Friday, November 30, 2007

Comic Cuts

Not a lot to say newswise. The Frank Bellamy book is in the process of being designed. David Ashford and I are still tidying up the last bits of text for the Thriller Index. The next Trigan Empire Collection is at the printers. It's one of those days when we've slipped into the cracks between the interesting bits of book publishing. Hopefully I'll have some more interesting news soon.

And there's not a huge amount happening elsewhere when it comes to classic British comics... thank goodness for Kit Carter!

* With The Dandy about to celebrate its 70th birthday, Lew Stringer takes a look at some of the adventure strips that appeared in the paper over the years.

* The new Dan Dare comic from Virgin Comics is about to arrive in comic shops. If you're still uncertain about the revamping of such an iconic character there's a nice piece here written by Garth Ennis about his attitude to the character and Garth is interviewed by Emmett Furey at Comic Book Resources (29 November). Meanwhile, Tom Spurgeon reviews the first issue at his Comic's Reporter column. For two other examples of non-Hampson Dan Dare, Steve Flanagan publishes a page of Ian Kennedy's DD from the 1987 Dan Dare Annual plus a page drawn by Ron Turner from the same volume.

* A rare copy of the first issue of Viz was auctioned in Newcastle for £950. BBC News (28 November) quotes John Anderson as saying: "What makes this copy even rarer is that there were two printings of the first edition, but the second run has a crucial difference. They were giving a free ice cream with the issue, which turns out just to be a picture of an ice cream stapled inside the cover. On the first printing it's in red and on the second it's black and white."

Thursday, November 29, 2007

Comic Firsts: Tom Kerr

I've mentioned Tom Kerr previously when a character design by Kerr turned up in Dez Skinn's collection. I said at the time that his earliest known work had appeared in 1949. Since then I've found an earlier piece.

This illustration of various nursery rhyme characters appeared in the Come On Steve Annual, published in October 1947, although the artwork is dated 1946. It's very different in style and tone to the picture stories he was later to draw... a style you can see in Kit Carter's Clarks Commandos. And I'm pleased to announce that, as of tomorrow, Kit Carter returns for another cliff-hanging series of shoe adverts from yesteryear. Meanwhile, if anyone can enlighten me with any more details of Tom Kerr's career beyond what I've already given I would love to know more.

Tuesday, November 27, 2007

Peter Eldin

(* I'd like to welcome Peter Eldin to Bear Alley. Peter is the author of over 250 factual, educational and fun books published around the world and has contributed to TV shows, appeared on TV himself and contributed to dozens of different magazines. Peter has been kind enough to put together a few memories of his time writing for British educational magazines back in the 1970s, a little piece he calls...)

Memories of Look and Learn

One day in 1971 I picked up a copy of World of Wonder from my local newsagent. It was an event that changed my life completely. The magazine was so interesting that, with no writing experience whatsoever, I contacted the editor suggesting a series of articles on famous magicians. The idea was accepted and I produced a 15-week series.

Prior to the series being published (starting 16 October 1971), I came across some information about Willow Pattern. I wrote about this and sent it, speculatively, to Bob Bartholemew, the editor of World of Wonder. It was accepted and I contributed to the magazine thereafter.

In 1972 I wrote my first book for children, Amaze and Amuse Your Friends (published by Piccolo in 1973).

During the writing process I saw Philip Emms on our local railway station. As we had been neighbours when we were kids I knew he was an artist (although we had not met for some twenty years) and I invited him to illustrate my book. He accepted the invitation adn we did a couple of books together thereafter.

It may have been through Phil that I first heard of Look and Learn because he was a regular illustrator. The first piece I wrote for Look and Learn was, as far as I can tell, about Madame Tussaud (18 August 1972) and this led to regular articles until the demise of the magazine.

By 1973 my contributions to IPC, regular book commissions and a contract with Grolier Publishing convinced me that I should freelance full time, which I did from 1st April 1973, giving up a secure career in accountancy and office management.

Andy Vincent was the editor when I first started contributing to Look and Learn and I got on well with him. I do remember, however, one occasion that he suggested that I do a series on the history of steam power. When I delivered the material he had forgotten all about it and I had to "sell" the idea back to him. This I did not find surprising because of the speed at which the editors had to work. A similar thing happened on World of Wonder when Bob Bartholemew commissioned me to write a piece. When I delivered it I discovered that he had also commissioned another writer to do the same piece! It is, however, to Bob Bartholemew that I owe a big debt of gratitude for he was a great encouragement and a regular purchaser of my material right from the start of my career as a freelance writer.

I think my work for Look and Learn increased when Jack Parker became editor. We got on very well and we frequently lunched together at a small bistro near King's Reach Tower. I always made a point of delivering material in person to the editors of World of Wonder, Look and Learn and Speed & Power which often resulted in more work being commissioned because I 'happened to be in the right place at the right time'. Because of this involvement with the editors Ken Roscoe, editor of Speed & Power, often telephoned me with requests to write up stories he had come across in magazines or news items.

In spite of regular visits to the editorial offices of these three magazines I did not have much contact with staff other than the editors, although I did meet them while I was in the office. Many of the staff, other writers, illustrators and the production staff were met at the Christmas get-togethers of Look and Learn on the 17th (I think) floor of King's Reach Tower.

During my period supplying material to Look and Learn I also organised some prize trips to The Magic Circle and The Magic Circle Christmas Show.

A particularly interesting, and sometimes challenging, series for me was the long-running Fact Finder in which I answered questions raised by readers. There were at least a couple of times when I suspected that the reader knew more than I did about a subject and the questioner was just testing me out!

Two coincidences were associated with my involvement with Look and Learn. The first being that I was introduced to the magazine by artist Philip Emms who was my next door neighbour when we were kids and had no idea that our paths would be linked at a later date. The second came in when I employed the services of a literary agent and later discovered that the agency also acted for John Davies and Andy Vincent, both editors of Look and Learn, and Robin May, a regular contributor to the magazine!

(* My thanks to Peter for his memories. The illustrations are various features written by Peter and are © Look and Learn Magazine Ltd.)

Monday, November 26, 2007

Comic Cuts

Hope you like the new banner. I pieced this together Sunday evening and, after a couple of failures, managed to get it to fit the space Blogger provides. Even now it doesn't quite fit but I rather like having The Steel Claw bursting out of the right hand side slightly.

I'm sure most of you will recognise the various characters -- a frame from Charley's War (Joe Colquhoun), Teddy & Cuddly (Bert Felstead), Emperor Trigo (Don Lawrence), a Battle Picture Library cover by Giorgio De Gaspari, Modesty Blaise (a painted version by Jim Holdaway) and The Steel Claw (Jesus Blasco). I was going to include a few other favourites, a Dan Dare and maybe a cover from Thriller and a Reg Heade dame, but there just wasn't the room. Maybe next time.

