Monday, August 28, 2006
I've found myself (willingly) dragged into most of Rob's insane schemes ever since -- he's incredibly enthusiastic! So when he proposed the idea of reprinting the whole of 'The Trigan Empire' drawn by Don and, at the same time, translate all of the Storm books into English I wasn't about to refuse.
For those of you who aren't aware of Storm, this was the series that Don Lawrence began after leaving 'The Trigan Empire' in 1976. The reasons for his departure are discussed in Chapter 10 of my history of Look and Learn which you can download for free as a PDF here. After leaving, Don was immediately offered work on a planned Dutch weekly comic to be called Eppo and began working on a strip called 'Commandant Grek' which relates how astronaut Commander Grek and his sidekick Rick are catapulted into the future.
Martin Lodewijk, a well known Dutch writer and artist, had conceived the idea of Commandant Grek with the idea that he would also write the series. Unfortunately, he had obligations to other strips -- 'Agent 327' and 'Johnny Goodbye' -- and the writing was entrusted to a friend of Don's, Vince Wernham, who had previously written the two page 'strip' cartoon 'Carrie' for Don.
After 31 pages, the strip came to a grinding halt as everyone involved agreed that the story had diverged wildly from the original concept and was not up to the standards they wanted for the new paper. (The strip was later completed by Don with the addition of four pages and published in Eppo in 1982.)
A new writer was eventually found in the shape of Philip Dunn who, under the pen-name Saul Dunn, had written a number of science fiction novels in the 1970s. Returning to Lodewijk's original concept, Dunn scripted 'De Diepe Wereld' [The Deep World] which related how astronaut Storm was sent on an exploratory mission to Jupiter and accidentally frozen in stasis, only recovering tens of thousands of years in the future.
The Deep World was published in the UK in 1982, five years after being serialised in Eppo, but there was almost no concept of the graphic novel at that time unless it was Tintin or Asterix. I remember finding it in W. H. Smith's, shelved with the weekly comics and wondering whether I really wanted to spend 80p on an album when I could pick up 2000AD for 18p. I'm glad to say I did pick it up, although I was probably in the minority as no more Storm albums appeared.
Fast forward 21 years to 2003 when, with Don's blessing, Rob put together his plans to republish all of Storm in a series of 12 deluxe volumes and I was (easily) talked into helping with the translations for the English language editions. Three years on, I've just finished work on the two stories that make up the sixth Storm collection, The Labyrinth of Death and The Seven of Aromater.
Since my knowledge of Dutch is limited, I work from a rough, literal translation of the text that appeared in the Dutch albums. Sometimes this can be nonsensical in the same way that subtitles for foreign films or computer games can be ("Now all your base are belong to us.") and isn't a reflection on the abilities of the folk who do the translations. At other times the longer captions can cause problems because I've found the average Dutch word is one or two characters longer than the UK average and a straight translation can leave you with an empty line or two in a balloon which is where I get to be a little creative. To make sure I don't stray too far, we have Mike O'Doherty, chief proof-reader for the series, who checks for spelling, grammar and the purpleness of the prose. Purpleness? Purplicity? Now you know why having a proof-reader is so important!
The latest pair of books (each volume of Storm--The Collection contains two albums) has been great fun to work on. Only one of them has appeared in English before (The Labyrinth of Death was translated for the old Marvel weekly Strip back in 1990; wish I could find my copies but they're buried somewhere in the attic!) and with these two tales, Martin Lodewijk was beginning to explore the world of Pandarve where Storm and Ember had found themselves transported to in book 10 (The Pirates of Pandarve). Pandarve has to be one of the most fabulous backdrops ever created for a science fiction series, a massive living world circling a white hole where the laws of physics and celestial mechanics no longer apply. Martin really began to let his imagination fly with these stories... and, in my humble and often befuddled opinion, the series just got better and better.
Working on these translations has been a lot of fun. I loved Martin's The Last Fighter (from Storm--The Collection volume 1) -- a classic heroic fantasy yarn in which a group of warriors are recruited to find their way into the Palace of Death, actually a crashed spaceship with its automatic defence mechanisms still functioning -- but I have to say that, overall, the second volume containing Dick Matena's early stories The People of the Plains and The Green Hell was probably my favourite to work on of those 'Chronicles of the Deep World' tales.
Not that I didn't pull up sharp occasionally. I mean, how can you have any level of threat when the bad guy is called Banjo (as in the original Het Volk van de Woestijn)? I gave him a somewhat oriental name, Hanyin, to match his somewhat oriental outfit. But my favourite was the killer ape from De Groene Hel which had me in fits.
Here's this naked ape... you can see both his hands are empty... so where does he keep that hammer?
There was no way to explain it, so I just ignored it.
There are other occasions where there's a temptation to acknowledge such situations. In the case of the situation above, Storm is rescued at the last minute by an old hunter called Gran'pa (Oldie in the original Dutch) who kills the beast and, in my first draft, mutters: "Well, that's one less hammer-wielding ape to worry about!"
