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Wednesday, October 31, 2007

Comic Firsts: Joe Colquhoun

Actually not quite a first as this was the third adventure to feature Doc Carver. It was published in 1951 in Conqueror Comic, published by Scion Ltd., and later reprinted in a cheap album called High Seas Adventure Comic published by G.T. Ltd. in around 1959.

Joe Colquhoun is the subject of an article from David Ashford and Norman Wright in the current Book and Magazine Collector so there's no need to go too deeply into his career here. Later he was to draw the magnificent "Charley's War" in Battle Picture Weekly, which is currently being reprinted by Titan Books -- and a finer set of books you couldn't want for your shelves! If you don't have them already, just follow these links and order them now:Don't let the crudity of this very early strip put you off. Colquhoun began his career working for a little post-war studio called King-Ganteaume who supplied loads of strips to small publishers, usually filling complete 24 page comics with a variety of features. Doctor Dave Carver made his first appearance in two issues of Jungle Trails Colour Comic which were printed in France with alternate pages printed in colour.

Not long after this strip saw print, Colquhoun tried to find work with the Eagle but was turned down by the Rev. Marcus Morris. Morris, however, advised him to try his samples at the Amalgamated Press who had just launched a new title, Lion. He was interviewed by Stan Boddington who worked on Lion and Champion and, before long, Colquhoun was supplying strips to both papers -- beginning an association with A.P./Fleetway/IPC that was to last thirty-five years, only coming to an end when Colquhoun died in 1987.

Tuesday, October 30, 2007

Comic Cuts

October has been a busy month: the highlight was probably the ABC Show signing; having your ego massaged is always a good thing! Since then I've been working full out on various things -- some for work (where we've had quite a few enquiries about some of the comics Look and Learn owns) and (my evening job) putting together the various bits of the next comics index.

Went to a Halloween party on Saturday with witches, devils, monsters, cybermen, the occasional manga-inspired costume and a very small bat...

We're wrapping up the new (eighth) Trigan Empire--The Collection volume and my next job will probably be volume nine, although that won't be out until next year. Somewhere in between metadata for the Picture Library (which now has over 20,000 images) and putting together samples I've got to knuckle down and get the introduction written for the Robin Hood book that Look and Learn and The Book Palace are doing. So at some point I'm going to be researching and writing one book in the day, forced (against my will, naturally) to look through pages of Frank Bellamy artwork, and writing another in the evening filled with art by Don Lawrence. Oh, the horror, the horror...

I am kidding, of course. Mind you, it can be pretty tiring and mistakes start to creep in. For instance, I put up the little piece on Mike Western last night and completely forgot to say where and when those Captain Phantom pages had appeared. Hopefully I'll have some early Joe Colquhoun scanned for the next episode.

A quick round-up of news stories I've been looking at and listening to this evening...

* Ian Gibson has a weekly column at Den of Geek. (link via Rich Johnston's Lying in the Gutters)

* Talking of Rich Johnston, he's interviewed at Alex Fitch's I'm Ready For My Podcast (part 1 posted 29 October and part 2 posted 30 October), one of Alex's Panel Borders shows. Scroll down the page and you'll find Alex's interview with Neil Gaiman (21 October)

* Paul Gravett interviews Posy Simmonds in the latest issue (#286) of The Comics Journal. There are some extensive excerpts on the Comics Journal website. (link via Journalista where I also found a link to an archive of Simmonds' 'Literary Life' strips)

* Bryan Talbot is the subject of a 3-part interview at Inkstuds. Something seems a bit awry with the direct link to the site but this link via Google cache seems to work. Worked for me.

* "Desperate Dan's No Veggie," says Lew Stringer. Lew also recently reviewed fanzines From the Tomb #22 and Crikey #2, and discussed the new Guardian comic section, The Comic, and the newly tweaked Beano. Lew seems especially keen on Laura Howell's Johnny Bean and you can find out more about young Johnny at Laura's website.

* Steve Flanagan notes two new titles upcoming from Constable: The Mammoth Book of Best Crime Comics and The Mammoth Book of Horror Comics. The latter is listed at Amazon as due on 28 January 2008 and available for pre-order now.

* John Adcock has produced a couple of interesting posts: there's this one with scans of some Uncle Oojah sets reprinted in the Toronto Telegram in 1923; and further reprints of British cartoons, this time in Toronto Star Weekly, can be found here.

