Saturday, March 28, 2009

Comic Cuts

I've spent all week at the scanner or cleaning up scans and I'm pleased to say that a few things are starting to come together.

First up, the Frank Bellamy World War I book is with the designer... or will be when my CD arrives (it went into the post yesterday). I finished the last of the pages on Thursday and, apart from some brief editorial bits, the bulk of my work on it is now done. Once the (few, minor) corrections are done we should be able to get straight onto the Frank Bellamy's Swift Special Edition.

Which means that as of Monday I'll be working on the next book, The Art of Ron Embleton, full tilt. I managed to squeeze a week in on the book in February, so a vital chunk of the work is already done. I think I can use building a house as an analogy for this one (and for quite a few of the other books I work on): there's a lot of preliminary work laying the foundations when nothing much seems to be happening; then the building goes up steadily as the the contents are selected and the artwork scanned and cleaned; then nothing seems to happen for ages... that's when the rooms are finished off, decorated, carpets laid and everything is made ready for the owners to move in; in terms of our analogy it's caption writing, designing, writing introductions, writing back cover text, proofing, writing information sheets and everything else that needs to be done. There's a bit of the book, when the walls suddenly shoot up, that's visible—nowadays that's usually because my enthusiasm levels are soaring and I can't help but post stuff here—but the rest tends to go on in the background.

With the Embleton book I'm still laying the foundations, so don't expect to hear much about it for a week or two.

For once, the Saturday's post brought some stuff that I want rather than bills and junk mail. I've not had much of a chance to do anything but glance at these but I'll mention them now rather than leave them and forget.

Firstly, William Rudling has reprinted the Jeff Hawke's Cosmos special, The Martian Quartet. This clocks in at 140 pages and contains four Jeff Hawke yarns, "The Martian Invasion" (a long early tale), "The Search for Asteron" (about a mysterious planet arriving in the solar system), "The Threat from the Past" (in which the Martians are thought to be behind a series of disasters on Earth) and "The Opposite Power" (in which Jeff uncovers the plans of a mad archaeologist).

The four stories are linked by the Martian character Ultar (hence the title) and were the second through fifth Jeff Hawke stories, originally running between July 1954 and June 1956. The original edition in 2005 was the first time they had been reprinted in the UK. This new edition has expanded notes by Duncan Lunan which always add to the background of the strip, exploring the technology and astronomy of the strips (a popular feature in the Jeff Hawke's Cosmos magazine).

Sydney Jordan comments that the strips were "hopelessly optimistic" about how space flight would progress once mankind built its first rocket to the Moon but I love the optimism of the Jeff Hawke strip. It was the Anti-Hollywood in the 1950s where science fiction movies were often little more than thinly disguised fear-mongering about Communist invasions and any new technology was guaranteed to blow up the world, or melt it, or turn it into a dustbowl. In comparison, the Jeff Hawke saga has aged really well.

As always, I'm looking forward to the next issue of Jeff Hawke's Cosmos, which is due in April. Subscriptions (3 issues a year) are available from The Jeff Hawke Club, 6 The Close, Alwoodley, Leeds LS17 7RD: £18.50 in the UK; £28 (or Euro 38) for overseas air mail. Because of the deal with the copyright holder, the Martian Quartet book is only available to club members. Further details from william[at]williamrudling[dot]com.

Eagle Times enters a new year with another excellent issue, the highlights of which are Frank Hampson's original notes for the "Operation Saturn" storyline from 1952 (interesting to compare the original outline to the finished version as Frank fell ill and another scriptwriter was brought in to complete the story), Steve Winders' continuing exploration of "Heros the Spartan", another reminiscence from Alan Vince and (ahem) a very positive review of Rick Random, Space Detective ("An excellent addition to comic book literature").

Subs. are £22 (overseas £34 in UK pounds) from Keith Howard, 25A Station Road, Harrow, Middlesex HA1 2UA. Worth every penny.

The Casebook of Sexton Blake was a real surprise. 545 pages for just £2.99—and cheaper still on Amazon! I've no idea how Wordsworth Editions do it but the book itself is nicely presented with some embossing on the cover (designed by Robert Mathias from artwork by Eric Parker originally used on the Sexton Blake Annual), and has an informative introduction by Mark Hodder and seven long stories packed into its pages. Of these, one is a classic: "The Man From Scotland Yard" introduced the character George Marsden Plummer who was to survive dozens of encounters with Blake over the years; the others are less well known but with two stories by George Teed (probably my favourite of the old Blake writers) and another by Robert Murray Graydon, this collection just can't go wrong. Cecil Hayter, W. J. Lomax (a football yarn which sees Blake and Tinker joining the England team!) and William Murray Graydon fill out the pages entertainingly, making this an excellent read as well as excellent value for money.

Incidentally, the Adventures of Sexton Blake radio series, which I've previously mentioned, has been pushed back from Easter to June. There will be, in addition, a documentary about Blake entitled The Hunt for Sexton Blake with David Quantick.

I'll leave you with a page from The Perishers Omnibus. I loved this strip when I was growing up (my Dad being a Daily Mirror reader) and pick up these collections when I see them (all-too-rarely these days, unfortunately). You can see the cover for the 1982 collection at the top of the column but I was particularly taken with the "eyeballs-in-the-sky" sequence which was reprinted that year. The original strips dated from 1979 and, for those who never followed the story, each summer the Perishers—Wellington, Masie, Marlon and Baby Grumpling—would visit the beach at St. Moribund's. Boot, Wellington's huge, hairy, hungry dog, would visit a rock pool each year to the amazement of the crabs inhabiting the pool; it has become a religious experience for many of the crabs whilst other crabs, more dedicated to science, try to debunk the God-like status of the eyeballs-in-the-sky. In this episode, the crabs have launched a rocket (a tin on an old spring) which was breached the limits of the pooliverse but the rather literal example of crabkind sent up to sketch the realms beyond the pool has returned with a disappointing set of pictures.

What sets this particular sequence apart is that it totally breaks the fourth wall: a few episodes earlier there was a reference to Maurice Dodds (the strip's writer) releasing an album and in the set below, one crab comments that the sequence of events is "leadin' to one o' them big single frame scenes which saves Dennis Collins [the artist] havin' to draw the same scene four times over". And the next strip—published the next day—is just that.

(* The Perishers © Daily Mirror; Jeff Hawke © Daily Express; Dan Dare © Dan Dare Corporation; Sexton Blake © IPC Media.)


  1. Steve,

    I'm glad our recent conversation reminded you about the Perishers. It's always good to see them.

    Do you know why they never reprinted EVERY strip and instead selected various from the year. Was it soley economics and size of the book?


  2. HI Norman,

    I've no idea. Probably space and probably to make sure that a storyline came to a end before the book did.



Click on the above pic to visit our sister site Bear Alley Books