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Thursday, January 31, 2008

Ken Houghton

My last day at Look and Learn (*sniff*), so I thought I'd try to post something apt. And this is it, the last comic strip to appear in Look and Learn magazine back in 1981. Actually, this is the first episode of the last serial and it appeared in issue 1003 (30 May 1981); Look and Learn continued to appear for almost another year, coming to an end with issue 1049 (17 April 1982).

The artist for 'Lorna Doone' was Ken Houghton about whom I know very little. This was his only strip work in Look and Learn and I've not seen much else by him apart from an episode of 'Rat Pack' in Battle Picture Weekly and some complete stories in Tammy, both in the mid- to late-1970s. The earliest work of his I've stumbled upon is the advert below which dates from 1972.

Although he shares his surname with another comic strip artist, Stanley Houghton, they were apparently unrelated. It is thought that Ken Houghton died some time in the 1980s.

Wednesday, January 30, 2008

Comic Cuts

With only a couple of days left working for Look and Learn I've been trying to get as much done as I can. Between that and finishing up The Best of Boyfriend over the weekend hasn't left much time for anything else. The last few bits of The Thriller Libraries book are coming together and there's only one big job left to do on it, the artists' index, which I'm hoping to get to this weekend. At the last count we'd gathered together about 45 or 50 good images of original artwork to include in the book, something I'm especially pleased about. You can see one of the original boards at the top of this column, an excellent example of James E. McConnell's work from Thriller #93, Forward, the Musketeers.

The plan is still to run images of every single cover of Thriller, Cowboy and Super Detective plus we're hoping to have some additional images showing how some of the artwork was adapted when it appeared elsewhere.

As soon as my contract with Look and Learn comes to an end I'm going to be working on the last of the books that I'm doing for Carlton and the next Trigan Empire Collection. Thankfully, a lot of the work on these is already done (I think I typed up the story text for the Trigan book during July and August last year!) so I'll be in introduction writing mode for a couple of weeks. After that I'll be knuckling down to work on a project I've wanted to do for a long, long time... a much enlarged edition of The Mike Western Story. I've been a bit cagey with everyone about what I've been plotting to do post-L&L because I'm still looking at how to do the book practically and there's still a lot of juggling of figures to do but I've reached a point where I'm 99.9% certain I can do it and making it public will force me to go that 0.1% further and make it happen. So, finally, The Mike Western Story will be back in print, new, improved and hopefully welcome.

That's all my news, so here's some news from elsewhere...

* Roger Clark has set up a sight dedicated to David Wright's 'Carol Day' newspaper strip.

* Alan Grant is interviewed by the Sunday Herald (27 January) on the subject of writing Judge Dredd.

* 'Nemesis' artist John Hicklenton is the subject of a new documentary entitled Here's Johnny, recording the destruction of his life by MS. The Daily Telegraph (28 January) recently reported on Hicklenton's suffering and the Channel 4-funded documentary is to be shown at the Science Museum tonight (30 January). You can see a clip of the film here (under 'documentary').

* Alan Moore and Melinda Gebbie are signing at Gosh! (39 Great Russell Street, London WC1B 3NZ) on 2 February between 2-5pm. I don't usually advertise signings but this gives me an excuse to run the postcard images Richard Sheaf sent me. (Thanks, Richard.)

* John H. Mitchell interviews Bryan Talbot (27 January). (link via Journalista)

Tuesday, January 29, 2008

Bandes dessinées from Britain

(* Richard Sheaf makes a welcome return to Bear Alley with a look at how some British strips were exported over the Channel to France...)

Ever come across 'Supercrack', 'Hurricane Boy', 'Puma Noir', 'Le Cyclope' or 'Martin et sa Gudule' on your trips to comics fairs? The answer is probably not, unless you've been going to fairs in France where these characters can be found in numerous picture libraries that the French comics market has produced over the years.

In fact, their output seems to have been so prolific that they were unable to cope with the demand for stories produced domestically and, instead, turned to overseas markets to provide them with a steady stream of reprinted material. D. C. Thomson and Fleetway (along, it must be assumed, with other publishers) were able to draw on their vast archives to help provide this material.

French picture libraries are much the same size as their British counterparts. Where they differ is in the amount of story you get in an issue: most of the titles illustrated here are approximately 130 pages long and typically contain 3 different strips. The titles themselves did not necessarily appear monthly; some were but others were bi-monthly or even tri-monthly. Individual issues were also bundled together with two consecutive issues to then be issued as an 'album', a sort of a comics multipack if you will.

British strips appeared in a variety of titles (Atemi, Janus Stark, Sunny Sun, Safari, Les Rois de Exploit to name just a few) and a quick search on eBay turns up a number of them quite regularly. The titles are available cheaply in France so it should be possible to build up a collection quite easily. However, the key (British reprint) character is not always on the front cover and is unlikely to have appeared in all issues of a title's run so it's hard to know which titles will have what characters in.