* Maw Broon, matriarch of the famous Broons family, has earned herself some criticism: apparently the Maw Broon's Cookbook is encouraging obesity. The BBC News carries the story under the headline "Comic diet carries health warning".

* The curiously-named F├║star takes a look at Bunty and then returns to the well for a look at "The Flights of Flopear", drawn by Robert Macgillivray just one of many bizarre comics that have appeared in the UK. The first page of the first episode appears here. (Flopear © D C Thomson)

Monday, October 29, 2007

Comic Firsts: Mike Western

A while back I posted what I believe are the first two comics strips from the pen of Geoff Campion. I've had the opportunity to dig through a pile of old Knockout comics thanks to my pal John Allen-Clark and the paper contained some of the earliest work by a variety of artists who went on to have long careers in comics.

Today's entry in what I'm going to call 'Comic Firsts' -- because I'm tired and I can't think of anything better -- is an episode of "Captain Phantom", the very first drawn by Mike Western for Knockout no. 738 (April 18, 1953). Mike went on to draw dozens of strips over the years but to me he will always be the guy who drew "The Wild Wonders" for Valiant (to others he might be the guy who drew "Johnny Winco" or "HMS Nightshade" or "The Sarge"... I guess it depends on how old you are and what comics you read as a kid). Mike is still around, 82 years young, and I'm pleased to say still has a large fan base. For someone who hasn't a single strip in print in the UK that's pretty good going. The now-defunct [New] Eagle fanzine, Eagle Flies Again did a special tribute issue to him a couple of years ago and, going way back, I did a little booklet called The Mike Western Story, which, if I can figure out a practical way of doing it, I might try and get back into print. Another project... just what I need!

Anyway, here's the first 'Comic Firsts'... anyone wishing to contribute other examples of artists' first work, just drop me a line.

(* Captain Phantom © IPC Media)

Saturday, October 27, 2007

A brief history of indexing comics

As this is the 500th post on Bear Alley I thought I'd take another look back at two of my favourite subjects: comics and me. All writers write about themselves eventually because all writers need to have a certain amount of ego in their makeup. How else would they have the confidence to believe that tens, or hundreds, or thousands, or hundreds of thousands of people want to read what they, the writer, has written?

(A quick guide to writers: (a) the novice writer says, "I wrote that!"; (b) the professional writer, having sweated blood to hit a deadline says, "I wrote that!"; and (c) the hack, having cashed his cheque, says, "I wrote that?!?" I like to think I'm still in the 'b' class of writers.)

Long, long ago in a town not too far away (Chelmsford, to be precise), I lived in a flat above a shop. It wasn't luxurious by any stretch of the imagination and I had everything crammed into one room, but it was close to the town centre and about thirty yards from my favourite pub. And dirt cheap because three of us shared what should have been a two person flat. I moved in around the summer of 1986 when I was working for a frozen food firm, Booker-Belmont, which was now within reasonable cycling distance.

The cycling came to a sudden and abrupt end when I was knocked off the bike by a careless driver who wasn't even curious enough about my health to stop and ask if I was OK. I managed to get home before the terrifying thought that I might have just been killed hit me. The bike, however, wasn't... I was halfway into work the next day when I realised that spokes were falling out of the wheel. As it was an old bike of no great value we gave it the bike equivalent of a Viking funeral and put it through an industrial crusher. With all due ceremony, of course.

Anyway, back to the plot. I'd already written a few articles about comics by then, mostly for Denis Gifford's Association of Comics Enthusiasts (ACE) Newsletter, Comic Cuts, whose name I've occasionally appropriated for running news here at Bear Alley. One piece, about Gerald Swan (who churned out comics during and just after the Second World War), elicited the response from Denis that contributors could, if they wanted, have a free advert in Comic Cuts. So I put in a little box ad asking anyone who was interested in the old picture libraries to get in touch as I was thinking of compiling a list. The advert appeared, I think, in January 1984.

I got just one response -- namely a guy called John Allen-Clark who phoned up while I was on holiday in Holland (and that, believe me, is a whole other story which, oddly enough, also involves cycling... and hospitalisation). John and I are still the best of comics collecting pals and I still remember with immense happiness spending many Sundays rummaging through his collection of comics at his home in Maldon.

