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Friday, July 31, 2015

Graham Allen's 'The Nervs' (SMASH!, 1966)

Most fans of British comics rate Ken Reid's stint on The Nervs in Smash! as some of his best work, and deservedly so. However, Ken didn't take over the strip until late 1968, towards the end of its run. The majority of Nervs strips were drawn by Graham Allen, whose style may not have had the detail and surges of manic hilarity that Ken's had, but was still brilliant and funny in its own right.

A lot of people confuse Graham Allen's style with that of Leo Baxendale, and I must confess I used to be guilty of that too. Allen was no doubt encouraged to imitate Baxendale's style, as were several other cartoonists, due to Odhams' attempt to give some of their humour strips a kind of house style. However there are distinct differences, and as soon as one picks up on Allen's distinct inking style and, for example, his tendency to give a lot of his characters tiny feet, it becomes more obvious. (Plus the fact that Leo Baxendale was allowed to sign the pages he drew for Odhams, so a lack of his signature is also a good indication he didn't draw it.)

Here are a few examples of Graham Allen's excellent run on The Nervs from selected issues of Smash! from 1966, starting with the story from issue 1, when 'Fatty' was depicted as an adult...

From Smash! No.3 onwards, it seems there had been an editorial decision to make Fatty a schoolboy without any explanation, which he remained for the rest of the series...

There's a few occasions where Fatty is seen to take tablets. There's no way a children's comic would depict that today. Smash! and its companion comics Wham! and Pow! could often be a bit reckless, but they treated their readers with having enough intelligence not to imitate what they saw in comics.

I've always enjoyed the work of Graham Allen, and he was one of my favourite cartoonists in those Odhams comics. I hope this short tribute to his often overlooked work on The Nervs helps others appreciate what a great cartoonist he was, and indeed still is. I understand he still contributes to the Daily Express and has illustrated children's books. You can find out more about him here:

Thursday, July 30, 2015

Happy birthday, Beano!

It's The Beano's 77th birthday this week and it's still going strong! Issue 1 was published on Tuesday 26th July 1938. There's the cover above drawn by Reg Carter; a photograph of the actual comic in great condition, taken from the phil-comics Facebook page:

I thought I'd have a crack at drawing Big Eggo myself, so here he is. The Beano's first cover star is long gone now but perhaps he'll return one day. who knows? 

Never Be Without A Beano! On sale every Wednesday.

Commando issues out now

Another four issues of Britain's longest running adventure comic are in the shops today. Here's the PR from D.C. Thomson...

Commando No. 4831 – Flight Of The Furies 
In 1939, confident young Pilot Officer Duncan Marlow fell foul of an obnoxious C.O. and was posted out of the way to Griffin Island — a small garrison off Africa’s West Coast.
   Discipline was lax and the Governor was untrustworthy. He was on friendly terms with the Germans who were stationed nearby, even though War between both countries was all but inevitable. What was going on…?
   Soon Duncan, aided by a down-at-heel fellow pilot, found himself fighting the enemy in old Fury bi-planes. He was determined to strike back!

Story: Steve Coombs
Art: Jaume Forns
Cover: Ian Kennedy

Commando No. 4832 – Terror Train 
Not one of the men waiting in the darkness of that tunnel was unafraid. Each felt the fluttering in the stomach, the trembling of the hands that meant stark fear had taken over.
   Were these a pack of cowards, then?
   No. Every man present was a hero, brave and full of fight. Picked men — British Commandos and the cream of the French Resistance, the Maquis.
   But they were waiting for a train with a deadly cargo, and each man knew that in a few seconds he might have an appointment with death! 

It’s hard to believe that this classic Commando book hails from nearly half a century ago. Somehow it almost seems timeless – practically like a blueprint for everything that these ‘War Stories In Pictures’ were, and still are, all about.
   It’s beautifully illustrated, with a fantastically pulpy cover, and features great characters, thrills and action that never lets up. ‘Terror Train’ keeps on track, never going off the rails, right until the final word.
   Reader Announcement – Attention Please: Commando would like to apologise for the late arrival of the train puns in the previous sentence.

