Tuesday, June 30, 2009

Battle Picture Weekly Classic Comics

The second of Egmont's series of 'Classic Comics' specials--the first being the Roy of the Rover Souvenir Special that came out in April—and one I've been looking forward to. Although it suffers the same problem of extracting one or maybe two episodes from a long-running series, it's a great selection. You get the first ever episodes of "D-Day Dawson" and "The Bootneck Boy", two episodes of "The Sarge" (drawn impeccably by Mike Western), two episodes of "Johnny Red" (ditto Joe Colquhoun, a nice little taster for the upcoming Titan volume), two each of "Day of the Eagle" and "Hellman on the Russian Front", complete yarns featuring "Major Eazy" and "Rat Pack" plus a couple of features.

I wasn't a reader of the early Battle Picture Weekly. It arrived just as I was leaving Valiant behind in 1975 and switching to Speed & Power, so the first issues I picked up weren't until 1977 and the merger with Action. There I rediscovered some of my favourite artists—Mike Western, Eric Bradbury and Joe Colquhoun, all on top form—and kept reading for some time. So the magazine works for me as a nostalgic dip into the past but might leave newcomers with a sense of frustration not knowing what happened next (for instance, German forces have the Sarge and his section surrounded in a farmhouse... you turn the page... and... Hellman's heading off to Russia). Newcomers might want to wait for Titan's Best of Battle (progressing steadily towards completion, last I heard) which will include a similar line-up—Rat Pack, D-Day Dawson, The Sarge, Darkie's Mob, Hellman, Bootneck Boy, Johnny Red. For the rest of us oldies, the Battle Picture Weekly Classic Comics is a great little reminder of those great old days when you could walk into a newsagent and still find half-a-dozen boys' comics on the shelves each week. Hell, even picking it up in W. H. Smiths, sole distributor for these Egmont specials, was nostalgic.

Eagle Times

The latest Eagle Times (v22 #2, Summer 2009) continues a run of excellent issues with more of the same. The cover story is a look at the nature artwork of Tom Adams, nowadays best known for his covers for Agatha Christie novels but who has had quite a diverse career over the past sixty years. Diversity is the name of the game with Eagle Times, too. Other features include looks at 'Operation Saturn' and 'The Man from Nowhere', Eagle Autographs, Rex Keene (the first in a new series of 'Rivals of Jeff Arnold'), the third part of a look at 'Heros the Spartan', a P.C. 49 text story, pop music in 1965 and a look at Eagle Holidays.

The latter is the kind of obscure gem that Eagle Times turns up regularly and covers so well. It's the kind of unexpected feature that is surprisingly entertaining. Maybe it's my age or maybe it's because we always had family holidays, but the idea of having your trips organised by the Youth Hostel Association in association with your favourite weekly comic sounds quite exotic and fun. Canoe cruising, mountaincraft and fossil hunting were all on the cards... a bit different to the caravans and stony beaches I remember.

Subs. are £22 (overseas £34 in UK pounds) for 4 issues a year from Keith Howard, 25A Station Road, Harrow, Middlesex HA1 2UA.

Monday, June 29, 2009

Comic Cuts

A brief note for those of you wondering where this week's comic strip is: I've put the next strip on hold for a couple of days to make room for a look at a couple of newly available titles and the regular monthly updating of the recent releases and upcoming books columns, which I'll be posting on Wednesday and Thursday. Between updating them and writing a bunch of reviews for a book (well, I've got to earn a living somehow!), I've not had time to clean up any artwork. I'll have everything back to normal next week.

The Best of Roy of the Rovers: The 1970s

The new Roy of the Rovers book from Titan has arrived. The Best of Roy of the Rovers: The 1970s follows up the popular The Best of Roy of the Rovers: The 1980s volume (reviewed here)in much the same style and format with over 200 pages, mostly of colour artwork but this time interlaced with adverts and features in the style of The Bumper Book of Roy of the Rovers. The strips are from early issues of Roy's own paper, which debuted in 1976 with David Sque and Tom Tully already firmly established as the artist/writer team; both moved over from Roy's original home, Tiger, and carried on without drawing breath.

The opening storyline, running originally over the 1976/77 football season, saw Roy in fine form, scoring goal after goal in the season's opening matches. Fans and critics alike presume that Roy is chasing after a £30,000 prize that has been offered to the footballer who can score 50 goals that season. Once the idea is fixed in their minds, every choice Roy makes on the field—from the teams he choses to whether to substitute himself—is scrutinised.

After a brief soujourn to America, where Roy ends up beating the Yanks at their own version of football, the 1977/78 season began with Roy facing the grim problem of hooliganism in the ranks of Melchester supporters which he tries to deal with in a variety of ways which presumably match Tom Tully's notions of making football more of a family game and the fans more inclusive.

The final story, from 1979, records how players and fans react to the signing of big-name Spanish forward Paco Diaz to the team.

Not quite the soap opera it was to become in later years, where there was as much action between matches as on the field, these stories are nevertheless classic examples of football strips at their best—no lucky boots or other gizmos, just straight footballing action with all the match-day tensions condensed into two or three pages each week. But even if football's not your cup of tea, there is a happy event (two, in fact) for Roy and Penny Race off the pitch and you won't miss a thing even if the rules are a mystery thanks to the Greek chorus of Melchester fans who keep up a running commentary each game: "Roy's linking with Peak and Gray—their three most experience players! What a move!"