So far I have found the following characters in various libraries:

Hotshot Hamish - Hamish la Fourde
Mighty Mouse - Mousie L'eclair
Spinball - Jeu de Massacre
Adam Eterno - Adam Eterno
Cursitor Doom - Doulah, le maitre du mystére
Dan Dare - Supercrack
Johnny Red - Hurricane Boy
Johnny Cougar - Puma Noir
One-eyed Jack - Le Cylope
Martin's Marvelous Mini - Martin et sa Gudule
Wilson - William Wilson
Topps on Two Wheels - Sur 2 roues
The Sarge - Sergent Jim
Death Wish - Le masque de cuir
MACH 1 - Force X

The few libraries that I have also contain a number of Thomson-originated football strips that I simply don't know enough about to guess the title of. Suffice to say that the above list is far from definitive and is intended to give just a flavour of the range of characters that French children of the 1980s grew up on.

The MACH 1 cover is from prog 14 of 2000AD and the Dan Dare cover is from prog 121. The MACH 1 cover is the most interesting as it is a blatant steal from the relevant 2000AD prog (the 2000AD thrill logo is still visible on the cover!), the rest of the libraries have had key scenes redrawn by a different artist, often Francesco Gamba or Guido Zamperoni.

(* The characters shown, top to bottom, are Johnny Red (© Egmont), One-Eyed Jack, Johnny Cougar (both © IPC Media), M.A.C.H. 1 (© Rebellion) and Dan Dare (© Dan Dare Corporation.)

Monday, January 28, 2008

Brown Watson Annual - Part 2

(* Jeremy Briggs returns to take another look at those elusive...)

BROWN WATSON ANNUALS - Part 2

From the comments both on and off line, the blog on the Brown Watson annuals has sparked quite a few memories. The piece was intended to give a flavour of the type of the live action TV tie-in annuals the Brown Watson company produced in the mid to late Seventies and of the British artists that they used to produce the artwork, artists who would become better known to us in later years. The reprinting of American and French strips in these annuals is of less interest, while we will cover the later Grandreams annuals at a different time.

As mentioned last time John Bolton art is in a surprising number of these annuals either as full comic strips, as spot illustrations for text stories, or as frontispieces. The previous post showed the copyright 1977 New Avengers annual which had colour Bolton comic strips. The copyright 1978 New Avengers annual above reprints two French comic strips by Pierre LeGoff and relegates Bolton to spot illustrations.

The previous post showed Bolton strip art from the copyright 1977 Planet of the Apes Annual. He is also in the other two Apes annuals. The copyright 1975 Apes annual above reprints American comic strips and uses Bolton spot illustrations, while the copyright 1976 annual uses him for one colour comic strip and Trigan Empire, Dan Dare and War/Battle Picture Library artist Oliver Frey for the other, as seen below.

The black covered Bionic Woman Annual copyright 1978 shown last time with colour Ian Gibson comic strips is complemented by the pink covered copyright 1977 one which also has colour Gibson strips and this nice single page origin of the character.

Last, but definitely not least, is more colour David Lloyd art. Last time it was from the Logan's Run Annual which was copyright 1978 and was based on the TV series rather than the movie or the books, while this time it is from another late Seventies TV series based on a previously created character. The Dick Barton Special Agent Annual is copyright 1978 and is based on the Southern Television series screened in early 1979 with Tony Vogel and the eponymous agent. In this annual, David Lloyd illustrated two 9 page strips which ran over three chapters each in the annual with six pages of black and white art and three of colour in each story, plus all the spot illustrations in the book.

The other annuals that were mentioned by readers last time in the comments section include The Magician and The Gemini Man. Without having these to hand I can only refer you to the excellent Tony's Trading website which has a remarkable selection of annuals covers and is always worth having a browse through, although even he does not have those two particular titles. As last time, if you can add any further titles then hit the comment button.

Hal Dunning

(* I've been able to update some of the information presented here thanks to Karen Davis Cunningham. I'll post the additional information below the original post, which begins... now...)

On one of the groups I'm a member of (mostly as a lurker since I spend most of my spare writing time here) I found a post relating to American pulp writer Frederick C. Davis which claimed (with some authority, I might add) that Davis had penned Westerns using the name Hal Dunning following that author's death. Since I'm interested in Davis (he had some paperbacks published here in the UK) I thought I'd look up Dunning's date of death.

Couldn't find it. The Library of Congress lists his year of birth as 1907 but I couldn't find anything else about him. The Fictionmags Index lists a whole bunch of stories but no dates. And you know me... that's a challenge!

So... Hal Dunning was born Harold Wolcott Dunning in Detroit, Michigan, on 27 September 1880. (Not 1907!)

I'm not sure if his father died or his parents divorced, but Dunning's mother was married to James Charles Meredith, of Detroit, and subsequently moved to Switzerland.

In 1906, Dunning was an automobile salesman living in Cedarhurst, N.Y. A few years later, in 1910, he left the United States and moved to France where he was occupied as a writer, selling most of his stories to American magazines; what he was writing at that time I've no idea since the earliest story in the FM Index lists dates from 1927.

In Paris he met Cicely D'Olier Wyatt, an Englishwoman born in Cuckfield, Sussex, on 7 June 1883, and they married on 27 December 1913; a daughter, Catherine Candide Dunning, was born on 13 November 1914. The three were living at 136 rue d'Assas, Paris, when the war broke out and, in 1915, the Dunning family moved to Switzerland. They subsequently moved to the United States in 1917 where Hal Dunning joined up.