Scott Montgomery, Deputy Editor
Terror Train, originally Commando No 209 (April 1966), re-issued as no 851 (July 1974)

Story: Redbridge
Art: Martin
Cover: Lopez ESPI

Commando No. 4833 – The Desert Duel 
Captain Jimmy Ramsey and his maverick Special Raiding Force were used to doing their own thing — dangerous hit-and-run raids deep behind enemy lines.
   So, during the battle of El Alamein in autumn 1942, when the Raiders were teamed with a Long Range Desert Group unit to capture an isolated German airfield, tensions mounted between the tough, hard-headed factions. Both the SRF and LRDG felt they could do the job better on their own.   
   They would have to stop clashing long enough to fight the real enemy!

Story: Ferg Handley
Art: Keith Page
Cover: Ian Kennedy

Commando No. 4834 – The Man Who Was Afraid
What makes a good fighter pilot? It’s mostly skill, and Charles Crombie had plenty of that. But it isn’t only skill — you also need to be able to fly through a hail of bullets and flak threatening to hack you out of the sky at any minute. And that was what Charles was afraid of.
   Then he took to wearing an old coin around his neck. It was his lucky charm. As long as he had it with him, he knew no fear.
   As long as he had it with him…

You might be interested to know that the original working title for this story was ‘The Courage Is Inside’. Obviously, I wasn’t in the Commando office in 1977 when the script came in (I was aged 5 at the time). But I’m guessing that one of the reasons it wasn’t used is that although appropriate to the subject matter, it somehow just doesn’t seem ‘Commando-ish’ enough to go in front of Ian Kennedy’s dynamic cover montage.
   The story’s a good one – even though it features the fairly well-used plot device of a lucky charm – and there’s a main character that we’re genuinely rooting for. And it is all brilliantly illustrated, as usual, by Gordon Livingstone.
Scott Montgomery, Deputy Editor
The Man Who Was Afraid, originally Commando No 1152 (August 1977), re-issued as No 2476 (June 1991)

Story: Mclean
Art: George Livingstone
Cover: Ian Kennedy 

Wednesday, July 29, 2015

Support UK comics!

There's often a bit of negativity on the 'net about the British comics industry and how things were so much better in the old days. Well, the same could be said about the UK film industry, or its television output, or its music, or car industries.... You get the point. Yes, lots of things were more popular and plentiful years ago but that's no excuse to ignore what's happening now. We live in the present, not the past, so let's celebrate what we have, not run it down or dismiss it. Being snarky about comics does no one any good. You're not keen on some modern comics? Okay, then focus on the current ones you do like and tell people about those, to do something to support the industry. (Same applies to fans of US comics by the way.) 

Truth is, there's still a lot of good comics material being produced in Britain, from mainstream and independent publishers as I covered here a few weeks ago. The evidence is out there but that doesn't seem to stop the moaning minnies claiming otherwise. I can appreciate that people have a preference for the comics of their youth. We all feel that, but time moves on, and there's no more likelihood of something like Valiant returning than there is of Ally Sloper's Half Holiday making a comeback. The future of British comics is in the hands of existing professionals and fresh new talent. 

Anyway, I for one am pleased that British comics are still around, which leads me to a cheeky plug for the latest issue of Toxic magazine, out today. Yes, it's a magazine, but it does feature some comic strips, including my regular two pages of Team Toxic. This issue they go underground to discover the Troll Town and encounter a giant robot ant (see image above). This is what I've always loved about my 32 years in British comics; the pure daftness of what we can put into our stories. Long may it continue! 

Toxic magazine is published by Egmont and is available in newsagents and supermarkets. 

Tuesday, July 28, 2015

GRINDHOUSE graphic novel out this week

This Wednesday, 29th July, Dark Horse Books are publishing a Grindhouse graphic novel which collects Slay Ride and Blood Lagoon from the current mini-series.

Both stories are written by Alex de Campi. The trade paperback is designed as a flip book; with Slay Ride (with art by R.M. GuĂ©ra) taking up one half of the book, then turn it over to read Blood Lagoon (illustrated by Chris Peterson).

Slay Ride is described as "Yuletide exploitation" and a brutal holiday tale of revenge and supernatural horror. Here's a couple of preview pages...

