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Monday, March 30, 2009

Splash Page

The release of The Casebook of Sexton Blake has prompted me to dig out this example of a Sexton Blake spin-off strip. Blake featured in Knockout from 1939-60 and in Valiant in 1968-70. A later revival stumbled at the last minute: Blake was meant to be the lead strip in Tornado when it launched in 1979 but the failure of the Sexton Blake TV series Sexton Blake and the Demon God in late 1978 led the editors to change Blake into a new character called Victor Drago. A real shame as it was the most true-to-character Blake strip ever.

The lack of a Gwyn Evans yarn in the book reminded me about a spin-off strip featuring one of Evans' most popular creations, Splash Page, a crime-busting journalist who often featured in Evans' Blake tales. A Splash Page comic book was planned in 1949 but never appeared. He did, however, appear briefly in the pages of Comet in 1950 (perhaps using up storylines that had been written by Richard Chance for the mooted comic book).

The artwork was by Alex Oxley, a cartoonist, animator and illustrator who was an irregular contributor to comics during the 1950s. The example below is scanned from Knockout Fun Book 1956 but reprints a 1950 strip from Comet, probably Oxley's earliest comics work.

(* Splash Page © IPC Media)

Saturday, March 28, 2009

Comic Cuts

I've spent all week at the scanner or cleaning up scans and I'm pleased to say that a few things are starting to come together.

First up, the Frank Bellamy World War I book is with the designer... or will be when my CD arrives (it went into the post yesterday). I finished the last of the pages on Thursday and, apart from some brief editorial bits, the bulk of my work on it is now done. Once the (few, minor) corrections are done we should be able to get straight onto the Frank Bellamy's Swift Special Edition.

Which means that as of Monday I'll be working on the next book, The Art of Ron Embleton, full tilt. I managed to squeeze a week in on the book in February, so a vital chunk of the work is already done. I think I can use building a house as an analogy for this one (and for quite a few of the other books I work on): there's a lot of preliminary work laying the foundations when nothing much seems to be happening; then the building goes up steadily as the the contents are selected and the artwork scanned and cleaned; then nothing seems to happen for ages... that's when the rooms are finished off, decorated, carpets laid and everything is made ready for the owners to move in; in terms of our analogy it's caption writing, designing, writing introductions, writing back cover text, proofing, writing information sheets and everything else that needs to be done. There's a bit of the book, when the walls suddenly shoot up, that's visible—nowadays that's usually because my enthusiasm levels are soaring and I can't help but post stuff here—but the rest tends to go on in the background.

With the Embleton book I'm still laying the foundations, so don't expect to hear much about it for a week or two.

For once, the Saturday's post brought some stuff that I want rather than bills and junk mail. I've not had much of a chance to do anything but glance at these but I'll mention them now rather than leave them and forget.

Firstly, William Rudling has reprinted the Jeff Hawke's Cosmos special, The Martian Quartet. This clocks in at 140 pages and contains four Jeff Hawke yarns, "The Martian Invasion" (a long early tale), "The Search for Asteron" (about a mysterious planet arriving in the solar system), "The Threat from the Past" (in which the Martians are thought to be behind a series of disasters on Earth) and "The Opposite Power" (in which Jeff uncovers the plans of a mad archaeologist).

The four stories are linked by the Martian character Ultar (hence the title) and were the second through fifth Jeff Hawke stories, originally running between July 1954 and June 1956. The original edition in 2005 was the first time they had been reprinted in the UK. This new edition has expanded notes by Duncan Lunan which always add to the background of the strip, exploring the technology and astronomy of the strips (a popular feature in the Jeff Hawke's Cosmos magazine).

Sydney Jordan comments that the strips were "hopelessly optimistic" about how space flight would progress once mankind built its first rocket to the Moon but I love the optimism of the Jeff Hawke strip. It was the Anti-Hollywood in the 1950s where science fiction movies were often little more than thinly disguised fear-mongering about Communist invasions and any new technology was guaranteed to blow up the world, or melt it, or turn it into a dustbowl. In comparison, the Jeff Hawke saga has aged really well.

As always, I'm looking forward to the next issue of Jeff Hawke's Cosmos, which is due in April. Subscriptions (3 issues a year) are available from The Jeff Hawke Club, 6 The Close, Alwoodley, Leeds LS17 7RD: £18.50 in the UK; £28 (or Euro 38) for overseas air mail. Because of the deal with the copyright holder, the Martian Quartet book is only available to club members. Further details from william[at]williamrudling[dot]com.

Eagle Times enters a new year with another excellent issue, the highlights of which are Frank Hampson's original notes for the "Operation Saturn" storyline from 1952 (interesting to compare the original outline to the finished version as Frank fell ill and another scriptwriter was brought in to complete the story), Steve Winders' continuing exploration of "Heros the Spartan", another reminiscence from Alan Vince and (ahem) a very positive review of Rick Random, Space Detective ("An excellent addition to comic book literature").