In one of the other books, The Legend of Yggdrasil (in Storm--The Collection volume 4), Storm has been transported from one part of the future Earth to another but, in the last episode of the story (p.57), his spaceship suddenly appears in the sky. Chris Weston (who actually worked with Don when he was a student and is on the editorial board of the Don Lawrence Collection) came up with a perfect explanation about how the spaceboard computer could track Storm through his genetic signature -- trust me, it worked in context. Unfortunately, it required quite a bit of exposition earlier in the story and we just couldn't squeeze it all into the space available so Storm ends up saying "The onboard computer must have traced us." A bit lame, admittedly, but it kept the story moving.
(* The latest story I've worked on, The Seven of Aromater, features an almost impossibly dense planetoid called the Red Tear which has an extremely high gravitational pull at the poles but which also spins incredibly fast. It has to, for reasons that will become apparent when you read the story. I sat here Saturday evening trying to figure out how our heroes survived their arrival and how I was going to explain their eventual departure. It took me a while to remember that the story is set in an system where our laws of physics and celestial mechanics don't apply. So, maybe in our world it would seem impossible but it's perfectly OK in a system where anything can happen.)
Storm--The Collection volume 6 is scheduled for release in late October or early November which is a pretty quick turnaround for a book but necessary because we set ourselves a tight schedule for the release of the series: the first two Storm books came out in May 2004 and we're already halfway through the series. The companion series of Trigan Empire books will be complete in early 2008 -- but that's another column for another day.
You can pick up the Storm--The Collection books and various other titles published by DLC from The Book Palace or directly from DLC via the Worlds of Don Lawrence website.
As well as his connections to Don Lawrence, Chris Weston is a great artist in his own right and you should check out his web site, the Weston Front, and his blog to see what he's getting up to.
I'll leave you with two more pics. At the top of the page are the original illustrations for the Oberon release of Storm albums 11 and 12 from 1984. To the right are the latest editions, published by DLC in 2005.
Saturday, August 26, 2006
Novels as Herbert Shappiro (series: Johnny Canavan; Mustung Marshal)
The Black Rider (Marshal). New York, Arcadia, 1941; London, Ward Lock, Sep 1942.
The Valley of Death (Marshal). New York, Arcadia, 1941; London, Ward Lock, Dec 1942.
Chenango Pass (Marshal). New York, Arcadia, 1942; London, Ward Lock, Jan 1943.
Mustang Marshal (Marshal). New York, Phoenix, 1943.
Trouble at Moon Pass. New York, Phoenix, 1943; London, Ward Lock, Feb 1945.
Silver City Rangers. New York, Phoenix, 1944; London, Streamlined Books, Jun 1947; as by Burt Arthur, London, Gold Lion, 1974; ?as Saga of Silver City by Cliff Campbell, London, Gerald G. Swan, Oct 1948.
Gunsmoke in Paradise. London, Ward Lock, Jun 1944; as by Burt Arthur, New York, Crestwood Publications (Black Cat Western 33), 1946; as by Cliff Campbell, London, Gerald G. Swan, Jul 1947.
Gunsmoke Over Utah. New York, Phoenix, 1945; London, Wright & Brown, May 1947; ?as Utah by Cliff Campbell, London, Gerald G. Swan, Feb 1947.
Woman in the White House. New York, Tech, 1945.
Rainbow Trail. London, Streamline Books, 1945 [printed in Canada]; as by Cliff Campbell, London, Gerald G. Swan, Jun 1952.
High Pockets. New York, McBride, 1946; London, Wright & Brown, Aug 1948.
The Texan (Canavan). New York, McBride, 1946; as by Cliff Campbell, London, Gerald G. Swan, Apr 1949; as Love Throws a Loop (by Murray Leinster on title page), Toronto, Canada, Bell Features, 1946.
Two-Gun Texan (Canavan). London, Sampson Low, Jan 1947; as by Burt Arthur, New York, Lion, 1954.
The Buckaroo. New York, Arcadia, 1947; as by Burt Arthur, London, L.Miller, 1960?
Boss of the Far West. New York, Phoenix, 1948; as by Burt Arthur, London, Wright & Brown, Aug 1953.
Sheriff of Lonesome. New York, Phoenix, 1948; as by Burt Arthur, London, Wright & Brown, Mar 1955; translated into Finnish as by D. B. Newton.
The Long West Trail. New York, Phoenix, 1948.
The Death Trail. London, Streamlined, May 1949.
Border Incident. London, Streamlined, Jun 1949.
The Gun Slinger. London, Streamlined, Jun 1949; as by Arthur Herbert, New York, Rinehart, 1951; London, Barker, Feb 1954; as by Burt Arthur, London, Consul, 1965.
Novels as Burt Arthur (series: Johnny Canavan)
Lead-Hungry Lobos. London, Phoenix, 1945.
Nevada. New York, Doubleday, 1949; London, Boardman, Jul 1951; as Trigger Man, New York, Signet, Oct 1950; London, L.Miller (Banner 117), 1960?; as by Wayne Sotona, Manchester, PBS (Five Star), 1972; as Trigger Man from Nevada, New York, Belmont Tower, n.d..
Stirrups in the Dust (Canavan). New York, Doubleday, 1950; London, Boardman, Sep 1951.
Trouble Town. New York, Doubleday, 1950; London, Clerke & C, Dec 1951.
Thunder Valley. New York, Doubleday, 1951; as by Arthur Herbert, London, Barker, Feb 1953.
