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Monday, June 25, 2012

Near Myths

NEAR MYTHS
by Jeremy Briggs


Way back in the pre-history of the Forbidden Planet International chain of stores, and in the early history of British comic shops in general, there was a little shop with a rather high ceiling in an Edinburgh backstreet called descriptively, if rather unimaginatively, Science Fiction Bookshop.

The shop definitely punched above its weight with national advertising, using artwork by Graham Manley, and organised signing sessions that included international guests such as novelist Jerry Pournelle and comics writer Chris Claremont. Indeed Claremont even worked it into issue 218 of The Uncanny X-Men, dated June 1987, when Juggernaut punched Rogue hard enough to send her soaring from Princes Street, through the battlements of Edinburgh Castle to land in the road outside a familiar shop front, albeit renamed for commercial considerations. While enjoying the accuracy of the shop and its surrounding street, Edinburgh natives would point out that artists Mark Sylvestri and Dan Green obviously didn’t appreciate that Rogue would have need to make at least a 90º turn in mid-air to land at the trajectory that they portray.

Today that physical shop at 40 West Crosscauseway sells musical instruments but in the 1970s and 1980 it sold books, magazines and comics. Known to locals simply as "SF", it would expand its novels into a small narrow shop on the opposite side of the street and eventually combined the two shops into one when it moved the short distance to Teviot Place, where it stopped being "SF" and became "FP" as part of the Forbidden Planet Scotland group. It then finally moved to South Bridge, hidden behind a normally busy bus stop as part of the Forbidden Planet International chain where it remains today - even if, confusingly, it does not have "International" on its frontage or use the FPI 'house colours' of black and silver.

Back in the 1970s Science Fiction Bookshop was run by Rob King who, for a while at least, was also an editor and publisher. The comic magazine that he published under the Galaxy Press imprint was called Near Myths and, while it only ran for five issues, it has achieved near mythical status itself as the first home of Bryan Talbot's Adventures of Luther Arkwright as well as Grant Morrison's earliest published work. While four of the five issues had the tag “For Adults” on the front cover, the magazine described itself inside as “primarily for adults although it is suitable for older children.”

Near Myths was an A4 size comic magazine printed on newsprint paper with a full colour cover, similar to Dez Skinn's later Warrior, with a mixture of science fiction, fantasy and humour strips. In addition to Bryan Talbot’s science-fiction/alternate universes The Adventures of Luther Arkwright, the first issue dated September 1978 had Kraimer, a fantasy quest tale written by Mike Wilson with art by Graham Manley, Graham Manley’s own space opera Tales From The Edge, the science fiction/underground comix style humour of Radio Comix by Bonk (Alecks Waszynko), John Eunson’s space opera The Star Run Saga, and two Chris Haddon humour tales, Softly Caught Above Clouds Of Brittle Cream and Good Grief Stories.

Planned as a monthly title, the second issue was dated October 1978 and retained Luther Arkwight, Tales From the Edge, Kraimer, The Star Run Saga and Radio Comix. It also added Magor the Mage, a fantasy humour strip written by John Taylor with art by Chris Haddon, and the one-off science fantasy Time Is A Four Letter Word written and drawn by Grant T Morrison.

Issue 3 slipped slightly to December 1978 and in addition to Luther Arkwight, Tales From the Edge, The Star Run Saga, Radio Comix and Magor, Graham Manley illustrated novelist Brian Lumley’s poem City Out Of Time while Grant T Morrison began his Jerry Cornelius-like Gideon Stargrave. Rob King’s editorial stated that Graham Manley had to drop Kraimer to concentrate on Tales From The Edge but that they intended for another artist to take over drawing Mike Wilson’s scripts, while The Star Run Saga in this issue was the last as John Eunson “wishes to pursue his theatrical career”.

Issue 4 had a major slip to September 1979 with Luther Arkwight, Tales From the Edge, Magor, and Gideon Stargrave returning in the company of Tony O’Donnell’s dragon fantasy Thiirania, Rob Norman’s space opera The Elder Gods and Les Scott’s fantasy Haan. Two chapters of Morrison’s Gideon Stargrave appeared in this issue concluding The Vatican Conspiracy storyline.

There wasn’t quite such a long wait for Issue 5 which was dated April 1980 and had Bryan Talbot as the editor and art director. Luther Arkwight, Tales From the Edge, Thiirania and The Elder Gods returned along with the beginning of a Grant T Morrison science fiction/thriller The Checkmate Man, Alan Hunter’s supernatural Private Eye, Trina Robbins’ fantasy Song Of The Sleepers and Hunt Emerson’s underground humour Large Cow Mix. It was to be the last issue.

Bryan Talbot and Grant Morrison (having dropped the ‘T’) may now be the best known of Near Myths’ regular contributors, but its other alumni also moved on to better known titles with Graham Manley working on an eclectic mixture of Beano, Dandy, Diceman and the Judge Dredd Megazine as well as Darkhorse UK and DC Comics titles, while Tony O'Donnell worked on the DC Thomson digests Starblazer, Star Romance and Football Picture Story Monthly.

