(* I'm pleased to welcome Alistair McGown to Bear Alley. Alistair was heavily involved in the compilation of Carlton's newly released Look-In compilation of the best of the seventies and, as I'm not backward in stepping forward, I asked him if he'd be willing to contribute something about how the book was put together. He said, "OK," and here it is. Take it away, Alistair...)
I'd long been trying to track down someone at IPC to see if they might be interested in reprinting classic Look-in material and eventually made contact with some helpful bods who told me that IPC wouldn't publish such material themselves but were always looking for interested third parties to license material to - in fact one such licensee had recently agreed a deal.
It soon transpired the licensee was Carlton Books, looking to follow up the success of their Jackie reprint titles with further comic nostalgia. Their project editor had previously worked with my old mate Graham Kibble-White and now approached him for suggestions of any classic comics Carlton could perhaps republish. He had only one answer!
Having made a few casually furtive enquiries about my Look-in collection, Graham and I finally emerged as the team behind this title and so it was that Graham travelled up from London to my flat in Glasgow (in this case, Mohammed could come to the mountain!) for a weekend's fevered perusing of my archive. In terms of the 1970s this ran to about 300 issues at the time, including a full run of 1978-79 (I begin to wonder if I will ever acquire the eight I need to complete 1977 without paying a fortune?). If you think this odd, no, IPC did not hold a published archive themselves.
Prior to this meet up we'd done a logistics exercise, me listing all the strips that had run, noting in each case which were serials and which standalones and how many were colour and black and white. Early on I'd realised just how long some of the serials were (presumably to keep readers buying the comic to reach the end of a storyline) with the vast majority being over six parts long and several as long as 13! Clearly Carlton wanted a book to reflect the rich variety of Look-in's first glorious decade, not a collected comics volume, so finding short run serials was an initial problem (hence why we chose a 1980 Sapphire & Steel three-part serial rather than strictly sticking to a 1979 one).
Even after finding suitable candidate strips there were the inevitable gap issues of the kind that strike fear into all comic collectors. eBay was the only answer and with Carlton thankfully footing the bill we soon managed to fill them, although one issue bought for a 1974 Black Beauty strip cost £11!
Using a spreadsheet program written by his brother Jack, Graham sifted our shortlisted content into (generally) chronological order and then worked out countless permutations to produce an even spread of colour and monochrome, strip and feature and so on. If it had been up to me to do this, being such an old skool git, I probably would have written each page's content onto a blank postcard and shuffled the cards around a table. I wonder if I'd still be there doing it?
It was then down to me to scan and clean up the pages. Browned pages were readjusted to clean white as much as possible, creases and tears airbrushed out using Photoshop's clone tools, and page bleeds recreated so that the pages all bled to the edge if they had in the original magazine, rather than use horrible clunky page borders. If you didn't notice any of this, then I've done my job (a horrendous print fault on a Tomorrow People strip episode almost wiped out a vast band on each page, by far the worst flaw to be corrected). Look-in's binding, which for most of its life used a crimp-style rather than staples, caused me a few problems as I struggled to get good enough scans without sacrificing my precious issues. Again, I had to reconstruct a few of those pages into the binding edge as best I could. I'm not sure how Carlton have scanned other comic collections and whether or not they leave a pile of tattered, cut-up back copies behind.
Although I designed the interior pages (including the endpaper cover galleries, which were my idea - very time-consuming but hopefully worth it) the cover was put together in-house at Carlton. The montage was made using hi-resolution scans taken from IPC's artwork archive, the feeling being that this would provide the necessary quality. Graham had discovered just in time that IPC was about to sell off the remnants of its artwork archive to a collector/dealer and with it the last few chunks of Look-in art. Graham and Lorna, the project editor, viewed IPC's less than orderly archive just weeks before it was sold and managed to acquire high quality scans of a dozen classic cover paintings (four of these are reprinted in the book for the first time next to their published counterparts).
Although I was understandably a little disappointed not to have provided the cover design, close to publication there was an urgent phone call one Thursday afternoon asking if I could put together an entirely different cover for the following Tuesday morning for a second distribution imprint (under the SevenOaks name). Much high-speed trawling through my back copies ensued, seeking iconic cover art to hopefully blend into a nice montage composition. So thirty years after I'd drawn my own at home, I'd finally put together a Look-in cover.
Carlton had initially suggested a general compilation book, with possibly a follow up collection of material from the annuals. Carlton had done this for Jackie where it made sense, with the two publications being physically very different formats. But as I pointed out, Look-in's annuals were generally inferior to the weekly comics, with rehashed features and fill-in strip artists. Instead I suggested that a 1970s collection would make sound demographic sense, with a 1980s-focused collection as a strong potential sequel.
As the first volume sees release, I can only hope it sells well and lets us pay tribute to Look-in's second decade as the chronicler of ephemeral pop culture. Here's to Look-in: the Best of the Eighties and perhaps a chance to revisit the adventures of Robin of Sherwood, The A-Team, Dangermouse and, just maybe, Mollie Sugden in That's My Boy!
(* Look-In: The Best of the Seventies is available from your local book shop now. Or, as you're already cruising the internet, you can take a look at Amazon for more info. Alistair has put up a tribute page about Look-In where you can also find interviews with editor Colin Shelbourn and writer Angus P. Allan.)