Subs. are £22 (overseas £34 in UK pounds) from Keith Howard, 25A Station Road, Harrow, Middlesex HA1 2UA. Worth every penny.

The Casebook of Sexton Blake was a real surprise. 545 pages for just £2.99—and cheaper still on Amazon! I've no idea how Wordsworth Editions do it but the book itself is nicely presented with some embossing on the cover (designed by Robert Mathias from artwork by Eric Parker originally used on the Sexton Blake Annual), and has an informative introduction by Mark Hodder and seven long stories packed into its pages. Of these, one is a classic: "The Man From Scotland Yard" introduced the character George Marsden Plummer who was to survive dozens of encounters with Blake over the years; the others are less well known but with two stories by George Teed (probably my favourite of the old Blake writers) and another by Robert Murray Graydon, this collection just can't go wrong. Cecil Hayter, W. J. Lomax (a football yarn which sees Blake and Tinker joining the England team!) and William Murray Graydon fill out the pages entertainingly, making this an excellent read as well as excellent value for money.

Incidentally, the Adventures of Sexton Blake radio series, which I've previously mentioned, has been pushed back from Easter to June. There will be, in addition, a documentary about Blake entitled The Hunt for Sexton Blake with David Quantick.

I'll leave you with a page from The Perishers Omnibus. I loved this strip when I was growing up (my Dad being a Daily Mirror reader) and pick up these collections when I see them (all-too-rarely these days, unfortunately). You can see the cover for the 1982 collection at the top of the column but I was particularly taken with the "eyeballs-in-the-sky" sequence which was reprinted that year. The original strips dated from 1979 and, for those who never followed the story, each summer the Perishers—Wellington, Masie, Marlon and Baby Grumpling—would visit the beach at St. Moribund's. Boot, Wellington's huge, hairy, hungry dog, would visit a rock pool each year to the amazement of the crabs inhabiting the pool; it has become a religious experience for many of the crabs whilst other crabs, more dedicated to science, try to debunk the God-like status of the eyeballs-in-the-sky. In this episode, the crabs have launched a rocket (a tin on an old spring) which was breached the limits of the pooliverse but the rather literal example of crabkind sent up to sketch the realms beyond the pool has returned with a disappointing set of pictures.

What sets this particular sequence apart is that it totally breaks the fourth wall: a few episodes earlier there was a reference to Maurice Dodds (the strip's writer) releasing an album and in the set below, one crab comments that the sequence of events is "leadin' to one o' them big single frame scenes which saves Dennis Collins [the artist] havin' to draw the same scene four times over". And the next strip—published the next day—is just that.

(* The Perishers © Daily Mirror; Jeff Hawke © Daily Express; Dan Dare © Dan Dare Corporation; Sexton Blake © IPC Media.)

John Burns' latest artwork

Seán Michael Wilson has posted three pages from his Classic Comics adaptation of Wuthering Heights as well as covers to the upcoming The Canterville Ghost and Sweeney Todd. The adaptation of Wuthering Heights isn't due to appear until 2010 but these pages by John M. Burns make me wish it was here now. Visit Seán's blog for a look at the third page.

(* artwork © Classical Comics.)

DFC folds... Super Comics Adventure Squad launches

The final, 43rd issue of The DFC was published today. It was previously announced that, if a buyer could not be found, the paper would inevitably fold.

However, some of the creators behind the various DFC strips have teamed up to launch a new blog—Super Comics Adventure Squad—which, according to the site, "will act as a hub for some of the best in British graphic storytelling talent, a place where you can keep up with what they're doing, all in one place, and where they will post news, events, sketches and comics, with links back to their own websites where you can see and learn more.

"Here the spirit of The DFC lives on with some of the very best British graphic storytellers, and this blog will share our news, art, comics, events and new projects. Enjoy!"

The name derives from James Turner's DFC strip, "Super Animal Adventure Squad".

Friday, March 27, 2009

Who the heck is Hrook Zadin?

The Knockout Annual for 1961 includes an episode of "Firebrand the Red Knight", drawn in the weekly Knockout by the easily recognisable Pat Nicolle. The Annual story on the other hand is signed by an artist I don't otherwise recognise: the signature looks like Hrook Zadin but may be Hrok Badin or Hrak Zaltin or some variation.

Anyone got a clue who this guy is?

UPDATED 29 March 2009

David Roach steps up to the plate:
I was tickled to see your piece about the knockout annuals mystery artist, Hrook Zadin. The square-jawed hero was the giveaway to me before I saw the signature. This is an artist you first knew as Kimo (for Enrique) Badia, or Enrique Badia Romero to the rest of us . I don't quite get the Hrook bit, but it's definitely Romero - and one of his earliest British strips I'd say.
David thinks the 'Hrook' "is actually Kimo just scrawled rather too decoratively," although I'd have to say that the cross-stroke on the 'H' looks too precise... I'm now thinking that Hrook, or something similar that would fit the signature, might be a common Spanish corruption for Enrique, in the same way that Edward can be shortened to Ed, Eddie or Ted.

(* artwork © IPC Media.)