After the war, Dunning and his family were living at South Bristol, Lincoln, Maine. At the time of the 1930 census, Dunning was boarding in Westport, Fairfield, CT.

The FM Index indicates that Dunning was a prolific contributor to Complete Stories, a Street & Smith pulp, until 1934 after which his name disappears; it reappears in Wild West Weekly in 1940-43. This patchy output could simply be due to a lack of an index for the magazines Dunning wrote for or that Dunning turned out stories under pseudonyms.

I've yet to discover when Dunning died but I guess this is a start. One thread I have been able to follow to the end is Dunning's first wife: after living in Connecticut in the 1930s to the 1950s, Cicely Dunning died in February 1967 at Saint Thomas in the Virgin Islands.

What's interesting is that Dunning's work continues to appear in print. For an author whose hey day was a five-year period from 1927-31 that's pretty good. The latest edition of his first novel, The Outlaw Sheriff (in which the hero, known as the White Wolf, has to take over his sick brother's position as sheriff) is due to be reissued in only a couple of day's time, according to Amazon and a number of his novels have appeared in large print in the last couple of years.

Novels (series: White Wolf in all)
The Outlaw Sheriff. New York, Chelsea House, 1928; London & Melbourne, Ward, Lock & Co., 1934.
White Wolf's Law. New York, Chelsea House, 1928; London & Melbourne, Ward, Lock & Co., 1934.
White Wolf's Pack. New York, Chelsea House, 1929; London & Melbourne, Ward, Lock & Co., 1934.
The Wolf Deputy. New York, Chelsea House, 1930; London & Melbourne, Ward, Lock & Co., 1935.
White Wolf's Feud. New York, Chelsea House, 1930; London & Melbourne, Ward, Lock & Co., 1935.
White Wolf's Outlaw Legion. New York, Chelsea House, 1933; London & Melbourne, Ward, Lock & Co., 1935.

Omnibus
The White Wolf Western Omnibus (contains The Outlaw Sheriff, White Wolf's Law, White Wolf's Pack). London & Melbourne, Ward, Lock & Co., 1951.

UPDATE: 29 January 2008
The post that inspired this bit of research came from Karen Davis Cunningham, granddaughter of Frederick C. Davis and Karen has kindly added some further information.

"The story that was told to me is that when Hal Dunning died, Street & Smith (the publisher) did not want to discontinue the stories he was writing because he was so popular and purposely kept his death quiet. They asked my grandfather to take over writing his stories, continuing under Hal Dunning's name, and Dunning's widow got a percentage of the proceeds. I originally heard this information from Jon Tuska (who is with Golden West publications), which others have since confirmed.

"To my knowledge, there were 30 stories that my grandfather wrote under the name Hal Dunning, all in Complete Stories. I was aware that there were stories in Wild West Weekly, but I'm not sure if these were new ones or reprints of stories previously published.

"In an interesting note, my grandfather also lived in Westport, CT, in 1930 (according to the census). I hear it was quite a haven for writers at that time. I don't know if he knew Dunning personally."

Thanks to Karen I can also list all the stories written by Frederick C. Davis under the Hal Dunning name. I've taken some additional information of Dunning's output from the Fictionmags Index which, although incomplete, is by far the best listing of its type.

