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Saturday, May 30, 2015

Leslie Charteris - Before the Saint

Regular readers will know that we occasionally run a feature called "mysteries that have me mystified"—little featurettes about authors that remain stubbornly mysterious. We've managed to track down information on quite a few little known authors here at Bear Alley, but our subject today is one of the most popular authors in the world. Yet there's still a big mystery surrounding his writing career.

Leslie Charteris was the author of The Saint and one would expect that his CV was thoroughly researched and widely known. Not so. I was surprised to discover whilst reading The Saint and Leslie Charteris by W. O. G. Lofts & Derek Adley, that Charteris's earliest stories had yet to be discovered. The Lofts & Adley book I read many years ago, but it would seem that

Charteris was born May 12, 1907, at Straits Settlements, Singapore, the son of Dr Suat-Chuan Yin, a wealthy Chinese surgeon, businessman and civic leader who claimed he was a direct descendent of the emperors of China in the Shang dynasty, and an English mother, Lydia Florence Yin (née Bowyer). He was christened Leslie Charles Yin, but later changed this name legally by deed-poll to Leslie Charles Charteris in 1926; when he became a naturalised American citizen in 1946 he officially became Leslie Charteris. He chose Charteris after Colonel Francis Charteris, a founder-member of the Hellfire Club.

By the time he was twelve he had travelled around the world three times with his parents, and had learned Chinese and Malay from servants before he could speak English. The Yin family lived in England for some time where Leslie and his younger brother Roy were taught by a tutor, Emily Fleming who returned with them to Singapore in 1914.

Around that time, aged 7, he began writing and at 10 years old was given his first typewriter and was “writing and editing a one-man magazine to which my relatives had to subscribe under discrete blackmail.” He sold his first poem to The Straits Times, where it appeared when Yin was only nine years old. Another poem, "The Battle of the Figures", appeared in the February 1919 issue of Boy's Own Paper under the byline Leslie C. Bowyer-Yin when he was only 11.

Mrs. Yin split from her husband and came to England with her two sons in 1919 where Leslie attended Falconbury School near Bexhill-on-Sea, Sussex, and Rossall School in Fleetwood on the Lancashire coast.

As a child, Charteris's favourite reading was Chums. To quote Lofts & Adley:
His biggest treat at Christmas was the red-bound annual volume of Chums, which contained the whole of the year's issue of the magazine. The greatest joy was that he could read the serials stright through and did not have to wait in suspense for next week's thrilling instalment.
Lofts & Adley also revealed:
His first successful magazine sale, at the age of sixteen, was a story set in the Pacific, concerning a pearl, which is now unfortunately not traceable. This was written while he was still at school and the resulting cheque from a publisher, for a few guineas, convinced him more than ever that writing was easy...
    Another story, probably his second effort, was published in Hutchinson's Sovereign Magazine in January 1925 featuring a detective, and was entitled "One Crowded Hour". It was written under the nom de plume of 'Leslie C. Bowyer'—the latter being his mother's maiden name.
Bill Lofts & Derek Adley compiled an extensive bibliography of Charteris's work for their book, which they introduced by reiterating that:
Leslie Charteris wrote his first story in 1924 whilst still attending school at Rossall. This story, despite exhaustive research, has never been traced, but it probably appeared in one of the Hutchinson group of magazines, the majority of which are unfortunately missing from the files of the British Museum. This story concerned a pearl and was set in the Pacific.
Here Bill, Derek and I part company, because I think Charteris sold his first story to his favourite story paper, Chums. This is, of course, pure speculation, but my money is that Charteris's first sale appeared under the title "Pearls of Price" under the nom de plume Saville Hall in Chums 1720 (30 August 1925). There's no direct evidence, but I do have the following circumstantial evidence: it is from the right period and it concerns pearls and is set in the Pacific. Also, it is in the author's favourite boyhood paper. Although the evidence is slim, it is still a pretty good fit.

 
 
 

Friday, May 29, 2015

Comic Cuts - 29 May 2015

After the chaos of last week, we're in the calm of the post-storm clean-up. The magazine is at the printers and I've caught up on some sleep, some work and Mad Max: Fury Road, which I finally got to see on Wednesday evening.