The Best of Roy of the Rovers: The 1970s. Titan Books ISBN 978-1848560246, 21 June 2009.

(* Roy of the Rovers © Egmont UK Ltd.)

Sunday, June 28, 2009

Frank H. Mason

The Illustrative Art of Frank H. Mason
by Gordon Howsden

During the first half of the 20th century Frank Henry Mason was arguably Britain’s finest marine painter. He was also a highly skilled landscape painter, etcher and poster designer. As so often with artists whose talent encompasses several genres, Mason’s commercial art has received much less attention.

Mason, who was born in Seaton Carew, Co. Durham on 1 October 1875, did not have any formal art training, receiving just a basic school education before spending two years from the age of 12 on the naval training ship HMS Conway. The initial idea of a life at sea gave way to a fascination with engineering and it was whilst employed by Parson’s in Scarborough that his interest in sketching became a passion.

He received some guidance from local Scarborough artists and after successfully selling some of his work Mason decided to give up engineering and become a full time painter. He was aged about 22 at the time. A few years later he made regular trips up the coast and joined the influential Staithes group of artists, of which Laura Knight was a prominent member.

In 1900 he had the first of several paintings accepted by the Royal Academy, and he also exhibited regularly at the Royal Society of British Artists and the Royal Institute of Painters in Watercolours. He was elected a member of the former in 1904 and the latter in 1929.

In the period leading up to the First World War Mason travelled widely and also completed his first illustrations for a book, providing mainly pen and ink studies for Lionel Cust’s Angelo Bastiani - A Story of Modern Venice. Another early venture into book illustration that leant heavily on his trips abroad was A Corner of Spain by Walter Wood. This was published in 1910, the same year that Mason made his debut as an author with The Book of British Ships. The burgeoning postcard industry was happy to make use of some of Mason’s landscapes many of which featured scenes from Scarborough and the North-East coast.

Postcard illustrated by Mason. c.1910

Shortly after war was declared in 1914 Mason was commissioned as a Lieutenant in the RNVR. His initial assignment involved patrolling the North Sea and English Channel followed by a posting to the Mediterranean and Suez Canal zone. Many of the sketches he made whilst on active service were subsequently made up into finished works that were purchased by the Imperial War Museum.

After being demobbed in 1919 Mason resumed his career in Scarborough. In 1912 he had added printmaking to his oil and watercolour work, and as the 1920s progressed he began to make a name for himself as a poster designer. The rationalization of the railway industry in 1923 resulted in the formation of four major companies and the London and North Eastern Railway (LNER) were particularly impressed with Mason’s work and signed him up to an exclusive contract covering the period 1927 to 1932. A rather unusual brochure that Mason illustrated for the LNER was clearly designed for issue in North America, as the spelling of the title “Colorful England and Scotland” indicates.

The shipping companies were enjoying a golden period from the mid-1920s and Mason received quite a few commissions from Cunard among others. This work varied from small designs for postcards, various forms of advertising material including menu cards, posters and larger works in both oil and watercolour. Mason also produced a steady stream of magazine and book illustrations ranging from regular contributions to Herbert Strang’s Annual to collaborations with Frank Hendry (Shalimar), of which The Ocean Tramp, published in 1938, contains a number of superb illustrations.

Cunard menu card

This book brought Mason to the attention of tobacco manufacturer John Player & Sons, and in 1938 he was commissioned to prepare the artwork for a series of 25 large cards titled “Sea Tramps and Traders”. Shortly afterwards Player’s put Mason to work on another series, this time for a series of 50 standard sized cards, with the title of “Modern Naval Craft”. With war clouds already hovering, the latter set was given precedence, as was a follow up series of 25 large cards which used much of the artwork for Modern Naval Craft together with eight new paintings.

This latter set was titled “British Naval Craft" and it was issued in cigarette packets in October 1939, some weeks after the war had commenced. This was one of the last cigarette card sets to be issued, as due to paper shortages no new series were issued in Britain after 1939. Sadly, the set of Sea Tramps and Traders was aborted, as was a further commission for a card series based on his 1934 book illustrations for Vanishing Craft. An interesting fact connected with Modern Naval Craft was that albums of the cards were purchased just prior to the war by agents acting on behalf of the German government for issue to U-Boat captains. This was a rather unwanted tribute to the accuracy of Mason’s paintings!

Shortly after the outbreak of war the Government produced recruitment posters for the three armed services and Mason was selected to prepare the Royal Navy design. This showed a capital ship steaming through heavy seas with the caption, “The British Navy guards the freedom of us all”. The not inconsiderable fee of 100 guineas was well deserved. A similar image painted by Mason was used on the front cover of a wartime publicity booklet titled, The Royal Navy Today. Raphael Tuck produced a series of near A-4 sized publications to bolster the war effort and Frank Mason was chosen to illustrate the booklet titled, The Navy’s Here!. The Navy magazine also used Mason’s work both during and after the war and some of these illustrations appeared on postcards published by Salmon.

