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Saturday, September 10, 2011

Commando: 50 Years a Home for Heroes: review

A Home for Heroes
a review by Richard Sheaf

People have written books about producing comics for DC Thomson before (see A Very Funny Business by Leo Baxendale) and people have written (scurrilous) books about DC Thomson before (the euphemistically tilted The DC Thomson Bumper Fun Book, Paul Harris publishing). No-one has ever quite written a love letter to publicising comics at DC Thomson like George Low has with his Commando, 50 years a Home for Heroes.

This enormous volume (it’s bigger (!) than the Hawk Books reprints of Dan Dare stories but in the same format) is 176 pages of full colour art, printed on quality paper, looking like the coffee table book about Commando comic you never thought you’d see.

It begins with a foreword by James (“I’ve done the forewords for both David Roach’s great books on war comic cover art”) May contemplating – hyperbole alert – the “…greatest and most influential canon in the history of the English language”, which presumably means that like the rest of us he was a voracious and indiscriminate reader as a kid, as he has now publicly confessed his love for Fleetway & DC Thomson titles! It also features chapters on: the world of Commando, editing Commando, readers’ feedback, the writers, the story artists, the cover artists, the top 50 Commando covers and a complete Commando title listing (up until issue 4404). And 6 full length Commando adventures as well. As well!

All of this is written in a very laid back, matey tone, for this is no navel gazing trip into academia but mainly one man (with a bit of help from the current editor, Callum Laird) extolling the virtues of a comic he spend most of life working on. He talks through some of the characters he’s worked with and their lives and idiosyncrasies, the whole production cycle of Commando and the way it has evolved over the years. He gets to rave about the artists and scriptwriters that he wants to rave about because they are his friends and allies in the ‘war’ on producing 8 issues of Commando each month, every month. But this favouritism doesn’t feel forced or false, it’s just the reminiscences of someone who feels he got a great job and now, unbelievably, someone’s paying him to write a book on it all. I’ve only met George Low once so I can’t claim to know him but this feels like his book rather than a bland corporate book (which in other hands it could easily have become) on the 50th anniversary of Commando.

As a Fleetway reader and collector I own very few issues of Commando so this may be the perfect book for me. It's also the perfect book for long-time Commando readers because the dearth of information published about Commando up until now (Achtung! Commando fanzine now feels like it was published a long time ago) means that these all feel like fresh insights.

Overall, an essential purchase.

2 comments:

Sean Phillips said...

I went to see the Commando exhibition at the National Army Museum in London the other day. A large selection of mostly cover art by Ian Kennedy. Great to see, highly recommended!

Steve said...

Richard also gave it a good review over on Down the Tubes. Sounds well worth a visit. There's also an exhibition of original Commando artwork planned for the 2011 Dundee Comics Day on 30 October.