What a fantastic film. It's a glorious, brain-fryingly trashy movie, loud and visually arresting. Well-worth immersing yourself in it for two hours for a full-on experience. I loved it.

For most of the rest of the week I've been trying to finish off the Harry Bensley story and tidy up. Bensley, some of you might recall, was the other man in the iron mask, a conman who walked around the South Coast claiming that he was undertaking a bet to walk around the world. Well, I've greatly expanded my original article, which I ran here some months ago, and I'm just waiting on one last bit of information before I put the whole thing together as a little booklet. I'm not expecting to sell many, but the text will also be available on Kindle for anyone interested.

The tidying up has taken a couple of interesting turns. My first thoughts were that I probably had half a dozen boxes which were full of old paperwork. So far I've found sixteen and the far end of the lounge looks like a bomb has hit it, reminiscent of when we moved in—as you'll see from the photo above. Worse than that, I had a visitor from the past today (Thursday) who brought around some old magazines, so overall I've gained more junk today than I've disposed of.

The visitor was Graham Baldock, who was the designer on Comic World. I haven't seen him for fifteen years since we worked together on another magazine called Science Fiction World in 2000. He's retired now, although he still does a few bits... now why doesn't that surprise me? He always was a workaholic. He's now living in glorious Shropshire, not far from where Malcolm Saville's Lone Pine novels were set.

Graham was only briefly visiting Colchester and it was great fun to catch up. I never got to ask him about an old board I found with an early design for Comic Collector magazine, but now I have his e-mail address, I'll try to get his comments.

I've stumbled across a pile of over fifty film promo posters from around 2001. We were going to the cinema quite a lot back them and these were giveaways. They seem to have disappeared in recent years, which is a shame because they were nice.

 
 
 
 
I'm finding some fascinating stuff while I'm turfing through these boxes so I'm confident that there will be some weird and delightful things turning up on Bear Alley over the next week, including what I think might be the first short story sold by Leslie (The Saint) Charteris, which I'll post tomorrow, and the solution to one of my long-standing "mysteries that have me mystified" as the author behind the pen-name Justin Atholl is finally revealed.

Wednesday, May 27, 2015

Judge Death: the game that never was

The December 1987 issue of Zzap! 64 carried a 16-page bound-in supplement featuring "Judge Death vs. Judge Anderson", a colour reprint of the opening episode of Anderson PSI Division's solo debut from two years earlier. The popular Anderson had first appeared in 2000AD in 1980 but was, by 1987, a regular in her own strip.

The supplement featured 10 pages of "Revenge" drawn by Brett Ewins and coloured by John Burns. The cover and centre-spread pin-up were by Brian Bolland, whilst Ewins provided the back-cover pin-up. The remaining two pages were taken up with an advert for Titan Books, who co-sponsored the supplement along with Fleetway Publications and Piranha, and an advert for the game itself, which  revealed it would be available on the Spectrum, Commodore and Amstrad cassette for £9.95 and on Commodore and Amstrad disc for £14.95.

But it was not to be. It was announced in early 1986 that Hobbyte, a Hungarian programming team based in Budapest, was coding Judge Death for Piranha. Judge Death was first previewed in Crash and Sinclair User in November 1987, where it was given a mid-November release date. According to Tamas Revbiro, quoted in a Crash news item:
It's very near to the kind of science fiction very popular in Hungary. It's a crooked kind of science fiction with lots of violence and bloodshed. And the technological gadgets are already well-known through other authors so it's not totally new.
Crash announced that it would be carrying a 16-page supplement with their Christmas 1986 number (issue 48) as well as a full review of the game.

The supplement was also published in Zzap!, the companion paper to Crash, which also carried a brief preview in which it was mentioned that Piranha were in the final stages of completing Judge Death. "The game is currently at an early stage of development, with rather rough gameplay and crude graphics. Underneath, however, the action feels quite playable. We can but hope that Piranha manages to fulfill the game's potential."

Unfortunately, it did not. According to a review of the game:
The main problem with the game was that they apparently used Koala Pad to design all the backgrounds, and unfortunately the C64 did not have the power to shift them around effectively. Pirahna were actually quite miffed with the conversion.

