For further information on creator's works, visit the Festival's web site -

The Festival features more than 50 carefully-produced events with often unusual combinations of guests, unusual presentations and new formats. It includes films and live draws alongside workshops and master classes including a whole programme dedicated to children and teenagers. Themes and strands include Konichewa Japan, Vive la France!, Lost in Space, The Great War in Comics and Just for Laughs?

Plus, the Festival offers a huge, free, Comic Marketplace in Kendal’s Clock Tower, crammed with publisher stands, creators offering art and sketches – and, of course, there will be plenty of comics for sale. (Full details of the family zone and Comics Clock Tower plus full exhibitions programme and more will be released in May and June, but look out for creators such as Isabel Greenberg, writer Ian Edginton, Great Beast publisher Adam Cadwell among many others). There’ll also be a pop-up Forbidden Planet for the weekend.

With a firm eye on developing new comic talent there are also plenty of workshops for aspiring comic creators to sign up for.

“The first festival ran like a well-oiled machine, with many people stating that it seemed like a long-established event,” enthuses Festival guest and founding patron Bryan Talbot. “If you only go to one comic event this year, this is the one that's unmissable.”

“The organisers are building on last year's resounding success to make this year's festival outstanding,” added fellow patron Mary Talbot. “There's another stunning array of guests and exhibitions, events and competitions - so there's sure to be something for everyone. Like last year, only even better!”

"One of the most popular questions after our first festival in 2013 was how would we be able to match its breadth, scale and quality,” says Festival Director Julie Tait. “We hope this year's programme (with a few surprises still to come) will answer that question.

“We are delighted to have an increased number of international creators and to have broadened the genres too. Meanwhile we have listened to feedback and have extended the range of the family zone and have made the Comics Clocktower free to the public. And we can assure you that Kendal will be even more of a comic art town for the weekend"

• Tickets for the Lakes International Comic Art Festival are on sale now. Sign up for the Festival's newsletter here (  for the latest news! Web:

Images of most announced guests, Festival poster and mascot images can be found here:

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 Marketplace.

** Guests So Far...
International Guests

Nick Abadzis
Becky Cloonan
Peter Van Heirseele
Wilfrid Lupano
Scott McCloud
Junko Mizuno
Jeremie Moreau
Ivan Petrus
Romuald Reutimann
Gail Simone
Jeff Smith
Joost Swarte
Jorg Tittel


John Aggs
Rob Bliss
Adam Brockbank
Charlie Adlard
Doug Braithwaite
Mark Buckingham
John Clark
Mike Collins
Stephen Collins
Darryl Cunningham
Rob Davis
Glyn Dillon
Oliver East
Jonathan Edwards
Gary Erskine
Felt Mistress (Louise Evans)
Martin Geraghty
Merlin Goodbrey
Dave Gibbons
Scott Gray
Nick Hayes
Kate Holden
Rian Hughes
Joe List
Lizz Lunney
Robbie Morrison
Sean Phillips
Woodrow Phoenix
Tim Pilcher
Kimberley Pope
Dermot Power
Jade Sarson
Dez Skinn
Lew Stringer
Kev F. Sutherland
Bryan Talbot
Donya Todd
Emma Vieceli
Joff Winterhart

2014 Comics Marathon Team

Dan Berry
Kristyna Baczynski
Warwick Johnson-Cadwell
Joe Decie
Sarah McIntyre
Fumio Obata
Jack Teagle


Joelle Bernard
Hannah Berry
Pete Doherty
Alex Fitch
John Freeman
David Gaffney
Mel Gibson
Paul Gravett
Stephen L Holland

** 24 Hour Comic Marathon

** The 24 Hour Comic Marathon creative team is: Dan Berry ( , Marathon curator and producer; Kristyna Baczynski ( (NME), Warwick Johnson Cadwell ( (Tank Girl), Joe Decie ( (The Accidental Salad) Sarah McIntyre ( (Oliver and the Seawigs, shortlisted for the Blue Peter Book Awards 2014), Fumio Obata ( (author of the graphic novel Just So Happens) and Jack Teagle ( .

• For more information about the 24 Hour Comic Marathon visit:

** Festival Sponsors and Benefactors
The Patrons of the Festival are comic creators Sean Phillips, Bryan Talbot and Mary Talbot.

The Festival is supported using public funding by the National Lottery through Arts Council England, with funding from South Lakeland District Council and Kendal Town Council working in partnership with the Brewery Arts Centre and Kendal College.

Commercial sponsors include the Westmorland Shopping Centre, Sequential and Knockabout.
Tickets for the Lakes International Comic Art Festival are on sale now. Sign up for the Festival's newsletter here (  for the latest news!

Images of most announced guests, Festival poster and mascot images can be found here:

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