Stories by Hal Dunning
The White Wolf (Complete Stories, Feb 1927)
Jim Allen Rides to Down (Complete Stories, Mar 1927)
Nemesis of the Range (Complete Stories, Apr 1927)
The Outlaw Sheriff (Complete Stories, May 1927)
In the Blizzard (Complete Stories, Jun 1927)
The Killer and the Kid (Complete Stories, Jul 1927)
Nesters' Rights (Complete Stories, Aug 1927)
The Call of the Pack (Complete Stories, Oct 1927)
Jim-Twin Allen Comes to Town (Complete Stories, Dec 1927)
The Wolf Rides Again (Complete Stories, Feb 1928)
The House of Sinister Men (Complete Stories, Mar 1928)
When a Wolf Howls (Complete Stories, Apr 1928)
Outlaws' Law (Complete Stories, May 1928)
Son of a Fightin' Fool (Complete Stories, Jun 1928)
Buzzards' Meat (Complete Stories, Jul 1928)
Judgment of the Desert (Complete Stories, Aug 1928)
The Call of the Fire (Complete Stories, Sep 1928)
Nothin' But a Rope (Complete Stories, Sep 1928)
Give 'Em Lead (Complete Stories, (1st) Oct 1928)
The Wolf That Makes His Kill (Complete Stories, (2nd) Oct 1928)
The Last of the Deans (Complete Stories, (2nd) Nov 1928)
To Hell and Back (Over the Top, Nov 1928)
Waiting Vengeance (Complete Stories, (1st) Dec 1928)
No Trespass (Complete Stories, (2nd) Dec 1928)
Nothing to Report (Over the Top, Dec 1928)
Jim Allen, Gentleman (Complete Stories, (2nd) Jan 1929)
For the Last Time (Complete Stories, (1st) Feb 1929)
Like a Gent (Western Story Magazine, 23 Feb 1929)
The Tiger of the Border (Complete Stories, (2nd) Mar 1929)
The Blood Trail (Complete Stories, (2nd) May 1929)
The Ranger and the Rose (Complete Stories, (2nd) Jun 1929)
Bread on the Waters (Complete Stories, (2nd) Jul 1929)
An Even Chance (Complete Stories, (1st) Aug 1929)
The Ghost of the Wolf (Complete Stories, (1st) Sep 1929)
Not Worth Killin' (Complete Stories, (1st) Oct 1929)
"Regular an' Lawful" (Complete Stories, (2nd) Oct 1929)
Just a Man (Complete Stories, (1st) Nov 1929)
The Lion and the Mouse (Complete Stories, (2nd) Nov 1929)
Two of a Kind (Complete Stories, (1st) Dec 1929)
A Case of Psychology (Complete Stories, (2nd) Dec 1929)
In His Own Web (Complete Stories, (1st) Jan 1930)
The Word of the Wolf (Complete Stories, (2nd) Jan 1930)
A Man's Country (Complete Stories, (1st) Feb 1930)
Wolf Poison (Complete Stories, (2nd) Feb 1930)
Horshoes For Luck? (Complete Stories, (1st) Mar 1930)
The Wolf Pays a Debt (Complete Stories, (2nd) Mar 1930)
The Left-Handed Shooter (Complete Stories, (1st) Apr 1930)
The Last Gamble (Complete Stories, (2nd) Apr 1930)
A Pat Hand (Complete Stories, (1st) May 1930)
The Long Trail (Complete Stories, (2nd) May 1930)
The Wolf Goes North (Complete Stories, (1st) Jun 1930)
As a Man Sows (Complete Stories, (2nd) Jun 1930)
Runt Justice (Complete Stories, (1st) Jul 1930)
Lower Than a Snake (Complete Stories, (2nd) Jul 1930)
Counterfeit Hero (Complete Stories, (1st) Aug 1930)
Two Innocents in Hurricane Gap (Complete Stories, (2nd) Aug 1930)
Not Guilty (Complete Stories, (1st) Sep 1930)
A Real Horse (Complete Stories, (1st) Oct 1930)
Boomerang (Complete Stories, (1st) Nov 1930)
Of Their Own Will (Complete Stories, (2nd) Nov 1930)
The Miracle (Complete Stories, (1st) Dec 1930)
Tinhorn (Complete Stories, 15 Nov 1931)

Stories credited to Dunning penned by Frederick C. Davis
Accordin' to the Book (Complete Stories, 1 May 1932)
Ranger King (Complete Stories, 15 May 1932)
Absentee Justice (Complete Stories, 1 Jun 1932)
Hangman's Hickory (Complete Stories, 1 Jul 1932)
No Rangers Wanted (Complete Stories, 15 Jul 1932)
Wolves Can Climb (Complete Stories, 1 Aug 1932)
Once an Outlaw (Complete Stories, 15 Aug 1932)
Coyotes Beware (Complete Stories, 1 Sep 1932)
Quicksand (Complete Stories, 15 Sep 1932)
Women Is Sure Peculiar (Complete Stories, 1 Oct 1932)
Gents Use Guns (Complete Stories, 15 Oct 1932)
Battle Cry (Complete Stories, 1 Nov 1932)
Left-Handed Law (Complete Stories, 15 Nov 1932)
Outlaw Island (Complete Stories, 1 Dec 1932)
The Christmas of a Wolf (Complete Stories, 15 Dec 1932)
Hell's Acres (Complete Stories, 1 Jan 1933)
Two-Spots Can't Win (Complete Stories, 15 Jan 1933)
Found Gold (Complete Stories, 1 Feb 1933)
Pardner's Honor (Complete Stories, 15 Feb 1933)
Destroying Angel (Complete Stories, 1 Mar 1933)
There's Always Wolves (Complete Stories, 15 Mar 1933)
For a Friend (Complete Stories, 1 Apr 1933)
Guns Talk Last (Complete Stories, 15 Apr 1933)
Hostage Trail (Complete Stories, 15 May 1933)
High-Water Cache (Complete Stories, 15 Feb 1934)
Colts Alter Cases (Complete Stories, 30 Apr 1934)
Golden Pelts (Complete Stories, 1 Jul 1934)
In Wolf's Clothing (Complete Stories, 22 Jul 1934)
Hard to Hit (Complete Stories, 24 Sep 1934)

Possible retitled reprints
White Wolf Talks Turkey (Wild West Weekly, 30 Nov 1940)
White Wolf's Law (Wild West Weekly, 21 Mar 1942)
Bonanza Bullion (Wild West Weekly, 12 Sep 1942)
Trigger Twins (Wild West Weekly, 19 Jun 1943)

From the spread of the stories, it seems likely that Hal Dunning died in 1931 or 1932. It's also likely that the handful of novels that featured the White Wolf were actually collections of connected stories as I can't help noticing that none of the stories listed in the FM Index are longer than a novelette and I would have thought that, had Dunning written a novel featuring his most famous character, it would have been featured in Complete Stories or one of Street & Smith's other magazines.

UPDATE: 3 February 2008
Thanks to John Herrington I now have confirmation that Dunning died on 26 July 1931.

The Westport Herald for Tuesday, 28 July 1931 carried a notice that Dunning, of Otter Ponds, "died very suddenly on Sunday night in New York City."