A new programmer, SIR, was drafted in and has subsequently said:
As for Judge Death, well the game was developed in Hungary, but I remember the producers in London weren’t very pleased with the game. The original design for the game – done by a guy called Kevin Williams – was pretty good, but they hadn’t done a good job in coding it.
    The publisher wasn’t very happy with the game or the graphics, and I was drafted in to help to try to get the game up to an acceptable standard.
    I remember visiting the publisher to discuss with them what we could do.
    To start with the graphics weren’t very good, and too clean – there was no detail. So I added all the graffiti and background objects you see in the game. I didn’t have much time so i couldn’t do a lot. I did do some very nice C64 Dark Judges sprites, but unfortunately they didn’t end up in the game.
Piranha had already announced that they were working on another 2000AD-related game featuring Halo Jones and were considering an Ace Trucking Co. game, too. It was not to be: Piranha went out of business before the Judge Death game could be released; Halo Jones never saw the light of day.

Judge Death did, in a way, appear. Piranha may have gone but the game elements were taken over by Novatrade, who removed any mention of Judge Death, Judge Anderson and Mega-City and released the game as Horror City in 1989. There's a review of Horror City here with screen grabs, and it is unmistakably the same game. The character Sinclair is clearly Judge Anderson. Graffiti scrawled on the walls of Horror City that reads "Sump Stinks!". "Get Ugly", "Chopp" will only mean anything if  you remember Otto Sump or Chopper from Mega-City.

According to the reviewer:
At some point Novotrade took the work that had been done on Judge Death, scraped away the top layer of 2000AD while still leaving the background details that clearly mark Horror City out as Mega-City One and released it under a new name. They probably shouldn't have bothered.

Monday, May 25, 2015

It was twenty(-one) years ago today(-ish)

Almost exactly 21 years ago, Prog 889 headed into newsagents on the 19th of May, 1994. The cover date was 27 May.

About a month before, as I was editor of Comic World I received a packet of promo material from Fleetway Editions, probably put together by editor Steve McManus or John Tomlinson, who was working at Fleetway as an editorial assistant around that time. Whoever it was, the photocopies were all a bit wonky, guys.

Editors did not receive a huge amount of press material; I used to do a monthly summary of Judge Dredd Megazine based on a phone call to David Bishop, for instance, or if there was to be a relaunch or promoted issue, I'd head up to Fleetway with my trusty dictaphone.

But for some reason, I have a set of press releases from Prog 889 which I thought I'd share with you. Starting with the cover, which is an interesting study. The photocopy reveals a number of differences between the promo version and the final artwork that graced the cover. The printed image appeared squashed to make room for the lettering, but there are other, subtler differences. Dredd is holding his Lawgiver at a different angle, for instance, and the Eagle's "wing" on Dredd's shoulder has only five feathers rather than the published six (thanks to Chris Mitchell, who pointed this out when I posted the image of Facebook a few days ago). 

Because this was a relaunch issue, the number of pages was increased to 44 rather than the usual 36 and there was a cover-mounted free gift of £17 worth of discount coupons for videos and games at HMV, although this had to be weighed against a 5p price increase to 75p.

Some of these details escaped the information sheet that was sent out (above), which concentrated on the stories that were being launched that issue. Here are the promo sheets for each character and scans of artwork that accompanied them... nothing for Dredd, unfortunately, although I may stumble upon it at a later date.

 
 
 
 

(* artwork © Rebellion.)

Sunday, May 24, 2015

Iain M. Banks (Wired, June 1996)

In the June 1996, Wired carried an interview with Iain M. Banks along with an extract from his new novel, Excession. Fiction by Banks rarely appeared in magazines. I believe it only happened twice. [[Update: Not often but not quite as few as twice. Phil Stevensen-Payne sent over the brief list of Banks' magazine appearances, which also include stories for Interzone, The Observer Magazine and The Fiction Magazine, plus another extract, "The Business", in Computing.]]

Here's Wired's coverage along with a couple of examples of Daniel Mackie's illustrations.