Gunplay at the X-Bar-X. New York, Avon, 1952.
No Other Love. London, J. Dennis, May 1952.
Killer’s Moon. Kingswood, Surrey, World’s Work, Apr 1953.
Action at Spanish Flat. London, W.H. Allen, Jun 1953.
Killer’s Crossing. New York, Lion, 1953; London, L. Miller (Banner 119), 1960?
The Drifter. New York, Ace, 1955; as by Wayne Sotona, Manchester, PBS (Five Star), 1972.
Texas Sheriff. New York, Avalon, 1956; London, L. Miller (Banner 121), 1960?.
Return of the Texan (Canavan). New York, New American Library, 1956; London, L. Miller (Banner 89), 1959?
Gunsmoke in Nevada (Canavan). New York, New American Library, 1957; London, Wright & Brown, 1959.
Ride Out for Revenge. New York, Avon, 1957; London, Consul, 1965.
Outlaw Fury. New York, Avon, 1957.
The Stranger, with Budd Arthur. New York, Doubleday, 1959; London, Consul, 1960.
Duel on the Range. New York, Berkley, 1959.
Westward the Wagons, with Budd Arthur. London, L.Miller, 1959?; New York, Belmont, 1979.
Swiftly to Evil. London, Consul, 1961.
Quemado. London, Wright & Brown, 1961.
Three Guns North, with Budd Arthur. London, Robert Hale, 1962; New York, Macfadden, 1964.
Big Red, with Budd Arthur (Canavan). New York, New American Library, 1962; London, New English Library, 1963.
Shadow Valley. London, Wright & Brown, 1962.
Empty Saddles. New York, Macfadden, 1962; London, Gold Lion, 1974.
Requiem for a Gun, with Budd Arthur. New York, Avon 187, 1963; as by Wayne Sotona, Manchester, PBS (Five Star), 1972.
Flaming Guns. New York, Paperback Library, 1964; Bath, Chivers, 1988.
Ride a Crooked Trail, with Budd Arthur. New York, Avon, 1964.
Sing a Song of Six Guns. New York, Macfadden, 1964.
Two Gun Outlaws. New York, Paperback Library, 1964; London, Gold Lion, 1973.
Gun-Law on the Range. New York, Paperback Library, 1964.
Action at Truxton, with Budd Arthur. New York, Avon 229, 1965.
Walk Tall, Ride Tall, with Budd Arthur (Canavan). New York, New American Library, 1965.
Ride a Crooked Mile, with Budd Arthur. New Avon, Avon, 1966.
The Free Lands. New York, New American Library, 1967.
Action at Ambush Flat. New York, Paperback Library, 1967.
Deadman’s Gulch. New York, Belmont, 1967.
The Saga of Denny McCune, with Budd Arthur. New York, Belmont, 1979.
Canavan’s Trail, with Budd Arthur (Canavan). New York, Leisure, 1984.
Novels as Herbert Arthur
The Killer. New York, Doubleday, 1952; as by Burt Arthur, London, Boardman, Feb 1953.
Novels as Arthur Herbert
Bugles in the Night. New York, Rinehart, 1950; London, Barker, Jul 1952; as by Burt Arthur, London, Consul, 1961.
The Gunslinger. New York, Rinehart, 1951; as by Burt Arthur, New York, Avon 237, 1965; London, Consul, 1965.
Freedom Run. New York, Rinehart, 1951; as by Burt Arthur, New York, Avon G-1242, 1964; London, Consul, 1965.
Novels as Wayne Sotona (series: High Chaparral in all)
High Chaparral: Man of Honour (novelisation of TV series). Manchester, World Distributors (Bandalero Western BW1), 1968.
High Chaparral: Gun Runner’s Last Ride (novelisation of TV series). Manchester, World Distributors (Bandalero Western BW2), 1968.
High Chaparral: Town in Fear (novelisation of TV series). Manchester, World Distributors (Bandalero Western BW3), 1968.
High Chaparral: Hell and High Water (novelisation of TV series). Manchester, World Distributors (Bandalero Western BW4), 1968; New York, Grosset & Dunlap, 1969.
Born in Texas c. 1899. Married Hortene (sic) Shappiro; had children, including the writer Budd Arthur. worked as a newspaperman and editor, for an advertising agency, and as a playwright and screenplay writer. Died in 1975.What research I've been able to do seems to contradict some of this information. For starters, the only official records I have been able to track down show that his name was Shapiro (with one 'p'). According to his draft registration card (he joined the US forces in 1918, aged 19), Herbert Arthur Shapiro was born on 24 May 1899 and was living in the Bronx, New York, and was working at the time as a stenographer in New York City. His father was Henry Shapiro who was living at the same Bronx address.
In the 1920 US census, Herbert was still living with his parents at the same address along with siblings Bella, Ethel and Emanuel. Thanks to finding the names of Herbert's parents, I've been able to track the family through various census records and found the following:
Born in 1874, Henry Shapiro was a Russian immigrant who arrived in the USA in 1890 and became a naturalized citizen in 1896. Sarah, his wife, was born in February 1874 and married Henry in 1893. Bella was born in May 1894, Yettie (Ethel) in April 1897 and Herman in May 1899. So it would appear that Herbert was actually born Herman.