Mason had moved to London in 1927, residing briefly in West Hampstead and subsequently at 44 Finchley Road, St John’s Wood. In 1942, he moved to his final address, 3 Primrose Hill Studios, Fitzroy Road, Regents Park. Apart from his morale boosting illustrations, Mason also worked with a team of artists designing camouflage for ships. He was always a keen builder of model ships and during the war his hobby was put to good use. In 1945 Mason was 69 years old and it is understandable that after the war his output gradually declined. Nevertheless, he continued his poster work and carried out a number of commissions for shipping lines, particularly F. T. Everard and Sons, and some of his paintings of their fleet appeared on publicity postcards issued by the firm.

Apart from marine and landscape paintings his versatility was emphasized by his illustrations for another Raphael Tuck publication, Our Trains. The same year, 1946, he collaborated with Frank Bowen on Famous Ships, which was published in the Puffin Picture Books Series. The last book to be illustrated by Mason was the 1958 publication The Romance of the Clipper Ships by Basil Lubbock.

Frank Mason died on 24 February 1965 and, rather surprisingly, it was not until 1996 that a posthumous exhibition of his work was held by the Hartlepool Borough Council. A very informative booklet by Edward Yardley was produced to coincide with this exhibition. The books illustrated by Mason and listed below have been compiled from this booklet, the British Museum Library and my own collection.

Books by Frank H. Mason
The Book of British Ships. London, Henry Frowde, 1910; revised, London, Henry Frowde, 1911.
Ashore & Afloat. London, Press Art School, 1929.
A Book of Steamers. Glasgow, Blackie & Son, 1934.
Ship Model Making: The Brig. London, The Studio Ltd., 1935; New York, Studio Publications, 1935.
Famous Ships, with F. C. Bowen. Harmondsworth & New York, Penguin Books (Puffin Picture Books 39), 1946.

Books Illustrated
Angelo Bastiani. A story of modern Venice by Lionel Cust. London, Archibald Constable, 1904.
A Corner of Spain by Walter Wood. London, Eveleigh Nash, 1910.
North Sea Fishers and Fighters by Walter Wood. London, Kegan Paul, Trench, Trubner & Co, 1911.
The Battleship by Walter Wood. London, Kegan Paul, Trench, Trubner & Co, 1912.
Dickens in Yorkshire. Being notes of a journey to the delightful village of Dotheboys, near Greta Bridge by Charles Pascoe, illus. with James Ayton Symington. London, Pitman, 1912.
The Story of Santiago de Compostela by C. Gasquoine Hartley. London, Dent, 1912; New York, Dutton, 1912.
Alice in Holidayland. A paroldy7 in prose, verse and picture by F. W. Martindale, illus. with Noel Pocock. Leeds & London, Chorley & Pickersgill, 1914.
The Port of Hull by Sir John F. Foster, illus. with Charles Dixon. Hull, 1914.
The Diary of a “U”-Boat Commander by Etienne (Sir Stephen King-Hall). London, Hutchinson & Co., 1920.
William Beardmore and Company. Impressions of the works. Glasgow, William Beardmore & Co., 1924.
Cameos of Three Counties, from Humber to Tweed by Dell Leigh. Bungay, Suffolk, Richard Clay & Sons, 1928.
On the Line by Dell Leigh, illus. with Freda Lingstrom. Bungay, Suffolk, Richard Clay & Sons, 1928.
The Land of the Vikings. From Thames to Humber by H. V. Morton. Bungay, Suffolk, Richard Clay & Sons, 1928.
Little Ships by John Scott Hughes. London, Country Life, 1932.
Vanishing Craft, British Coastal Types in the Last Days of Sail by Frank G. G. Carr. London, Country Life, 1934.
The Romance of London’s River by James A. Jones. London, Hutchinson & Co., 1935.
Mauretania. Landfalls and Departures of 25 Years by Humfrey Jordan. London, Hodder & Stoughton, 1936.
The Ocean Tramp by Frank C. Hendry. London, Collins, 1938.
Britain Keeps the Seas. Some naval incidents during the first two years of the World War by Captain J. E. A. Whitman. London & New York, Oxford University Press, 1942.
True Tales of Sail and Steam by Shalimar (Frank C. Hendry). London & New York, Oxford University Press, 1943.
The Navy's Here by Captain Bernard Acworth. London, Raphael Tuck & Sons, 1943.
With the Royal Navy by Charles Jarman. London, Raphael Tuck & Sons, 1944.
Our Trains. London, Raphael Tuck & Sons, 1946.
From the Log-Book of Memory by Shalimar (Frank C. Hendry). Edinburgh & London, William Blackwood & Sons, 1950.
The Romance of Clipper Ships by Basil Lubbock. London, Hennel Locke, 1958.

Annuals etc. containing illustrations by Frank H. Mason
Herbert Strang’s Annual. London, Oxford University Press, various editions.
The Big Colour Picture Book, illus. with others. London, Blackie & Son, 1924.
The Wonder Book of… London, Ward Lock, various titles and editions.

