Friday, April 25, 2008

Comic Cuts

I've had a busy few days working on a new book project and a couple of other odds and ends so I've not had much of a chance to write much else. Hopefully the series of old magazine first issues is keeping some of you interested while others are probably scratching their heads wondering why I've stopped talking about old British comics and their creators. The simple reason has been lack of time—I wanted to get a job finished by yesterday (a self-imposed deadline chosen for no other reason than it was International Books Day). I missed the deadline by a few hours (had to finish it off this morning) but managed to dive straight into another job (a paying one!) that took up the rest of the day. Then a crowd of us went out to see Lucy Porter on her 'Love In' tour. This isn't her first time at Colchester Arts Centre so the (small but appreciative) crowd knew what to expect... except one couple who had brought along their 9-year-old son. Most of the rude bits hopefully went straight over his head.

Hopefully you'll not have missed the pic. at the top of the column. This is, as far as I know, the final version of the Rick Random—Space Detective collection cover that will be published by Prion at the beginning of October. Ten stories, all by Ron Turner. To some of you that will be enough to make you want this book; some of you will be scratching your heads wondering what all the fuss is about. As it's rapidly approaching midnight, I'm going to have to leave you in suspense but I'll post some samples of Ron Turner's work at some point which will hopefully explain why a few of us old fans are looking forward to this volume in particular. I'll also post some more details of other volumes I've had a hand in as I get copies of the covers.

The Rick Random volume is one that I've seen some proofs for and I think everyone will be happier with the quality of the artwork from the viewpoint of it being cleaned up. It's one of the major problems with reprinting old strips—the source material is often very poor and just getting it back to how it was printed can be the devil's own job. Having recently spent a ridiculous amount of time doing just that, I can promise you that the effort is being put in, even if the results aren't perfect. The pages I was working on date back to just after the war (1945-47) and they were atrocious. With the paper shortage still ongoing (which it would be until the early 1950s), comics publishers had to print on what they could get hold of even if it was newsprint that had obviously been recycled quite a few times. Imperfections in the paper meant that the final printed results were pretty imperfect themselves. Add to the problem thin paper which allowed the reverse page to show through, zipotone that flaked off and left speckles all over the page and a dozen other ways that even original artwork can be imperfect (badly patched on panels, old nibs that leave a ghostly echo of a line trailing behind it, blobs of ink filling in letters, etc., etc.) and anyone attempting to clean up a page can be faced with some ghastly-looking results even once you've removed that horrible yellow cast that afflicts old comics and painted out the rust stains from decomposing staples.

We were very lucky with the recent Frank Bellamy's Robin Hood book as that was printed photogravure on better paper. We've had some very nice compliments about the quality of the reproduction from people who know the original source material. Other books taken from letterpress comics printed on newsprint aren't going to be up to that standard unless someone were to take an awful lot of time restoring the artwork... and if they did that you wouldn't be picking up copies in shops for under £15 (or on Amazon for £6.99).

Talking of fully restored volumes... the latest Trigan Empire book is now out. This is the tenth volume to be released by DLC and is one of my favourites as it has some absolute classics. Chronologically it's volume 5 reprinting stories from the period 1969-70. I think the first time I read them was when they were reprinted in Vulcan in 1976 and I thought they were fantastic. The pages of the new book are much larger and printed where possible from the original artwork, so the quality is fabulous. You can get copies via the Don Lawrence Collection website or from The Book Palace. I'll put in a link to Amazon once it's posted.

There will be some more Don Lawrence news coming soon as I believe there will shortly be a sale of Trigan Empire artwork. I'll post more once I know the details. I do know that it will involve originals from just about every artist who worked on Trigan Empire, including original boards from both Don Lawrence and Ron Embleton.

The rest of the news...

* It's that Dan Dare sales figures time of the month again. ICv2 have published figures for sales of comics pre-ordered through Diamond Distributors for March 2008. The figures for issue 5 are 7,518, down 4.6% from the February (#4) figure of 7,885. That's relatively steady as the January figure was 7,657. (heads up via Journalista) Gary Erskine, the artist, is a guest at the Singapore Toy & Comic Convention for 2008 and Forbidden Planet International have posted an image of the 2 1/2 metre tall poster that advertises the event.

* For fans of the original Dan Dare, it would seem that the two murals that Frank Hampson painted for the Science Museum will be on show as part of the Dan Dare & the Birth of Hi-Tech Britain show. The Science Museum Wiki—Object Wiki—has some of the items to be exhibited on display, including a number of original artboards (one of which—by Don Harley—you can see above) and, most intriguingly, something they describe as Frank Hampson's 'Ideas Book'—a sketch book featuring Hampson's sketches of war machines that appeared in the 'Rogue Planet' storyline in 1956.

Update: The Times (26 April) carries a review of the exhibition by Nigel Kendall.

* Titan Books have The Best of Roy of the Rovers: The 1980s scheduled for June 2008. The book will have an introduction by Gary Lineker.

* Lew Stringer has been posting some interesting bits on his blog. The most recent posts have been about the barely-known Welsh language comic Sboncyn and a look at a 1965 issue of Bimbo, complete with cover strip drawn by Dudley D. Watkins.

(* Rick Random and Trigan Empire © IPC Media; Dan Dare © Dan Dare Corporation; Roy of the Rovers © Egmont UK Ltd.; Lucy Porter is... not sure but her website says © 2008.)

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