Wednesday, October 15, 2008

Comic Cuts

I've just looked at the clock and I'm declaring 11:17 the official moment I finished writing about the Trigan Empire. I've spent the past week and a half working pretty solidly on the introductions for the final two volumes, although I took a couple of evenings off to map out a bit of the next project I'll be starting (tomorrow! No rest for the wicked!) and I've had a couple of visitors, including a rambling conversation yesterday afternoon with Mark Towers who runs the Roy of the Rovers website and is currently working on a book. Some very interesting details about the history of Roy came out of the conversation; on my side I was able to resolve some of the mystery about why so many changes were happening with the strip in the late 1950s/early 1960s; Mark had some fascinating behind the scenes stories which I'll leave for him to tell.

A little oddity that I was reminded of during our conversation was that I had a novel by Roy's long-time writer Frank S. Pepper. Shortly after the war, when comics were appearing fortnightly due to the paper shortage, a lot of authors had to find other outlets for their work. Pepper wrote a number of stories for a little firm called Paget who churned out comics for a couple of years. He also wrote the short (64-page) novel with the title The Riddle In Wax which you can see at the head of this column.

The back cover tells you all you need to know about the story:
When Marvo and his magic ray made a girl disappear on the stage, that was entertainment, but when Marvo made Sir Hubert Harward vanish into thin air and demanded £100,000 to make him visible again, it was time for Steve Bradshaw to take a hand. Here is a mystery story with plenty of action, with a private detective hero you will want to read again, written in a crisp style that carries you along from the curious discovery of a dismembered wax dummy, through a series of baffling murders to the hard-punching climax.
Without giving too much of the game away, Harward has staged his own disappearance because his company is about to collapse. I was about to ask why that kind of thing doesn't happen in real life, especially with the fat-cat bosses of companies that have caused the credit crunch with their reckless greed, but then I remembered the not-quite-the-same case of the guy who disappeared from his canoe and escaped to Panama. Which reminded me of a guy called Percy Griffith who was at one time the editor of The Magnet, home of Billy Bunter, who similarly skipped the country and disappeared off to South America owing money to many, including Bunter creator Charles Hamilton. Bunter has also been on my mind as I was asked to supply some pics. for an upcoming article in Saga and spent some time digging through old Howard Baker collections looking for suitable images. I get a lot of this kind of request. I think people must imagine I wouldn't know what to do if I suddenly found myself with some spare time.

Lack of spare time has meant that I've a pile of interesting books and magazines building up. Two fine magazines arrived in the post today: Eagle Times (Autumn 2008 issue) and Crikey! 7 (October 2008). Eagle Times has had a rocky couple of years, with subscriptions slipping due to a lack of direction after running for twenty years (longer than the original paper!). Volume 21 has picked up admirably, with quite a few fascinating articles. The discovery of a dummy issue 2 prepared a month or so before the paper launched in 1950 was the centrepiece of the last issue, and this issue contains a look at some of the contents by Richard Sheaf. A couple of the other authors from this issue' have also contributed to Bear Alley: Jeremy Briggs has the first part of a long look at the work of Ian Kennedy and Stephen Winders reviews the Virgin Dan Dare comic and Orion's Dan Dare audio dramatisation. Another highlight of the issue are a pair of articles by Alan Vince, one on Frank Hampson's days at the NE Surrey College of Technology and a second on the career of artist Tony Weare.

Subscriptions to Eagle Times are available from Keith Howard, 25A Station Road, Harrow, Middlesex HA1 2UA. £22 UK, £34 overseas (up due to airmail costs, although I gather that subscriptions made before 31 December will be honoured at the old rate of £32.) Further information about the magazine can be found at the Eagle Times blog.

A big bonus with Eagle Times is that 20 of the 52 internal pages are now printed in colour. Crikey! would definitely benefit from colour, and we are promised just that with the upcoming Christmas issue. That's not to knock the black & white reproduction which, for the most part, is crisp and clean and, even where full pages are printed quite small you can still read the lettering on the story. Which is handy because Crikey! covers a wide range of comics and some I've never seen before and want to get a taste of how they read.

