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Monday, August 27, 2012

The Commando Interviews Part 1: George Low (2004)

A brief introduction

The following interview with George Low, one time editor of the British comic book Commando, was conducted by Michael Eriksson in July 2004. This was originally published on Mike's late and much lamented website Where Eagles Dare and is one of a number of interviews that will be appearing here with Mike's permission. I have made a number of very minor visual and editorial changes for clarity but I have otherwise made no alterations; Mike is Swedish – his English is near perfect and I'm sure you'll forgive the occasional verbal stumble.

Michael Eriksson: I understand that Commando is the most important UK war comic and the longest survivor as well. How is it doing these days and do you have a grasp of the readership and who is actually buying it?

George Low: Commando is doing okay. Our readers are mostly 10-16 years, but we do have many older readers.

How many issues do you publish per year and how many of these are re-runs?

96 per year; 24 are reprints.

How many writers and artists do you have for the publication and how long have they been aboard?

The numbers and their lengths of service fluctuate quite a bit.

How long does it take to write and draw a 60 page tale and does the cover artist see this before he works out the actual cover?

Four days is quite fast for the script; six to eight weeks for the artwork. We usually choose the cover from a scene in the the artwork.

You have had some of the best cover artists ever in comics, why is it that the public seems to know virtually nothing at all about these masters? Or have you published information in the UK of a kind that we never got here in Sweden?

Most of our covers are done by Ian Kennedy, a well-known Scottish artist who lives locally.

The covers are, as I said, brilliant. In the US some companies have printed books with classic covers (for example, DC comics have done this for Superman and Batman) for the avid collectors to buy. Has anything like that been published about the Commando books or has it been up for discussion?

No and it hasn’t been discussed either yet.

Is Commando exported to places like New Zealand and other English speaking territories or is the sole market the UK in itself?

Yes. Australia, New Zealand, Canada etc.

I understand that a war comic that was titled "Action" was actually banned at one point, did the heat that war comics was under at that time in England effect Commando in any way?

No. We never got caught up in that.

How many issues has been published today?

3730 by June 2004.

Was Commando the first war comic in England and when did it first get published? Did war comics exist in some form even during the war?

There were none during the war because of the shortage of paper. Other war comics came out before Commando which appeared in 1961.

Have you had stories placed in later wars as well, like the Falklands conflict or the Gulf wars to name a few, and if so how has these been met by your audience and the public?

Yes. Both modern and ancient - from ancient Persia to Science Fiction with a war link. There have been some Viking "sagas" too and all were enjoyed by many of our readers.

Would it be accurate to say that stories that are placed in WW2 are easier to print simply because that was a conflict that had to be won for the sake of democracy and human dignity, and that some of the later wars have been much more debated and questioned? How do you deal with that reality?

Yes. Later conflicts have to be "simplified", if you like, to maintain a balanced view of them.

As a reader of imported issues (some was published in Norway in a title called "Kamp" at one time), I did notice that there were virtually no stories at all about the struggle on the eastern front. Was that a result of the cold war at that time or did the audience simply want to read about British heroes?

British heroes were popular, but we have featured many German, Italian, Japanese heroes. If a story is strong enough, we will use whatever nationality it requires.

What is your job as editor of Commando? Describe a typical day at the office.

Working on ideas with writers on artists by telephone and email … and normal post. Liaising with our production departments to ensue we do go to press.

Have you worked on other titles as well and when did you get involved in this title? 

I have worked on Commando since 1963, but we also did romance libraries then … War and Peace.

Did you predecessor give you any advice that was smart to take to heart when you stepped in?

Get the story right and the rest will follow.

Have you published any "Commando Annuals" or has it been discussed at the office at all?

Yes, three in the 80s/90s, but they were not a great success.

How is the market in the UK for classic comics, counting other types of stories (football, detective and so on) as well?

Not so good as it used to be … like everywhere else.

In Sweden we have not seen a war comic in print since 1988, and if you look at Scandinavia it looks like the "Korkeajännitys" title (which consists largely of your comics) in Finland is the only one left here. Do you still export the Commando title to any other countries except Finland?

Occasionally to Norway, France, Greece etc, but nothing regular.

Every title has a "golden era", at what time was Commando at the very peak of its run?


How long has Commando been the last standing war comic in the UK?

About ten years.

Has it been under threat of being cancelled at any point?


The version they have going in Finland is brilliant, 4 stories jammed into 260 pages. This is a concept that I´ll try to get the Swedish publishing houses interested in. Has Commando ever been issued like that in the UK or did the editor in Finland come up with this idea?

Not in the UK. It is a concept of the Finns.

I know that they have produced some issues in Finland locally, that deals with the conflicts between Finland and the Soviet Union during the war. Has these been published in England as well?

Yes, and they were popular.

What artists and writers have been working for Commando the longest?

Ian Kennedy is our longest serving artist. The writers come and go more.

Any new talents that has come in lately?

Not at this precise moment.

Do you have any idea what a copy of an early Commando could be worth these days?

About £300.

Are you in touch with any collectors and what kind of requests do you usually get from your audience?

They want to know about artists and writers and collect missing issues to complete their collection.

Do you foresee that Commando will be around in 2010 as well?

I hope so!

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