In the 1900 and 1910 census records, the family were living in the Manhattan (Ward 12), New York. Henry was listed as a salesman of ladies wear in 1910 and his family had expanded to include Emmanuel, born in c.1901. (Henry's sister, Rose, was also living with them.)
Ethel and Emanuel were still living with their parents in 1930, the last of the US census records available.
In 1925 or 1926, Herbert Shapiro (as he was now known by now) married. Herbert and Hortense appear in the 1930 census living in the Bronx with their 1 1/2-year-old son, Herbert, later to become better known as Budd Arthur.
Herbert Shappiro's first novels, The Black Rider and The Valley of Death appeared in 1941 and he went on to write at least another 65 which were published under the names Herbert Shappiro, Burt Arthur, Herbert Arthur, Arthur Herbert and Wayne Sotona. The latter name was used on a series of four High Chaparral TV series novelisations published by World Distributors in 1968-69 and I don't think Shappiro has been previously associated with the name. I make the connection because three of Shappiro's novels -- namely Nevada (1949, a.k.a. Trigger Man, a.k.a. Trigger Man from Nevada), The Drifter (1955) and Requiem for a Gun (1963) -- were reprinted by World Distributors under the Wayne Sotona pen-name in 1972.
In the early 1940s, Herbert Shappiro was writing fiction for Western pulps under the Columbia house name Cliff Campbell, a couple of which were reprinted in the UK by Gerald G. Swan.
(* the Fictionmags Index also lists a short story by one Art Shapiro ('Records Don't Cheat', Popular Sports Magazine, Spr 1947) which sounds suspiciously like (Herbert) Art(hur) Shapiro.)
As well as his prolific output of novels and short stories, Shappiro also wrote screenplays and scripts for television and radio. I've not been able to trace many -- the movie Ride Out For Vengeance (1957) was based on a Burt Arthur novel, and an episode of Cheyenne ('Decision at Gunsight') was from a Burt Arthur story. Shappiro also wrote for the Lawman TV series (c.1958).
At some point after 1930, Herman/Herbert Arthur Shapiro changed his name legally to Herbert Arthur, under which name his death was registered in 1975. Herbert Arthur died on 15 March in Chicago, where he had lived since 1973. Collaborations between Burt and Budd Arthur continued to appear until 1984. In 1978, the TV series The Oregon Trail adapted one of his collaborations with Budd Arthur, for the episode 'Suffer the Little Children' (1978). His wife, Hortense W. Arthur, died in 1996.
(* I chose Love Throws A Loop to illustrate this piece on the very confusing career of Herman Shapiro because it caused me quite a bit of confusion when I picked up a copy many years ago. Herbert Shappiro is clearly identified as the author on the cover -- as indeed he is. The book is a reprint of Shappiro's 1946 novel The Texan. But turn to the title page and the book is erroneously credited to Murray Leinster. And the publisher... Pemberton of Manchester on the title page but this was actually published by Bell Features & Publishing Co. of Toronto, Canada, and distributed in the UK by World Distributors. A number of these 'Bell Novel' titles appeared in 1946 to exploit a loophole in the import laws which kept American paperbacks from being widely distributed in the UK for many years after the war.
Monday, August 21, 2006
The Sunday Telegraph ran a feature (20 August) on British superheroes which opened with the query:
Who's this? One-time assistant to the brilliant Professor Barringer, he wore an artificial metal hand, the unfortunate result of a laboratory mishap. Somewhat accident-prone, he was almost electrocuted when another experiment went badly wrong, with the wholly unexpected result that he was rendered invisible - except for his metal hand.
Thereafter, he found he was able to disappear at will by passing an electrical current through it. At first - and who can blame him? - he used this power for criminal activities, but later he became a secret agent and a superhero, working for the Shadow Squad of the British Secret Service, who outfitted his mechanical hand with a variety of secret weapons. During his career, he encountered such bizarre opponents as genius children possessed by electrical aliens, and a madman who would shrink entire towns and hold their populations hostage.
The answer? Louis Crandell, a.k.a. The Steel Claw.
The article, written by Jeremy Clarke, concerns a competition to create a new British superhero set up by Emma Angel of Angel Fancy Dress and includes quotes from David Bishop and Kev Sutherland.
The latest COMPAL auction catalogue can be found online here. The British section includes some of the rarities that Malcolm's auctions are becoming well known for, including a number one Beano (in vg+, estimated at between £8,500-9,500), the first issue of Dandy Monster Comic (vfn+, £3,800-4,200), original artwork for 'Desperate Dan', 'The Broons' and 'Oor Wullie' by Dudley Watkins and two pages of 'Young Drake' by Paddy Brennan from The Dandy. There are good runs of The Eagle and TV Century 21, various bound volumes of golden age story papers and comics, 'Dan Dare' artwork from 'Marooned on Mercury' by Harold Johns and Greta Tomlinson, 'Captain Condor' artwork by Keith Watson and lots, lots more.