And that's where the serious business of indexing comics really started. John had a far greater collection than I did and I was able to find strips by artists I liked in many different comics. And I wanted to keep track of where I was finding them, so inevitably lists started to grow from these visits.

The only article I wrote while I was working at Booker-Belmont was a listing for Starblazer which was the subject of my last bit of reminiscing back in August (Starblazer Memories part 1, part 2, part 3). On April 1, 1987, I quit -- it was a bloody awful job working long hours in an unheated warehouse. The only advantage was that we used to work such long hours there wasn't any time to spend our earnings and, living in such a very cheap flat, I actually managed to put some money in the bank. So instead of looking for another job, I knuckled down to organising the information I'd been compiling.

Out of the blue in late 1987 I received a letter from a guy called Gary Armitage. Gary was a fellow member of the ACE and was also interested in lists. He enclosed one with his letter. I think it was a list of stories that had appeared in Lion and various annuals and holiday specials featuring The Spider. I wrote back and included a list of stories featuring The Steel Claw.

From those two little acorns grew the indexing project that has kept me busy on and off for the last twenty years. Gary sent me a listing of all the characters that had appeared in Lion as a follow-up. Not to be outdone, I gritted my teeth and spent the next few weeks indexing Valiant. Gary put together most of the information for an index to the Power comics published by Odhams. I think I then tried an index to TV Century 21 and its various spin-off titles (I'm not 100% sure, but listings of the latter titles appeared in Comic Cuts in 1988).

Gary was eventually forced to drop out, the real world and real work getting in the way of a fine hobby, and I was also by then working full-time at R.H.P. But Hoffmans (as it was still known as rather than the fuller Ransom, Hoffman & Pollard) was only around the corner and I was only doing the occasional bit of overtime, leaving lots of free time to contact other fans of British comics and badger them into providing information for other lists.

David Ashford threw in his lot with this mad scheme, as did John Barber, Chris Street, Colin Rudge and my collecting pal John Allen-Clark. The first fruits of all this activity were various lists for Comic Cuts in 1990. During this period I also had my one and only fling at writing comic strips for Starblazer (for details see the 'Starblazer Memories' articles linked above) and was made redundant. In September 1989 I started working for Southwark-based City Sports which put a crimp in my writing career but still left me with evenings free... and by now I had a computer. In October 1990 I was made redundant (again!).

In December I produced The Mike Western Story and sent a copy to Bryon Whitworth who was the editor and publisher of The Illustrated Comics Journal, a fanzine about British comics that I was just starting to contribute to. I mentioned the various indexes that the collective group of fans were working on and Bryon expressed an interest in publishing them. We received a nod of approval from Fleetway to use illustrations and set to work on the first book.

Around March of 1991 we had a proof copy for the first volume of Thriller Picture Library: An Illustrated Guide which, looking back on it now, is a bit of an embarrassment. Although we included every single cover, they were black and white and poorly shrunk down photocopies which didn't come out very well at all. I'm rather more pleased with the introduction (written by David Ashford) which I laid out myself. Ali Cottee, who was one of my flat-mates, did the cover illustration based on a James McConnell cover and we hand-lettered the cover and title page (which you can see at the top of the column). At the time, Ali was working for the company who did model work for Thomas and Friends TV series (famously narrated by Ringo Starr); she was a damn fine painter and sculptor, too. The photocopying doesn't do the original (long lost, I'm afraid) any justice. She also did the second cover (based on a McConnell Robin Hood) and I did the third, which was based on a blown-up cover image from one of the John Steel stories.

The first volume came out in April 1991, the second and third in October 1991 and January 1992 respectively. A month later, Bryon put out a single volume edition.

Later, Bryon bought himself a colour photocopier and put out new copies of the Thriller index with a colour dustjacket (hand-coloured by Bryon himself).

In February 1992, Bryon published the 2-volume Fleetway Companion which combined a number of complete and incomplete listings for titles that had come out in the 1960s, '70s and '80s; again, he put this out as a single volume almost immediately with additional material (War Libraries) which I'd intended to be the third volume. But Bryon, hand producing indexes to order, liked the bigger volumes for some reason. The Fleetway Companion ran to a massive 385 pages and I think it was the best-seller of all the indexes we did.

