Thursday, February 28, 2013

Alias Colonel Blood part 19

(* © Mercury Features.)

Commando 4579-4582

Commando releases on sale 28 February 2013.

Commando No 4579 – The Regimental Spoon

Soldiers’ lucky charms and mascots come in all shapes and sizes — from medallions to pet goats and all things in between. But surely one of the oddest objects to become a talisman of good fortune was a spoon. Yes, that’s right, a humble spoon.
   Don’t believe it? Well, between these covers is the story of how this kitchen utensil went to war with generations of the same family — and returned home safely every time.
   Make up your own mind if the tale is true.

Story: Mac MacDonald
Art: Keith Page
Cover: Keith Page

Commando No 4580 – Burma Vengeance

In the dense Burmese jungle, British troops were being driven back towards India, their spirits sapped by a series of defeats at the hands of the advancing Japanese.
   Corporal Dan Farley had been left in command of a group of fearful survivors. They expected to be killed at any moment…but then a grizzled veteran Sergeant – ruthless and tough – came of out of nowhere to save their skins.
   Dan wanted to be like this lethal newcomer, but the mysterious NCO was on a mission of his own. He had a score to settle with a brutal Japanese Colonel. This quest was personal and it could only end in death…but whose?

Story: Alan Hebden
Art: Vila
Cover: Janek Matysiak

Commando No 4581 – Hero From Hollywood

Almost every man has a hero…the one bloke in all the world he’d give his right arm to be like. Corporal Joe Brent’s number one he-man was the big, granite-fisted American film-star – Chet Marvin.
   In the days before the war, Joe queued up to see every movie he made, and marvelled at the sheer guts of the man.
   Then, one day in 1941, against a background of exploding German bombs and throbbing aero-engines, Corporal Joe Brent and his celluloid hero met face to face. It should have been the greatest day in Joe’s life.
   But this was no Hollywood film set. This was war! And when the shot and shell are no longer blanks, it’s easy to sort out the men from the boys…


A little bit of “conspiracy theory” never goes amiss in Commando and author Eric Hebden takes full advantage here with his invasion that never was. The main thrust of the story, though, is a hero with feet of clay — or a bad case of the jitters — and he manages that with equal aplomb.
   The art is strong, inside and outside, by two men who handle the drawing of horses with the same skill as Hebden handles the story. And horses, as the best of artists will tell you, are tricky beasts to capture.
   Giddy-up and get reading!

Calum Laird, Editor

Story: Eric Hebden
Art: Jones
Cover: Alvaro
Originally Commando No. 84 (August 1963), re-issued as No. 559 (June 1971) 

Commando No 4582 – The Secret Tanks

The French Char-B tank was one of the best fighting vehicles of the Second World War. But France had surrendered in 1940 so why were there a lot of them in the desert in 1943? And why did they have enemy markings? It was a secret which the Germans were determined to hide but which the Allies were equally determined to uncover.


This solid tale features a story-telling device that works well in Commando – the linking of World War II with the Great War which had ended a little over twenty years previously. Here, the connection is a fighting father and son, and the dependable sergeant that served alongside them both.
   Then, of course, throw into the mix the “Secret Tanks” of the title – great, clanking French Char Bs – and we have a classic in the making.
   Commando legend Gordon Livingstone’s art is up to his usual high standard here, and shows his versatility in drawing action and adventure, whatever the conflict.

Scott Montgomery, Deputy Editor

Story: David Heptonstall
Art: Gordon Livingstone
Cover: Jeff Bevan
Originally Commando No. 2210 (August 1988), re-issued as No. 3708 (April 2004)

Sunday, February 24, 2013

Gregory Benford

Gregory Benford is another of my favourite SF writers and one I'm pleased to say that I got to interview. It was back in the mid-1990s when he (and Mrs. Benford) were in the UK promoting Sailing Bright Eternity and the interview took place at a pub just around the corner from Forbidden Planet, where Greg had been doing a signing. I can't be sure, but I think the interview was for Beyond, but the magazine folded before it could be run. In 1997, Liz Holliday was putting together the 'issue zero' of Odyssey and asked if I had anything and I dug out the interview from two years earlier which I believe Liz updated with a phonecall. I don't have the interview to hand, but I'll see if I can dig it out.