John Freeman's Down the Tubes site carries the news that Titan Books are to continue their Dan Dare reprints with new volumes beginning with 'The Man from Nowhere' in April 2007. The first Titan volume, 'Voyage to Venus Book 1', is going back to the printers yet again and there has been an "overwhelming reader demand" for the series to continue. According to Freeman, "Strong sales and a grassroots campaign for new volumes have proven that Dan Dare's popularity remains undimmed."
Friday, August 18, 2006
Subsequently, Belardinelli sightings have been rare, although the fact that he was still alive has been reported a few times in various 2000AD Message Board threads (see, for instance, here) and Belardinelli fan Rob Cox posted (5 September 2005) a letter and illustration he had received from the artist in which he confessed he was suffering from ill health ("a naughty heart") which had caused him to reduce his production of comic strips.
I'm pleased to see that Belardinelli is still around and still active: issue 39 (June 2006) of the Italian fanzine Ink has an interview with him, conducted by Romano Felmang (who is a very popular artist himself, best known for his work on 'The Phantom'). As my knowledge of Italian is pretty limited (good enough to recognise that "intervista di" means "interviewed by" but that's about it), it's not a magazine I subscribe to but I thought it might be worth aiming a link at for Belardinelli fans.
And it gives me an excuse to add the following little pic which I believe is one of Belardinelli's first jobs in the UK. Belardinelli was an inker for an outfit called Studio Rosi back in the mid-1960s and I'm pretty sure his first appearance was inking episodes of 'The Steel Claw' for Fleetway's Stupendous Super Library. This frame is from issue 9, 'Forbidden Territory'.
Belardinelli also inked Giorgio Cambiotti on a Claw story for Valiant before working on various stories for Lion, drawing backgrounds for Giolitti's Gold Key titles Turok Son of Stone and Star Trek, and subsequently taking Britain by storm with 'Spinball' in Action and 'Dan Dare' in early issues of 2000AD. I always thought it was a shame that Belardinelli's style fell out of favour on 2000AD in the mid-1980s as he was always a more than capable artist and built up a solid fan base with his work on 'Inferno', 'Flesh II', 'The Angry Planet' (in Tornado), 'Blackhawk', 'Meltdown Man', 'Ace Trucking Co' and the early episodes of 'Slaine'.
(* All this just so I can stick in a picture of the Steel Claw!)
LOOK AND LEARN
The big news (for me at least as it is something I've been actively involved in for the past few months) is the appearance of the Look and Learn website. Although we don't go 'live' until September, a lot of the site is already available, including a full-blown history of Look and Learn and related titles, a picture gallery which currently contains 10,494 images of some of the best artwork you will ever see (2,826 of them taken from original artwork) and a preview of The Best of Look and Learn which LLM hope to publish as a 48-issue series. A few months ago, we had some samples printed up, same size as the original Look and Learn (13½" x 10¼"), and the quality was superb. (Before anyone asks, I only have one copy and no spares.) You can register your interest in the series, without obligation, on the Best of... page.
Over the next few weeks LLM will be adding a lot more to the web site. I can only speak for the work I've been involved in but we have a lengthy listing of characters now owned by LLM through the purchase of various former-IPC Media nursery titles (Jack and Jill, Playhour, Swift, Robin, Teddy Bear and Harold Hare's Own Paper) and information on all these characters will be appearing on the web site. LLM is developing an art competition for kids and we will be adding a few more kid-friendly features, including a web-comic reprinting some of the old strips. The nursery papers included work by the likes of Ron Embleton, Jesus Blasco and John M. Burns; I'm hoping that, as various strips appear, you'll all become fans of some of the artists you may not have heard of, Philip Mendoza, Bert Felstead, Nadir Quinto and many others. We've been experimenting with a few other fun things, including a podcast, but I'll talk about those once we have some more concrete news.
The site has already had some excellent reviews. Apart from the comments that I've been receiving personally, there was a great review at Toonhound's news page, The Hound, and the site has gone down well with the folks at the Comics UK forum. It's always nice to get feedback, especially when it's positive feedback.
BOOKS ABOUT COMICS
There are a whole bunch of books about British comics due out over the next few months. Top of the heap must be Paul Gravett and Peter Stanbury's Great British Comics: Celebrating a Century of Ripping Yarns and Wizard Wheezes which is due out from Aurum Press in October. More details at Paul's web site. I notice that the title greatbritishcomics.com has also been registered, although as of today the site is still under construction. Paul was interviewed recently (27 July) for the Forbidden Planet blog where he says:
the emphasis is again on storytelling, on actual interior pages and scenes. One problem with books on British comics in the past is their tendency to show almost nothing but front covers, especially “rare” Number Ones. Covers look bright and eye-catching, and of course we’ve included several, but the real power of the medium is in the narrative page itself. You’ll also find photographs here, of past masters, and mistresses, of British comics, as well as glimpses of readers and of other related social and cultural moments and items. All designed to show how comics have been a big part of British life.
Having been involved in a small way, identifying artists and chasing down copyright info mostly, I know for a fact that Paul and Peter have spread their net wide to include a lot of strips you wouldn't normally see examples of.
A book I've only recently heard of but which sounds as if it will be right up a lot of people's street is Sporting Supermen: The True Stories of Our Childhood Comic Heroes by Brendan Gallagher. The book was inspired by the response Gallagher, a sports columnist for the Daily Telegraph, received to an article he wrote for the paper, presumably this one written back in December 2004. There's more about the book at amazon.co.uk.