Thursday, March 26, 2009

When research goes wrong...

In an enjoyable nostalgia piece about the comics of yesteryear, Jim White of the Daily Telegraph (24 March) accidentally spots a mistake in the new Brian Clough biopic, The Damned United:

There is a scene in the new film The Damned United that will dampen the eye of the middle-aged nostalgist. Brian Clough (played by Michael Sheen) is driving away from Leeds United in the autumn of 1974, having just being fired.

In the back seat of his fancy club Mercedes sit his two young sons, oblivious to the intrigue swirling around their father. They have something more important to divert their attention: the latest edition of The Eagle, into which both of them have buried their nose. It is a clever visual device, one which immediately locates the scene in its era. In the early Seventies, that was what young boys did: they read comics avidly.

But as any fule kno, the Eagle folded in 1969 and did not re-emerge until 1982 as the 'new' Eagle so the scene far from cleverly locates the scene in its era when the paper wasn't being published. D'oh!

(* Cover for the first issue of the revived Eagle, 27 March 1982 © Dan Dare Corporation.)

HP Beano's

Dennis the Menace baked beans tin label from circa 1990.

(* From the collection of Robin Sharp, baked bean label collector.)

I Flew With Braddock

"I Flew With Braddock" was a long-running series of stories that originally appeared in Rover, the famous D. C. Thomson story paper, starting in 1952, although the action began in 1940 when bomber navigator George Bourne first met pilot Matt Braddock, a rough diamond who was born to fly. Braddock became one of the most popular characters in Rover, appearing in dozens of stories over a period of 14 years; his adventures (although reprinting earlier tales) continued to appear in Rover until 1972.

Braddock also had a long career in comics, appearing in Victor (1960-84) and Warlord (1974-75), often drawn (superbly) by Keith Shone.

I recently treated myself to a copy of the 1959 hardback volume I Flew With Braddock, having already picked up a copy of the 1962 paperback, Braddock and the Flying Tigers. Both books reprinted stories from Rover, the former from 1953-54 and the latter from 1956. Both books were credited to George Bourne, the fictional narrator of the stories, but I believe they were written by Gilbert Dalton, a prolific writer for the Thomson boys' papers who also penned many other popular series until his death in 1963. Other authors took up the series, amongst them the late Alan Hemus.

My cheap 'n' cheerful copy of I Flew With Braddock is in reasonable condition given its age (you can still find some bargains if you hunt around) but was missing the dust jacket. I mentioned this to a friend who, as luck would have it, had a copy with the d/j intact. One quick scan later, and my copy is now a little more complete... and as I had both covers scanned, I thought I'd share them.

(* artwork © D. C. Thomson Ltd.)

Wednesday, March 25, 2009

T. C. H. Jacobs

T. C. H. Jacobs was a man of many identities. As a writer he used various noms-de-plume: when writing Westerns he was Tom Curtis and Penn Dower; for romances he became Kathleen Carstairs, Helen Howard, Marilyn Pender or Anne Penn; in Holland he was known as Lex Pender (a name not otherwise used); and for one memorable novel he became James Stagg, actually a real author whose own novel was pulled suddenly and, rather than waste a cover, one by Jacobs' was substituted. In real life he was born Thomas Curtis Hicks Jacobs but was known to many as Jacques Pendower and, legally, became Thomas Curtis Hicks Pendower in January 1941.

Yet it was under his birth name that he is still best known. The byline T. C. H. Jacobs appeared on over 50 novels between 1930 and 1972, including the Temple Fortune series of private eye yarns as well as more traditional police procedurals featuring Chief Inspector Barnard and, separately, Detective Superintendant John Bellamy. It would be wrong to say that Jacobs is well known today and he has few collectors but at least one of his novels—a Temple Fortune yarn—was reprinted in the famous green livery of Penguin's crime paperbacks.

As Jacques Pendower he wrote another private eye series featuring Slade McGinty and, anonymously, he is reputed to have written scores of Dixon Hawke tales for D. C. Thomson. Bill Lofts credited him as "one of D. C. Thomson Group's leading Dixon Hawke writers", and said that he had written the bulk of the stories that appeared in the Dixon Hawke Casebooks, although I've yet to find any hard evidence of the fact. His contributions to the Hawke saga in the pages of Adventure remain equally elusive, although a collection of Jacobs' papers records one manuscript title ("The Double Trail") and notes that Jacobs corresponded with David Gilchrist, the editor of Adventure, in January 1929 to January 1930, developing a Dixon Hawke serial which was eventually not published.

Even without this huge anonymous output, Jacobs was still a prolific writer: the bibliography below lists some 110 novels, plus other works and that is likely to be only scratching the surface. Jacobs himself claimed to have written over 180 novels, although some of these may be serials for magazines such as Miracle. He also wrote short stories, non-fiction and features for newspapers and magazines, plays for the BBC, and comic strips and various juvenile series for children.