Saturday, June 27, 2009

Biggles in The Cruise Of The Condor

Biggles in the Cruise of the Condor
by Jeremy Briggs

Captain WE Johns pilot character James Bigglesworth, popularly known as Biggles, is one of those fictional characters that has entered the British public consciousness whether or not they have read any of his novels or short stories. The first Biggles book The Camels Are Coming was published in 1932 in which he was a World War 1 pilot for the Royal Flying Corps and he would progress through various jobs and adventures in the inter-war years before returning to once again defend his country from the Germans during World War Two despite having barely aged along the way. Johns continued to write Biggles novels right up to his death in 1968 when the character had moved into the post war years.

The Cruise Of The Condor was the second Biggles novel, originally published in August 1933, with Biggles as an adventurer in peacetime. This was the story chosen by Juvenile Productions in May 1955 to turn into what we would now call a graphic novel but was then called a "strip book". Artist Pat Williams produced 46 pages of colour internal artwork as well as the wraparound cover for this annual sized hardback book.

Biggles and Algy visit the elderly Dickpa only to find his English house under armed siege by a gang allied to Silas Blattner who are determined that Dickpa will give them the location of Incan treasure in Ecuador. Escaping from the house, Biggles returns in an aircraft to rescue his friends and they organise an expedition to South America to recover the treasure. Once in Brazil they use a flying boat, which they name Condor, to fly over the rainforest and to land on the rivers as they make their way towards the location of the treasure. Followed by a larger flying boat carrying Blattner’s men, our heroes locate the treasure cave only to find it empty before eventually stumbling across a lost city filled with treasure and the bodies of its long dead inhabitants. Returning to the Condor, a volcanic explosion preventing them taking all but a little treasure, they take off only to be confronted by Blattner’s plane which attempts to shoot them down.

Pat William's art has that 1950s softness to it which is both comforting to look at but also annoying in its vagueness. Considering that Biggles books are known for their aviation themes, William's aircraft are ill defined. The plane used to escape from the besieged house is obviously a De Havilland Chipmunk, therefore setting the 1933 story in then contemporary times, but by no stretch of the imagination could this small trainer aircraft fly the Atlantic ocean to South America as implied by the script. The Condor itself is an unusual design with an interesting pusher/puller propeller arrangement immediately above the cockpit similar to a Dornier Do18 while the villain's flying boat is a larger four engined aircraft similar to a Shorts Sunderland and, it has to be said, rather impractical for landing on unexplored rivers in a rain forest.

The text in the speech balloons is all too often perfunctory and many panels are silent. Indeed the script has an annoying habit of describing almost an entire page's plotline in one long text panel and then leaving the next half dozen panels of artwork virtually silent as the visual story struggles to catches up with the text. This tends to suggest that the uncredited writer who adapted the story from the original text novel was not a regular comic strip author and while some story elements are dwelt on others are all too often rushed which adds to an overall feeling of unevenness. Dickpa is Biggles’ nickname for his uncle in the original novel but the comic strip version neglects to mention this rather important family connection leaving readers wondering why Biggles trusts this strangely named man so implicitly. Perhaps issues like this were part of the reason that there was no published follow up. In fact the UK had to wait until 1978 for the next Biggles graphic novels which were translations of several Swedish books by Bjorn Karlstrom.

The original price of the strip book of The Cruise Of The Condor was 2/6, which equates to 12.5p in modern money. Given the collectability of older Biggles books and the uniqueness of this publication, a typical price for buying this book in good condition today would be upwards of two hundred times that original price. Unless you are a Biggles collector then it is not really worth it.

Cruise of the Condor was the first Biggles graphic novel to be published in the UK. The latest UK Biggles graphic novel is Spitfire Parade and you can read Jeremy's review of it at downthetubes.

Friday, June 26, 2009

Comic Cuts

Most of this week's news you'll have spotted already. Chris Weston pulled out all the stops to get the colour cover of The Phantom Patrol to me this week (head over to Bear Alley Books to have a look). We've got a new logo for BAB, care of graphic designer Mark Bonsor, and we're working on an ordering system and other doodads so that you can actually get hold of books when they appear.

Most of this has taken me away from what I prefer to be doing, which is the actual contents of the books. I've not written anything, apart from these Comic Cuts columns and a couple of reviews, for a few weeks. This week I got to to research and write the introduction to The Phantom Patrol—my usual potpourri of historical info and reminiscences from anyone involved that I can get in touch with. I've also been doing some digging around for another BAB project which should be a lot of fun when it comes together.

The latest issue of Spaceship Away! landed this week with the news that Garth is coming to its pages as of next October's issue, in colour. John Ridgway, who has made such a great job with Hal Starr and Nick Hazard (and who, of course, is doing the cover for Cursitor Doom), is the man behind the colouring, telling me recently that "Colour seems to have added a whole new dimension to the strip. People who have seen it have liked it (so far)" I'm looking forward to seeing it—I've seen quite a selection of the sample strips that John has coloured up in the past and I've always been impressed.