Blood Lagoon brings back Deputy Garcia from last year's Bee Vixens from Mars (in the previous Grindhouse series) to face the threat mutated giant cow-eating ticks! Here's a preview page...

It's all good, over-the-top horror comics fun and the book even features fake blood splatters on the cover flap. Er... at least I think it's fake...

Why am I promoting an American comic on a blog about UK comics? Well, vested interest declared, the book also contains two pages that I did; exclusive one-off creations Kung-Fu Cheesecake and Snowmanic! Here's a preview of a panel from each story...

(Yep, I censored the Snowmanic panel for this family-friendly blog. See the uncensored version in the book!)

The graphic novel also contains bonus items such as excellent fake movie posters, dark humour strips by Rick Parker and Dean Haspiel, cover roughs, and how some pages looked in their penciled stage.

Grindhouse: Doors Open At Midnight Double Feature Volume 3 goes on sale in comic speciality stores in the UK and USA from tomorrow, 29th July. The U.S. price is $17.99. Mature readers only!

Also available that day will be the latest issue of the Grindhouse monthly comic (No.7), - but not in Canada. (See here for more details about that!)

I know many comic readers are getting weary of superhero comics lurching from one revamp to the next, but there's more to American comics than capes and crossovers. There are loads of comics out there in any well stocked comics shop! Try Grindhouse and the many other titles from Dark Horse and other publishers for refreshing alternatives.

Monday, July 27, 2015

They're here! Dandy and Beano Annuals 2016

The 2016 cover-dated annuals are starting to appear now and The Dandy Annual 2016 and The Beano Annual 2016 were published just over a week ago. Let's take a brief look inside them.

I always find there's mixed emotions these days when The Dandy Annual appears; joy that there's 112 pages of all-new Dandy material, but sadness that it's a reminder that the weekly is no longer around. However, let's focus on the positive, and once again the book delivers a nice package of classic Dandy characters by contemporary creators.

Fans of Ken Harrison will be pleased to know that there's plenty of pages by him in here as he illustrates several Desperate Dan stories and a couple of puzzle pages.
I was pleased to see Desperate Dawg in the book too; the 1970s canine version of Dan. Originally by George Martin, the new version is drawn by Alexander Matthews.
Much-missed 1960s Ken Reid characters Big Head and Thick Head are back in a couple of new strips drawn by Mike Donaldson.
Jack Silver returns too, drawn by Wilbur Dawburn...
...while Nigel Auchterlounie once again draws Corporal Clott...
...and I tackle The Smasher and Keyhole Kate...
Other strips in this packed annual include Greedy Pigg by Nigel Parkinson, The Jocks and the Geordies by Paul Palmer, Brassneck by Steve Beckett, and the return of George vs Dragon by Andy Fanton, plus much more.

Like its sister publication, The Beano Annual 2016 kicks off with a cover by Nigel Parkinson. Nigel also draws several pages inside featuring top favourites Dennis the Menace and Minnie the Minx
It was good to see an adventure strip in the book, in the form of classic hero General Jumbo. I don't know who's illustrated it but the artwork is excellent.
Great to see work by Hunt Emerson in the annual, drawing Little Plum...
...and Laura Howell doing fine work on Les Pretend...
The annual features all the usual favourites such as Roger the Dodger, Biffo the Bear, Ball Boy, The Numskulls, the Bash Street Kids, Billy Whizz, Pup Parade, and of course Bananaman...
There's also three pages of Lord Snooty by me...
The Dandy Annual 2016 and The Beano Annual 2016 are out now at a R.R.P. of £7.99 each, but you're bound to find them discounted, or cheaper online. These are the only traditional British comic annuals left now so don't wait until they're remaindered after Christmas. Give them your support now, to help them continue for years to come.  

Sunday, July 26, 2015


This graphic novel was published last year but I only got around to buying a copy last weekend at the London con, directly from the author Rachael Smith. In fact it was the only thing I bought that weekend and it's a purchase I'm glad I made.

House Party tells the story of three ex-university students who share a house; the likable Michelle and her boyfriend Neil, and their friend Siobhan. Feeling somewhat lost and frustrated with life in the 'real world', the friends are feeling nostalgic for their heady days of uni, so Neil suggests they throw a big house party to recapture the fun times. 

