In 2005, Carlton put out a collection of Commando entitled The Dirty Dozen which sold incredibly well to all the Dads who had fond memories of reading war libraries when they were growing up. I certainly remember reading them in the 1960s when I was at primary school, picking one up at the local newsagents on the way in and having it tucked in my pocket until morning break. And when you'd finished it, you swapped it for another one because that way you could save what was left of your pocket money for something else; by swapping you could read all four of that month's titles -- or eight, or ten... however many it was at the time.
Commando is still going strong, which is a testament to the persistence of D. C. Thomson and the skills of its editor, George Low. Back in 1960 when Commando first appeared, I imagine most of the writers had been in the services in one form or another, even if it was just National Service and they had never actually seen combat. But stories abounded -- every family had a story to tell of some incident that their relatives had gone through; and by the late 1950s there was enough distance from the war for biographies and books about the war to be flooding the newsstands and the cinema.
Moving forward 4,000 issues (which Commando will reach in a few months time), Low is now working with a new generation -- maybe even a third generation -- of authors whose experience of conflict is probably watching afternoon war movies on Channel 4 or BBC2 (yes, that's what freelance writers get up to). A good writer can still persuade you that he knows the difference between a bren gun and a sten gun but there's a certain authenticity that can be lost: small details picked up through experience, the way soldiers in battle talk to each other and the like. Commando comics aren't historical documents by any stretch of the imagination but readers who read enough of them get to know when something feels wrong.
So George Low varies the contents; only last week Commando released a story about a space shuttle landing in the middle of a contemporary war. Other stories have been set in the Crimean War and in the Falklands; and even when the stories are set in the heart of the Second World War, they deliver across the range of services (Jose Jorge's air war stories are still my favourite) and in every theatre. You've got to admire Low, who has been with the title for over forty years but still has a knack for finding variations on the theme of battle.
That's pretty much what you get with True Brit (ISBN 978-184442-121-3), the latest Carlton Books' collection from Commando: a round dozen tales with settings as diverse as Italy and India and issues ranging from across three decades. Four of them are drawn by Gordon Livingstone who was knocking out stories for Commando for almost forty years before retiring a few years back. It's a little disappointing not to see any of Jorge's artwork and only one by Denis McLoughlin but these are nit-picks at an otherwise fine collection.
What might surprise a few folks is that Carlton have put out a third Commando collection already, Anzacs at War (ISBN 978-1-84442-059-9). From the title you might guess that this is for the Australian market only and I've yet to find a mention of it on the www so perhaps it isn't out yet. There's no listing on Amazon.co.uk as yet so maybe it won't be appearing over here. UPDATE: Thanks to George (see comments) I now know that the book is due out on 27 March and some details can be found here.
It's identical in format to True Brit and contains another 12 stories that appeared between 1973 and 2004, with one story from 1989 reprinted as recently as 2005. Five stories are by Argentinian artist Olivera, another two by Gordon Livingstone and one by another name I tend to associate only with Commando, Cecil Rigby. The best of the stories art-wise are probably the earliest by Olivera (from 1989) and a single contribution from one of the Jose de la Fuente (brother of the more famous Victor). It's a good, solid collection, including one yarn set in World War I and another in the Malayan jungles in 1966 which backs up my claim that Commando still has the ability to pull the odd surprise even after all these years.
A change of pace now... the latest issue of Jeff Hawke's Cosmos (vol.3 no.3, dated November 2006) has turned up a couple of months late due to the editor having a hard drive failure. I've been a regular contributor to this since the first issue but for once I can review it without that conflict of interest because I stepped aside to allow someone else to write this issue's article on SF in comic strips.
As a huge fan of Syd Jordan's work I'm pleased to see two complete Jeff Hawke stories this issue, one from 1962 written by Willie Patterson and one from 1972-73 written (and introduced) by Jordan. As usual, Duncan Lunan provides an incredibly in-depth commentary to the two strips and Syd himself briefly remembers Ferdinando Tacconi (who drew the Jeff Hawke strip in Junior Express in 1954-55) and discusses his association with Colin Andrew (with an interview promised for next issue). Wrapping up this issue is an article on Captain Condor by Andrew Darlington.
Subscriptions for the magazine are £16.50 (£26 overseas) for three issues from The Jeff Hawke Club, 6 The Close, Alwoodley, Leeds LS17 7RD.
(* I've been slacking on the blog front recently because of various other commitments: you should start to see some of the results on the Look and Learn website shortly as I've been sorting out more images for the picture gallery. The last few weekends have been devoted to work for the Don Lawrence Fanclub with the new Storm collection finished, the next Trigan Empire book almost done and, this weekend, the Worlds of Don Lawrence newsletter to sort out. I'm also trying to proof the war libraries index ready for publication in February or March. So if I'm slow off the mark to respond to e-mail or blog comments you'll know why.)