2008 has been quite a year for fans of old British comics. The growth has been snail-paced—certainly slow-moving to those of us who remember running down to the shops every Saturday morning and finding an array of 50 new comics on the shelves—but growth is growth and we've had more reprint titles out this year than ever before.
The summer saw The Beano celebrating its 70th birthday and publisher D C Thomson pushed out the boat with the release of The History of the Beano: The Story So Far, possibly the finest book of the year for collectors. And a little frustrating because, fine as it was, looking back over the glories of the past seven decades made me wish that Thomson would risk, perhaps through its book publishing arm (Waverley Books), reprinting collections of individual strips: a whole book of Leo Baxendale's "The Bash Street Kids", "Minnie the Minx" and "Little Plum", or David Law's "Dennis the Menace", or Ken Reid's "Jonah". At the very least we might have a similar history of The Dandy to look forward to if it survives until its 75th anniversary in 2012.
In February, Titan announced that they had signed a deal with Egmont to reprint material from a range of titles, including Battle Picture Weekly, Action, humour comic Buster and girls' comics Tammy and Misty. We have since seen a couple of books featuring "Roy of the Rovers" (The Best of Roy of the Rovers: The 1980s, The Bumper Book of Roy of the Rovers) but little else, so let's keep our fingers crossed that the floodgates open in 2009. The much-delayed The Bumper Book of Battle is now scheduled for March and the winter schedule will hopefully see a few more.
March should also see the release of Century 21: Classic Comic Strips from the Worlds of Gerry Anderson Volume 1 and Volume 2 from Reynolds & Hearn. Marcus Hearn told me recently: "The books [will] be available in paperback and limited edition hardback. They're going to include strips from TV Century 21, Lady Penelope and Joe 90. The artists include Frank Bellamy, Martin Asbury, Frank Langford, Mike Noble and Gerry Embleton. Chris Bentley is putting these together for us, and we have a team of four designers working on the restoration. Work on that is now almost complete. Gerry Anderson is our consultant and he's written the foreword to the first volume. It's all looking beautiful, and I genuinely can't wait to see these in print." Marcus also promised that final covers would be ready shortly.
Carlton put out a range of five of their oversized pocket library reprints between August and October (Commando: Bandits at 12 O'clock, Against All Odds: War Picture Library Vol. 2, Let 'Em Have It!: Battle Picture Library Vol.2, Rick Random—Space Detective, High Noon). Of these it's perhaps no surprise that the Rick Random volume generated the most comments here on Bear Alley although the one review I spotted (John Sutherland's fine, if a little factually flawed, analysis in the Financial Times) concentrated on the war volumes. Most people felt that the quality of the reproduction was better than for the 2007 volumes; it's still not perfect but that's a reflection of the source material rather than the work that went in behind the scenes at Carlton's studio. Although I'm not too keen to bite the hand that feeds, Carlton did manage to put out one of the most disappointing volumes of the year: they missed a great opportunity with The Best of 2000AD to do something special: the contents seemed to be chosen at random, the stories incomplete and it made my own Best of Boyfriend look like a masterpiece.
Orion released a second book of material based on the old Eagle comic, this time concentrating on the centre-spreads that appeared in the original comic. The Eagle Annual of the Cutaways was reviewed here on Bear Alley favourably, with one or two reservations, by Steve Winders. Steve also reviewed the audio drama Dan Dare: Pilot of the Future - Voyage to Venus Part 1 released by Orion in the summer. This was the first adaptation of the comic strip in this form for many years—if you ignore my efforts with "Princess Marigold"—and was a bit of a disappointment, although, as Steve says, "the story rises above misguided attempts to overact it."
The much-heralded revival of Dan Dare by Virgin turned out to be a bit of a dud out of proportion with the quality of the story and artwork. The real problem was distribution: the first issue emerged in late 2007 with a blaze of publicity here in the UK and not nearly enough copies to supply the demand. Retailer dissatisfaction with earlier attempts to revive British comics' characters played a part in this and the sales figures were poor as a result. See here for my own take on the failure of the series.
Virgin Comics has subsequently collapsed and Dan has been picked up by Dynamite Entertainment. We shall have to wait until the new year to see if there's any news that the new Dan Dare is to continue.
Book Palace Books put out two reprints this year and both have done well enough for more titles to be planned. Although there's no schedule as yet, some of the projects being worked on include a reprint of Arturo Del Castillo's "The Three Musketeers", which appeared in Film Fun (1961) and Lion (1963-64), a book possibly called Images of War (which was originally planned to be called The Art of War but that has been used recently), a third reprinting some of the best of Ron Embleton's work from Look and Learn, plus the long-awaited book Geoff's been working on about Fortunino Matania. As you would expect, getting a few enthusiasts together (and I think you could describe Geoff, Stuart and myself as enthusiastic!) generates a thousand possible projects because the first question isn't "What books are commercially viable?", it's "What books do I want on my shelf?" We've already put out a couple of feelers relating to other strips and if anything comes of them, you'll be the fourth to know (behind me, Geoff and Stuart).
For me 2008 has been memorable for one or two of the wrong reasons. My work at Look and Learn came to an end and we had a nightmare summer coping with building work while I was trying to write sections of the Sci-Fi Art: A Graphic History book. I was involved in putting 15 books together in 2008, a boom year, but financially it has been a bust. That's something I hope will turn around in the new year.
2009 will at least start off on a much more positive note, with the release of the aforementioned SF book and the last two volumes of the Trigan Empire collection coming out. I'll be getting my head down and working on the various Book Palace volumes—so if Bear Alley isn't updated every day, don't panic. I'm just working.
Hope you've all enjoyed reading Bear Alley in 2008 and I'll take this opportunity to wish you all the best for a fantastic year in 2009. Wrap up warm, drink sensibly and have yourselves a great evening.