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Monday, September 28, 2009

Warlord : All Action, All Picture, War Stories!

35 Years Ago Today—Warlord: All Action, All Picture, War Stories!
by Jeremy Briggs

In 1974 when many of the other British boys comics were set in their ways, Warlord was a shot in the arm for the market. Its first editor Pete Clark wanted it to look different and decided on having splash panels at the beginning of each strip. Warlord's second editor, Bill Graham, said in an interview on downthetubes, "Pete Clark had great visual flair. He introduced the big opening frames, some taking up the whole page, and cut the number of frames per page to 6 or 7. The artists could then produce great action-packed scenes, ideal for war stories."

Warlord wasn't the first title to do this but it was different enough at the time that IPC decided that they needed to respond. Bill Graham goes on to say, "I heard a story that the day Warlord came out, the managing editor of IPC called all his boys' paper editors together and threw a copy of Warlord on the table and told them they had to get out their version as soon as possible. Battle came out about six months later." The first issue of IPC's Battle Picture Weekly was dated 8 March 1975.

The first issue of Warlord had six different comic strips of which four were set in WWII, and one in WWI. The sixth strip was a prequel strip for DCT's long running character the Wolf Of Kabul entitled Young Wolf and set in British India at a vague time between the two world wars. The very first strip in the issue, Union Jack Jackson, was set in the Pacific during WWII. It had begun as a text story in the story paper version of Hotspur in 1957 followed by a short lived comic strip in the comic strip version in 1962, yet it would go on to become a reader favourite in Warlord and was still popular enough twelve years later to continue on into Victor when the two titles were amalgamated. The reliance on WWII stories remained for much of Warlord's existence although the title did work through Korean and Vietnam stories before moving into the near future with stories like Holocaust Squadron and then on in to the far future with more obvious SF war stories like Sabor’s Army.

Despite the weekly Warlord folding into Victor on 26 October 1986, Warlord summer specials and annuals continued to be published into 1990. Indeed Warlord was successful enough in its early days for DC Thomson to launch a sister (or perhaps that should be nephew) title, an adventure comic in the same vein—Bullet. IPC's equivalent to Bullet was the infamous Action and this time they were not six months behind DC Thomson as the first issue of Action has exactly the same cover date as the first issue of Bullet, 14 February 1976. Ironically enough both would fold into the earlier war titles with Action joining Battle with the issue dated 19 November 1977 and Bullet joining Warlord in issue 220 dated 9 December 1978. It was the only comic to be amalgamated into Warlord.

With Battle and then Action leading to the creation of 2000AD in 1977 perhaps it isn't going too far to suggest that the chain of events that lead to the first issue of the Galaxy's Greatest Comic was started by that first issue of Warlord 35 years ago today.

(* Warlord © DC Thomson and Co Ltd.)

5 comments:

Lew Stringer said...

To be pedantic, Warlord actually came out on September 25th or 26th. The cover date wasn't the day it was published. ;-)

I think it was the Denis Gifford books that first started this misconception of comics being launched on their cover date. In most instances, ie: the Saturday comics, the publication day was a week before that date.

Steve said...

The cover date is usually indicative of when the comic goes off sale rather than on sale, I agree. Warlord went on sale on September 25th according to the advert Jeremy scanned. But using the cover date is, I think, a legitimate excuse for a celebration - and in Jeremy's defence he did mention to me that the official anniversary was last Friday; I just didn't have an opportunity to post the piece.

I think we'll just have to live with the fact that comics are like the Queen. They have an actual birthday and an official birthday. Saves a lot of arguments over anniversary issues (rarely issued on the anniversary), post-dated annuals (it's doubtful if any annual with 2009 on the cover was actually published in 2009) and release dates of undated magazines (the Misty Souvenir Special from Egmont was due on the 16th but I've yet to see it, so is the 16th still the date we should celebrate its birthday next year?). Books are an even bigger pain with titles often in shops long before the official street date.

Lew Stringer said...

The Misty special definitely came out on the 16th Steve. I bought mine that day. Perhaps your local Smiths has decided not to stock it, - or they've shelved it in some weird position?

Celebrating a comic's anniversary on its cover date is ok but it gets a bit silly when people tie in other events that happened on that day - as they're not significant if the comic came out a week before.

Brad Brooks said...

Oh good lord. I remember buying this as a scabby kneed 7 year old. I'm off for a cry now.

Anonymous said...

Fantastic to see these images -- I lived in Africa at the time, and was a great fan of Lion and Thunder and Victor, and was also keen on the later Warlord, that clearly updated the whole game, as you state in your article.

When I read them, the country I lived in was in a state of guerilla war, and therefore the Warlord strips just seemed very real to me and my mates, some of whom were teenage soldiers themselves. Luckily, thank God, I was too young to be enlisted, so stayed at home listening to Black Sabbath and reading Warlord!

Thanks for the scans -- brought back powerful memories.