I do remember getting a couple of my books autographed, which is something I almost never do. What a gentleman!

If you want to learn more, Greg's official website will tell you all you should need to know.

To wrap this up, I'll just add that I'm looking forward to picking up his next book, Bowl of Heaven, co-written with another favourite of mine, Larry Niven, and out later this year.

Deeper Than the Darkness (New York, Ace Books, 1970; revised as The Stars in Shroud , New York, Berkley, 1978; London, Gollancz, 1978)
Sphere 0722-11571-7, 1980, 273pp.
---- [xth imp.] Nov 1986, 269pp, £2.95.
Orbit 0708-88372-9, Aug 1991, 273pp, £4.50.

Jupiter Project (Nashville Tennessee, Thomas Nelson, 1975; revised as The Jupiter Theft, New York, Berkley, 1980; as Jupiter Project, London, Sphere, 1982)
Sphere 0722-11572-5, 1982, 182pp.

In the Ocean of Night (New York, Dial Press, 1977; London, Sidgwick & Jackson, 1978)
Futura/Orbit 0708-88021-5, 1978, 333pp, 95p. Cover by Peter Jones
Vista 0575-60035-7, May 1997, 336pp, £5.99. Cover by Bob Eggleton

If the Stars Are Gods, with Gordon Eklund (New York, Berkley, 1977; London, Sphere, 1979; revised, New York, Bantam Spectra, Jan 1989)
Sphere 0722-11574-1, 1979, 202pp.

Shiva Descending, with William Rotsler (New York, Avon, 1980; London, Sphere, 1980)
Sphere 0722-11573-3, 1980, 394pp.

Find the Changeling, with Gordon Eklund (New York, Dell, 1980; London, Sphere, 1983)
Sphere 0722-11569-5, 1983, 249pp, £1.75.
Orbit 0708-88373-7, Aug 1991, 249pp, £4.50. Cover by Alan Brooks

Timescape (New York, Simon & Schuster, 1980; London, Gollancs, 1980)
Sphere 0722-11630-6, 1982, 412pp.
---- [xth imp.] Dec 1986, 412pp, £2.25.
---- [xth imp.] Dec 1987, 412pp, £3.50.
Vista 0575-60050-0, Dec 1996, 412pp, £5.99. Cover by Terry Pastor
Orion/Millennium [SF Masterworks 27] 1857-98935-X, Mar 2000, 412pp, £6.99. Cover by Chris Moore

Against Infinity (New York, Timescape, 1983; London, Gollancz, 1983)
New English Library 0450-05719-4, 1984, 251pp.
---- [2nd imp.] 1987, 251pp, £1.95.

Across the Sea of Suns (New York, Simon & Schuster/Timescape, Jan 1984; revised, New York, Bantam Spectra, Aug 1987)
Futura/Orbit 0708-88159-9, 1985, 399pp.
Vista 0575-60055-1, 1997, 353pp.

Artifact (New York, Tor, Jun 1985)
Bantam UK 0553-17206, Nov 1986,  544pp, £3.50.
Little Brown/Orbit 1841-49062-8, Jul 2001, 416pp, £6.99. Cover by Bob Warner

Heart of the Comet, with David Brin (New York, Bantam Spectra, Feb 1986; London, Bantam Spectra, Aug 1986)
Bantam UK 0553-17291-3, Apr 1987, 478pp, £2.95.
Orbit 1857-23436-7, 1997, 477pp, £6.99. Cover by Fred Gambino
---- [2nd imp.] 1998; [3rd imp.] 2002, £7.99.

Great Sky River (New York, Bantam Spectra, Dec 1987; London, Gollancz, Feb 1988)
Gollancz 0575-04303-2, Jul 1988, 326pp, £3.50. 
Gollancz 0575-05831-5, Aug 1995, 326pp, £5.99. Cover by John Dismukes

Tides of Light (New York, Bantam Spectra, Feb 1989; London, Gollancz, Oct 1989)
Gollancz 0575-04759-3, May 1990, 362pp, £5.99. Cover by John Dismukes
---- [2nd imp.] 1995, 362pp, £5.99. cover as above

Beyond the Fall of Night [with Against the Fall of Night by Arthur C. Clarke] (New York, Ace/Putnam, Jul 1990)
Orbit 1857-23026-4, Jun 1992, 326+viiipp, £4.99. Cover by Chris Moore
Little Brown/Orbit [xth im.] Oct 2000, 326+viipp, £5.99

Chiller [as Sterling Blake] (New York, Bantam, 1993; revised for E-Book publication, 2011)
New English Library 0450-59978-7, 1993, 656pp.

