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Sunday, January 31, 2016

50 Year Flashback: SMASH! No.1

Half a Century ago this week Odhams Press launched the second title in what would soon collectively be known as their 'Power Comics' weeklies. I enjoyed all of them but Smash! was the clear winner for me, with its content being a great balance of humour, adventure, and Marvel reprint. 

The Marvel material wouldn't actually begin until issue 16 (when The Hulk arrived) but the contents of issue 1 were still a great line up. Here's what Smash No.1 contained...

Page 1: Cover by Leo Baxendale promoting the free gift.
Pages 2/3: Ronnie Rich. Art by Gordon Hogg.
Pages 4/5: The Ghost Patrol. Art by Gerry Embleton. (Reprint of The Phantom Patrol from Swift.)
Pages 6/7: Bad Penny by Leo Baxendale.
Pages 8: Percy's Pets. Art by Stan McMurtry.
Pages 9: Ad for Smash! No.2. Art possibly by Ron Spencer.
Pages 10/11: Brian's Brain. Art by Bert Vandeput.
Pages 12/13: Space Jinx. Art by Brian Lewis.
Pages 14/15: The Nervs. Art by Graham Allen.
Pages 16/17: Queen of the Seas by Ken Reid.
Page 18: The Tellybugs. Art by George Parlett.
Page 19: Mister Knowall actvity/puzzle page.
Pages 20/21: The Swots and the Blots. Art possibly by Ron Spencer.
Pages 22/23: Charlie's Choice. Art by Brian Lewis.
Page 24 (back page): Grimly Feendish by Leo Baxendale.

As you can see, Smash! had quite a collection of top artists of the day. As time went on, artists would be changed around or replaced but Smash! always had some quality people working on its pages. To correct a few myths: Leo Baxendale never drew The Swots and the Blots until 1969, the year he totally revamped the strip for the second series of Smash! published by IPC. Nor did he ever draw The Nervs, which was mainly by Graham Allen and later by Ken Reid. 

Anyway, enough from me. Here's a selection of pages from that very first issue of 50 years ago. One of the best comics of the 1960s....

Swots and Blots. Art possibly by Ron Spencer.
Charlie's Choice. Art: Brian Lewis.

Finally, here's the house ad for Smash! No.1 that appeared in that week's issue of Wham!

Friday, January 29, 2016

Dynamic Covers of D.C. Thomson comics

Unless they're bagged with a bundle of gifts obscuring the comic (as many today sadly are) the front cover of a publication is vitally important to attract attention. D.C. Thomson have always understood this, and have produced many striking full page illustrations over the years to grab the interest of readers. To my mind, this was even more evident in the 1970s, when Warlord debuted with a more dynamic attitude than its companion comics such as Victor or Hornet.

Warlord's more vibrant style was evident on its covers. Often only printed with variations of red and yellow (no doubt partly to cut costs) it gave them a fiery look that combined very effectively with the striking cover artwork and the direct tone of the excellent lettering. We often look to IPC's Battle, Action, and 2000AD as pioneers of the modern comic but Warlord got there first. Admittedly the content of those IPC titles was more street-cred and radical, but Warlord's melodramatic cover style and page layout started that new approach to comics of the seventies. 
As well as influencing its rivals, Warlord also inspired a change in the comics that followed, with Bullet and Crunch also adopting the more dramatic cover style. Anyway, enough talk. Let the pictures tell the story with this small selection of D.C. Thomson covers scanned from my collection.       


Thursday, January 28, 2016

DWM 496 preview

Here's an advance preview of the cover to next week's issue of Doctor Who Magazine. Contents include an interview with Sir John Hurt on his role as the Doctor who fought the Time War. There'll also be a new 12 page Doctor Who strip, features, reviews, news, and another Daft Dimension strip by me.
Doctor Who Magazine No.496, on sale Thursday 4th February 2016. £4.99

By the way, if you're understandably mortified that there won't be a new episode of Doctor Who on TV until Christmas Day, remember that the magazines and comics continue every month, as do the Doctor Who novels, and the brand new audio adventures such as the ongoing War Doctor series of full cast dramas from Big Finish! There's still plenty out there for your Doctor Who fix throughout 2016!

Wednesday, January 27, 2016

A look back at JET No.1 (1971)

In the 1970s IPC Magazines were determined to become the dominant force in British comics and produced numerous titles to achieve that aim. Sadly, many were relatively unsuccessful and short-lived, such as the boys adventure weekly Jet which managed just 22 issues.