 
 
 

Saturday, May 23, 2015

Ian Kennedy's Scalextric Catalogue

When Hornby celebrated their 25th annual Scalextric catalogue in 1983, they celebrated in style with a series of stunning illustrations by none other than Ian Kennedy. The front cover is quite a well-known image as it has been posted around the web on a number of occasions. However, Kennedy also supplied a number of illustrations inside the catalogue, which made innovative use of mixing art and photography.

The following year's catalogue wasn't nearly as exciting. The cover art—which you'll find below the Kennedy artwork—was by Leonard. Leonard who?

 
 
 
 
 
 
 

Friday, May 22, 2015

Comic Cuts - 22 May 2015

A chaotic week is coming to an end, although as I write this we're still in the midst of chaos. It's Thursday afternoon and I've just sent the latest correction into the studio for a page about new technology that's supposed to make the lives of hoteliers easier.

The latest correction was a simple typo, but so far today we've had to deal with major revamping of pages as editorial is sold-in as part of an advertising deal. So feature material written, subbed and submitted to the studio with photos, laid out on the page and made to look good... all that work disappears when we get a 250 word puff piece to accompany an advert. Usually the photos are poor or non-existent because all the effort has gone into preparing the ad. and nobody has thought about an editorial feature.

The results read like press releases and there's rarely enough space to run a picture bigger than an inch or two square. But it's paid for, so interesting opinions and views on the industry are turfed out in favour of fluffing the advertisers.

But that's what I'm paid to do, so long may the advertisers need fluffing.

A flashback to Box Mountain, first day of our move back in 2010 

While I've been getting to grips with a new magazine, I've also been sorting through boxes relating to an old one. I've had a few boxes marked "Miscellaneous Paperwork" sitting around in the living room since we moved and I've decided that this is a good opportunity to sort through them. It's a fascinating time capsule of press-releases, photocopies and junk dating back to my days on Comic World. Rather than just dump the lot, which was very tempting, I thought I might create a digital scrapbook, so I've been scanning some of the press releases material and the pictures, with preference given to colour artwork that is unlettered or black & white artwork before it was coloured, because that's when you can really see the artistry of artists.

I've posted a great many scans on Facebook, but I know that many of you aren't regular visitors to FB, so I'll gather up many of the best of the scans and post them here on Bear Alley so they'll be permanently available. I'll also be posting some longer pieces here over the coming weeks, starting this weekend with some really nice Ian Kennedy artwork.

(A brief pause while I try to think of an alternative title for an article submitted under the title "Mirror, Mirror on the wall". As this clashes with another feature entitled "Mirror Mirror", the new article becomes "Integrated Entertainment". Problem solved. Back to Bear Alley)

Some of the material I've been digging out has brought back some very fond memories, like a trip to Shepherds Bush back in 1995 to talk to the cast of Dirk Magg's radio adaptation of Spider-Man; other bits of artwork I've stumbled upon I have no memory of.

Here, for instance, is a 1989 Daily Mirror story about Jonathan Ross buying a copy of Detective Comics #27 for £20,000. The reporter was amazed at the prices back then. In 2010, another copy sold in the USA for over $1 million. It was reports like this that fueled the boom in comics and allowed Comic World to thrive for a few years.

I've had that newspaper clipping for 26 years and now that I've scanned it I can finally get rid of the damned thing. Goodbye forever!

And our random scans this week are definitely random. I suspect I received these when Comic World ran an interview with Brian Bolland in around 1992. I don't think I've ever seen them anywhere else but they're superb examples of not only Bolland's skill as an artist, but also his fine sense of humour and whimsy.

 
 
We'll have more of the same next week, as many as I can write up over the weekend.

Our column header, incidentally, is a fantastic cover produced by Bryan Talbot for Comic World. We had no budget and Bryan was good enough to produce a masterpiece for little reward. I think I'm right in saying that this was Bryan's first painting of Batman because I seem to remember having to get permission from DC Comics to do an original Batman cover and it had to be by a DC-approved artist.

So I phoned Patti Jeres and announced that I was commissioning a cover. "And who is the artist?" she asked in a tone that spoke paragraphs. Patti and I got on famously. She was a good friend to Comic World but I'm sure she would have turned me down in a second if the next words out of my mouth hadn't been, "I've asked Bryan Talbot."

"I think we can approve that," she said.

That's the way I remember it. Other people's memories may differ.