I've also put in a little search box for Amazon as it will save me digging out links for everything I mention, although I'll try to continue doing that. The search box also allows you to look for all sorts of other things -- DVDs, music, kitchenware -- so hopefully you'll make use of it, especially that kitchenware option. I like to think that people read these long, rambling, nostalgic strolls through comics and books of the past with a nice cup of tea or coffee to hand... so you'll be wanting a new kettle at some point. Or reading those Clarks Commandos strips has reminded you that you need some new shoes (footwear is also an option).

For those of you following these things, we've tiptoed another few steps forward on a couple of projects: David Ashford and I are almost finished with the text for the Thriller Libraries index and I also put in some time yesterday on the Frank Bellamy's Robin Hood book, trying to locate information on one of the reprints. The results actually came as something of a surprise: a while back I chastised (gently, mind) John Freeman for saying that the RH strip had never been reprinted in its original form. I was thinking of the Story Land appearance in 1985 which did just that. Well, yesterday I discovered that only eight episodes appeared before Story Land folded, so the book will truly be the first time the strip has been reprinted in full in its original form. I've just finished cleaning up the last of the odd little scans that I needed, so the book (subject to everyone's approval) is almost done.

News from elsewhere...

* 'Heavy trailer hits Beano factory' was the headline of the BBC's report (21 November) about a runaway trailer laden with steel beams which careered down a road from a construction site, hitting a car before crashing through the wall of D. C. Thomson's Guthrie Street printing works. Bricks and dust showered staff but nobody in the building, where various annuals were being printed, were hurt. The Daily Record (22 November) quotes Manager Norman Keir as saying, "The staff heard a rumble like thunder as bricks and masonry fell. One worker was only feet away but luckily everyone escaped injury." (links via Jeremy Briggs)

* Lew Stringer reviews the first issue of TV 21 & Joe 90 from 1969. I used to have this but my Mum gave all my copies away. *sniff*

* Contrary to previous reports it seems that Delcourt will be publishing a French-language edition of Alan Moore & Melinda Gebbie's The Lost Girls. (link via Journalista)

Sunday, November 25, 2007

Peter Haining (1940-2007)

Peter Haining, the writer and anthologist of over 200 books, died on Monday, November 19, 2007, aged 67. He was talking to friends only an hour before suffering a sudden heart attack.

Peter was a good friend and lived just over the "border" in Suffolk, which meant he was able to drive down occasionally and root around amongst the books I've gathered over the years. He was one of the few people I trusted to take books away -- you can see lots of examples of covers in Peter's The Classic Era of American Pulp Magazines and The Classic Era of Crime Fiction, for example. More recently he had been borrowing boxfuls of old Sixties paperbacks -- Digit, Badger, Pan, Corgi, etc. to help with various war-related books he had been writing.

Like me, Peter was a hoarder of old books. His office was filled with shelves full of books which I also had the chance to rummage through. Any collector will tell you that there's no greater pleasure. His tastes were eclectic: he even had books by William J. Elliott, a writer from the 1930s and 1940s unlikely to feature in anyone's collection (except mine). Some with dustjackets, which I promptly photocopied.

Our interests intersected quite a lot: since my own interests can be boiled down to "British pulp" -- cheap genre paperbacks, penny dreadfuls, children's story papers, comics -- Peter was, of course, part of that interest as he was a senior editor at New English Library during their (to me) most fascinating period and one of the instigators of the 1970s paperback boom. When I put together PBO, the newsletter of the British Association of Paperback Collectors, many years ago, Peter was my first port of call for an interview. I've extracted a chunk of that interview below.

In all the years I knew him I think we only disagreed once: he'd produced a book which tried to turn the fictional Sweeney Todd into a real historical case using fake newspaper reports and a fake Newgate Calendar entry; this created many problems when it came to sorting the wheat from the chaff about the true origins of the character (and he'd previously done -- with Bill Lofts -- a perfectly good proper history of the character's fictional origins). It's a very clever book but my least favourite amongst his output.

My favourites... well, there are plenty. Peter was a very good anthologist and I must have read dozens of them over the years; he wasn't a lazy anthologist and liked to dig out obscure stories wherever he could so even a collection on a familiar theme would have something new to most readers. I guess my real favourites were books like Mystery! and Terror! from the mid-1970s which were packed full of illustrations; he'd returned to producing similar books a few years ago which I was pleased to have had a small part in. Over the years Peter also produced biographies, joke books and even a handful of novels (although Terry Harknett had a big hand in those as ghost writer).

My sympathies go out to Peter's family and I'll leave you with this interview with Peter which was conducted in 1995; as we open I'd just asked Peter about how he had come to join New English Library...

I honestly can’t remember the actual date I joined New English Library [the owners of Four Square], but I was working on a trade magazine called The National Newsagent. I was the features editor and did a weekly column called ‘Paperback News’, which put me in contact with all the various paperback publishers in London including New English Library. I tried to not make it your average puff for the paperbacks that were being produced—occasionally the ones that I liked I would hype up and the others that I couldn’t see the point in publishing I would say so. Quite out of the blue I got a call from Gareth Powell who was the new, or comparatively new, Managing Director of New English Library, inviting me out to lunch. He had quite a reputation did Gareth, and I remember one of my colleagues saying, ‘Be careful, you never know what he’s going to try to trick you into or ask you to do.’

To cut a long story short, he said, ‘We’ve got a vacancy for an editor, would you like to join us?’ Well, that’s a natural step from being a journalist, to go into publishing, so I went. My immediate superior was a guy called Rodney Blumer, who nowadays is the editor of Ballet Today where he uses the name Rodney Milnes. Rodney was a wonderful, high-brow, literary publisher—loved the classics. But Gareth being a working class lad made good wanted to publish the stuff that people wanted to read which, I guess in a way, was probably why he brought in a young journalist like me to come in.

The early books I did reflected my own interests I suppose. I did the horror anthologies in my own time and didn’t get paid. At that time, there was only Clarence Paget at Pan doing horror - the Herbert Van Thal anthologies. Horror was regarded with considerable suspicion by the trade and I think Van Thal in this country and August Derleth in the States were about the only two people doing it. But I rather liked horror stories and got in touch with people like Ray Bradbury and Robert Bloch and their contemporary writers and basically started putting these horror anthologies together at N.E.L.. And they did quite well, not surprisingly. I was working on salary for N.E.L. so there were no royalties involved. It was just part of the job I was doing, but I suppose it helped to reintroduce the horror anthology outside of Van Thal’s anthologies, which I was never a great admirer of anyway. But that’s another story.