But that's next issue. This issue sees the conclusion (and a very satisfying one) of Keith Page's "Rocket Pilot", the end of "Ex-Astris", although it was only ever a preview for a potentially much longer series which may appear yet (some readers of SA! dislike computer generated artwork but the 3-part story may have won them over), and new episodes of Dan Dare (two ongoing storylines), and reprints of "Journey Into Space" and "Nick Hazard". Spaceship Away! has always been home to some interesting articles and illustrations and this issue is no exception, with a revealing piece by Bruce Cornwell about his association with Dan Dare, and nice artwork by Don Harley, Ian Kennedy, Gerald Palmer and Graham Bleathman.

For ordering info and subscriptions, visit the Spaceship Away website. You can find some background on how the comic came to be at Wikipedia. Back issues are available.

By the way, fans of "Eagles Over the Western Front" will notice that this is a slightly longer story than the four or five episodes it has run most weeks. They'll be running over the weekend but will still be here Monday if that's the next chance you get to pop by. Just remember not to read them out of order.

Thursday, June 25, 2009

Phantom Patrol: final cover art

I can't resist cross-posting this. I've just posted the final wraparound cover art for The Phantom Patrol on the Bear Alley Books website. Things may have seemed a little slow-moving but the site is starting to look a little more colourful than it was when we launched on the 12th. There's a new logo and banner for starters, courtesy of graphic designer Mark Bonsor, and hopefully we'll have some more features up and running in the next few days.

I'm damn sure the above image will wing its way around the web in no time at all—and you have my blessing. While you're doing that, maybe you could grab this one and post it in a few days, once I've got the ordering information on the site up and running.

(* artwork © Bear Alley Books; Phantom Patrol © IPC Media.)

Tuesday, June 23, 2009

Phantom Patrol update

I've just posted an update over on the Bear Alley Books site on how The Phantom Patrol is progressing, along with the inked version of Chris Weston's incredible cover illustration. Go take a look.

Sunday, June 21, 2009

The Secret Brotherhood of Power

Issue 2 of Fantastic, the Odhams' Power Comic launched in 1967, enrolled all its readers into The Secret Brotherhood of Power and gave away a free scar. "We raise our clenched right hands and whisper the wondrous word 'POWER'," revealed the writer of that week's "News from the Floor of 64". "Get this week's issue number two of FANTASTIC then you too can have a scar on the inside of your wrist. Your too can breathe the password 'POWER'. And we can say unto you 'Welcome to the Secret Brotherhood'."

Issue 2—dated 25 February 1967 and already ready for the printers long before the first issue was ever published—also announced that Fantastic had already been awarded a prize, the 1967 Educational Publishing Prize, by The Guardian newspaper. "You've probably never heard of The Guardian but we're sure you'll be as impressed as we are about this award when we tell you that The Guardian is regarded by some people as one of Britain's leading daily newspapers!"

The sarcasm of this line would have been lost on the readers but was a response from the editors to a piece that had been published in The Guardian a few weeks earlier. The Guardian's "Miscellany" column for 4 January 1967 had included the following:
THIS BEING the high season for journalistic awards, "Miscellany" has a couple of nominations. First, the 1967 educational publishing prize to Cecil King (via Odhams Press) for "Fantastic." A bit premature this, perhaps. "Fantastic" won't arrive on bookstands till mid-February; but advance reports—featuring the Invisible Fantastic Iron Man, the Mighty Fantastic Thor, the Incredible Fantastic X-Men—are (not mincing words) fantastic. "The best American comic material carefully re-edited for the British youngster," Odhams says. And what fantastic bait is being used to sell this fantastic mish-mash? A free pennant wallet with one edition; free bubble gum with another; and free plastic scars. "Get the secret brotherhood of power scar," "Fantastic" proclaims. You also get three other scars for sticking on wrists and a "mighty Cyclops" plastic eye. "Don't be a chump—be a scarface." As the headmistress said to the bishop, this is just unbelievable.
When Fantastic chose to announce this as a genuine award, Miscellany took umbrage and offered them a second "prize" on 21 February under the heading "Nerve awards 1967":
... the nonexistent award for nonexistent educative worth wasn't meant totally seriously. Nevertheless, "Fantastic" this week touts the "prize" in its editorial columns as proof that "we've started something special." "You've probably never heard of the 'Guardian' but we're sure you'll be as impressed as we are about this award when we tell you the 'Guardian' is regarded by some people as one of Britain's leading daily newspapers! So how about that! Thanks for the honour you 'Guardian' Guys..." The layers of irony grow too dense: all the harassed "Guardian" perverts of "Fantastic" children who 'phoned bemusedly yesterday are hereby notified that the award-giving business is simply ridiculous.
The following week's free gift of a packet of bubble gum didn't earn Fantastic a single mention in the newspapers.

(* Fantastic © IPC Media)

Saturday, June 20, 2009

James Bond cover gallery

After the recent Modesty Blaise cover gallery, it's time to turn to James Bond. Back in 1987, Titan began reprinting the Bond newspaper strip from the Daily Express but only managed four titles before the series ground to a halt. Not so the latest series which looks like it will achieve its goal of putting all the Bond strips back in print.

Truth be told, I still prefer the earlier versions with their fully painted covers.

(* James Bond comic strip (c) Express Newspapers Ltd.)