In 1997 Rainbow Orchid creator Garen Ewing interviewed Tony O'Donnell about his career during which O'Donnell talked about his work on Near Myths. "I was a frequent visitor to the SF Bookshop in Edinburgh, so when I heard that they were going to publish an adult SF comic I was very keen to get involved. I showed my portfolio to Rob King at the bookshop, but although he seemed quite impressed with my work, he stressed that he was looking for comics that he could publish - and I didn't have anything that could be used. As I recall this was June 1978. My four year stint as an art student was over and I'd just been informed that I hadn't been accepted into the National Film School. I was working as a dish washer in an Italian restaurant in order to clear some debts, and my drawing time was now severely restricted. Eventually I got my act together and produced a six page strip called 'Thiirania'. I took the pages to Rob King and I was delighted with his reaction - 'These are great! I'll print them!' I walked out of the shop on Cloud Nine - I'd done it! Eager for more praise I returned a week later only to find that Rob had discovered a young genius in Glasgow called Grant Morrison, and I have to admit I was suitably impressed by the pages he showed me - especially when I was told he was only 17. Graham Manley was the artist who proposed the idea of publishing an adult SF comic to Rob and he also recommended that they should try and get Bryan Talbot to contribute a strip, and that's how Near Myths became the first publisher of 'The Adventures of Luther Arkwright'."

In 1987 Bear Alley’s own Steve Holland interviewed Grant Morrison about Near Myths in an interview that was published in After-Image 6 in January 1988 during which Morrison says, “Near Myths was being produced in Edinburgh and I met up with the editor, Rob King, at a comic convention in Glasgow. I'd done these sketches which I showed him, and ended up doing some work for him. It was £10 a page, script and art. I thought that was it - my career was made and I'd be a millionaire before I was twenty! Stargrave was originally based on the lead character in J. G. Ballard's 'The Day Of Forever'; everyone thought he was ripped off from Jerry Cornelius, but it was Ballard. The Stargrave stories were completely off the wall... we were given the freedom to do anything we wanted and everyone had ambitions to raise comics up out of the gutter and into the realms of High Art. In the end, though, the lack of discipline resulted in self-indulgent and impenetrable stories that made no attempt to communicate to the average reader. Having said that, there is a lot of real personal stuff in there and it's probably closer to 'Art', with a capital 'A', than anything I've done since. Looking back, I can see that there was a lot of value there. I think if we'd managed another couple of issues... everyone was finding their feet by issue five, when Bryan took over editing and I think another couple of issues would have really established us."

In 2009 Pádraig Ó Méalóid interviewed Bryan Talbot on the Forbidden Planet International blog and when asked how the Luther Arkwright strip fared in Near Myths Talbot replied, "Very well, in that it was the most popular strip in there. Near Myths was very sporadic though. We produced five issues in about a year and a half. I’ve no idea how many copies were sold but we had national distribution and it was available in newsagents all over the UK. I edited issue 5 and 6, the one that was never published. In many ways it was the forerunner of Warrior and featured the first published work of Graham Manley, Tony O’Donnell and Grant Morrison (who drew his strips as well as scripting them). When the publisher did a moonlight flit to avoid debt, he left all the back issues in his flat. After six months the landlord dumped the lot in a skip so they’re a bit rare!"

Near Myths was a title for mature readers which, based on the various editorials, did cause them problems at the time with the late 1970s United Kingdom not used to a publication that was both a comic magazine and not aimed at children. While publication was initially aimed at a monthly schedule, that soon slipped and, as King's editorials showed, many of the problems that they encountered could still perceived as problems for British comics today.

Bryan Talbot wrote in the editorial in the fifth and (at that point unknown to him) final issue, “Near Myths is now, and has been for over a year, Britain’s only alternative comic – excluding fan magazines and political propaganda. This is a terrible state of affairs, especially after the adult comic boom of the late 70’s and considering that a large proportion of our print run is sold abroad. How long will we be lagging behind in comic consciousness? ALBION AWAKE!” It would be another two years before Dez Skinn’s Warrior appeared on newsagents’ shelves.

With thanks to Bill Lindsay for the magazines and the photo of Science Fiction Bookshop, Garen Ewing of The Rainbow Orchid, and Joe Gordon and Pádraig Ó Méalóid of the Forbidden Planet International Blog.