Launched at the end of April 1971, Jet is perhaps most memorable today for being the comic where Ken Reid's excellent Faceache strip began. However, it's arguable that the fantasy serial Von Hoffman's Invasion was another very notable strip. Here's the first episode, with great artwork by Eric Bradbury...

Jet's 40 pages were a good mixture of adventure and humour strips, with the emphasis on the former. The strips were fairly traditional fare for the time, featuring sport, war, and suchlike. Here's the first page of football strip The Sludgemouth Sloggers by Douglas Maxted, another IPC regular...

Partridge's Patch was a gentle detective story about a rural copper. Art on episode one by Mike Western...

Sergeants Four, by Fred Holmes, featured four stereotypical English, Scottish, Welsh and Irish sergeants in lighthearted war stories.

Paddy McGinty's Goat, taking its name from a song popularised by Val Doonican at the time, featured a shape-shifting alien who spent most of his time as a goat. Not IPC's finest hour...

The full colour centre pages featured a humour strip, with Mike Lacey doing his best Baxendale impersonation drawing The Kids of Stalag 41. (Toni Goffe took over the art with No.2.) Here's Mike's splendid first episode...

Crazy Car Capers was clearly inspired by the Hanna-Barbera cartoon Wacky Races that was on TV at the time. Artwork by Solano Lopez...

Ken Reid's Faceache was the strip that proved to have longevity, continuing into the merged Buster and Jet and remaining a favourite in Buster for many years afterwards. Here's the very first story from Jet No.1. It's evident the page was originally drawn for the narrower IPC size (like Cor!! and Tiger) or someone gave Ken the wrong dimensions. There's been some resizing by an art assistant for Jet's wider page format and it throws the composition off a bit but it's still classic stuff... 

Bertie Bumpkin, by Terry Bave, was the other single page humour strip in Jet. Much of the humour came from Bertie's exaggerated accent and phrases, which were translated in footnotes...

Bala the Briton was a rousing historical/mythological saga in the style of Jason and the Argonauts. I'm unsure of the artist on this. Here's page one of the first four page story...

Other strips included Carno's Cadets, Kester Kidd, Adare's Anglians, and, from issue 2, The Dwarf.

Personally, I never found Jet that inspiring. I had every issue, as I bought just about every new IPC comic back then, but I didn't keep them for long. (I recently purchased this issue again.) Obviously the intended readership didn't care too much for the comic, as it merged into Buster after 22 weeks. It always felt like a diluted version of Valiant to me, (as did Thunder, another short-lived IPC weekly). Apart from Tiger, and to an extent Scorcher, I felt that IPC never really got to grips with boys adventure comics in the 1970s until the new wave of Battle, Action, and 2000AD came along. It took editors with vision, Pat Mills and John Wagner, to bring IPC up to date to reflect a changing culture.    

That said, I know Jet was appreciated by some, and despite any weaknesses in its scripts and direction it did contain some top class artwork. I hope you've enjoyed this glimpse through the the first issue.

Tuesday, January 26, 2016

Mighty Memoirs

News just in: on September 8th, Rebellion are to publish a book written by Steve MacManus, recounting his many years working as an editor at IPC, Fleetway, and Egmont. The Mighty One: My Life Inside the Nerve Centre will cover Steve's time during a busy period for UK adventure weeklies such as ValiantBattle, Action, and of course 2000AD, where he was 'Tharg' the alien editor. 
Steve in 1976.

This book is going to be essential for anyone interested in behind-the-scenes stories of British comics. Hop over to the excellent Down the Tubes website that broke the news and has full details about the book:

Commando comics 4883 to 4886 out this week

Here's the latest PR from D.C. Thomson about the latest Commando comics. All of these releases are reprint, as two are part of their 'Special Request' series, but the usual division of two reprint/two new stories will be back next time.

Commando Issues 4883-4886 – On Sale 28 January 2016
Commando No 4883 – Old Rusty
Dick Avery was a captain in the Merchant Navy. He’d sailed with some of the best — and worst — ships and crews on the seven seas. He reckoned he’d seen it all.
   That was before he took command of Old Rusty, an ancient tub with a crew made up of drunks, brawlers and raw seamen of every nationality.
   When Dick left Gibraltar he didn’t fancy his chances of ever seeing England again.
   But then they ran into a German U-boat, and he wouldn’t have swapped that ship or that crew for the best in the Royal Navy!