Thomas Curtis Hicks Jacobs was born in Plymouth, Devon, on 30 December 1899, the son of Robert Jacobs (a printer and paper merchant who was also an artist) and his wife Mary Thomas (neé Hicks), who had married in 1895. Jacobs was educated at Grammar School in Plymouth and was a keen storyteller from an early age: at the age of eight he produced his own, self-illustrated collection entitled The Children's Book of Stories. He continued to entertain himself with writing during his childhood and was still only sixteen when his first published work appeared in the Western Weekly News.

Jacobs served in the 15th London Regiment from 1917 and, in 1918, was wounded in action and taken prisoner. He escaped and remained with the Army as a second lieutenant until he was demobilized in 1921.

After the war, Jacobs joined the civil service revenue department as a revenue investigating officer. Jacobs was married to Muriel May Newbury on 1 June 1925 and a son, John, was born in 1927. He sold his first novel—written, he later recalled, through "economic necessity"—to A. J. Rhodes, the editor of the Weekly Western News, in 1928, as well as writing articles about the landscapes and traditions of Dartmoor and its surroundings for the same paper in 1928-29. For the next twenty years, Jacobs would write at night whilst continuing to serve with the Inland Revenue.

In the 1930s, he contributed anonymously to the D. C. Thomson boys' papers Rover and Wizard and also to the rival Amalgamated Press paper Triumph. After the Second World War, he continued to supply tales to A.P.'s comics, including serials featuring the character Hamilton Edward Shakespeare and Buffalo Bill to Knockout and Tough Tempest to Sun. He also turned his pen to writing comic strips and created two characters for the A.P.'s Australian line of comics, Thunderbolt Jaxon and Battling Samson.

His novel Traitor Spy was filmed at Welwyn Studios in 1939 by Rialto Productions with Bruce Cabot and Marta Labarr as a pair of British agents who have tracked down a spy working in an anti-submarine patrol boat factory; the film featured Edward Lexy as Pendower's character Inspector Barnard and was released in the USA as The Torso Murder Mystery.

Pendower, as he was now called, left the Inland Revenue in 1950 to write full-time and penned numerous short stories for the Boy's Own Paper, Evening News, Edgar Wallace Magazine, Argosy, Parade, Escort, Master Detective and others in the 1950s, '60s and '70s, as well as contributing comic strip scripts to Cowboy Adventure Library, Western Adventure Library and Combat Library in around 1963. He also wrote a Sexton Blake novel which was revised by James Stagg and published under the latter’s name in 1957 when the directors decided that the novels appearing in the Sexton Blake Library under Howard Baker's editorship were too strong for Blake's supposed young audience. One of the novels already announced was Panic in the Night by James Stagg. It was pulled and a novel Pendower had submitted appeared in its place, although still under Stagg's title and byline.

In 1953, he became a founding member of the Crime Writers Association and served as chairman in 1960-61. He was also a member of the Society of Civil Service Authors, the Press Club, the Radio and Television Guild, the Society of Authors and the Bexley Rotary Club.

Pendower lived in Bexley, Kent, for much of his life and died in 1976.