"Mr. Dunning, who was a middle-aged man, has been in the best of health and his death was due to an acute heart attack. He is survived by his wife, Cicely, a daughter, Candide, and one sister, Mrs. Schumann.

"Mr. Dunning with his family has been making his home in Westport intermittently for the past four years. He was a short story writer and did a great deal of work for Street & Smith. he has spent a great deal of his life in Paris, although he was born in New York City (sic - he was born in Detroit, Michegan - SH). His wife is the former Cicely Wyatt of England.

"Funeral arrangements have not yet been made and it had not been decided at press time if the interment would be in Westport or Long Island, where his sister resided."

A New York Times obituary (which I've not seen) mentions that his brother, Ralph Cheever Dunning, was a poet who died in Paris in 1929 (I've since found a biographical sketch of Ralph which gives his dates as 1878-1930, although the obituary refers to his death "the year before last"). Dunning was descended, through his father, from a Devonshire family of the 17th century, while, through his mother, he was related to the Wolcott and Cheever families of New England.

Further digging into the census records reveals that Dunning was living in Nassau, New York, in 1900 with his mother (Catherine C., born Sept. 1857) and step-father, James Charles Meredith (b. Sept. 1858), plus brother Ralph Cheever (b. May 1877) and sister Hazel (b. Mar. 1885). Catherine was also an author; born in Michigan of New York parents, she was first married to an Englishman and had four children, of whom only three survived. I believe that she was probably the authoress Katharine Mary Cheever Meredith who contributed to Harper's and Colliers and wrote various books including Sketches from Truth (1892), Green Gates (1896), Drumsticks (1897) and The Wing of Love (1905).

Saturday, January 26, 2008

Leone Frollo

Good news on the Best of Boyfriend front -- the book is finished and winging its way to the publisher. I shall now stop going on about it.... although I do have a couple more posts that relate to some of the contents.

Here's something that didn't make the cut for the book. It's part of a serial by Italian artist Leone Frollo who did scores of strips for British romance and war magazines before putting his talents for drawing pretty girls to better use in Italy, drawing erotic strips (a Google search will turn up a few examples plus a few books).

Here's something from his more innocent days...

(* The Ladybirds © IPC Media.)

Valentine Picture Story Library

Released by Prion (an imprint of Carlton Books) in February 2008. The book is available from Amazon.co.uk at a hefty 50% discount. This is in a new pocket library-sized format around the size of the originals and is actually a very nice package. Despite the inclusion of two stories by Jesus Blasco, this wasn't one I put together, although I did write the introduction.

Contents

Livin' Lovin' Doll (Valentine PSL 20, Art: R. G. Casarrubio)
What Do You Want? (Valentine PSL 15, Art: R. G. Casarrubio)
You Made Me Love You (Valentine PSL 22, Art: R. Santos)
Treat Me Nice (Valentine PSL 26, Art: Jesus Blasco)
Say It With Music (Valentine PSL 17, Art: Jesus Blasco)
No Turning Back (Valentine PSL 16, Art: Jose Carlos)

Synopsis

Hum the song while you strum your heartstrings with this irresistible collection of love stories; inspired by the songs of some of the greatest musicians of the 50s and 60s. Heart-stopping romance, raw passion, desperate tragedy and swooningly dishy chaps, all packed into a handy handbag-sized volume.Faithfully reproduced from the original Fleetway story libraries, this throbbing compendium will have pulses racing and toes tapping. So, whether it's brings back distant memories of the village hop with the local heart throb or gives you giggle at the innocence of times past, restore your faith in good old-fashioned romance and remember, the girl always gets the dreamboat in the end.

Friday, January 25, 2008

Cyril Eidlestein / Frank Langford

We've had some advertising from Cyril Eidlestein before on Bear Alley. Last December I ran a little sequence of ads for KP Outer Spacers and named the artist as Frank Langford. Well, Eidlestein and Langford were one and the same artist, born Cyril J. Eidlestein. He changed his name by deed in the 1960s.

I know little about him other than that. He first appears in comics in the late 1950s drawing for Roxy and then leaps to collectors' attention as the artist of 'The Angry Planet' in Boy's World in 1963 and 'Lady Penelope' in Lady Penelope in 1966-69. Most fans lose sight of him after his work for Countdown and TV Action in the early 1970s but a keen eye will spot his name in countless advertising strips from the 1960s onwards. The KP Outer Spacers adverts (part 1, part 2, part 3) appeared in 1982.

These two four adverts for the W.R.A.C. appeared in 1964.

Our header, by the way, is a frame from the original artwork for a page of 'The Angry Planet'.

(* Angry Planet © IPC Media. No idea about the adverts.)

Thursday, January 24, 2008

Comic Cuts

Following up on my comments about the sales of Virgin's new Dan Dare comic, the sales figure for the second issue is now out. ICv2 publishes estimates based on sales of comic books via Diamond Distributors US, the biggest distributor of comics to what's known as the direct market -- comic shops in both the USA and UK. It's a good indicator as to how a comic is doing as one imagines that Dan Dare has very few sales outside of comic shops in America and there has been no sign of distribution outside of comic shops in the UK.