Although veteran artist Ian Kennedy is renowned for his superlative aircraft (and spacecraft) illustration, this cover shows that, naturally enough, he is equally adept at drawing ships and submarines too.
   This behemoth of a painting really sets the scene for the wonderful maritime adventure that follows. For me, it’s like The Dirty Dozen at Sea — chock full of memorable characters and action set pieces.
   Many thanks to reader Yasmin Akbar for suggesting that Old Rusty should set sail once more.
Scott Montgomery, Deputy Editor
Old Rusty, originally Commando No 708 (January 1973)
Story: Powell
Art: Gordon Livingstone
Cover: Ian Kennedy

Commando No 4884 – The Wreckers
Young Naval lieutenant Dan Blain teamed up with Kang Wu and his cut-throat pirates of the Java Seas to wage all-out war on the warships of Japan. When this pair of modern buccaneers got going, not a single Japanese sailor ashore or afloat could sleep soundly.

I can almost imagine the pitch for this back in 1966 — “Pirate Commandos”…that’s definitely a winner…
   Actually, I’m cheating a little (okay, a lot) — a glance at the trusty Commando records file told me that author Spence’s original working title was indeed “Pirate Commandos”. 
   However, I do think that the then-current editorial team made the right decision to go with the snappy, more foreboding “The Wreckers”. It really seems to suit this tough, sea-faring tale and Scholler’s menacing, murky cover illustration. 
Scott Montgomery, Deputy Editor
The Wreckers, originally Commando No 212 (May 1966)
Story: Spence
Art: Alonso
Cover: Scholler

Commando No 4885 – The Black Eagle
Major Heinrich Keil of the Luftwaffe was an ace…and a killer. A mad, evil Nazi whose chief delight was to hunt and kill, whether he was chasing animals on the ground or British pilots in the air.
   Now he was going after another British pilot — but this time he was going to hunt him down in the forest…with a crossbow.

One of the best things about working on Commando is uncovering fantastic stories from our archive, one that now spans 55 years.
   I’d never read this tale as it was published in March 1972, two months before I was born. When I saw that the interior art was by the brilliant Cam Kennedy, whose 2000AD work I had admired in the 1980s, and then realised that it was a fantastic revenge yarn anyway, I knew that we just had to let another audience discover this absolute classic, which features a truly memorable villain in Major Heinrich Keil.
   My sincere thanks to reader Roger Worsley, who suggested that we uncage The Black Eagle once again.
Scott Montgomery, Deputy Editor
The Black Eagle, originally Commando No 629 (March 1972), re-issued as No 1732 (September 1983)
Story: C.G. Walker
Art: Cam Kennedy
Cover: Ian Kennedy

Commando No 4886 – The Wrong Enemy
The Italians fighting in North Africa clashed not only with their British foes, but also with their German allies.
   Enzo Lanzini certainly wasn’t happy facing the advance of British armour across the desert, but he certainly was no coward either. It was just that he had seen the way the Nazis operated, and he had come to the conclusion that he was in fact fighting

Although a Commando comic must have a solid military premise and plenty of action — at its heart, more important than anything else, it must have a strong lead character. Here we have exactly that. 
   Corporal Enzo Lanzini is a machine-gunner with a strong moral compass and, since he is Italian, is traditionally seen as the enemy. Right away he has the potential to become a leftfield, classic Commando hero. I hope you enjoy his story.
Scott Montgomery, Deputy Editor
The Wrong Enemy, originally Commando No 2474 (May 1991)
Story: Ian Clark
Art: Keith Shone
Cover: Keith Shone

UK comics in newsagents this week...

Some of the comics that will arrive in newsagents this week include 2000AD Prog 1965, The Beano No.3819, The Phoenix No.213, Incredible Hulks No.24, Avengers Universe No.22, Astonishing Spider-Man No.28, Doctor Who Comic No.5, and four issues of Commando (Nos.4883 - 86). No doubt I'll be receiving more info on those Commando comics soon from DC Thomson but for the moment here's a few cover previews of some of the other comics for this week. 

Don't forget that there's also a world of indie comics out there, including the digital comic Aces Weekly every Monday. Some may yearn for the style of comics of the past but British comics have never been so diverse in their range and styles. Support UK comics!

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