PUBLICATIONS

Novels (series: Chief Inspector Barnard; Det. Supt. John Bellamy; Temple Fortune; Whip McCord; Jim Malone; Mike Seton)
The Terror of Torlands. London, Stanley Paul & Co., 1930.
The Bronkhorst Case. London, Stanley Paul & Co., 1931; as Documents of Murder, New York, The Macaulay Company, 1933.
Scorpion's Trail (Barnard). London, Stanley Paul & Co., 1932; New York, The Macaulay Company, 1934.
The Kestrel House Mystery (Barnard). London, Stanley Paul & Co., 1932; New York, The Macaulay Company, 1933.
Sinister Quest (Barnard). London, Stanley Paul & Co., 1934; New York, The Macaulay Company, 1936; as Die 7 Morde des Mr. X by Lex Pender, Amsterdam, Mertens & Stappaerts, 1954.
The 13th Chime (Barnard). London, Stanley Paul & Co., 1935; New York, The Macaulay Company, 1936.
Silent Terror (Barnard). London, Stanley Paul & Co., 1936; New York, The Macaulay Company, 1937.
Appointment with the Hangman. London, Stanley Paul & Co., 1936; New York, The Macaulay Company, 1936.
The Laughing Men (Barnard). London, Hodder & Stoughton, 1937.
Identity Unknown (Barnard). London, Stanley Paul & Co., 1938.
Traitor Spy (Barnard). London, Stanley Paul & Co., 1939.
Brother Spy (Barnard). London, Stanley Paul & Co., 1940.
The Broken Knife (Barnard). London, Stanley Paul & Co., 1941.
The Grensen Murder Case (Bellamy). London, Stanley Paul & Co., 1943.
Reward for Treason (Barnard). London, Stanley Paul & Co., 1944.
The Black Box (Barnard). London, Stanley Paul & Co., 1946.
The Curse of Khatra (Bellamy). London, Stanley Paul & Co., 1947.
With What Motive? (Bellamy). London, Stanley Paul & Co., 1948.
Dangerous Fortune (Fortune). London, Stanley Paul & Co., 1949.
The Red Eyes of Kali (Fortune/Barnard). London, Stanley Paul & Co., 1950; as Die roten Augen des Kali by Lex Pender, Amsterdam, Mertens & Stappaerts, 1954.
Texas Stranger. London, Amalgamated Press (Western Library 6), Jun 1950.
Lock the Door, Mademoiselle (Fortune). London, Stanley Paul & Co., 1951.
Blood and Sun-Tan (Fortune). London, Stanley Paul & Co., 1952.
Lady, What's Your Game? (Fortune). London, Stanley Paul & Co., 1952.
Guns for Hire. London, Amalgamated Press (Western Library 59), Sep 1952.
Lone Adventure (McCord). London, Amalgamated Press (Western Library 75), May 1953.
No Sleep for Elsa (Fortune). London, Stanley Paul & Co., 1953.
Perilous Quest. London, Amalgamated Press (Western Library 90), Dec 1953.
Danger Riders (McCord). London, Amalgamated Press (Western Library 92), Jan 1954.
The Fourth Man. London, Amalgamated Press (Western Library 105), Aug 1954.
The Woman Who Waited. London, Stanley Paul & Co., 1954.
Good Knight, Sailor (Fortune). London, Stanley Paul & Co., 1954.
Death in the Mews (Fortune/Barnard). London, Stanley Paul & Co., 1955.
Results of an Accident (Bellamy). London, Stanley Paul & Co., 1955.
Cause for Suspicion. London, Stanley Paul & Co., 1956.
Broken Alibi (Bellamy). London, Stanley Paul & Co., 1957; New York, Roy Publishers, 1957.
Deadly Race (Fortune). London, John Long, 1958.
Black Trinity (Bellamy). London, John Long, 1959.
Women Are Like That (Fortune/Bellamy). London, Robert Hale, 1960.
Let Him Stay Dead (Malone). London, Robert Hale, 1961.
The Tattooed Man. London, Robert Hale, 1961.
Target for Terror (Seton/Fortune). London, Robert Hale, 1961.
The Red Net (Malone). London, Robert Hale, 1962.
Murder Market (Fortune). London, Robert Hale, 1962.
The Secret Power. London, Robert Hale, 1963.
Danger Money (Fortune). London, Robert Hale, 1963.
The Elusive Monsieur Drago (Seton). London, Robert Hale, 1964.
Final Payment (Fortune). London, Hale, Robert 1965.
Ashes in the Cellar (Fortune). London, Hale, 1966.
Sweet Poison (Fortune). London, Hale, 1966.
Death of a Scoundrel (Fortune). London, Hale, 1967.
Wild Week-End (Fortune). London, Robert Hale, 1967.
House of Horror (Fortune). London, Hale, 1969.
The Black Devil (Fortune). London, Hale, 1969.
Security Risk. London, Hale, 1972.

Novels as Kathleen Carstairs
It Began in Spain. London, John Gresham, 1960.
Third Time Lucky. London, John Gresham, 1962.
Shadows of Love. London, John Gresham, 1966.

Novels as Tom Curtis
Bandit Gold. London, Stanley Paul & Co., 1953.
Gunman's Glory. London, Stanley Paul & Co., 1954.
Trail End. London, Stanley Paul & Co., 1954.
Frontier Mission. London, Stanley Paul & Co., 1955.
Border Justice. London, Stanley Paul & Co., 1955.
Ride and Seek. London, Stanley Paul & Co., 1957.
Phantom Marshal. London, John Long, 1957.
Gun Business. London, John Long, 1958.
Lone Star Law. London, John Long, 1959.

Novels as Penn Dower (series: Brett Malone)
Long Star Ranger. London, John Long, 1952.
Bret Malone, Texas Marshal (Malone). London, John Long, 1953.
Gunsmoke Over Alba. London, John Long, 1953.
Texas Stranger. London, John Long, 1954.
Indian Moon. London, John Long, 1954.
Malone Rides In (Malone). London, John Long, 1955.
Two-Gun Marshal. London, John Long, 1956.
Desperate Venture. London, John Long, 1956.
Guns in Vengeance. London, John Long, 1957.
Frontier Marshal. London, John Long, 1958.
Bandit Brothers. London, Four Square Books, 1964.

Novels as Helen Howard
Poisoned Love. London, John Gresham, 1960.
Ladder of Love. London, John Gresham, 1966.

Novels as Marilyn Pender
The Devouring Flame. London, John Gresham, 1960.
A Question of Loyalty. London, John Gresham, 1961.
The Golden Vision. London, John Gresham, 1962.
Rebel Nurse. London, John Gresham, 1962.
Dangerous Love. London, John Gresham, 1966.