Carlton are following up the success of their Dirty Dozen and Best of Jackie books with a couple of new titles which are due shortly, including The Best of Jackie Annual, The Best of Girl and a second selection from Commando.
TRIGAN EMPIRE -- THE COLLECTION
The sixth Trigan Empire book, The Rallu Invasion, is due for release in week 34 according to Don Lawrence Collection publisher Rob van Bavel. That's about now if I've got my maths right. The text for the seventh volume, The Reign of Thara, is written and the book is due to go to the printers in early September. The next pair of 'Storm' books making up Storm--The Collection volume 6, is then due to go to the printers in early October.
BRITISH COMICS ARTISTS
Book and Magazine Collector #272 (September 2006) includes another essay in their series on British comics artists by Norman Wright and David Ashford, this one concentrating on the incredible career of Reg Parlett who was one of Fleetway's best 'funnies' artists for sixty years.
I stumbled across a picture of Jim Glen, who draws 'Dennis the Menace' for The Beano. Thomson do a lot to promote their most famous comic titles, including having a 'live' Dennis appear at the Overgate shopping centre in Dundee in July, alongside departing Beano editor Euan Kerr. Jim Glen was pictured in the Glasgow Evening Times on 11th August at another event at Tollcross Leisure Centre, Glasgow, a family fun day out where Thomsons had organised three cartoon workshops.
Jamie Smart, who drew 'Space Raoul' for the Funday Times comic supplement to the Sunday Times, and currently draws 'My Own Genie' in Dandy has a web site, jamievsworld. He's just opened up another site, bohda te, with strips and merchandise. He also keeps a live journal with some revealing stuff about the work he is doing for Cartoon Network and others, including an upcoming, self-published comic, Kochi.
Tim Perkins -- probably best known in the UK for his work on 'Dr Who' and 'Transformers' (Marvel UK) and various strips in 2000AD and in the USA for Dark Dominion (Defiant) -- has set up a web site which I believe went live in July. There is a brief interview with Tim discussing the site here.
(* This is all a bit random and not as comprehensive as I originally planned. And I had to upload it twice because I forgot the pictures. I'll aim to do better in the future but this is probably as good as it gets.)
Thursday, August 17, 2006
Behind provocative covers by H.W. Perl, "Griff" spun hard-hitting yarns that lived up to the boasts of his publisher, introducing in the first Bill Truscott of the "Tribune-Sun" in a tale of kidnapping and death. Truscott teamed up with the delectable Susette Delaine, a synthetic blonde moll with Big-shot Killahan’s mob who became his wisecracking sidekick when Bill turned gumshoe in later novels. The dialogue was delivered in a style made popular by Hank Janson, the background sparse, picked up from pulp novels and Hollywood gangster movies, and at 2/6 the books were more expensive than dozens of other similar titles that were beginning to flood the market. But "Griff" succeeded where dozens of other crime paperback authors folded, selling something like 40,000 of each title. Maybe he was tougher than the rest, with violence piled on violence:
Susette already had the hypodermic poised over Killahan’s arm when Joe butted in. Killahan gave a yell of pain. Susette was not fairy handed. She had broken the point of the needle off in Big-shot’s arm.
Susette already had the hypodermic poised over Killahan’s arm when Joe butted in. Killahan gave a yell of pain. Susette was not fairy handed. She had broken the point of the needle off in Big-shot’s arm.
"You bitch!" yelled Killahan, and let her have it.
She took a pile-driver on the point of the jaw and went careering across the room to finish up in a heap alongside Bill. Bill made a move to help her, but Joe’s voice stopped him.
"Make a move and you’re dead meat." (Rackets Incorporated, p86)
It might not be Chandler, but "Griff" novels moved at the pace of a runaway express; the dames were always delightful and the stories always solid, piled high with incident with no pause for a breath between the action.
There was little to connect them in anybody’s mind to the sexy stories Rene Laroche, whose Tragedies of Montmartre was typical of a breed of paperback that dated back to the 1920s concerned with white slavery, honour in peril and prostitution, often set in Paris but usually with an English girl caught up in a loveless marriage to some swine who walks out on her, leaving her nowhere to turn but the cabaret to earn a living. Yvonne, the teenage girl whose "tragedy" is told in the above titled book, travels to Paris in the footsteps of art student Michael, whom she has fallen in love with, has an affair with Gaston, who leaves her suddenly and forces her into a brief life as an artists’ model - fraught with the danger of being ravished by lust-filled counts - before meeting someone she can truly love. All encounters are tactfully dealt with in the time honoured tradition of "..." or, at its spiciest, "she lay in his arms, thrilling to the moment."
Could there be any connection between the voluptuous Yvonne and curly-haired Kitty Dainton, one of the Fourth Form chums of St. Miriam’s English School for Girls, oddly situated near the Bois de Boulogne in Paris? Kitty’s encounter with her first Parisian, unlike Yvonne’s, sends her on a search for the girl’s missing Uncle, and when a thrill runs through Kitty’s body, it’s because she and her chums are hot on the trail of artwork stolen from a local gallery. The story was called The Schoolgirl Artists in Paris, and Eileen McKeay appeared on the byline.