Friday, June 19, 2009

Comic Cuts

Not much to add to what I covered on Monday. I've spent the bulk of this week cleaning artwork for the next book—the title of which I'll be announcing fairly soon—and talking to people. Lots of e-mail and telephone calls trying to sort out various plans for the future and get Bear Alley Books running on a professional basis.

For most of the 1990s I worked on various magazines and you think that you pick up quite a lot of skills along the way. I never really considered what half the other people working there did. Office manager, subscriptions department, post room... there was a whole support staff surrounding me and things got magically done that I never had to think about. Now I'm trying to do everything myself I'm starting to realise how protected and cossetted I was.

And we get used to certain things, like the speed of communication across the internet. So I was surprised to learn that it can take 4-6 weeks to register a book in a database. There's a form that you have to submit electronically to register an ISBN. Four to six weeks for someone to process a form? And do you know what the BIC guidelines are? They say you should try to submit information on a new title 20 weeks in advance. Welcome to the 21st century of book publishing.

No, I didn't know what BIC was before this week—it stands for Book Industry Communication. They issue a set of classification codes that are standard across the publishing trade, a bit like the old Dewey Decimal system you find in libraries. A graphic novel is classified as "AKLC1".

The old adage that you learn something new every day certainly applies to me this week.

Talking of BIC... BICS, the Birmingham International Comics Show in October. I'm hoping to be there this year to plug Bear Alley Books. Not that I've got anything organised yet, but that's the plan. My first comic convention since the last UKCAC in.... er... 1997?

"Potts' Progress" comes to an end today and next week should see Harry Hawkes back in action in another WW1 adventure. Tomorrow I'll have a little cover gallery of Titan's earlier James Bond series featuring artwork by Dave McKean, Kyle Baker and Paul Johnson. See you then.

(* Spotted this issue of Commando at a local charity shop and couldn't resist the Ian Kennedy cover. 49p well spent! © D. C. Thomson.)

Tuesday, June 16, 2009

Monday, June 15, 2009

Comic Cuts

I missed my regular Friday Comic Cuts column due to the announcement of Bear Alley Books, so I thought I'd squeeze one in today. I didn't have much time for anything last week outside of getting everything ready for Friday. There's still a lot of work to do before I've got everything sorted out but I'm hoping that I'll have all the ordering information and that kind of thing up and running soon. Cautiously I'll say by the end of the month but I don't know what unforeseen problem I might run into (that's why they're called unforeseen). I'm registering the first two titles today and have set the publication dates: Cursitor Doom is 1st August, Phantom Patrol is 15th August, but I'll say now that the books might be out plus or minus two weeks of those dates.

The week between announcing the announcement and actually making it was a weird one. Some days I was nice and calm and getting on with the job. Every now and then I'd wonder what the heck I was doing. And there was one moment of panic when a hard drive--the one with the scans for the two books--started having trouble booting up. Thankfully, it's a back-up, but I was up until four in the morning copying everything to another hard drive. Just in time: the next day it didn't boot up at all. It's a pain in the bum as it was a 1tb hard drive about half full, so I'm going to be struggling for space and nothing can be backed-up until I can afford to replace it. Which may be a while because the washing machine has gone kaput and we can't live without a washing machine.

Only two major panics in a week that chaotic... I'm counting myself lucky.

The new issue of Crikey! arrived (#10, June 2009) with the usual eclectic mixture of articles. Around half the issue is dedicated to some of comicdoms finest females: Jane, Axa, Carrie, Wicked Wanda and the George & Lynne strip, which existed pretty much just to show the latter topless. Interleaved are articles on Marvel UK, Zero-X, Rogue Trooper, Countdown, daredevils of the Evel Knievel variety from the pages of Tiger and Speed, plus an interview with sculptor Terry Curtis who worked on various Gerry Anderson shows.

The big news from Crikey! is that the next, September, issue will be a major relaunch with the title going bi-monthly and expanding to 84 full colour pages. And they're being distributed in Borders. And it's all for the same £4.99 price tag. Phew! You'll find subscription details at the Crikey! website.

William Rudling's Jeff Hawke's Cosmos hits vol.5 #3 (May 2009) and runs to a very substantial 90 pages, with three Jeff Hawke stories. "Out of Touch" from 1957-58 has a plot about a large alien artefact approaching the solar system, pre-dating Arthur C. Clarke's Rendezvous with Rama by fourteen years. The script was by Harry Harrison, who named his alien vessel that defies all attempts at communication the World of Rhamm. The other two stories are brilliant examples of Willie Patterson's complex but lighthearted plotting: "Made in Birmingham" (1965) is a time-travel story where nobody travels in time and "The Changeling" (1963) sees a drunken alien gamble himself into exile on Earth in a remodelled body. As always, there are detailed background notes by Duncan Lunan and a couple of additional articles, including Andrew Darlington's look at American newspaper strip hero Brick Bradford.

Jeff Hawke's Cosmos is published three times a year and subscriptions are a mere £18.50 (£28 overseas [Eur. 38] by air mail; for further details of rates and any other enquiries, contact william [AT] williamrudling.com.