Novels as Jacques Pendower (series: Slade McGinty)
Hunted Woman. London & Melbourne, Ward, Lock & Co., 1955.
The Dark Avenue. London & Melbourne, Ward, Lock & Co., 1955.
Mission in Tunis. London, Robert Hale, 1958; New York, Paperback Library, 1967.
The Long Shadow. London, Robert Hale, 1959.
Double Diamond. London, Robert Hale, 1959.
Anxious Lady. London, Robert Hale, 1960.
The Widow from Spain. London, Robert Hale, 1961; as Betrayed, New York, Paperback Library, 1967.
Death on the Moor. London, Robert Hale, 1962.
The Perfect Wife (McGinty). London, Robert Hale, 1962.
Operation Carlo (McGinty). London, Robert Hale, 1963.
Sinister Talent (McGinty). London, Robert Hale, 1964.
Master Spy (McGinty). London, Robert Hale, 1964.
Spy Business. London, Robert Hale, 1965.
Out of This World. London, Hale, 1966.
Traitor's Island (McGinty). London, Hale, 1967.
Try Anything Once. London, Hale, 1967.
A Trap for Fools. London, Robert Hale, 1968.
The Golden Statuette. London, Hale, 1969.
Diamonds for Danger. London, Hale, 1970.
She Came by Night. London, Hale, 1971.
Cause for Alarm. London, Hale, 1971.
Date with Fear. London, Hale, 1974.

Novels as Anne Penn
Dangerous Delusion. London, John Gresham, 1960.
Prove Your Love. London, John Gresham, 1961.
Mystery Patient. London, John Gresham, 1966.

Novels as James Stagg [revised by James Stagg]
Panic in the Night. London, Amalgamated Press (SBL 3/377), Mar 1957.

Collections published anonymously
Note: Jacobs was reputedly the primary author of the Dixon Hawke Casebook but it is certain that other authors contributed stories.
Dixon Hawke Casebook. Dundee, D. C. Thomson, 20 vols., 1938-52.

Non-fiction
Cavalcade of Murder. London, Stanley Paul & Co., 1955.
Pageant of Murder. London, Stanley Paul & Co., 1956.
Aspects of Murder. London, Stanley Paul & Co., 1956.

Radio Plays
The Grensen Murder Case (BBC).

Tuesday, March 24, 2009

The return of the Summer Special

Egmont Publishing are reviving one of the traditions of British comics with the release of a number of what they're calling 'classic comics'... but the format is that of the old summer special, with each title containing a range of strips from some of the great names in comics: Roy of the Rovers, Buster, Battle and Misty. Each will retail at £3.99 for 52 pages. The first release will be Roy of the Rovers, due out on April 1st. The three other titles will roll out during 2009: Battle on 24 June, Buster on 16 September and Misty on 9 December. The comics will be available exclusively in W. H. Smith.

Egmont's Tim Jones says, "We are delighted to be bringing this fantastic portfolio of comics back to the newsstand for the fans to enjoy and indulge in their nostalgic reading. These new launches are a great example of the huge portfolio of evergreen character comics, books and magazines Egmont publish, and we are thrilled to keep delivering content for their fans."

The contents to some of the titles is still being finalised but will include many of the top characters from the various papers: the Roy of the Rovers Classic Comics will include stories featuring "Billy's Boots", "Goalkeeper" and "The Hardman" and the Battle Picture Weekly Classic Comics will include "Johnny Red" and "D-Day Dawson" behind a cover with a main picture by Don Lawrence, first seen on the Battle Picture Weekly Summer Special for 1976.

Keep your fingers crossed that these prove successful and Egmont publish more from their archives in 2010. It has now been a full year since they signed a deal with Titan and to date only two books, both featuring Roy of the Rovers, have appeared, although the Bumper Book of Battle is due shortly and The Best of Battle is scheduled for June.

Egmont have another classic character lined up to appear in a 16-page special being released with the next issue of Toxic (#137, on sale 1 April). The Crazy Comics special contains 9 new strips: "Count Von Poo" by Jamie Smart, "Zombie Nation" by Luke Paton & Laura Howell, "Clump" by Lew Stringer, "Bovver Baby" by John Freeman & Paul J. Palmer, "Hoaxers" by David Hailwood & Paul Harrison-Davies, "Spooks in Space" by Paul H. Birch & Steve Harrison, "Bad Robots" by John Freeman & Paul Harrison-Davies, "Simon Spectacular" by Luke Paton & Stuart Arrowsmith and "WereWilf" by Paul H. Birch and Shane Oakley & John Erasmus.

The last of these is an old character from the pages of Whoopee! where he debuted in 1976. It would appear to be a favourite of Shane Oakley who had hoped to include the character in the pages of Albion but his scene had to be cut due to copyright.

(* I'm sure a couple of the above specials aren't the final covers; all artwork © Egmont Publishing.)

Monday, March 23, 2009

Jose Casanovas, Sr. (1934-2009)

Jose Casanovas, whose artwork appeared in 2000AD, Starlord, Starblazer and elsewhere in the UK, died at the Hospital de Mataró, in the Maresme district of the province of Barcelona, Spain, on Saturday, 14 March, only a day after the death of his countryman, José "Pepe" González. His funeral took place two days later at the cemetery of Sant Pere de Badalona in Barcelona.