Very, very rapidly, New English Library got itself into several major book contracts with the likes of Harold Robbins, John O’Hara, Irving Stone, Irving Wallace and whathaveyou. It meant that a large amount of N.E.L.’s annual budget was taken up paying for these large-name authors and we had to do whatever publishing we could with the little money that was left, picking on whatever subjects we thought might be commercial.

Rodney subsequently moved on. I’m not sure what he wanted to do, but he left New English Library, and I took over as Senior Editor - the top position at that time - and proceeded to go initially into film tie-ins and books about the pop business; I think we did the first book about The Beatles, by a Fleet Street journalist called Charles Hamblett [Here Are the Beatles, 1964], and we turned this thing around in about three weeks. I wrote a couple of pieces for it and we got lots of photographs together. It was certainly one of the first books about the Beatles.

I suppose our main breakthrough into genre publishing came with a film tie-in called A Town Called Bastard [by William Terry, 1971]. We wanted to do film tie-ins and this was available to us, and we needed a writer. Terry Harknett had been a colleague of mine on the National Newsagent and I knew he’d written thrillers before. He was quick, he was competent, and I just rang him up and asked him if he wanted to do it. He delivered it in a matter of weeks so we could get it out to coincide with the film. It was astonishingly successful.

We used to sit down at editorial meeting to brainstorm through various ideas, and there was a lovely guy called Bert Grey who was production manager who’d sit toking away at cigarettes during meetings. He didn’t usually say much, but when he did it was usually quite relevant; and Bert said, ‘We’ve done quite well with A Town Called Bastard, why don’t we create a series?’

We thought it was a great idea. My input, such as it was, was to say that I wanted the character to look like Lee Van Cleef who was my great hero of western films. We asked Terry to do it, and the whole Edge series evolved from that. It was the success of Edge that then put us into other areas: we did the Slaver novels, Romances, wherever there seemed to be a market.

I suppose the other significant breakthrough was with the Skinhead books. There was another editor in the company called Chris Moroney who’d actually worked in the Sales Department; I think he’d always wanted to work in the editorial department and finally we had an opening and he was sitting around one day and literally just said ‘Why don’t we do a book on skinheads? There’s a lot of interest.’ Jim Moffatt, who’d been doing other books for us and had become one of this sort of team of people who churned books out on whatever subject we wanted, was the only one who was actually available who could do it quickly at the time and, of course, wrote what became the very successful Skinhead. The thing that amuses me about that whole thing is that Jim probably never got nearer to a skinhead than the opposite side of a bar. I certainly don’t think he spent a lot of time talking to them, although as you know, subsequently a lot of people said those books really understood skinheads and suadeheads. I think it was Jim’s instincts as a writer that really carried him through.

And that’s really how it came about: because we had these heavy financial commitments to all these big name authors who, frankly, I don’t think we sold anywhere near the number of copies that were anticipated. But New English Library was owned by New American Library who wanted us to be big name publishers. But we had all this middle of the road stuff which none of the hardcover publishers were producing, so we generated our own.

What happened to Chris Moroney?

I honestly don’t know. I have a feeling he left and became a librarian or something like that. I can see his face and I can remember him being a very tall, quiet guy who wanted to get into the editorial department, and that was his main contribution as I remember it, and I’m pretty sure he became a librarian. Getting away from the chains and the skinheads.

My number two there was Laurence James who was very much into science fiction and science fantasy, and we published some good SF which was very much down to Laurence. He came to us from Leslie Frewin, Frewin having been a publicist who set up his own company which is where I think Laurence and I first met. I bought the odd book or two from him for N.E.L. and then invited him to join because he had the same sort of feel for the quickie paperbacks which were, in fact, the saving grace for N.E.L. in those years.

The names of the others escape me. There were a couple of girls who came in, and one...Felicity Smart worked with us for a while and then moved away and briefly had her own imprint - Harwood Smart I think it was called - which was into hardcovers, but I don’t think it lasted very long. There are probably other people that I should remember but I can’t. I mean, I quit N.E.L. in around 1971, so we’re talking about a long time ago.

That was when all the genre publishing seemed to be picking up.

Yeah. The thing that I liked about New English Library, and I don’t think it was much of a secret, was that when Gareth Powell took over it was owned by New American Library who, if it could have been sold in London, probably would have done so. But we started to pick things up with this kind of instant publishing which nobody else was really doing on quite the same scale and nowhere near as ashamedly. Gareth Powell was subsequently replaced by Christopher Shaw and after Christopher came Bob Tanner who’s now a literary agent in London; I think Bob was responsible for some of the most subsequent most significant development.

The nice thing from my point of view is that we got a reasonable amount of success doing paperbacks, and then started a hardcover list, went into part-works, published our own magazines about people like Johnny Cash - again, very current things that we could get quick magazines out of, we did a science fiction poster magazine. It was always quick on the feet stuff that we could see a market for. We developed a small company into a company that had major divisions: there was the hardcover division, the paperback division, the magazine division producing everything from slimming to science fiction and the partworks, mainly done by outside consultants on railways and cars and things like that. So we generated a lot of product which could be recycled as hardcover books and paperbacks and so on.

We also had a distribution company as well. We handled Penthouse and Forum in their early days—so in a very short space of time from being a paperback firm, we became quite a major imprint. For a while we also took on the running of the London office of Bernard Geis. Geis was an American publisher who developed the genre of novels like The King [by Morton Cooper], which were all novels that were based on real characters. You didn’t know it was about Sinatra, but it was so obvious. He developed that whole genre, which was very successful. So I doubled up as Publishing Director of Bernard Geis in my latter years at N.E.L.. But that was an idea that only worked for a while, or maybe there were no more people’s lives that you could write about in that particular way. It sort of faded away.

From my own point of view, in the early seventies I was getting asked to do more and more things myself. Also I was pumping ideas into a company and people were doing them and I just thought, I would have done it a different way, so there’s only one decision really: go on doing that or go and do it yourself? I had certain family problems as well: my second son is mentally handicapped which was putting increasing demands on my wife, and I was never there. I also think it is true to say that the nature of the job as Publishing Director took me further and further away from what I wanted to do, which was create books. I travelled to America and produced five year plans, and all this kind of nonsense, which took me away from what I wanted to do. So in ‘71, I decided ‘Enough’s enough,’ and pulled out. And here we are, twenty-five years later and I’m still producing books.