The connection, of course, was that all these yarns shared a common author - not "Griff", Rene Laroche, or Eileen McKeay (or for that matter Tony Barton, Jacque Braza, Mark Grimshaw, Pat Haynes, Jack Maxwell and a dozen or so other names), but Ernest McKeag, known to his friends as ‘Mac’, a prolific and solid writer who never achieved any great fame for his yarns, but nevertheless churned them out to welcoming editors of the British pulp markets for over forty years.
Ernest Lionel McKeag was born on September 19, 1896, in Newcastle-upon-Tyne where his father, John McKeag, supported his wife, Alice (nee Ingledew), and family working in Insurance. After attending the local Armstrong College, McKeag joined the British Mercentile Marines in 1913 as an apprentice officer and travelled the world before returning to England to join the Royal Navy as a Midshipman, rising to Lieutenant by the end of the Great War. He left the navy in 1919 after gaining his Master Mariner’s Certificate at South Shields Marine School, and became a reporter.
In around 1921 he was eking out a precarious living working "on space" for a theatrical paper and as a freelance journalist and short story writer, living in the top room of a Bloomsbury boarding house. It was Eric McLean, then writing stories as Eric Townsend, who suggested to McKeag that he might try the juvenile market, and McKeag scored immediately, selling a number of tales to Richard Heber Poole, the editor of British Boy. McKeag was invited to meet his editor, who assured him of a regular market for his stories and of longer yarns to the pocket library titles he also produced for Lloyds.
With a regular income guaranteed, McKeag decided to tour the continent, getting as far as North Germany where he settled and lived like a lord: his income, paid in Sterling, was worth five or six times its spending value in Germany where he was receiving 18 million Marks to the Pound.1
McKeag was forced back down to earth with a bump in 1922 when Lloyds Periodicals folded their entire line, and he returned to England to work as the editor of a short-lived Northern Weekly Review whilst turning out newspaper features and serials for a Syndicate. He still had a hankering for the juvenile market, and began submitting tales to the recently founded Champion, edited by F. Addington Symonds. Symonds asked him to call at the Amalgamated Press’ Fleetway House, and whilst visiting, McKeag asked for a job; as Symonds already had a burgeoning staff, he suggested talking to R.T. Eves, who had recently launched a series of girls’ papers, and McKeag was hired in 1923 to take over the editorship (from Draycot M. Dell) of the short-lived Ruby which lasted only 20 weeks. It was for Ruby that he produced his first girls’ story, ‘The Ghost of Wither River’, later telling Bill Lofts, "I had never tried a girls’ yarn before, but an author had let me down and one was needed urgently. I left the office one day, had a meal and went to my flat which was then in Chancery Lane. I set to work with no clear idea in mind, and by 2 a.m. had completed the whole yarn of 14,000 words. It went down to the printers the next day, while the artist was working on the illustrations." 2
McKeag worked at Amalgamated Press during the Golden Age of story papers, editing Girls’ Favourite and writing, mostly for Schoolgirls Weekly and School Friend (as Eileen McKeay) but turning more to the boys papers which were taken over by Eves’ department. For Champion and Triumph, McKeag turned out an endless stream of serials under the names Pat Haynes and Jack Maxwell, ranging from battles in history to battles on the football field, from mountie adventures and invasions from Mars. As Mark Grimshaw, he wrote some 330 stories featuring ‘Colwyn Dane’ following in the footsteps of Edward R. Home-Gall; he also wrote back-up stories for the Nelson Lee Library, serials for the famous Magnet, and the editorial feature ‘Come Into the Office, Boys and Girls’ which offered prizes and advice for the Magnet’s readers between 1929 and 1937.
McKeag did not limit himself to writing for Amalgamated Press: in 1924, he met two other well-known inhabitants of Fleet Street, Fred Mowl and Arthur Gray, who published vast numbers of paperbacks under various imprints. "One of the worst paying firms in Fleet Street, who specialised in ‘sensational novels’," was McKeag’s recollection of them. As Federation Press and Gramol Publications they had begun producing a line of saucy novels, written by some of the most prolific authors of the era, the most famous being Richard Goyne who, as Paul Renin, caused a sensation, especially in 1931 when Mowl and Grey were taken to court over four of his novels. The result was a six month prison sentence for both, national coverage in the papers, and a more careful wielding of the editorial blue pen in future novels.3Unbelievably tame by todays standards, we can only imagine the flushes that were brought to readers cheeks when they read, for example:
With a quick movement he swung her feet from the ground, holding her in his arms as he might hold a baby. Her nearness, her sweetness intoxicated him. Youth, love, passion - all were urging him on! Forgotten was everything save that he loved this wonderful creature who lay there unresisting in his arms.
As he kissed her passionately something seemed to snap in his brain! As though in a trance he walked with her across the room, turned back the snow-white coverlet of the bed, and laid her warm, pulsating body between the sweet, pure sheets. She lay there like a statue, her night clothes slightly disarranged. The sight intoxicated him.
He threw off his coat, breathing hard. Then, tiptoeing across the room, he turned off the light. A few stray beams came through the curtains from a street lamp outside. He could still see her dim form in the darkness - waiting, waiting for him!