ICv2 has estimated sales for issue 2 are 7,838, down 1,596 from 9,434. That's a 17% drop, almost a fifth. All I can say is, if you want to see the rest of the series, make sure you're ordering it from your local comic shop because it's only going to get harder finding copies.

A couple of new sites relating to British comics have recently appeared: Peter Gray is covering a range of old humour titles at Peter Gray's Cartoons and Comics and Adrian Banfield is doing for Victor and Hornet -- at The Victor Incorporating The Hornet website -- what Paul Winsall is doing for The Wizard.

I recently had a discussion with someone trying to explain why most of the research I've done in the past has related to Fleetway comics rather than D. C. Thomson titles. The simple fact is that my favourite boyhood reading was Valiant which I discovered via a friend when I was seven or eight. I also read TV 21 and Joe 90 because I was a big Gerry Anderson fan. When I had pocket money to spare, I tended to buy other comics I'd seen advertised in Valiant, so I'd pick up Smash! or Lion rather than Victor. When I started researching, it was mostly to discover other work by my favourite artists who, at the time, were Jesus Blasco, Mike Western and Eric Bradbury. As they worked for Fleetway almost exclusively, my research took me backwards through the history of Fleetway titles.

I was certainly aware of the Thomson titles. I did read Victor for a while (probably when Valiant et al were on strike) and I picked up Starblazer when it came out. But -- and this is the point of this ramble -- I'm really pleased to see that young fans are putting the time and hard work into rediscovering some of the old Thomson papers. It's all new to me and all very exciting to see information turning up on dozens of strips that I've never had a chance to read.

I hope all these guys can keep up the pace! (And I'm going to stop because I'm starting to sound like an old fogey... "young fans" indeed! When did I become so middle-aged?)

Talking of Thomsons, Commando is now running artist and writer credits -- Lew Stringer discusses it over at his blog but I thought I'd mention it here. I have to agree with Lew's comment that "If readers know who the artists and writers are it adds another dimension to buying the comics." While it's true that you can enjoy a comic without knowing the names of the creators (there weren't credits back in the days when I started reading comics and it didn't spoil my pleasure of them) I do think that it adds and element to the enjoyment. And I can say that there isn't a shadow of a doubt that fans -- rather than casual readers -- are desperate to know the names of the creative teams. 90% of the mail I get is divided between "how much is such and such worth" from people rooting around in their attics (50%) and "who wrote/drew such and such a strip" (40%).

The new credits are a first for Thomsons but, many years ago, they did start announcing the names of the creators of Starblazer. It was rather late in the day but it certainly added to my enjoyment to discover the names of many new artists. With the launch of these new websites dedicated to Thomson papers, hopefully we'll also begin to learn the names of some of the older creators. I also heard from Peter Richardson recently who tells me that he's working hard on the Commando Index which will cover that title all the way back to its beginnings in 1960. It should make a fascinating companion to The War Libraries when it appears later this year.

A few more news item...

* Forbidden Planet International have posted audio of the talk on 'Graphic Novels - Literature of Pulp Fiction' at the 2007 Edinburgh International Book Festival featuring Alan Grant, Ian Rankin and Denise Mina.

* A new official Brendan McCarthy fansite has just been launched. Above is the alternative cover that will appear on Dan Dare #3.

* Alan Moore is giving a talk at Northampton Museum and Art Gallery on 26 January between 1 and 3 pm. Tickets cost £8 and are available from the museum (01604 838 111) or e-mail museums AT northampton.gov.uk. (link via Lying in the Gutters)

(* Dan Dare images © Virgin Comics; Commando and The Hornet © D. C. Thomson. The Commando cover is by the late Phil Gascoine, by the way.)

Wednesday, January 23, 2008

Comic Firsts: Reg Bunn

Reg Bunn is one of British comics' most popular creators; indeed, his popularity seems to have grown over the years, although I suspect that's down to one strip -- 'The Spider'. Reg had been working for the Amalgamated Press for fifteen years before that strip began in the pages of Lion, earning himself a reputation for reliably turning in pages week after week. Although he could produce highly detailed work, he was often asked to produce so many pages that backgrounds had to be reduced, earning Reg the nick-name "the cross-hatch king" amongst editors.

I've written in the past that Reg was discovered along with Geoff Campion when the Amalgamated Press ran a advertising campaign in the press looking for artists; it must have been an ongoing campaign because as far as I can tell Geoff's first work appeared a full year before Reg's.

Through the research we've been doing for The Thriller Index, which I'm pleased to say we're close to finishing bar a few annoying gaps, I've now had a chance to see what could be Reg's first ever strip. It appeared not in the UK but in Australia where the A.P. were publishing a number of monthly magazines shortly after the Second World War. These were undated but began publication in 1949; Reg's first strip, "Buck Jones, Outlaw!" appeared in issue 6 of Buck Jones.

Before long, Reg was drawing Buck's adventures for Comet and quickly established himself in that paper, adding Robin Hood to his weekly output and, for Sun, Clip McCord, which led onto work for Thriller Comics and other picture libraries. Eventually, Reg found himself with regular work in Lion and Tiger in the early 1960s and kept up a regular supply of weekly strips for these and other titles until his death in 1971.