I’m simplifying it in a way I guess, but that was the pattern of it. Those years at N.E.L. were marvellous years and I’ve retained quite a number of friendships from those years. The thing that N.E.L. did, or the American owners of N.E.L. did, was to break certain of the publishing traditions. When I first came into the publishing industry, certainly as far as the hardcover companies were concerned, you had to have gone to University to get in. They let you open the mail until you were twenty-five; from twenty-five to thirty-five they might let you read manuscripts; from thirty-five they might let you start making decisions; at forty-five they might allow you to commission books; and if you were any good, by your mid-fifties they might just make you a director, so you saw out the twilight of your career as a comfortable director lunching at the Garrick.

The Americans came in and said, ‘If you’re good enough, age has got nothing to do with it. If you’ll make a brilliant Publishing Director at 18 we’ll give it to you. But, if somebody else comes along who’s quicker and brighter and smarter than you, watch out for your back.’ It meant that it was a short life, but it was a good life, and for us, as young guys in our early twenties, being able to travel all over the world and buy books was very special and very exciting. I thoroughly enjoyed it, learned a great deal, and it set me up for a subsequent career as a writer, editor, anthologist, consultant, and whatever.

It not only gives you a good grounding it how to do what you do, but you know exactly what people want.

Sure, and in a way the principals are ones that I’ve carried on over into my own work. Doing thematic anthologies, as you know I don’t believe in just throwing twelve stories together and calling it a collection, there’s got to be a theme, there’s got to be development, the stories have got to work together, and I think they should have introductions and background details and I believe very passionately an anthology should represent an editors temperament, idiosyncrasies, and so on.

I’m appalled by this new development that I see in America, which I can only call editing by committee, these anthologies which have three or four editors names on. To me that’s a nonsense. To me, a good anthology should have the same impact on a reader that a good novel does, a sense of satisfaction that, although you’re reading pieces by different writers, you still come to the end of it with that sense of satisfaction that you would from a good novel.

There has to be some sort of conclusion to be drawn.

Exactly. You feel that you know more about the subject not only because of the stories but by the way they’ve been put together and the introductions that give an added dimension and depth to them. That’s always been my philosophy.

It shows. I was looking at the Frankenstein Omnibus last night and you can follow the development of the theme all the way through from the stories written by Shelley and her contemporaries, through the films, radio and play adaptations, to modern interpretations...

Well, I like doing that. The main work at the moment is for Orion publishers who have given me the scope that I now want, because having been anthologising for twenty-five years and being very familiar with the material you can do a subject like that justice if they give you 500 pages. In 192 pages it’s really no good. You can’t do it. But they will allow me to do them that length and I think their faith has been justified because the books have done really quite well. It’s nice to have the opportunity.

I was having, I suppose you’d call it a mild argument with Mike Ashley who was taking me to task for using the same story several times. I said, Over twenty-five years what do you expect. I would consider it arrogant to consider that everybody who picks up one of my anthologies is as knowledgeable about horror as I am and knows that Bram Stoker wrote a story called ‘‘Dracula’s Guest’’ that was taken from the original book, I don’t think you can assume that. And every ten years you get a new generation come along to whom you have to, if you like, spell it out all over again. And I’m fortunate enough to have been in the business long enough to do that. But I don’t assume that I should ignore everything I’ve done before and say I can’t possibly use that because I’ve used it before. If it’s an important part of the structure of an anthology then I’ll use it again and make no bones about it.

If you’re developing a theme through a book, it’s impossible to take out half the stories that make up its structure.

There are certain times that I have done, when a story is incredibly easy to get hold of, I’ll say ‘A similar story is...and the reader is recommended to consult...’ But not if it’s central to the theme that I’m developing. I wouldn’t drop something because I’ve used it before, not if it’s important to the structure of the anthology. A good anthology should have a structure in the same way that a good novel or a non-fiction book does. But I think that’s very important.

I noticed that you used some quite obscure stuff like that Michael Hervey story.

Sure, sure. I think that’s one of the nice things that I can do now because my name has a certain ring in the trade, I suppose. I can actually pick out something like that. They may not be terribly good - not literary masterpieces - but they work well in the context of allowing you to demonstrate another element of publishing that was going on. In other words, the mushroom publishers - you can pop that in. It’s something that went on. Obviously if I was restricted to 200 pages there’s no way I could use them, but if you’ve got that number you can and it’ll give the reader another flavour of another area of publishing that was going on at this time. I’m really glad to have the opportunity to do that. And I think they work, and it’s nice when people like you notice and comment on things like that.

You can’t get everybody in, and you are going to miss certain elements, but it’s amazing how it’ll spark off people. Some of the nicest letters I get from people are on just that sort of thing: ‘I always liked the stories by such and such and I’ve never seen one included in an anthology before. Do you know of any more?’ That’s a fairly regular occurrence. And then you feel that justifies the effort.

Obituaries: The Independent (28 November), The Guardian (5 December).

(* Images are just a few of my favourites from Peter's incredible output of books.)

Saturday, November 24, 2007

Stephen K Amos

... or Stephen "the K" Amos as he was introduced for the second half of his act which was in essence his "More of Me" show from the Edinburgh Fringe. Amos is very much at ease with letting his audience know exactly what's going on in his show.

Indeed, he's very much at ease full stop. After a brief warm up slot from a guy called Graham who was quick-witted and got the evening off to a good start. Amos arrived on stage with the audience ready and willing to laugh. Much of the first half is interaction with the audience, or at least a few hand-picked members of the audience (Dean from Braintree, a guy about to get married and a 13-year-old boy whose parents had bought him along to the gig, probably because it was cheaper than a baby-sitter) who then became part of the act almost throughout.

In truth, it wasn't a sell-out gig and too bloody cold for stays to come wandering into the Arts Centre on the off chance that tickets were still available but Amos knew some of the audience who had travelled to see him (one guy seemed to be a "friend" from MySpace who was taking clips on his phone, which will presumably turn up on MySpace some time). And he's worth travelling to see for the seeming effortlessness and warmth of his act. It was a different kind of crowd -- more attuned to stand-up rather than the usual Radio 4 crowd we get.

Maybe the smaller numbers made it more intimate, which works perfectly for the show's second half in which he talks about his upbringing, racism, homophobia, making the TV show Batty Man (which is up for a Bafta) and appearing on EastEnders with Rudolph Walker, the actor from Love Thy Neighbour, the show which taught all young white kids that calling people "nig-nog" was acceptable. (Not at our local Primary School, I might add, as the nearest to an ethnic minority we had were the kids from Little Waltham.)

The whole thing ended on a sing song which rounded off a fine evening.

Thursday, November 22, 2007

Clarks Commandos - part 1

Proof that advertising works -- as a youngster I desperately wanted a pair of Clarks Commandos shoes and badgered my Mum into buying a pair.