The Comet Collectors Guide and The Sun Collectors Guide followed in March and August 1992, along with Super Detective Library: An Index, also in August, all written in collaboration with David Ashford. The Power Pack (covering Wham!, Smash!, Pow, Fantastic and Terrific) was published in March 1993, Cowboy Comics Library (with David Ashford) in May 1993, Valiant: The Complete Index in December 1994, The Complete Lion Index in June 1995, The Buster Index (compiled with Ray Moore, despite the d/j giving me a solo credit, and with an introduction by Lew Stringer) in February 1996 and Knockout Comics: An Illustrated Guide (with David Ashford and John Allen-Clark) in December 1997.

The last of these, the Knockout, was in a new A4 size (all the others had been A5). We also did a 2nd edition of the Super Detective Library in the new format with all 188 covers reproduced, postage stamp-sized, in colour.

Bryon retired to France a couple of years later and gave up producing the indexes and the Illustrated Comics Journal. The latter was taken over by David Mirfin, although only one further issue appeared. The proposed Tiger Index was never completed.

I still get asked about the indexes, mostly from people who want to pick up copies, but I only ever received one or two copies of each title. I'm surprised to see they still turn up occasionally on ebay and elsewhere at over-inflated prices; as far as I'm concerned they're retired and have been put out to pasture. The early lists have been thoroughly overhauled over the years and for this reason we began producing a new series of indexes this summer. The new series -- properly printed and vastly superior in every respect -- will eventually include all the old volumes alongside new volumes. Regular readers of Bear Alley will know already that we've already published one volume -- The War Libraries -- and there's another in active production -- The Thriller Libraries (which replaces Thriller, Cowboy and Super Detective). David Ashford and I are already updating information for Knockout and David Roach is busy with the third volume of the pocket libraries series and researching girls' comics.

These occasional reminiscences bring back lots of happy memories. I even have fond memories of that lousy flat in Chelmsford, the venue for dozens of impromptu parties that went on into the early hours of summer mornings; the flat was located above a row of shops and, first thing in the morning, you could smell fresh rolls being cooked in the bakery next door and coffee being ground at the delicatessen on the corner. Sitting on the doorstep reading Modesty Blaise novels in the sunshine; plotting vast graffiti projects for the white walls opposite with Ali; watching Neighbours with Sooty (I'll save her for the thousandth column!); having Nick bang on the door to tell us we'd had a phone call down the pub... happy days!

The Price of War

(* Jeremy Briggs is back with a look at the steadily increasing cost of Commando...)

Commando Prices

A bucket, a spade and a Commando comic. For many of us, our initiation into these little black and white digests was during the annual family holiday to the seaside. How many young minds imagined the beach they were sitting on being attacked by troops coming off landing craft, with defending machine gun nests concealed in the dunes, and Spitfires attacking Stukas in the skies above?

No doubt adults saw those seaside newsagents and confectioners as brash and tacky, but to young eyes they were a treasure trove of toys, sweets and comics. I could take you back to the exact spot in the seaside resort where I got so many copies of Commando and the two Picture Libraries, Battle and War. Physically that little newsagent's shop is long gone, demolished to make way for expensive sea view flats, but it lives on in my memory. As do the cries of "Banzai!" or "Gott In Himmel!".

Today, more years later that I care to remember, the cries are just as likely to be "By the gods!" or "Tarnation!" as World War Two often gives way to Roman antiquity or Wild West America. Commando is still there if you look hard enough for it. Many are lost in newsagent's shelves amongst the chaos of the A4 sized nursery and primary school age comics with their "free" gifts, but some shops have special clip on display racks that push Commando and the other remaining D C Thomson digests to a more prominent position.

Today's issues of Commando are, to all intensive purposes, the same as the very first issue in 1961. Little has changed save for the price and, perhaps surprisingly, it still doesn't take in external advertising. Traditionally October has been the month when the price of Commando goes up, but this year it looks like we have been let off for good behaviour, with the annual price rise this year only being 5p rather than the more typical 10p of recent years.