Reg probably packed as much work into his 22 years as a comics' artist as others whose careers lasted twice as long. Above, you can see where that career started -- and if you've yet to stumble across the weird and wonderful The Spider, try King of Crooks, published by Titan back in November 2005.

(* 'Buck Jones, Outlaw!' and 'Buck Jones and the Wreckers of Gunsmoke Gulch' are © IPC Media. At the top of the column you can see the original cover for Titan's book that, due to the old American pulp character named the Spider being still in copyright, had to be retitled King of Crooks; cover by Garry Leach © Titan Books.)

Tuesday, January 22, 2008

Bill Lacey's Ramshackle Romance

Here's the strip I stumbled across in Boyfriend, drawn by Bill Lacey who is far better know for his work in boys' comics -- various strips for Super Detective Library, Lion, Valiant, Look and Learn, TV Comic, Battle, Bullet, Crunch, Buddy, etc.

I was a thinking this was a bit of a scoop but I mentioned it to David Roach who tells me that he was a regular during the early days of Boyfriend. Darn... thought I was onto something. I'll just have to hope that tomorrow's 'Comic Firsts' column is the scoop I think it is!

(* I had to photograph this so it's not up to the usual standard. 'Ramshackle Romance' appeared in Boyfriend no. 6 (20 June 1959) and is © IPC Media.)

Monday, January 21, 2008

Tim Holt

Help!

I'm trying to track down information on the contents of the early issues of Tim Holt, the Western comic published by Magazine Enterprises. We're trying to wrap up the listings for the Thriller Index at the moment and I've still got some gaps.

Holt was reprinted in four issues of an Australian magazine in 1949 and subsequently transferred to the UK in Cowboy Comics which reprinted stories in five issues. I've been able to match a few titles from information on issues A-1 #17 (Sep/Oct 1948) and Tim Holt #5 (Mar/Apr 1949), but that still leaves me with quite a few stories still to i.d.

So... does anyone out there have early issues of the Tim Holt comics -- A-1 #14, A-1 #19, Tim Holt #4, 6-8 -- and could they drop me a line as I want to check their contents. I'm pretty sure that all the reprints were contained in these issues (I've seen contents for #9 and #11 but nothing matched). I also need the story titles for the Flip Carson yarns as some of those were reprinted, too.

And perhaps someone can confirm whether the Tim Holt comics were color or black & white. I'm presuming the former, but the only artwork I have been able to spot on the internet has been of (color) covers or original (b&w) boards.

You can drop me a line direct via the e-mail address top right, just under the photo. Or if you spot this and think someone else can help... feel free to pass on the query and my contact details.

The Wolves of Gaul

(* Here's a piece from that dynamic detective duo Jeremy Briggs and Richard Sheaf relating to a piece of mystery artwork by the equally dynamic Ian Kennedy.)

The Wolves Of Gaul
by Jeremy Briggs and Richard Sheaf

As fans of Ian Kennedy's art we have both been aware of a half page of painted Kennedy comic strip which the Book Palace have had for sale for quite some time now. They describe it as “A fantastic comic page from the 1980s depicting Roman soldiers attacking a fort. From the series 'The Wolves of Gaul'.” This rather suggests that they do not know where it came from. They weren’t the only ones.

The discussion as to the origin of this art has come up several times over that last year or so. It has the look of a fully painted Look and Learn strip, except of course Ian Kennedy never worked for Look and Learn (only its Speed and Power sibling). There was also the possibility that it came from one of the 1970s Valiant annuals which had painted colour strips, often by Ian Kennedy, on high quality paper mixed in with the otherwise poorer quality black and white pages. However none of the Valiant annual collectors recognised the story. It really has been a puzzle - but, thinking laterally for a moment, where is the best place to find a puzzle? How about in a puzzle magazine?

In the mid to late 1970s there was a puzzle/quiz magazine called Quizzer which seems to have had somewhat of a torturous history. Dennis Gifford lists the history of the title as a single issue published by Williams in 1974, followed by 10 issues of Junior Quizzer published by Byblos in 1975 and 1976. After a pause of two years Byblos started a run of five Quizzer Specials which ran through to 1981, while publishing Quizzer Monthly which lasted thirteen months between 1979 and 1980. However, there may be even more than those based on the publishing schedule that Byblos maintained for their Tarzan and All War titles.

The first issue of Junior Quizzer from 1975 featured a low quiz content but high comic strip content. Half of the 36 pages are made up of mainly humour strips, but included the 2 page 'Dice With Death' with art by Ron Turner and 1½pages of 'Drag Strip Drama' by Ian Kennedy. However by issue 5 'Junior' had been dropped from the cover, although the letters page still refers to the magazine as Junior Quizzer, so perhaps the title change occurred around issue 4. The name change also led to a shift in focus to straightforward quizzes and away from the comic strips which by then took up only 6 of the 36 pages. The shift away from comic strips probably made the magazine even more ephemeral as now, once you had done the quizzes, there was little inspiration to keep the magazine since, in contrast to issue 1, there was little to re-read.

In amongst the quizzes and puzzles of issue 5, which is dated 1975, there is a 1½ page painted comic strip called 'The Wolves Of Gaul' which is a sort of an advert for Airfix HO/OO scale Roman soldiers. "Sort of" because it advises that you can recreate the story using the Airfix Roman soldiers, and it uses the illustration from the Airfix Roman soldiers box. Yet it does not use the Airfix logo or any of the normal type of advertising blurb you would associate with a straight advert, and that we have seen recently in the various Clarks Commandos and KP Outer Spacers advertising strips.