I've just stumbled across the adverts once again. As far as I can tell, they began running in January 1970 and the first series ran to nine episodes which I will serialise over the next couple of days. I don't recall the ammunition box or Commando's handbook; I remember a tiny compass that was set into the shoe. Maybe I'm misremembering. Maybe those were Wayfinder shoes. I'm sure someone will tell me.

Drawn by Tom Kerr. More tomorrow!

Clarks Commandos - part 2

More from Kit and the Clarks Commandos.

Drawn by Tom Kerr. The story concludes tomorrow.

Clarks Commandos - part 3

The final part of Kit Carter's adventures with the Clarks Commandos.

Drawn by Tom Kerr. Another serial coming soon!

Wednesday, November 21, 2007

Comic Cuts

It's a slow news day from me. Not much to report. The latest (ninth) Trigan Empire: The Collection is at the printers and should be out in a couple of weeks; we're then looking at March for the publication of the Karl the Viking Box Set and the next Trigan Empire: The Collection, the tenth to be published but the fifth chronologically.

I've explained this before but it's worth repeating: when we set out to reprint all the Don Lawrence Trigan Empire stories, the decision was made to print the books depending on how much of the original artwork was available. The hope was that, as the series progressed and more people became aware of it, people who owned original artwork would come forward and allow Rob van Bavel (the publisher) to scan it so that each volume was the best we could possibly manage.

Thus, the first volume out was book 10, the second book 9, the third book 4, etc. as they were the most complete titles as far as original artwork went. The good news is that it worked: many additional pages have come to light which we have used in subsequent volumes and we are still searching even as work commences on the last few volumes.

There has been quite a gap between volumes this year due to the publication of an all-new Storm series and collection and the huge amount of time it has taken to clean up the artwork for the upcoming Karl the Viking volumes. Although I've worked on it in fits and starts, I estimate I'm about 1,000 words shy of completing the introductory material to the latter, which will be in a 4-book box set. The story text for the Trigan book was typed up months ago but I've still got to write the story intros. Should keep me busy over Christmas.

After that we'll be putting out Storm: The Collection volumes 8 and 9 as a pair; these will cover The Chronicles of Pandarve stories "The Living Planet", "Vandaahl the Destroyer" (vol. 8), "The Twisted World" and "The Robots of Far Sied" (vol. 9) which originally appeared in 1985-89 in Holland; three of them have never appeared in English (the first was translated for Heavy Metal many years ago).

So, my schedule of books for 2008 is starting to shape up and looks something like this (dates, as always, are likely to change):

Frank Bellamy's Robin Hood: The Complete Adventures. Book Palace, 2008.
Best of Valentine Story Picture Library. Carlton, Feb 2008. (introduction)
Trigan Empire: The Collection -- The Red Death. DLC, Mar 2008.
Karl the Viking: Box Set. DLC, Mar 2008.
Storm: The Collection vol. 8. DLC, Sum 2008.
Storm: The Collection vol. 9. DLC, Sum 2008.
The Fleetway Libraries vol. 2: The Thriller Libraries. Book Palace, 2008.
Best of War Picture Library vol. 2. Carlton, Sep 2008.
Best of Battle Picture Library vol. 2. Carlton, Sep 2008.

I shall see if I can add a few more to that over the next few months. I have a couple of projects up my sleeve that I might have time to work on early next year. We shall see.

Here's a little round-up of news from elsewhere...

* More newspaper coverage of the new Dan Dare. "Five decades on, Dan Dare blasts back to save the world" says Bill Mouland of the Daily Mail (17 November). Meanwhile, Ben Hoyle of The Times (17 November) claims "Dan Dare and the Mekon blast back into the bestseller stakes" as he discusses the recent spate of retro books, including Eagle Annual: The Best of the 1950s Comic.

* Jess Nevins has extensively annotated Alan Moore & Kev O'Neill's League of Extraordinary Gentlemen: The Black Dossier for Comic Book Resources (15 November).

* Talking of Alan Moore, he has just appeared in an episode of The Simpsons alongside Art Spiegelman and Daniel Clowes which quickly found its way to YouTube -- and almost as quickly found itself off YouTube again due to Twentieth Century Fox. The above screen capture comes from Journalista. Also from Journalista comes a link to an interview with Chris Staros by Tom Spurgeon (19 November) about French publisher Delcourt's recent announcement that they will not be publishing a French-language translation of Lost Girls.

* Talking of Kev O'Neill, he's interviewed by Emmett Furey at Comic Book Resources (20 November). There are photos of a recent signing by Kev during his tour of the USA to be found here (The Savage Critics, 20 November).

Tuesday, November 20, 2007

More Adventures of the Bovril Brigade

About a month ago I ran two episodes of The Adventures of the Bovril Brigade, an advertising strip that ran in various papers in 1962 drawn by Frank Hampson. At the time I linked to The Lost Characters of Frank Hampson website which mentioned that other Bovril half-pages had been drawn by Richard Jennings. Well, I think I've tracked them down. The following four Bovril adverts ran in Children's Newspaper in 1961. For completists the four adverts appeared September 23, 1961 (reprinted January 27, 1962), October 14, 1961 (reprinted February 17, 1962), November 25, 1961 (reprinted March 10, 1962) and December 9, 1961 (reprinted March 31, 1962).

The artist Richard Jennings (1921-1997) is best known for his work in Eagle, where he drew "Storm Nelson", and TV Century 21, where he drew "The Daleks". Another excellent but forgotten artist.

Monday, November 19, 2007

Num Num and His Funny Family

Because you demanded it...

Seriously, people have been asking me about this strip for past year. It all started back in January when Denise Fisher wrote: "My friend and I both remember a cartoon character called drag-a-chair cat from the mid- to late-Sixties. He was probably a character in a strip that was named after someone else. Can you enlighten us both please?"

Well, I spent a couple of days scratching my head wondering what on earth a drag-a-chair cat was. Then I had a brainstorm. When Look and Learn purchased a group of nursery titles from IPC, one of the strips we bought was called "Num Num and His Funny Family". I dug out a volume of Playhour and, lo and behold, there was Drag-a-Chair Puss-Cat.

Mystery solved... and when I asked Denise whether she would mind me using her query for a column she replied: "I don't mind you using my name and I don't even mind people knowing that I've remembered Drag-a-Chair all my life because I've always been just a little bit too short to reach the things I needed to. When I was a chemical lab. technician I had to drag a wooden box around with me so that I could reach the fume cupboards. Now I am a library assistant, and they gave us all new chairs last year, but I couldn't jack mine up high enough to reach the keyboards, so I kept an old one. This is labelled "Denise's chair" and it gets dragged around to whatever computer I am working at."