José María Casanovas Magri, born in Barcelona in 1934, began drawing for Spanish comics in 1957, after serving in the army. His early work included "El Pequeño Mundo" for Futuro (1957) and "Superfuerte" for Super-Strong (1958), both published by Ferma. He began inking the adventures of "El Jabato", written by R. Martin (Victor Mora) for Bruguera in 1961 before taking over the artwork fully in 1962.

Even at this stage of his career his highly detailed, intricate style was emerging and was best seen in his adaptations of classic stories in the pages of Historias Selección ("Las Indias Negras" by Jules Verne, 1966) and Joyas Literarias Juveniles (various titles, including "Un Descubrimiento Prodigioso" (1978) and "El Perro de los Baskervilles" (1982)). Some of this work was created for markets outside Spain and Casanovas notably drew one of Spain's most famous characters "El Capitán Trueno" but for German publication. Thus it was that Casanovas never really gained the reputation he could have, since his work was seen in many countries but often only briefly. Fans looking for his strips would need to search in Spain, the U.K., Italy, Finland, Germany, America and Holland. For the Dutch weekly Tina he drew the adventures of "Pollyanna" in the late 1960s.

Here in the U.K., his name became known through the pages of 2000AD and Starlord when credits began appearing in the late 1970s. He had actually begun contributing anonymously as early as 1962, producing artwork for various romance libraries, including True Life, Love Story and Star Love until the end of the decade. Throughout the 1970s and early 1980s his work was appearing in June & Schoolfriend, Tammy, Sandie, Jinty, Lindy, Penny, Emma and Mandy.

Although he only occasionally drew Judge Dredd, he became associated with another denizen of Mega-City One, Max Normal, whom he drew for various editions of the Judge Dredd Annual in the early 1980s. Busy elsewhere in Europe, much of his work here was one-off strips, mostly for 2000AD ("Tharg's Future Shocks" and "Time Twisters", some scripted by Alan Moore and Pete Milligan), Scream!! and Eagle.

He drew half a dozen longer stories for Starblazer, amongst them the Mikal Kayn adventure "Supercop" (1988). With his son (also called Jose Casanovas), he drew "Sam Slade Returns" in 1991 and was one of the regular Robo-Hunter artists until 1993.

In 2004-05 his work could be found in the German series Geisterjäger John Sinclair, about a ghost hunter.

Note: information on Casanovas' Spanish work is derived from various Spanish websites and blogs, but particularly from here.

(* Artwork from "Earn Big Money While You Sleep", Starlord, 26 August 1978 © Rebellion; with thanks to David Roach for notes on Casanovas' work in romance comics.)

The Origins of Thunderbolt Jaxon

Thunderbolt Jaxon was one of a number of characters revived by DC Comics in their Albion Universe line which appeared a couple of years ago. Much hyped, none of the titles performed particularly well and Thunderbolt Jaxon proved to be the least of them in sales terms despite having Dave Gibbons at the helm and John Higgins producing the artwork.

I never quite figured out why Thunderbolt Jaxon was picked for revival. Maybe because he was a typical superhero figure and thought to be a safe bet in the modern American comic book marketplace.

Beyond the name and the McGuffin origins of the character's superpowers—a mystical belt that belonged to Thor—there was nothing to compare it to the original strip. Beyond a certain naive charm, the original strips nowadays appear rather childish and obvious, the kind of strip where a crook is called Otto Krook. But you have to love a strip where crashes are accompanied by the sound effect "Crash!"—and other sound effects include the likes of "Zoom" and "Wheee"—and where people scream with the actual word: "Scream!"

However, put yourselves in the shoes of a young child in the year 1949, when adventure strips were primarily historical, Westerns and, occasionally, crime. Science fiction had yet to be discovered in any major way—Ian had landed on Mu in Mickey Mouse Weekly back in 1936 but there hadn't been many space-faring strips since. Some strips delved into the fantastic in a usually humorous way—The Beano had been featuring the time-travelling adventures of Jimmy Watson and his magic patch on his trousers for five years—but, apart from a few one-off strips in the post-war independents, you were still more likely to find an adaptation of a classic than a far-out vision of the future.

Superhero comics barely existed. Thanks to a ban on imports, British comics had been isolated since 1940 and developments elsewhere in the world, America especially, had almost no impact in the UK. Superman had briefly been imported (as were many US comics) as remainders in the late 1930s and had appeared (again briefly) in the pages of Triumph shortly before that paper became a victim of the paper shortage in the early months of the Second World War.

Thunderbolt Jaxon was almost unique in British comics in that his adventures were not initially aimed at British youngsters and the influences that shaped his development were due to events both here in the UK and half way around the world.

