British comics took a long time to settle into the format of all-strip content that most of us remember. For the first few decades of the 20th Century, the traditional comics (or 'papers' as they were often called in Britain) were half prose stories, half comic strips. Then of course there were the 'story papers' that contained all prose stories, and which happily continued on their parallel timeline of popularity alongside the comic papers for many years. One of the fondest remembered of those story papers was The Wizard, and this week a new book was published charting its 41 year history.
This Was The Wizard is a splendid 254 page volume written by Derek Marsden and Ray Moore, whose names many of you will recognize. Ray Moore has authored various articles and books on British comics including The Beano Diaries, and Derek Marsden is the author of Free Gifts in the Big Five, which I reviewed here two years ago. This new book covers the entire history of The Wizard in its original incarnation as a story paper (1922 to 1963), but not the later comic version launched in 1970.
Having read material by Derek and Ray before I know that both authors know their stuff. This Was The Wizard is a book that's solidly packed with information and I would say is the definitive work on the popular story paper. Derek has a very precise and thorough writing style, presumably developed by his years as a teacher, and his history of The Wizard goes into great detail about the stories and characters. This is also combined with well researched background information about the comic and its development over the years.
The main portion of the book is a listing of every story, with a short synopsis, the length of its run, and the name of its artist. This list is accompanied by a small reproduction of the art and logo used in the header of each serial/story. These images are very small but the quality of the reproduction is so high that the detail is still clear to see. Story titles such as Kashgar the Terrible, The Waxworks of Secrets and Shivers, The Staring Eyes, and The Voice on the Wire hint at how exciting those prose stories must have been for the boys who devoured them every week.
The creators of those stories aren't ignored of course. The book also provides biographical details of many of them, including photographs taken in the D.C. Thomson offices decades ago. So thorough is the book that there's even a floor plan of the art department, showing where the staff were situated!
There are some nice colour sections too. One features a gallery of selected Wizard covers. Again, the images are small (12 covers to a page) but they give us a good idea of the range of covers and their approach in attracting their readership.
Another colour section reprints pages from the flyers that promoted various free gift issues of The Wizard over the years. These flyers were marvellously designed by the Thomson art department and made the gifts seem very compelling.
The third colour section shows photographs of the free gifts that the paper carried over the years. Far more interesting items than the plastic foam bullet shooters and suchlike given in comics today.
Although primarily a text story paper, The Wizard did feature a few short humour strips at times, and some of those are reproduced in the book.
There's also a listing of The Wizard Annuals and their contents. As I said earlier in this review, This Was The Wizard is the definitive book on its subject and covers everything one could know about the paper. Derek Marsden and Ray Moore have really worked long and hard on this volume and their dedication should be appreciated. I knew very little about The Wizard before reading this book so it's been an entertaining education, which is what the history of comics and story papers should be about.
This Was The Wizard costs £25 and can be ordered from any bookshop worldwide by quoting ISBN 978-0955197819. It will be on sale at 30th Century Comics in Putney, from Sunday, and at Border Bookshop in Todmorden, Lancashire, from Friday November 21st.