A month or two later I received another query: "I'm desperately trying to trace a cartoon strip that used to be around in the early '60s called, I think, The Puss Cats. It was a family of cats (seven, I think) and they all had something with them. The one I remember is drag a chair puss cat."

And there have been others. So I mentioned Num Num in the piece I wrote last July about Gordon Hutchings and from the comments you'll see that Drag-a-Chair Puss-Cat is the one that everybody remembers. (And those are just the comments I've had to Bear Alley, not the ones I've had directly.)

So, especially for fans of Num Num, here's another episode of the strip.

Num Num first appeared in TV Toyland in May 1966 before appearing in Playhour in January 1967, first featuring in a text story to introduce people to the strip that was launched in February when TV Toyland was merged with Playhour. Gordon Hutchings was the strip's original artist and, later, the family adventures were drawn by his younger brother, Tony Hutchings and coloured by Colin Wyatt.

Num Num and his family deserve their own TV show! Seriously, there seem to be an awful lot of people of a certain age who remember them... of an age when they'd have kids of a certain age. A TV producer's dream -- a show that parents would be actively encouraging their kids to watch!

(* Num Num and His Funny Family © Look and Learn Magazine Ltd. The two strips above are from Playhour, 9 September 1967 and 30 September 1967 respectively.)

Sunday, November 18, 2007

Merchandise of the "New" Eagle

(* Please give a big Bear Alley welcome to Richard Sheaf who has been a long-time supporter with comments on and off the page but makes his feature debut here with a piece all about the merchandise associated with the new Eagle of the 1980s...)

New Eagle Merchandise

Going to a toy fair anywhere in the country you are quite likely to come across a variety of items of merchandise associated with (mainly) Dan Dare and Riders of the Range, all produced in the heyday of the original Eagle. A readership of nearly a million in the '50s ensured a large ready made mass market. A market of quite a lot less than that meant that the '80s new Eagle produced very little merchandise. Some was produced though and this is a look at what you could hope to collect. 'Collect' is a rather loose term here as the production runs on a number of these items must surely have been very low so a complete collection seems virtually impossible.

The earliest item appears in issue 3 as an 'Eagle wrist-copter', this was produced in association with Peter Pan toys, who would run a number of competitions in the new Eagle, but this was the only item that we definitely know was produced specifically in conjunction with new Eagle. The copter packaging proudly states "Limited edition of 400 exclusive to Eagle readers!". A "fantastic whip cord launcher" would have ensured hours of fun with this item. A great item that is hard to track down today, especially in the original packaging.

The most easily available item of new Eagle merchandise is probably the single 'Dan Dare' by Loose Talk. This rather unusual attack on the charts didn’t seem to trouble Top of the Pops despite several weeks of plugging in new Eagle (17/07/82 - 07/08/82), in fact giving the single away seemed to be the order of the day. The record was produced on Jet records (# 7025) and was produced as a regular single and as a promotional copy. Ray (guitar), Steve (bass), Alfredo (drums) & Amanda (vocals) also did a signing in Birmingham at a comics store so it is even possible to obtain signed copies of the record. The cover art by an unidentified artist is still probably the best thing about this item.

The slightly relentless Eagle marketing carried on in August (28/08/82) with the opportunity to acquire an 'Eagle Project Thrust' t-shirt to help support one of Richard Noble's attempts on the land speed record. As the ad said "What a shirt, and what a price - just £2.95". With a great big Eagle logo on the (small!) t-shirt this is a great item to acquire.

November (06/11/82) saw the 'Eagle Fiz Gig' launched for road safety reasons "This Winter - get lit up with the FIZ GIG - in a design to exclusive to EAGLE readers" said the blurb. Essentially a small battery powered light for attaching to your blazer to avoid being mown down by juggernauts on the way home from school. Available in red, yellow, blue and white.

Issue 100 (18/02/84) saw the next opportunity for low production run Eagle goodies to be marketed. One hundred special Eagle t-shirts were produced along with one hundred Eagle pens. The t-shirts look great, the pens less so. The t-shirt design is a (red and white coloured) copy of the front of Eagle #100, itself a collage featuring Dan Dare, Doomlord, One Eyed Jack and the Mekon. A great item.

A word briefly about Superdad, from 06/04/85 the Superdad prize was upgraded from as much FabergĂ© aftershave as you could drink to the slightly classier and more collectable engraved glass goblet (later changed to a silver plated tankard), a Superdad t-shirt and the original drawing. You’d been getting the drawing for a while but the rest was new. Glamorous Teacher was still heavy on the flowers & chocolate side of things, but there also there was the original drawing. Cheesy Superdad/Glamorous Teacher caricatures must be harder to identify on ebay than tankards and t-shirts so these count as pretty obscure items.

Issue #192 (23/11/85) saw the Fiz Gig re-advertised. Quite why there was a break of three years between adverts isn’t immediately obvious. I suspect that Fiz Gigs aren’t any easier to come by as a result of being advertised twice.

From the ridiculous to the sublime then as we move onto some of the most high quality new Eagle merchandise produced. Yes, I’m talking about the Dan Dare jogging suit. First advertised in issue #239 (18/10/86) this fine item was available in grey, pink (!) or blue and featured a Dan Dare design by Carlos Cruz. The ad was repeated in #241, #243 and #245. The ad alternated with the one for the Mekon jogging suit, also available in grey, pink or blue, this fine item of apparel was advertised in issue #240, #242 and #244. The finest offering can be found in issue #243 where in addition to the DD jogging suit ad there was also an ad for pyjamas, dressing gown, t-shirt and a sweatshirt all featuring "an exclusive DD design". I rate this slightly easier to obtain than some of the items above.

The last items to be advertised in the new Eagle were a couple of slightly different t-shirts, both of which feature the new Eagle logo on. The first t-shirt has a classic DD head on a large square blue background with the words 'Dan Dare' above the head and 'Pilot of the Future' beneath the chin. This features a large Eagle logo on the back of the t-shirt with the ascending 'Eagle' on it. One hundred of these were available as the prize in a competition in autumn '89 and were subsequently available (09/12/89) to buy for £4.99. All of this was to tie in with Keith Watson making his return to illustrating DD.

The second t-shirt features the same classic DD head in the centre of the t-shirt with the words "Dan Dare Pilot of the Future" above the head and "1950-1990 40th anniversary" underneath the head. The new Eagle logo with the descending 'Eagle' is on the left hand sleeve (indicating that it was produced after 28/04/90). I think I got my one of these at the Eagle exhibition in Southport in 1990 and it may not have been available through Eagle at all.