Issue 1 June 1961 1/- (decimalised to 5p)
No price increase until 1971
1971 October 6p
1972 No price increase
1973 No price increase
1974 No price increase
1975 January 7p
1976 April 8p
1977 October 9p
1978 November 10p
1979 October 12p
1980 October 14p
1981 October 16p
1982 October 18p
1983 October 20p
1984 October 22p
1985 October 24p
1986 October 26p
1987 October 28p
1988 October 30p
1989 October 32p
1990 October 35p
1991 October 40p
1992 October 45p
1993 October 50p
1994 No price increase
1995 No price increase
1996 December 55p
1997 November 60p
1998 October 65p
1999 October 70p
2000 October 75p
2001 October 80p
2002 October 90p
2003 October £1.00
2004 No price increase
2005 October £1.10
2006 October £1.20
2007 October £1.25

As for sales figures, with no requirement for external advertising there is no advertising pack for the title to give its circulation numbers, but Commando writer Sean Blair told us recently on Down The Tubes that it sells over 1,000,000 copies a year. Remembering of course that there are actually 96 issues published each year, that means that the average sales figure per issue would be around 10,500 copies which doesn't sound quite so impressive. Yet that does mean that monthly sales figures are in the region of 84,000 and for any title these days that is a healthy number.

The other thing to consider from the above list is the cost of a Commando in relation to the weekly comics of the day. While it is not a direct comparison of like against like, if you walked into a newsagent looking for a comic, any comic, to read then for a long time buying a Commando was the expensive option. In July 1961 when the first Commando cost 1/- or 12d, Eagle cost only 5d. In 1973 when Hotspur cost 3p, Commando cost 6p. When 2000AD arrived in 1977 at 8p, Commando cost 9p. During the Falklands War in 1982 Warlord cost 14p while Commando cost 16p. As the weekly comics started to die out, in 1988 the very last issue of Battle cost 28p while Commando was 32p.

Today however the last of the old adventure weeklies, 2000AD, is £1.90 while the most popular of the new bi-weeklies, Doctor Who Adventures, is £1.99, so at £1.25 Commando is now much cheaper. Of course the modern A4 comics are glossy and colourful while digest-sized Commando has remained much the same as it was back in 1961.

Yet with the successful Commando: The Dirty Dozen reprint book and its three follow ups, plus at least one more promised for 2008, the Commando brand is probably more visible to the general public now than it has been for many years. So for all the suggestions that Commando is rather old fashioned perhaps Britain’s only war comic is having the last laugh after all.

(Commando is © D C Thomson Ltd.)

Friday, October 26, 2007

Eagle Annual: The Best of the 1950s Comic

(* I'm pleased to welcome Steve Winders to Bear Alley with a review of the just-released Eagle collection...)

The new Eagle Annual: The Best of the 1950s Comic book is the latest in a growing line of nostalgia books celebrating comics and other periodicals of the nineteen fifties and sixties, which began about two years ago. Eagle's companion paper Girl has already received the treatment, as have Jackie and Look-In.

Of course we have already had a Best of Eagle book, produced nearly thirty years ago, well before the latest craze. Then, Marcus Morris and Denis Gifford included long extracts from Dan Dare's original 'Venus' story, Jeff Arnold's 'Arizona Kid' adventure and PC49's 'Terrible Twins' case, as well as shorter extracts from other popular strips, a selection of cutaway drawings, non-fiction strips, text features, readers' letters and a few advertisements to capture the flavour of Eagle.

The new 'annual' contains isolated episodes from stories rather than continuous runs and there are pages from seven different 'Dan Dare' adventures in the book. Jeff Arnold is represented by a page from 'The War with Geronimo', one from 'The Arizona Kid' and just half a page from 'The Cochise Affair'. PC49 is featured in a page drawn by Strom Gould and another by John Worsley, with a third containing brief extracts from two stories and a short commentary. The book also includes the first Harris Tweed strip by John Ryan and an episode of Storm Nelson, drawn by Bellavitis and not Richard Jennings, the regular artist. However, other popular characters such as Luck of the Legion and Jack O'Lantern are completely absent and there is a strong emphasis on some of Eagle's non fiction strips and features at the expense of the stories. There are no less than four instalments of both 'Railway Wonders' and the careers strip 'He Wants to Be..' and there are single episodes of most of the half page educational strips that occupied page ten before Jack O'Lantern started. Not surprisingly there are a lot of cutaway drawings, but the lower part of the cutaway pages, which originally contained Luck of the Legion are left blank, leading me to wonder whether Colin Frewin, the current owner of Eagle's copyright actually owns the rights to Luck and other absent characters.