HO/OO scale soldiers are those little half inch high plastic soldiers that Airfix still sell to this day. HO and OO are actually two separate model train gauges, OO being a British scale of 1/76 and HO being a rest of the world scale of 1/87. Since Airfix was a British company the HO/OO scale was 1/76 and so was virtually indistinguishable to the universally accepted scale of 1/72 for model aeroplanes, which the majority of Airfix aircraft were scaled to.

Being in a magazine called Quizzer, the one-off story of the Wolves Of Gaul was left as a puzzle as to how the Romans were going to defeat the Gauls in the fort and on turning to a later page in the magazine the resolution was given in text form.

So for your delectation and delight we present 'The Wolves of Gaul'. If you want to find out the solution to the puzzle, look at the comments section of this entry. If you want to buy Airfix Roman soldiers, then try eBay or other collectables sites, as Airfix no longer produce them.

(* And if you want to read the solution, click the comments button immediately below.)

Sunday, January 20, 2008

Comic Cuts - 25 Years On

Looking for a way to celebrate post #600 (good grief!) I stumbled across the fact that this month is the 25th anniversary of my first ever published article. I'd been involved in a couple of things before -- helping compile a list of stories written by John Russell Fearn in Gerald Swan's magazines, for instance -- but it was around Christmas of 1982 that I sat down with a blank piece of paper, thought of an idea for an article and wrote it with publication in mind. The idea was to write something about the connection between comics artists and old British paperbacks and the published version appeared in the January 1983 issue of the Association of Comics Enthusiasts Newsletter, Comic Cuts (whose title, you'll notice, I've pinched for my own news column).

Since then I've had nearly 1,450 features published. Quite a few have been lists or reviews and quite a few have been news columns but even they had to be written. I'd hate to think how often I had to retype lists before the computer revolutionised the process. Everything is typed once only and can be added to an infinite number of times as new information comes in. Most of the research I now do from my office rather than trudging around London between Somerset House, St. Catherine's House and the British Library. I don't have to walk a block from my house to post a letter any more.

Other things haven't changed at all. 25-years-on and I'm still writing about comics and compiling lists. I still get onto the phone and talk to people whenever I can (today I had the chance to chat with illustrator Neville Dear for the first time). 25 years ago I wondered if I could make a living from writing because I kinda liked it. I got a hell of a thrill out of seeing that first piece in print. Today I'm still wondering even though my last 'proper' job was 17 years ago when I gave up commuting to London in 1990. Since then I've managed to squeeze a living out of writing and editorial work. Sometimes it has been like trying to squeeze blood out of a stone but for the most part I've enjoyed it. I'm never going to be rich but doing a job you enjoy takes the edge off that.

Unless I can find someone with wads of money looking for a tax write-off and a history of British comics, I suspect I'll be doing much the same for the next 17 years.

Today, as they used to say on The Fast Show, I have been mostly reading... Boyfriend. Why? Because I'm working on The Best of Boyfriend. (Yes, seriously. It'll be announced soon enough so you may as well hear it from me.) Stumbled across a strip by a very popular artist that was completely unexpected... and I'll have to keep you in suspense over who it was because I can't get to the scanner at the moment.

The date for the next London ABC Show and National Collectors Market Place has just been confirmed: Sunday, 16 March. Put it in your diaries. I'm hoping that we'll have the Bellamy Robin Hood book out in time for the show.

Paul Winsall has set up an interesting blog through which he intends listing the contents of the D. C. Thomson comic The Wizard from 1970 to 1974, covering the extent of his collection (which lacks only 7 issues). I'm sure he'd welcome any help from Wizard collectors to fill the gaps and extend the listing to Wizard's demise in 1978. You've got however long it takes Paul to post his 250 or so issues in which to dig out your copies from the attic.

A few more bits of news from the big wide world of the web...

* Paul Grist is interviewed by Michael Patrick Sullivan about the upcoming Jack Staff Special at Comic Book Resources.

* In an interview in Publisher's Weekly, Chris Staros mentions that the next Alan Moore & Kevin O'Neill League of Extraordinary Gentlemen book, Century, will be released in 2009, followed by The Moon and Serpent Bumper Book of Magic by Alan and Steve Moore. (link via Journalista)

* Alex Fitch has posted podcasts of recent Panel Borders interviews with Ian Edginton & D'Israeli and Jamie Delano & D'Israeli. Part 2 of the Achtung! Commando broadcast will be on the Strip segment of next Thursday's Resonance FM show at 5 pm. Unfortunately, it isn't being podcast (not Alex's choice, by the way... the ICA won't let him).

* Craig Johnson interviews Rufus Dayglo and David Hine at Comics Village. And Phil Elliott.

* Mike Lynch has posted an interview and overview of cartoonist Gerald Scarfe that appeared on Al Jazeera TV. (link via Journalista)

* Lew Stringer discusses a Daily Mirror double-strip day way back in May 1968, an older wartime issue, and the latest issue of Crikey!.