The paper shortage did not vanish overnight at the end of the war: restrictions on paper supply were still in place until 1950 as Britain limited imports in order to pay off the War Loan from America; rationing continued until 1954; the generation of baby boomers born when British soldiers returned for demob in 1945-56 grew up surrounded by reminders of the war, whether it was bombed out streets, slowly rusting Anderson shelters or sweet rationing. Many British comics were one-offs, produced by minor, independent publishers whenever they could find a paper supply; the two major publishers, Amalgamated Press and D. C. Thomson, had to publish their weekly titles in a slimmed-down form or fortnightly and few copies were available to export to the Commonwealth which, before the war, had imported British comics and story papers in large numbers.

Australia was one of the biggest of Britain's export markets when it came to comics but this all changed in 1940. Like Britain, Australia had been a dumping ground for remainder copies of American magazines (to the point where, in December 1939, a Senator in the Federal Parliament had claimed that imports were badly affecting the livelihoods of local writers and artists. Ironically, the situation was resolved by the war and Australia's own Import Licensing Regulations. Post-war, a new force in Australian comics emerged in the shape of publisher Kenneth G. Murray who, on the back of successful magazines like Man Magazine, launched a number of new, locally-produced comic titles and, in 1947, began reprinting American comics in colour. Early titles from DC Comics (at the time known as National Periodical Publications) and Quality Comics included Climax All Color Comics (featuring Zatara from DC's Action Comics) and Superman All Color Comic, establishing American superheroes in Australia. Printing in colour proved expensive and KG Murray eventually lowered his costs by turning them into black & white reprints of around 28-32 pages.

The situation was monitored in the UK by the directors of the Amalgamated Press who were still struggling with paper restrictions. One solution to fight off this American invasion of one of their traditional markets was to produce a comic—or series of comics—directly for the Australian market. Edward Holmes, the editor of the popular Knockout weekly, struggling along at between 12 and 16 pages at the time, was assigned to create new titles for Australia in a comic book format similar to Murray's American reprints.

Holmes was one of the more creative editors at Amalgamated Press, far more in touch with the market than many of his directors who, for the most part, had been with the firm for forty years and whose views of comics were shaped in the Golden Age of the 1920s. Holmes was keen to push adventure stories over humour in Knockout and his sensibilities could be seen in the line-up of yarns he began preparing for the A.P.'s new Australian venture.

By January 1949, stories and artwork was being commissioned and drawn and, directly influenced by the superhero comics then appearing in Australia, one of the first characters was Thunderbolt Jaxon.

Thunderbolt was, in reality, a young orphan called Jack Jaxon, unjustly accused of a crime that earns him a place at a harsh reform school. Jack discovers a belt of ancient and curious design—the magic belt of Thor, the thunder god of the ancient Norsemen—and, in a flash, skinny Jack becomes Thunderbolt, a muscular adult endowed with the might and magic of Thor.

Jack uses his new power, which comes from simply putting on the magic belt, to vindicate himself and bring his wicked uncle Jasper to justice before setting out to become a champion of justice for all.

The storylines for the first issue (and two stories apiece in the second and third issues) were written by T. C. H. Pendower, at the time a popular writer of crime novels under his birth name, T. C. H. Jacobs. The stories were scripted by Leonard Matthews, former sub-editor and now full-time editor of Knockout. Edward Holmes scripted the majority of the remaining Thunderbolt Jaxon yarns.

Holmes was clearly keen on the character as he began featuring him in colour on the centre pages of Comet, which he was also editing. These stories, like the tales which ran in the Australian comics, were drawn by Hugh McNeill, better known as a humour artist in the pages of The Beano, The Dandy and especially Knockout, where he drew "Deed-a-Day Danny" and "Our Ernie" amongst others. McNeill wasn't known as an adventure artist, but could turn his hands to most things, switching from the knockabout humour he was generally known for to a rather more realistic style for the adventures of "Tough Tod and Happy Annie".

The Thunderbolt Jaxon strips usually ran to 8-9 pages and each of the Australian comics featured three strips per issue. Already stretched, McNeill could not draw every episode and other artists—Geoff Campion and Robert Rodger—were drafted in to fill the issues. Only a handful were ever reprinted in the U.K. (in the pages of Knockout Annual); the Comet strip ran for only a matter of weeks between August and November 1949 and the Australian comic stumbled in the latter months of 1949. It lasted only six issues and that could have been all that was heard of Thunderbolt had he not been revived in Knockout in 1958 where his adventures ran for just eighteen months, some early episodes drawn by Ian Kennedy.

Thunderbolt's Comet tales were reprinted with the character renamed Johnny Samson in Buster in 1964; since the Comet run was brief, the series soon switched to new stories after a couple of months. These came to an end in 1965 and nothing more was heard of Thunderbolt Jaxon (apart from a reprinted yarn in Hawk's Giant Holiday Fantasy Comic Album in 1990) until his revival forty years later. The fun-filled, cartoony adventure tales drawn by Hugh McNeill and the gritty, street-wise storyline of the 2006 revival couldn't have been more different, but perhaps the failure of previous attempts to revive the character should have been a warning.

The character seems to hold a fatal attraction for editors looking for characters to bring back and it's probably only a matter of time before Jack Jaxon once again dons the magic belt of Thor.

(* Thunderbolt Jaxon © IPC Media.)