Finally, I get a wee mention in a new Spanish book called Diario de Guerra (Panini Espana, 2009) which collects four tales from War Picture Library drawn by Hugo Pratt. The four stories, plus an introduction by Antoni Guiral, make this a solid collection, 270 pages of superb Pratt artwork in a neat little hardback which reproduces the artwork in a slightly enlarged format.

My knowledge of Spanish is zero but for those of you with better language skills than I, it's well worth 15 Euros. I'm looking forward to future volumes from Panini.

A couple of bits of stray news. Dave Jones passed on the news that his late uncle's very extensive collection of old British story papers and comics is being sold by Dominic Winter Book Auctions on June 18th. The Auction is the Children's Literature & Illustrated Books sale and the various lots are listed under the heading of the Joseph Harry Saunders M.B.E. Collection. "He took a real pride collecting these things from a young boy to an old man," says Dave. "Both my Mum and I want them to go to a good home."

If I'd known before I bought a washing machine, we might not have a washing machine.

Koki (whose Spanish is, I suspect, much better than mine) has passed on a link to a very good overview of the life and work of the late Pepe Gonzalez.

I'll be answering some of the questions that have come in over on the Bear Alley Books blog during the week so please drop by. Please keep the suggestions for strips you'd love to see reprinted rolling in.

Friday, June 12, 2009

Ron Smith cleared of abuse charges

Ron Smith, 80-year-old former D. C. Thomson and 2000AD artist, has been cleared of all charges relating to sexually abusing a 13-year-old girl following a 5-day trial at Guildford Crown Court. Smith maintained his innocence throughout, calling the charges ridiculous. "I never touched her in any way or at any point. I certainly never had sex with her and I did not rape her. I did not even go near her. It just did not happen ... There is not a shred of truth to these allegations, they are false through and through."

Smith was arrested last year when the woman, now 39, made a complaint to the police that she had been abused over a period of three years between the ages of 13 and 16.

The news of his release has been greeted with relief by fans of his work, although it was sad to learn, through the trial, that Smith has been suffering from skin cancer.

Ron Smith began his career as an artist after leaving the R.A.F., working for G-B Animation with such comics' luminaries as Mike Western, Eric Bradbury, Bill Holroyd, Harry Hargreaves and many others. He found work with the Amalgamated Press in 1950, first as a fill-in artists on humour strips before switching to adventure stories. Between 1952 and 1979 he worked almost exclusively for D. C. Thomson, drawing strips for Adventure, Hotspur, Topper, Dandy, Beezer, Bunty, Judy, Victor and Warlord. In 1979 he drew his first Judge Dredd episodes for the series "The Day the Law Died" and continued to draw the character for the next 15 years. He also drew for various other IPC titles, including MASK, Eagle, Wildcat and Toxic Crusaders before retiring in the 1990s.

Update (15 June 2009): An interesting commentary by Michael Molcher on how the case was reported can be found here.

Update #2 (5 August 2009): On 31 July 2009, John Freeman of Down the Tubes noted that the Sun newspaper website was still carrying its original report—with its leading headline ("Girl of 13 'abused by artist'")—on the Ron Smith trial but had not published a follow-up making it clear that the artist had been cleared of all charges.

2000AD fan "Van Dom" contacted the Sun and received a response from Jane Hamilton who works on the paper's newsdesk on 4 August stating that, "Having done some research this verdict was way back at the start of June and then only reported by a small number of local websites. I will need to find out why this is as no reputable news agency or freelancer has filed it to us. I will ask a reporter to check with the court."

The original story was subsequently removed from the Sun's website.

(* An early example of Ron Smith adventure story, "The Flame and the Arrow" © IPC Media.)

Monday, June 08, 2009

Aces High (Air Ace Picture Library collection 1)

Officially released on June 11, Aces High gathers together 10 of the best stories from the highly collectable Air Ace Picture Library. It is a companion to the recently released Up And At 'Em! collection and follows in the footsteps of four previous volumes collecting some of the best stories from War Picture Library and Battle Picture Library.


Flash Point (AAPL 35, Jan 1961) Art: Joe Colquhoun; Script: D. M. Garbutt
Fighter, Fighter! (AAPL 39, Feb 1961) Art: Ian Kennedy
No Survivors (AAPL 46, Apr 1961) Art: Mike Western; Script: G. W. Brunt
War Smoke (AAPL 50, May 1961) Art: Luis Bermejo
Dive Bomber (AAPL 51, May 1961) Art: Solano Lopez; Script: G. W. Brunt
Target Tirpitz (AAPL 54, Jun 1961) Art: Ferdinando Tacconi
Whirlwind in the Sky (AAPL 55, Jun 1961) Art: Juan Zanotto; Script: G. W. Brunt
Steel Bats (AAPL 65, Aug 1961) Art: Ian Kennedy
Teeth of Battle (AAPL 66, Sep 1961) Art: Leopoldo Ortiz; Script: Ken McOwan
Blast Bomb (AAPL 76, Nov 1961) Art: Kurt Caesar

Please note: the names of other scriptwriters remains unknown at the present time. The cover art is by Graham Coton.