Of course, trying to recapture the past doesn't always work out as expected and there are consequences that the characters have to deal with. 

Although Rachael Smith has been creating comics for a while this is her first graphic novel and it's an impressive debut. The story is immediately engaging and moves along at a brisk pace. Rachael's art style is modern and distinctive and displays a solid understanding of sequential techniques. She also has a good ear for dialogue, which helps to make the characters feel real and alive. 

I'm a firm believer that if comics are going to survive in the UK it's going to be through graphic novels like this; ones that have a wider appeal than 'traditional comics' and which resonate with the public not just with comic fans. House Party reminded me of the sort of self-contained Play for Today that television used to do so well. It's a fine example of the modern British comic book and if you're open to character-driven stories rather than just slapstick, sci-fi, or superheroes then this is for you.

House Party is published by Great Beast Comics and you can buy copies directly from Rachael Smith's online shop here: 

Saturday, July 25, 2015

Back Max!

That maestro of the drawing board Hunt Emerson is bringing his brilliant Max Zillion character back into print, and he's started a Kickstarter campaign to help him do it. 

Max Zillion (and Alto Ego) appeared in a book called Jazz Funnies many years ago published by Knockabout, but the book is now long out of print. Hunt aims to publish the strips in a brand new collection called Hot Jazz which will feature some strips in colour for the first time and a new gallery of pages by guest artists.

As is the norm with Kickstarter campaigns, the more you pledge, the more you get, including a stunningly illustrated plate like this...

I've been a fan of Hunt's work since I first saw it in the 1970s and the cool cat that is Max Zillion deserves to be back in print. Only 25 days to go so let's make it happen. To find out more, visit this link and click on the video, where Hunt himself will tell you all about it...

Friday, July 24, 2015

Some adults are still scared of adult comics

Rich Johnston's Bleeding Cool website is reporting that the next issue of Grindhouse: Drive In, Bleed Out will not be available in Canada due to concerns over its sexual content.

The eight issue mini-series, which runs new stories split over two issues, wraps up with Nebulina in issues 7 and 8. Written by Alex De Campi and illustrated by John Lucas and Ryan Hill the story will no doubt be fun, provocative, with a good dose of horror. It'll also be labeled for Adult Readers and will be polybagged to prevent innocent eyes beholding its content. 

However, even those precautions are not enough for Canada apparently, and the comic will not be on sale in the country. Canadian readers will still be able to download the digital edition from the Dark Horse app, or, presumably, buy it from eBay or other online sellers.

Some days it's hard to believe we live in the 21st Century when one hears of such prudish attitudes. What exactly is the danger of Canadian adults seeing drawings of consenting adults doing what consenting adults do? Obviously such material won't be to everyone's taste and that's fine; just don't buy it. But to stop everyone else from buying it is just censorship. 

As an aside, I was commissioned to produce a back up humour page for that issue and, knowing the comic would have a sexual theme, I created Sex Pest, the misogynistic pubic louse. However, to solve a scheduling problem the strip appeared an issue earlier instead, in Grindhouse No.6, which is available in Canada. In yer face, censors! (Er, not literally. That'd be messy.)
Grindhouse: Drive In, Bleed Out No.7 featuring Nebulina will be on sale in comic stores (except Canada) next Wednesday, 29th July. To see some preview pages, visit the Bleeding Cool site here:

My next strip for the comic will appear in issue 8.

Thursday, July 23, 2015

Thurs-Day of the Doctor

Today sees the publication of the latest Doctor Who Magazine, which contains the start of a new Doctor Who comic strip, Spirits of the Jungle. The 12 page strip stars the twelfth Doctor and Clara and is written by Jonathan Morris with excellent artwork by John Ross and colours by James Olfredi. 

There's also another Daft Dimension strip by me (and I've just this morning emailed the one for the next issue to the editor).

The rest of the magazine is of course packed with features, including a new interview with Colin Baker on performing the final days of the sixth Doctor for an upcoming Big Finish audio, the life story of scriptwriter Malcolm Hulke, The Fact of Fiction on the third Doctor story The Monster of Peladon, and much more. For full info, see the DWM website:

Doctor Who Magazine No.489, 84 pages, published by Panini. In shops today, priced £4.99. 
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