When the 40th anniversary of the original Eagle occurred in 1990 (and the original Dan Dare was back in new Eagle being drawn by Keith Watson) there were a number of boys clothing items produced to coincide with the hoop-la surrounding the event. Some of these featured the new Eagle logo (so are included here for completeness only), these included a pair of boxer shorts, a pair of pants and a jumper

Less than twenty different items in total then. The amount and range of items is much less than that of Fleetway stablemate 2000AD. The contrast between the number of items associated with each title’s iconic, leading characters, DD and Judge Dredd, is even more surprising. Dan seems to have been curiously under-merchandised by new Eagle in a way that his '50s predecessor would have found hard to understand.

Saturday, November 17, 2007

Mitch Benn & the Distractions

If there's any pattern emerging from the gig reviews I put up it's that I listen to a lot of comedy on Radio 4. I'm not sure when this started. As far back as I can remember I've always found music relaxing to have on in the background; I like a real mixture depending on my mood and that can mean classical music or a movie soundtrack (anything by Jerry Goldsmith is great to work to) one day and anything from The Enid to Nine Inch Nails the next. It's aural wallpaper. I work alone in my little office for the better part of 6 days a week, 51 weeks a year (Saturday is shopping day and Christmas is for the family) -- believe me when I say I've heard my collection of CD's so often I can listen to them without actually realising they're on.

I'll listen to the radio when I'm digging around the internet. I try to keep up with the news and Mel keeps me informed of some of the more ridiculous things happening in the world by e-mail (stories like that of Sgt Podge, the cat, or the guy who was recently prosecuted for simulating sex with a bike). I think I like listening to shows that satirise the news because I get the jokes.

All of this preamble is to let you know I have broad tastes in music and I'm reasonably up to speed on what's going on. It's also my way of figuring out why I like Mitch Benn so much.

The thing is, he really knows music. When he writes a song about Jim Morrison he's got the sound of The Doors down pat... Coldplay... well, you've all heard 'Everyone Sounds Like Coldplay Now' surely? (If you've not, here it is at YouTube)... The Smiths... Duran Duran... Andrew Lloyd Webber musicals... boy bands... he's deconstructed the music, written a set of lyrics and put together an actual proper song "in the style of..." that could well be one of their songs. The musical number, "West End Musical", is like a maths papers where you're asked to show your workings -- the lyrics show you precisely how the songs are constructed.

Since he writes topical songs each week for various shows -- The Now Show, It's Been A Bad Week, Bremner, Bird & Fortune -- you would expect them to have a time limit, after which the humour wears out like some kind of radioactive decay. Not so. The news stories they were based on may have been wrapped around your fish and chips six months ago but the songs are still as fresh as the day they were headlines and that, my friends, is because they are properly constructed songs rather than gags. Funny as all hell but, first and foremost, songs. Musical comedy where as much care has gone into the music as the comedy.

He's also as sharp as a tack when it comes to lyrics and they're not necessarily all parodies of bands or musical styles. I remember thinking that "Let's Have A Minute's Noise For John" was the most poignant and sincere tribute anyone managed to produce at the time of John Peel's demise. And he's quick, knocking out a song about, yes, Sgt Podge during the interval.

Mitch was backed by The Distractions -- this time Kirsty Newton (above) on bass & keyboards and Milo McCabe on drums. Although everything above makes it sound like Mitch is playing a solo hand in the show's success, that's not the case: the band are a vital component to the show and deserve plenty of praise for their part in making this one of the best night's entertainment we've had in some time.

I am shamelessly a fan.

Further info: Mitch Benn website.
Albums: Radio Face (2002), Too Late to Cancel (2004), Crimes Against Music (2005), Official Bootleg (2007, on sale at gigs only).

Friday, November 16, 2007

Josep Marti

(I'm updating and reposting this because there was some confusion in the original posting between two artists with similar names. Thanks to Jose Manuel Ruiz that confusion is now cleared up; I've decided to revise rather than just add a note so that it doesn't lead to any further confusion in the future.) I've been in correspondence with various European collectors regarding an error that crept into The War Libraries volume. It concerns a Spanish artist called Josep Marti and another called Jorge Macabich. And a third named Joan Marti.

Back in the early 1990s, I had a number of issues of Battle Picture Library and War Picture Library credited to Joan Marti but we (David Roach and I) subsequently changed the i.d. for these issues to Macabich. There were various reasons, not the least of which was that Marti's English agent told us that he had not drawn for the UK. There was also evidence from payments and elsewhere. Hans van Maar, who alerted me to the mistake, also believed that the work credited was by Macabich, and recently told me:

"When I was visiting IPC in 1985, I asked Brian [Smith, the assistant editor] for the names of the artists that, for me, stood out in the series. From another office he came back with an administration book with all the serial numbers, names of artists, titles of books and their reprints handwritten in it. I handed him the comics with the artists I admired and he wrote, referring to his files, the name in the original book. In doing so I have comics with the names of Zeccarra, Moliterni, D'Antonio and Macabich written in it. I remember Brian told me the fact that Macabich, unlike the others, was Spanish."

Hans sent me a scan of the book with Brian's handwritten note (above), which was written in a copy of Alarm! Alarm! (BPL 239).

All the evidence points away from the original credit... but we're now convinced that the evidence is wrong and the artist was indeed called Marti. I've now seen pages signed by J. Marti elsewhere (Pearson's Western Library) and we've tracked him down in various other papers, including a stint drawing Roy of the Rovers in Tiger.

However, just to add a twist to the story, the original credit was wrong. The J. Marti who drew for the war comics was Josep Marti i Capell and Jose has sent me some additional scans from the Spanish comic Casco de Acero of his work.

How could Macabich have been credited for Josep Marti's work? Well, Jorge Macabich was a Barcelona-based agent responsible for a great many pages of artwork for British comics, having hooked up with a former sub-editor at the Amalgamated Press, Barry Coker, to form Bardon [Barcelona-London] Art. So it is likely that the pages did come from Macabich and were credited to him in error.

The following are all credited to Macabich in the book and should be reassigned to Josep Marti:

BPL 87 Map of Treachery
BPL 89 No Higher Stakes
BPL 104 Face the Enemy
BPL 129 The Scorpion's Sting
BPL 204 Dingo Battalion
BPL 209 Kill All Commandos
BPL 239 Alarm! Alarm!
BPL 251 Vendetta
BPL 259 Flank Attack
WAS 12 Torpedo Run
WAS 27 Errand of Mercy
WAS 36 Colours Flying
WPL 138 Duffy's Kingdom
WPL 148 The Unexpected
WPL 273 Dangerous Contact
WPL 310 Burden of Guild
WPL 313 A Stubborn Streak
WPL 324 The Hated Breed
WPL 370 Sea Commando
WPL 382 War Drums

Just to confuse matters further, Macabich did contribute artwork to British comics in the 1950s.