I've often found myself approaching Crikey! with mixed feelings. It wears its heart on its sleeve: Crikey! loves comics. All fine and dandy but in trying to keep the coverage broad in 48 pages, some of the articles barely have enough space to scratch the surface of a title; great if all you fancy is a stroll down memory lane (they cover a lot of titles I, too, remember) looking for a view of the countryside, but not so good if you want to know the names of the plants you've just passed and where that gate leads to. Brief and breezy is OK but I wouldn't mind seeing a few longer, more in-depth articles even if its means serializing them over a couple of issues. If they're good people will forgive the wait (and I can point to the Ian Kennedy piece in Eagle Times as a good example, and ET is quarterly).

Again, my favourite parts of the magazine were the interview (with Graham Bleathman) and the 'Nutty Notions' column which dips into some of the dafter entertainments that appeared in children's comics.

Subscription details can be found at the Crikey! website.

More tomorrow if I have the energy. It's now 2:24 in the morning and this is what I do in my spare time!


  1. Hi Steve,

    a quick look on ebay brings up a title published by Mills & Boon written by Frank S Pepper, it's called "Big Deep" and features 'death struggles with ocean monsters'. Marvellous stuff.

  2. I have a copy of "Big Deep" in the Boxes in the Basement -- a 96-page paperback in a short-lived, 1977 M&B series called Venture Books.

    (Who says M&B never did anything but romance before Black Star Crime? There were also Diamond W Westerns.)

    From the 1950s, I have Champion papers and annuals where, as John Marshall, Pepper wrote about a kind of Roy of the Rovers forerunner called Danny Roberts. One series (1951) was called "Danny Makes the Rovers Fight Back". Pepper was also writing Rockfist Rogan stories in the same publications as Hal Wilton.


  3. Keith,

    I think Danny started in 1949 when Champion expanded to 20 pages again after slimming down during the war-time paper shortage. Some of the serials included 'Danny of the Dazzlers', 'Danny, the Downshire Demon', 'Danny Dazzles Division 1', 'Danny of Downshire' and 'Danny Makes the Rovers Fight Back'. I think Danny's adventures came to an end in 1952, although "John Marshall" went on to pen such epics as 'Salty Blake, the Sea-Dog Centre-Forward' and 'The Lad with the Test Match Touch'.

    I, too, have a copy of Big Deep somewhere. Part of a series of Venture Books that also included titles by Peter Tremayne and Jack Adrian (as Jack Hamilton Teed).

  4. When I “discovered” Crikey! (Issue 3, on the shelf of Forbidden Planet in
    Glasgow) I bought it for two reasons; to support what looked like a good attempt at small volume publishing and because I was looking for a way into the whole old comics world.

    I’d only recently come across Paul Gravett’s books on Comics and Graphic novels – in fact, while having a coffee in a bookstore in the US – and Crikey! seemed like a similar beast.

    There were obvious flaws, but the infectious enthusiasm of those producing it fitted nicely with my novice needs, namely a brief introduction to and non-condescending guide to unknown and unfamiliar characters, titles and artists. A subscription and back-issue order was sent off and it has rewarded my initial optimism by getting better and better.

    Yes, full colour would be great, as would some sort of on-line follow up and discussion area, but I would be sorry to see the breadth and – in my case - welcoming lack of depth given up for more scholarly and knowing work. Yes, make it as accurate as possible, but I need the helping hand, enthusiastically pointing out the things I might otherwise overlook. I am sure I cannot be alone.

  5. Other post "Danny" Champion football serials from John Marshall included "Crusaders for the Cup" and "The Come-Back Centre-Forward".

    In the first, an amateur side fights its way through several rounds of the FA Cup. Flash Goldsmith, a wealthy supporter of a beaten side, scoffs at the Crusaders and promises to buy them new stands if they can win the Cup! Later, getting worried, he tries to spoil the Crusaders' chances.

    In the second, goalie Bill Brewer is judged to have sold a vital match and is suspended for life. The real villain is a club director, Ralph Jarmon, who plans an accident to eliminate Bill. But Bill escapes badly hurt and after several facial operations finds his features completely altered. He rejoins the club as a centre-forward, Harry Hawk.

    I wouldn't be surprised to hear that some of these plot ideas later resurfaced in Roy of the Rovers storylines!




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