A few moments later he crept beside her, and her arm went out and encircled his neck. Her lips met his, and a thrill shot through them both, as, locked in each others arms, they were borne upwards on the wings of love... (The Girl Who Surrendered, p74)
This was a typical scene from McKeag’s spicy novels, rather ‘hotter’, in fact, than he was allowed to write twenty years later, which would probably have dropped any mention of Celia (the pulsating statue) being carried to the bed. In the fifties, as various Watch Committees and the vice squad bit into sales of ‘sensationals’, the chapter would have ended with the first paragraph’s "unresisting in his arms..." Roland Vane, McKeag’s pseudonym for this kind of novel, continued to appear until 1953, by which time he occasionally slipped away from Paris and white slave trafficking to tell more home-grown stories of London’s Soho clip-joints, and even warnings about drugs and juvenile delinquency.
McKeag’s association with Gray and Mowl led him to write a number of horse-racing novels and juvenile paperbacks, whilst for various Aldine annuals and libraries he penned many stories around the themes of the sea (usually involving the Navy) and football (usually involving a last minute goal); he also wrote hardcover boys’ novels for Pilgrim Press and romances for Modern Publishing; and all this whilst working editorially on School Friend and Schoolgirls Own Paper for the Amalgamated Press and keeping up an impressive fiction production for them too.
From the above you will begin to gather something of the man’s output, yet McKeag had other interests outside of writing. He married Constance Hibbs in 1928 with whom he had two sons, and stood as Labour candidate for Dover (1929) and Harwick (1931). He again served with the Navy during World War Two, and turned to freelancing journalism and writing novels afterwards, pounding out scores of new Roland Vane sensations for Phoenix Press, Modern Fiction and Archer Press; to this output he added more ‘sophisticated’ romances as Ramon Lacroix and Rene Laroche, crime novels as "Griff"4, and two lost world novels starring Shuna (or more properly, Esh’una), the White Queen of the Jungle, the first - Shuna and the Lost Tribe - straight out of Conan Doyle via Boys Friend Library. It was certainly a varied output.
McKeag returned to the Amalgamated Press in the early 1950s, this time to edit the Schoolgirls Own Library which was relaunched in 1946 (after a wartime break due to the paper shortage), and would run until 1963. McKeag was also a prolific writer of picture scripts for the companion Schoolgirls’ Picture Library, launched in 1957 with McKeag’s involvement but ultimately to be edited by Len Wenn, who recalls, "I had been taken on as editor and found that Mac had been assured of the job. Big row. I pressed my case having had enough of this sort of thing by now and it was sorted out in my favour. Mac and I became friends over a bottle of red wine that same evening and remained close friends to the end. Great fellow, Mac."5
McKeag retired from Fleetway Publications in September 1961, but remained a fixture at the "Cogers" where he had been a regular (and heavy) drinker for years. Mac was typical of the Street of Ink's colourful figures, thinnish, with a large nose through drink, sometimes to be found wearing a large Australian hat. Quiet when sober but boisterous when drunk, he rarely missed a function in Fleet Street, heading straight for the pub each evening and working his way home through a number of taverns; he complained bitterly through a spell in a nursing home in the late 1950s where he was forced to drink nothing but milk whilst recovering from an ulcer and, against doctors advice, drank more than ever when he was released.
His drinking was his downfall, and he later suffered a stroke and lost the powers of speech, but even that didn’t stop him visiting old friends at Fleetway, who would take him across the road to the infamous Cheshire Cheese. When he died, in 1974, he had his ashes scattered in the Gulf stream ("much to his wife’s dismay," recalls one correspondent, "for she had to attend and was very seasick."). He was survived by his wife and two sons.
 McKeag wrote a number of titles that were based on his own experiences. His first adult novel, for instance, was set in The Night Haunts of Berlin, and a second contained the following character, clearly McKeag himself:
Leonard Morton, student, a bit of an author, journalist, jack of all trades, was getting blase. The pursuit of pleasure had been his hobby from youth, but in Hamburg there was not need to pursue pleasure. After a year of precarious existence as a free-lance in Fleet Street, he found Hamburg a second Utopia.
The difference in the rate of exchange, of course, had a great deal to do with it, for it was just the time when the mark had commenced its disastrous fall in value. With the small sum which he had managed to wrest from hard-hearted editors, as he put it, he had decided to cross to Germany and study the country a little... The sudden rise in the value of the English pound had enabled him to carry out his plans. (The Girl Who Surrendered, pp5-6)[back]
 Although, according to McKeag, "there was no editor on that firm." Other contributors to the Mowl/Gray group included Robert C. Elliott, William Elliott, and future Ben Sarto and Griff writer Frank Dubrez Fawcett.[back]
 It should be noted that McKeag only wrote 5 novels as "Griff", a house name which was then taken over by others, notably William Newton and F. Dubrez Fawcett, who added a further forty-two titles to the byline.[back]
 Len Wenn, private communication, 24 October 1998.[back]
(* This was written a few years ago when I was writing and editing a newsletter called PBO for the British Association of Paperback Collectors. PBO folded after 9 issues and "Remembering 'Mac'," as the article was originally called, was never used.)
Wednesday, August 16, 2006
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