Near Myths © Galaxy Media and the individual creators.
The Uncanny X-Men is © Marvel & Subs


NEAR MYTHS CONTENTS

Issue 1, September 1978
44 pages
Editor: Rob King
  • Wraparound Cover: Tales From The Edge (art by Graham Manley)
  • The Yacht Race (1 page pin-up – art by Bill Reid)
  • Kramer Part 1: From Night’s Velvet Wings (4 page strip – script by Mike Wilson, art by Graham Manley)
  • The Adventures of Luther Arkwright: Chapter One: Napalm Kiss (7 page strip - script/art by Bryan Talbot)
  • Cosmic Jester (1 page pin-up – art by Graham Manley)
  • Tales From The Edge: Phase 1 – Darkness And Bright Shadow (10 page strip – script/art by Graham Manley)
  • Radio Comix (4 page strip – script/art by Bonk)
  • The Star Run Saga (5 page strip – script/art by John Eunson)
  • Softly Caught Above Clouds Of Brittle Cream (5 x 0.5 page strip – script/art by Chris Haddon)
  • Good Grief Stories! (3 x 0.5 page strip – script/art by Chris Haddon)
  • Future Scene (1 page pin-up – art by Bill Reid)

Issue 2, October 1978
52 pages
Editor: Rob King
  • Wraparound Cover: Kramer (art by Graham Manley)
  • The Adventures of Luther Arkwright: Chapter Two (7 page strip - script/art by Bryan Talbot)
  • Magor The Mage And The Lady of The Crystal (6 page strip – script by John Taylor, art by Chris Haddon)
  • Tales From The Edge: Part Two (6 page strip – script/art by Graham Manley)
  • Kramer Part 2: Twilight Lingering (4 page strip – script by Michael Wilson, art by Graham Manley)
  • The Star Run Saga Chapter 2: Dusk Over Dreddon (10 page strip – script/art by John Eunson)
  • Radio Comix: Invasion Of The Radio-Men (4 page strip – script/art by Bonk)
  • Time is a Four Letter Word (5 page strip – script/art by Grant T Morrison)

Issue 3, December 1978
52 pages
Editor: Rob King
  • Front Cover: The Adventures of Luther Arkwright (art by Bryan Talbot)
  • The Adventures of Luther Arkwright Chapter Three: The Treaty of St Petersburg (10 page strip - script/art by Bryan Talbot)
  • The Adventures of Luther Arkwright (1 page text supplement)
  • Magor The Mage: The Lady of The Crystal Part 2 (6 page strip – script by John Taylor, art by Chris Haddon) 
  • The Star Run Saga Chapter 3: Beneath The Masks, Beneath The Smiles (5 page strip – script/art by John Eunson)
  • Breakout On Kattalus (8 page strip – script/art by Graham Manley)
  • Radio Comix (4 page strip – script/art by Bonk)
  • City of Time (2 page strip – script by Brian Lumley, art by Graham Manley)
  • The Vatican Conspiracy (7 page strip – script/art by Grant T Morrison)
  • Rear Cover: Crashed Spaceship (art by Graham Manley)


Issue 4, September 1979
60 pages
Editor: Rob King
  • Front Cover: Thiirania (art by Tony O’Donnell)
  • Thiirania (6 page strip – script/art by Tony O’Donnell)
  • Prelude To Ragnarok: The Vatican Conspiracy II, Oct 1970 (7 page strip – script/art by Grant T Morrison)
  • The Fenris Factor: The Vatican Conspiracy III, Oct 1970 (7 page strip – script/art by Grant T Morrison)
  • The Elder Gods Part 1 (4 page strip – script/art by Rob Norman)
  • The Adventures of Luther Arkwright: Point.Counter.Point (8 page strip - script/art by Bryan Talbot)
  • Haan (6 page strip - script/art by Les Scott)
  • Double Cross At The Death Factory: Tales From The Edge Part IV (6 page strip – script/art by Graham Manley)
  • Magor The Mage: A Winter’s Tale (6 page strip – script by John Taylor, art by Chris Haddon)
  • Rear Cover: Thiirania (art by Tony O’Donnell)

 
Issue 5, April 1980
68 pages
Editor: Bryan Talbot
  • Front Cover: Spaceship (art by Tony O’Donnell)
  • The Checkmate Man Part One (10 page strip – script/art by Grant T Morrison)
  • The Adventures of Luther Arkwright: Chapter 1b (2 page strip – script/art by Bryan Talbot)
  • An Invitation To A Mystery Dance: Tales From The Edge Chapter 5 (8 page strip – script/art by Graham Manley)
  • Private Eye (4 page strip – script/art by Alan Hunter)
  • Song Of The Sleepers (8 page strip – script/art by Trina Robbins, letters by Orz)
  • The Adventures of Luther Arkwright Chapter 2b: Affair Of Honour? (3 page strip – script/art by Bryan Talbot)
  • Large Cow Comix (2 page strip – script/art by Hunt Emerson)
  • The Elder Gods Part 2 (8 page strip – script/art by Rob Norman)
  • Thiirania: The City Of Towers Chapter 1 (8 page strip – script/art by Tony O’Donnell)
  • The Adventures of Luther Arkwright Chapter 4b (3 page strip – script/art by Bryan Talbot)
  • Rear Cover: Black

1 comment:

David said...

Interesting article, Jeremy.
Science Fiction Bookshop was also featured in X-Men with the store title intact. Check out the 2nd scanned page here:
http://fredeggcomics.blogspot.co.uk/2010/02/comics-in-scotland-6-in-1987-two-of-my.html