And then there is Joan MartĂ­, who is a painter. Jose translated a little biographical sketch from a book called Memorias Ilustradas by Fernando Fernandez which tells us that Marti graduated from Barcelona's School of Fine Arts and used the pen-name Petronius when he signed his work. Via the agency Selecciones Illustrades he worked for British romance comics, painting colour portraits of well known singers (Tommy Steel, Paul Anka, Cliff Richard) and drawing romance stories for the likes of Valentine, Marilyn and Roxy. He also produced illustrations for women's magazines and covers for romantic novels. In the mid-1970s, he was able to leave comics behind and concentrate on painting -- I believe this is his official website. Elsewhere on the net we learn that he was born in 1936 and is nowadays considered "one of the most important contemporary figurative artists in Spain in the last twenty-five years".

This is why I love British comics as a hobby. We learn something new every day...

Comic Cuts

I'm fighting off the cold bug that's been going around so I'm planning to keep this brief. I gather that copies of Death or Glory, the best of Battle Picture Library I edited, have now started to arrive in shops. It was originally due out in September but a printing snafu meant the whole print run had to be redone. A thread at the Comics UK forum asks about the source material. Well, the books had to be reproduced from the comics themselves as any surviving artwork from the various library titles at IPC Magazines was destroyed in the mid-1980s. Ironically, it was considered a fire risk, so they burnt it all. Overall, I think the scanning and clean-up was pretty good compared to some I've seen over the past couple of years.

Talking of which... I've been working on the introduction to the upcoming Frank Bellamy's Robin Hood: The Complete Adventures -- that's the title we've settled on -- and have spent a couple of days tracing the history of Robin Hood, the origins of the comic strip (which, although uncredited, was actually based on a book) and a look at the bowdlerised reprint that appeared ten years later. Hopefully I'll have it finished over the weekend and we can start getting the finished book together. Because it's mostly strip material, we should be able to turn it around a little quicker than the last book so it might be out as early as February.

Some bits of news from around the web...

* Alan Moore has been on the interview circuit regarding the newly released League of Extraordinary Gentlemen: The Black Dossier. First up: Rich Johnston reports on how the book is only being distributed in the USA and questions the veracity of DC Comics' statement that the book must not be distributed in the UK due to copyright problems. Then it's over to Alan Moore himself: at Comic Book Resources (Inside 'The Black Dossier' by Adi Tantimedh, 14 November) and a two-parter -- part 1, part 2 -- at Mania Comics (Opening the Black Dossier by Kurt Amacker, 7 November and 14 November).

* Steve Flanagan of Gad, Sir! Comics! has a lengthy piece on charity appearances of Doctor Who (celebrating tonight's "Time Crash", a 7-minute Doctor Who episode which is to appear as part of Children in Need telethon). Steve offers an interesting roll-call of contributors to the 1993 Comic Relief Comic, almost an A to Z of Britain's brightest talents of the time.

* Mark of the Badlibrarianship blog has received a message from Alan Martin which reveals that he and artist Rufus Dayglo have signed a deal with Rebellion to produce a monthly 8-page Tank Girl strip for the Judge Dredd Megazine, starting next July. Martin also mentions further TG projects in the pipeline, including Carioca, a 6-part mini-series from Titan drawn by Mike McMahon, The Royal Escape, a 4-part mini-series from IDW drawn by Ashley Wood and Armadillo!, a novel from Titan with a new Jamie Hewlett cover. Expect more projects to be announced next year as Tank Girl celebrates her 20th birthday. (link via Forbidden Planet International blog)

Thursday, November 15, 2007

Rip Solar

(* Here's another feature from the prolific pen of Jeremy Briggs as he investigates...)

RIP SOLAR : Not Just Ranger’s Inter-Planetary Investigator

Ranger was one of Look and Learn’s siblings. Launched in September 1965 it had a larger number of comic strips than its older brother, the best known being "The Rise And Fall Of The Trigan Empire". After forty issues Ranger was amalgamated into Look and Learn taking Trigan Empire and several other comic strips with it, including "Space Cadet" painted in colour by Geoff Campion.

Yet "Space Cadet", featuring the character of Jason January, was not Campion’s only Ranger strip. From 19 February to 30 April 1966, Ranger also ran a two page black and white science fiction strip illustrated by Campion entitled "Rip Solar, Inter-Planetary Investigator". It told the story of Major Solar of Space Control and his assistant, Quartermaster Burke, as they battled the climatic damage wrought on Earth by the Shining Planet. Yet any Ranger readers who had read Lion comic six years earlier may have found the story hauntingly familiar. In June 1960, "Captain Condor and the Planet of Destruction" told the story of Captain Condor of Space Patrol and his assistant, Quartermaster Burke, as they also battled the climatic damage wrought on Earth by the Shining Planet.

Captain Condor was Lion’s spaceman character. Created by Frank S Pepper as a rival to Eagle’s Dan Dare, Condor had been appearing in Lion from its first issue dated 23 February 1952. Initially illustrated by Ron Forbes, his art chores passed through the hands of a number of different artists over the years but for the story entitled "The Planet Of Destruction" beginning in the issue of Lion dated 11 June 1960, Geoff Campion was his artist. The story ran for fifteen weeks until the issue dated 17 September 1960 and was to be the last Condor story that Geoff Campion illustrated.

Ranger’s Rip Solar version began at part 2 of the of the original Lion story, and remarkably would skip the fifth original episode and then combine parts 12 & 13 from four pages down to two as well as parts 14 & 15, also reduced from a total of four pages down to two. So the fifteen episode Lion story became an eleven episode Ranger story. Also changed was the lettering. Ranger as a magazine used typed lettering on its strips and therefore the original Lion hand written text boxes and speech bubbles had to be changed. Since the type font was justified, it required a straight line down both the left and right hand sides of the speech and this caused the new bubbles to often be larger than the originals and so cover more of the original art.

While it may seem unusual now, it was not the only time that such renaming and reprinting had taken place in British comics titles over the years. Perhaps the biggest identity crisis happened to Super Detective Library’s Rick Random who became Nick Martin in the Valiant Picture Library reprints of his stories and then changed his name once again to the rather more outlandish Dair Avalon when the same stories were reprinted in the Space Picture Library Holiday Specials.

Perhaps this renaming of characters is what Rip Solar should have really have been investigating.

(* Rip Solar images from Lion, 18 June 1960, and Ranger, 19 February 1966 © IPC Media.)


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