Several Sports pages of historical significance are featured. These include a preview of the famous 1953 F.A. Cup Final between Blackpool and Bolton Wanderers and a feature on Manchester United's Busby Babes, before their tragic air crash. There are a lot of 'Letters to the Editor' and 'Letters from the Editor' and there are a great many advertisements, although surprisingly no 'Tommy Walls'. Despite the emphasis on factual pieces, only two of Eagle's famous historical and religious back pages are included. These are single episodes of 'The Shepherd King' and 'The Happy Warrior', both drawn by Frank Bellamy.

The 'Annual' is the same size as a fifties Eagle Annual, so the reproduced pages from Eagle comic are reduced from their original size which makes many text pages very difficult to read. This is compounded by the fact that many black and white pages are printed in a brown sepia like colour in the annual instead of a bold black. Having said that, the strips and other illustrations are reproduced much better here than in Morris and Gifford's Best of Eagle. The good quality shiny paper allows a sharper definition.

The cover of the new Annual is also a facsimile of the familiar fifties annual, with its large yellow and black eagle on a red background. The cover is also 'distressed' to look like an old annual with damaged corners and other signs of ageing from a distance. Unfortunately the inside pages are also distressed too. This is most apparent in the blank bottom halves of the cutaway drawing pages, where it looks like someone has wiped a load of … well let's not go there! This artificial ageing highlights the difference of purpose between this Best of Eagle and the Morris/Gifford one. This book focuses on the values and attitudes presented in Eagle, in order to show how things have changed since the fifties. The original book's aim was to celebrate Eagle and to give its readers a chance to see again the heroes and favourite features of their youth. To be fair, the editor of this book, Daniel Tatarsky is full of praise for the quality of the Eagle and never pokes fun at any of the content, but the choice of content follows the style of the books about Jackie and Girl, where there was a particular emphasis on the contrasting attitudes of then and now.

I enjoyed the new book, but I wish it had followed the approach taken by another new publication The Bumper Book of Look and Learn, where the pages are the same size as the original and the contents serve the same purpose they did when they originally appeared – to educate and entertain.

Albion Origins

In the wake of Albion, the WildStorm series by Leah Moore and John Reppion (plotted by Alan Moore), comes Albion Origins which collects together stories featuring some of the more interesting characters from the old British comics that inspired Albion.

I'm not going to review the book because I wrote the introductory material which some people might see as a bit of a conflict of interest. It wouldn't be: I've already been paid and I'm not on a royalty so I'm not going to see any more money if the books sells one copy or one million copies; but why risk having my independence questioned?

So, consider this a placeholder until someone else submits a review. Meanwhile, you might want to read Lew Stringer's review at Blimey!

Albion: Origins features four different characters in a variety of stories. The opening tale, 'Kelly's Eye', features Tim Kelly whose is indestructible as long as he hangs onto the mystical jewel, the Eye of Zoltec... which he loses in the storyline reprinted here which comes from Valiant (23 February to 20 July 1963).

'The House of Dolmann' reprints six four-page episodes including the opening number where we were first introduced to Dolmann on 8 October 1966. 'Janus Stark' also reprints the opening episode amongst the three adventures here, from Smash!, 15 March 1969. (The other two stories are also from Smash!, 22 March 1969 and a two-parter from 31 May-7 June 1969.)

The book closes with a complete serial starring Cursitor Doom, the six-episode 'Cursitor Doom and the Dark Legion of Maradax' from Smash!, 4 October-8 November 1969.

Brian Bolland's marvellous cover was slightly altered between painting and publishing. Here's how it originally looked:

The book is available from Amazon.co.uk at a hefty discount.

Wednesday, October 24, 2007

Bovril Brigade (Frank Hampson)

(* I'm reposting this because of an interesting response I got from Richard Sheaf which pointed me to another Hampson-drawn advert (which I'm including a scan of below). First, the original post, then onto Richard's comments...)

The fact that Frank Hampson drew two episodes of 'The Adventures of the Bovril Brigade' is widely known amongst Hampson fans. The two strips are covered (amongst others) at The Lost Characters of Frank Hampson website which says that the Bovril half-pages ran in 1963-64. Well, I can pre-date them to 1962 when the ads appeared in Children's Newspaper.