When War Picture Library was launched in 1958 it quickly became apparent that many of the most popular stories with the readers featured the adventures of the warriors of the air, pilots who soared and swooped through the sky, cannons and machine guns blazing. The flyers were seen as the glamour boys of the Second World War, handling the most sophisticated and technically advanced combat machines ever invented and there was almost limitless scope to develop stories based around their exploits. The machines that they flew—fighters such as Spitfires, Hurricanes, Messerschmitts, Mustangs and Zeros—were lovingly recreated by the finest artists, in the brand new Air Ace Picture Library in 1960. Those images are reproduced here 25 per cent larger than in their original published form, pulling you into close formation in the thick of the action. The ten stories in "Aces High" take you from the flak-blasted night sky over Germany to the sweltering heat of the tropics, twisting and turning like a Typhoon with a Focke Wolf in its sights!

About the Author
Steve Holland is the author of over 1,000 articles and a dozen books relating to comics and pulp culture, including The Trials of Hank Janson, nominated for the Silver Dagger Award by the Crime Writers Association. His latest book, The War Libraries Index charts the extraordinary history of Fleetway's war picture libraries.


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Sunday, June 07, 2009

Malcolm Douglas [J. T. Dogg] (1954-2009)

Malcolm Douglas, artist best known for his work for Oink!, died on Sunday, 22 March, aged 54. Douglas had been suffering from cancer and had been taken to Royal Hallamshire Hospital in December 2008, where the condition was diagnosed, although he had subsequently returned home.

Douglas was born on 10 August 1954 and raised in South London and educated at Trinity School of John Whitgift, Croydon, and Sheffield University, where he studied French and English. Drawing was one of his hobbies and he volunteered to illustrate the student union newspaper. He went on to draw "The Street-Hogs!" (written by Mark Rodgers) and "Ham Dare, Pig of the Future" (written by Lew Stringer) for Oink! His contributions, often across the colour centre spread and signed J. T. Dogg, were amongst the most popular in the paper.

When Oink! was merged with Buster, Douglas went on to draw for a number of adult comics, including Brain Damage, Gas, Comic Strip, Zit! and UT as well as adult magazines Knave and Fiesta. For five years, he also drew a regular strip for the Manchester United match programme featuring "Fred the Red", the Man U. mascot.

Aside from drawing, his passion was for folk music. A musician himself, playing fiddle, mandolin and cittern with various bands, he was a driving force in the English Folk Dance and Song Society and the South Riding Folk Arts Network and was responsible for republishing the songbooks English Classical Folk Songs (2003) and Marrow Bones (2007).

Some pages from an unpublished comic strip, "Night Falls on Jericho", appear on Douglas's website.

Further information: Website; The Guardian (15 April). Lew Stringer has written a tribute to Douglas on his Blimey! blog (6 June).

War Comics: A Graphic History

I'll confess up front that I wrote a couple of the articles for War Comics: A Graphic History, although my contributions account for 4 of the 192 pages, so I don't think it will bias my view of the book. Said view is that this is an excellent addition to any comics' reference library and sits very comfortably on my shelf alongside the two volumes of Tim Pilcher's history of Erotic Comics (Erotic Comics: A Graphic History, Volume 1: From Birth to the 1970s and Erotic Comics: A Graphic History, Volume 2: From the 1970s to the Present Day) and Dez Skinn's Comic Art Now.

The format is identical to my Sci-Fi Art: A Graphic History and, as with that, I'm hugely impressed by the look of the book. The design is colourful and clear and the images taken from a vast range of comics, all informatively captioned.

The text meanders across all theatres of war, from the days of Troy to the current "War on Terror". The two World Wars account for only around half the book, leaving plenty of space for conflicts as disparate as the American-Indian wars and the battle for the Falklands. The diversity saves the book from becoming unrelentingly one-sided. The coverage is primarily American and British, so expect depictions of Allied and Axis powers to be poles apart: the allies are impossibly heroic and gung-ho; their enemy are ugly and evil. Coverage of later comics is more interesting as the book turns to the likes of Keiji Nakazawa's Barefoot Gen, Joe Sacco (Palestine, Safe Area Gorazde), Joe Kubert's Fax From Sarajevo and the American comics' response to 9/11.

The selection of artwork shows a fantastic range of styles. As an unrepentant fan of British comics it's great to see Joe Colquhoun, Ian Kennedy and others celebrated alongside classic war artwork by the likes of Russ Heath, Jack Davis, Harvey Kurtzman and Joe Orlando. Although I don't collect American comics, I'm certainly aware of these fine artists; American readers, on the other hand, are less likely to have seen the British comics and should be in for a treat.

War Comics: A Graphic History, ed. Mike Conroy. Ilex ISBN 978-1905814473, 18 May 2009.

Saturday, June 06, 2009

Modesty Blaise cover gallery

I've been sorting through some duplicates of books with the notion of getting rid of them. One series I'm a bit loath to get rid of is Titan's first set of Modesty Blaise books even though they've been superceded by the latest series. The reason is mostly down to the covers by the wonderful John M. Burns, one of my favourite artists. But needs—mostly the desperate need for some shelf-space—must so I'm reluctantly going to let them go.

But not before I scan the covers and present them here as a cover gallery.

(* Modesty Blaise © Associated Newspapers/Solo Syndication.)


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