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Monday, January 14, 2008

Brown Watson Annuals

(* I hope you'll give a big New Year's "welcome back" to Jeremy Briggs who kicks off 2008 with a piece on...)

Brown Watson Annuals

The recent article by my Down The Tubes cohorts, John Freeman and Ian Wheeler, in Comics International on the subject of the TV Avengers and New Avengers in comics and which included a mention of the John Bolton art in the New Avengers Annuals published by Brown Watson, reminded me of something that Dez Skinn said over on the Quality Yahoo group. For those of you not in that group, Dez can often be encouraged by the group (or an approaching deadline) to reminisce a little. I have taken the liberty of copying one such reminiscence here (the time period is the mid-Seventies):

"At the same time as the final days of the Babanis at Brown Watson, I was one floor below merrily producing MAD, House of Hammer and the Williams fortnightly Tarzan, Korak and Laurel & Hardy. So I knew them; Brian, Peter and John. In fact I poached John Bolton from them (insisting he learned to ink his work as I wasn't up for printing pencil art!) and they poached Brian Lewis from me."

So knowing how John Bolton got his break into House Of Hammer magazine and that Brian Lewis must have produced some of his final art for Brown Watson before he died in 1978, I started to take another look at Brown Watson annuals when I came across them. They are easy to spot as they always had "Brown Watson" in large letters at the bottom of the printed spine, which was normally black or red and which wrapped around a little onto both the front and back covers. This spine bleed onto the covers gives them a slightly old-fashioned look harking back as it does to the 1950s Eagle or Buffalo Bill style of annual with their cloth spines.

Brown Watson started publishing TV tie-in annuals around 1974 (although they did the Tarzan comic annual copyrighted 1972 having taken over the rights from World Distributors), and I'm sure that plenty of their annuals will have nothing of interest in them. However others are quite a different matter. The Kung Fu annual dated 1974 states that it was written by Steve Moore who worked on Action and 2000AD amongst others, with picture strip illustrations by Desmond Walduck who was one of the original 1950's Eagle Dan Dare artists.

Most of the annuals are less forthcoming with credits but a quick trawl has unearthed black & white and colour strips and text illustrations by John Bolton, Brian Lewis, Ian Gibson, Oliver Frey and David Lloyd. Planet of the Apes, Logan's Run, The New Avengers, The Bionic Woman, The Sweeney -- you may smile at some of the titles of these annuals now but once you get over that the artwork makes them more than worth looking at. What is more, the artists were even allowed to sign their work.

Here we have Ian Gibson on the Bionic Woman drawing his unique style of robots around the same time that Robohunter started in 2000AD. The New Avengers has Dracula and the young Joanna Lumley in sweeping John Bolton art. Brian Lewis used his black and white House of Hammer art style on The Sweeney (surely an odd choice of subject for a children's annual). On Planet of the Apes it is mainly John Bolton again, but with also a single colour Oliver Frey strip, all based on the TV version of the Apes saga.

My personal favourites however are the colour strips and text illustrations by David Lloyd from the TV version of Logan's Run. I never saw the Logan's Run TV series in the 1970s and so was pleased when it appeared recently on the Sci-Fi channel. While the novelty of watching the episodes, and Heather Menzies in a very short dress, wore off rather quickly since the series really isn't that good, the novelty of the art in the annual remains as it shows Lloyd's art in all its Nightraven and V For Vendetta glory.

I am sure that there are more Brown Watson annuals of interest out there. Use the comment button below if you can add anything to the list. For instance they published the earliest of The Professionals and The Muppet Show annuals. Could Brian Lewis have used his humour style of art on Kermit and Fozzie Bear? Who knows, there might be a few more gems out there.

9 comments:

  1. For those who like John Bolton, the 1977 Tarzan annual contains a twenty-eight page long text serial profusely illustrated by Bolton, who also provided a cover painting for the annual.

    There was also a Flash Gordon annual where Bolton was able to channel Alex Raymond in some beautiful illustrations, and a Superman (or similar) annual where John drew several DC superheroes, including what memory says was a splendiferous drawing of Hawkman and Hawkgirl.

    I have a 1975 BW annual which says BW was a division of General Book Distributors. I've also long had the impression that BW eventually changed its name to Grandreams -- certainly, the annuals from that imprint had the same high production values of BW annuals, sharing the same good paper and colour printing.

    BW annuals were wonderful artifacts, always a pleasure to look at and hold. I bought many of them at the time, and i'm glad I held on to at least some of them.

    David Simpson

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  2. There was also an annual for Bill Bixby's old series 'The Magician'. It's been a long time since I owned copy, but I'm sure I remember a John Bolton strip or two.

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  3. Ian Gibson also provided the art for Brown Watson's Gemini Man annual, which is the only thing about Gemini Man that anybody knows anything about. (He was the 70s TV superspy who turned invisible and wasn't David McCallum.)

    Of course, now that I know that Bionic Woman annual is out there, I have to own it!!

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  4. Allan

    I agree with you on that Magician annual containing a John Bolton strip -- 'twas the first time I'd seen his art, and I was very impressed by it.

    David Simpson

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  5. Before the titles Jeremy talks about, Brown Watson had already published many annuals based around Hanna-Barbera characters and continued to do so throughout the 1970s -- Wacky Races, Dastardly and Muttley and Friends, The Harlem Globetrotters, The Funky Phantom, Inch High Private Eye, The Great Grape Ape and Boss Cat, Boss Cat and Hong Kong Phooey plus annuals for Laurel & Hardy, Pink Panther and Popeye.

    And let's not forget they also published annuals for Batman & Robin and Superman and the first Star Wars Annual...

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  6. I got that Bionic Woman annual - 36 pages of Ian Gibson art. Thanks so much for letting me know about it!

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  7. i have just got a copy of the bionic woman annual 1977 beautifully drawn by ian gibson, he is also credited with art chores on the 1978 annual of the same name, can anyone confirm this?

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  8. Hi Anonymous,

    Yes, Gibson drew three strips for the 1978 Bionic Woman Annual.

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  9. I have a Superman Annual No.1 from 1972 and a Tarzan Annual from 1974 (which looks like some very early John Bolton artwork but I can't be sure for definite - any help?)

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