The first ad. I've located (above) appeared 29 September 1962 (repeated 20 October 1962, 26 January 1963, 9 March 1963). The second ad. (below) first appeared 10 November 1962 (repeated 16 February 1963).

These adverts were repeated in various comics and were still appearing at least as late as December 1964 (in TV Comic).

Update:

Richard Sheaf comments: "I thought I'd drop you a line to say that the 'rain' strip first appeared in Eagle 17/11/62. It was then repeated in Eagle on 23/03/63.

"The 'horses' strip appeared just once (to my knowledge) on 12/01/63.

"The TV Comic 14/12/64 that the LC of FH refers to is, I believe, a different ad entirely, in that instance for Lego. Have you seen that ad? Have a look in Look and Learn 19/12/64."

So I did, and Richard is quite correct. The 1964 advert (which also appeared in Eagle, I believe) was 'Come to Legoland'.

Looking through my little list of Hampson's work, I see I have a note that he drew 25 episodes of a series featuring the Chalmers family for the National Coal Board which appeared in 1963-64. You can see some excellent examples at the Lost Characters of Frank Hampson website.

The Return of Nature Corner

After a few weeks I finally managed to have the camera to hand when a squirrel turned up in the garden. I don't care what the Telegraph says: grey or red, they're cute!

Tuesday, October 23, 2007

Harold Hare meets Tony Hancock

One of the jobs I had recently was to scan a load of covers from Harold Hare's Own Paper which, to the uninitiated, was a rather nice nursery title published by Fleetway in 1959-64. It was published in a large size (9 1/2" x 12 3/4") and many issues had half or full page illustrations by Hugh McNeill of the topsy-turvy bunny of the title.

In November 1962, Harold had the misfortune of picking up a book called Thrilling Mystery Story from the library and found himself in a storyline straight out of Hancock's Half Hour which, to those poor uninitiated folk, was a radio series broadcast by the BBC between 1954 and 1959 starring Tony Hancock. The show was a huge success, breaking away from the variety format of other comedy shows and presenting its listeners with a storyline that filled the full half hour. Hancock was transferred to the TV in 1956, the show lasting for seven seasons until 1961.

One of the finest TV episodes was called 'The Missing Page', in which Hancock borrows a book from the library, a thriller called Lady Don't Fall Backwards by D'Arcy Sarto, only to find that the final page, with the solution to the mystery, is missing. The whole show is hilarious from start to finish and has quite a few subtle jokes that some of his viewers may have missed. One is the name of the author: D'Arcy Sarto was made up from the names of two of the most popular pseudo-American gangster writers of the fifties, D'Arcy Glinto and Ben Sarto. The book, Lady Don't Fall Backwards, was a typical of the hard-boiled titles that adorned their novels. It was later used by Joan Le Mesurier (wife of John Le Mesurier) for her autobiography.

Even more interesting is the picture below in which you can see the mocked-up thriller cover and the author's name: D'Arcy Clinto!

(When I was putting together the little souvenir booklet for the 1st Paperback & Pulp Fair held at the Grosvenor in 1991 I thought it might be fun to include Lady Don't Fall Backwards as one of the illustrations, just to see if anyone noticed. Having an artist for a flatmate helped -- Alison did a fine job of painting up a cover in the style of H. W. Perl at his worst and it fitted in a treat amongst the other poorly photocopied covers. And nobody spotted it!)

(Another retrospectively funny joke in 'The Missing Page' is Hancock's response to a librarian who accuses him of marking a book that he doesn't like eggs, foreshadowing a series of commercials that Hancock did for the Egg Marketing Board some years later.)

Back to Harold Hare, who trips over a basket of plumbs and also loses the final page of the book. Racing back to the scene, Harold spots his Aunt Hilda using the missing page to tuck inside her hat to stop it slipping down on her head; since Harold would rather Aunt Hilda didn't find him reading a thriller, he dresses up as her -- supposedly for a fancy dress party, giving him an excuse to borrow her hat. What is it about rabbits dressing up in drag? Bugs Bunny was always doing it. Anyway, Aunt Hilda removes the page from the lining of her hat (as Harold's head is bigger than her's) and uses it to wedge shut a cupboard door, then as a bookmark. Harold has to join her at the hairdressers if he's to get his hand on that missing page... which you'll be pleased to hear that he manages by the end of the story.

Next week: "A pint? That's very nearly a paw full!" Or maybe not...

Monday, October 22, 2007

Comic Cuts

No posts over the weekend due to trying to catch up on some sleep (Saturday) and scanning like it was going out of fashion (Sunday) for a future index update to Knockout. Spent today scanning, too, but for completely different reasons. There might even be one or two blog posts amongst the scans.

As I've no news worth mentioning, here's some news from elsewhere...

* Lew Stringer's Blimey! carries the good news that Terry Bave is still alive and well despite his death being reported in Crikey! issue 2. Lew quotes Steve Bright who posted a note to the Comics UK Forum reporting that "It sounds like Terry saw the funny side of it thankfully." These things happen: I wrote a piece for Jeff Hawke's Cosmos a couple of years ago which included a thank you to "the late" John Lawrence. Both John and I were quite surprised to hear that he'd died... I suspect the editor was mixing up John with Don Lawrence (who was, indeed, "late"). Editor Brian Clarke has posted a note saying that the news of Terry's demise had come from "a friend of ours who is a comics fan" who told him a few days before the issue went to print that Terry had recently died.

* Neil Gaiman is the subject of an interview 'The man who turns fantasy into reality' by Ian Burrell in The Indendent (22 October).

* Posy Simmonds is 'The invisible woman' according to Sabine Durrant in The Sunday Telegraph (21 October).

* Albert Uderzo is interviewed in 'The vital statistics of Asterix' by Mario Cacciottolo (BBC News, 18 October).

* The Scottish Falsetto Sock Puppet Theatre at BICS. (link via Forbidden Planet International blog)

Friday, October 19, 2007

Andy Capp Statue

(* Jeremy Briggs makes a welcome return as we continue our tour of places of note to British comics around the country.)

THE ANDY CAPP STATUE

After Desperate Dan (and Minnie The Minx and Dawg) in Dundee and Lobey Dosser in Glasgow, we continue our journey around the United Kingdom focusing on the few statues of comic characters.

Andy Capp was a northern working class character created by Reg Smythe for the Daily Mirror in 1957. Lew Stringer has an excellent history of the character over on Blimey! which I really don’t need to re-Capp here.

The history of the statue is somewhat tortuous. Let us remember that while the character of Andy is well loved he is also a layabout and, at times in the past, a sexist, heavy smoking, hard drinking, wife beating layabout at that. His name is so familiar to us now it can be easy to forget that it is a play on words, that he was created as a handicap for his long suffering wife Flo. So when the idea of a statue in Andy’s and Reg Smythe’s home town of Hartlepool came up, the PC brigade was not too impressed.

The long running plan for a statue of Andy started after Reg Smythe’s death in 1998, His widow Jean and Hartlepool’s then mayor backed the statue but the money required for it could not be raised. In 2002 there was another attempt and Shrewsbury based sculptor Jane Robins created a plasticine rough for the statue showing Andy propping up a bar with a pint in his left hand.

In April 2004 Hartlepool Borough Council endorsed plans to erect the statue, with the help of cash from the North Hartlepool Partnership single regeneration budget. By May 2005 however, while still having some supporters inside the council, the plan for the statue was off again as not being the best image for the town and supposedly with not enough support from residents.

But obviously that wasn’t to be the end of it. A year later in 2006 the North Hartlepool Partnership leafleted Hartlepool residents to see what the public reaction really was. Over 500 people responded to the leaflet with 77% of them being for it, and the statue was back on again, by this time costing £20,000.

The statue was finally unveiled on 28 June 2007 by Smyth’s widow Jean just before the 50th anniversary of the strip. Showing Andy propping up a bar with a pint in his right hand and with a small brass plaque reading simply “Andy Capp created by Reg Smythe”, it is located in Croft Terrace in the Headland area of Hartlepool beside the Harbour Of Refuge pub.

Despite the running antipathy to the statue, the Andy Capp strip has been a successful export for the Daily Mirror who have sold it to some 50 countries. Of course his name is changed as he journeys around the globe. In Italy he is known as Carlo, while in France the play on words of his name is totally lost in the direct translation into Andre Chapeau. Perhaps we should close on (and quickly draw a veil over) his German name of Willi Wacker.

(* Andy Capp is © Mirror Group Newspapers)