Furious Gulf (New York, Bantam Spectra, Aug 1994; London, Gollancz, Nov 1994)
Gollancz 0575-06100-6, Aug 1995, 341pp, £5.99. Cover by John Dismukes

Sailing Bright Eternity (London, Gollancz, Aug 1995; New York, Bantam Spectra, Sep 1995)
Vista 0575-60047-0, Aug 1996, 445pp, £5.99.

Man-Kzin: A Darker Geometry, with Mark O. Martin (New York, Baen Books, 1995; as A Darker Geometry: A Man-Kzin Novel, New York, Baen Books, Sep 1996)

Foundation's Fear (New York, HarperPrism, Mar 1997; London, Orbit, May 1997)
Orbit 1857-23563-0, Jul 1998, 620pp, £6.99. Cover by Fred Gambino
---- [2nd imp.] 1989.

Cosm (New York, Avon Eos, Feb 1998; London, Little Brown/Orbit, Apr 1998)
Orbit 1857-23628-9, 1998, 372pp, £9.99 [tpb].
Orbit 1857-23724-2, Feb 1999, 372pp, £6.99. 

The Martian Race (New York, Warner Aspect, Dec 1999)
Little Brown/Orbit 1857-23999-7, Apr 2000, 472pp, £6.99

Eater (New York, HarperCollins/Eos, May 2000)
Little Brown/Orbit 1841-49017-2, Jan 2001, 384pp, £6.99. Cover by Fred Gambino

Beyond Infinity (New York, Warner Aspect, Mar 2004)
Time Warner UK/Orbit 1841-49188-8, Mar 2004, 451pp, £6.99. Cover by Bob Warner

The Sunborn (New York, Warner Aspect, Mar 2005)
Time Warner UK/Orbit 1841-49176-4, May 2005, 424pp, £6.99. Cover by Fred Gambino

Bowl of Heaven, with Larry Niven (New York, Tor, Oct 2012)
Titan Books 978-1783-29432-9, Jul 2014, 416pp, £7.99.

Shipstar, with Larry Niven (New York, Tor, Apr 2014)
Titan Books 978-1783-29434-3, Jan 2015, 416pp, £7.99.

The Berlin Project (New York, Saga Press, May 2017)

Rewrite: Loops in the Timescape (New York, Saga Press, Jan 2019)


In Alien Flesh (New York, Tor, Mar 1986; London, Gollancz, Jul 1988)
Gollancz 0575-04489-6, Mar 1989, 280pp, £3.50. Cover by Terry Pastor

Matter's End (New York, Bantam Spectra, Jan 1995; London, Gollancz, Jun 1996)
Gollancz/Vista 0575-60072, Jul 1997, 294pp, £5.99. Cover by Bob Eggleton

Worlds Vast and Various (New York, Eos, 2000)
(no UK paperback)

Immersion and other short novels (Waterville, ME, Five Star, Mar 2002)
(no UK paperback)

Anomalies (Lucky Bat Books, Mar 2012)
(no UK paperback)

The Best of Gregory Benford (Subterranean Press, Jul 2015)
(no UK paperback)

Time's Rub (New Castle, VA, Cheap Street, 1984)
Of Space/Time and the River (New Castle, VA, Cheap Street, 1985)
At the Double Solstice (new Casatle, VA, Cheap Street, 1986)
Matter's End (New Castle, VA, Cheap Street, 1989)
We Could Do Worse (New Castle, VA, Cheap Street, 1988)
Iceborn, with Paul A. Carter (New Castle, VA, Cheap Street, 1989)
Centigrade 233 (New Castle, VA, Cheap Street, 1990)
Matter's End (New Castle, VA, Cheap Street, 1991)
Mammoth Dawn, with Kevin J. Anderson (WordFire Press, 2015)

Saturday, February 23, 2013

Roy Cross and his Airfix Dogfight Doubles

Roy Cross and his Airfix Dogfight Doubles
by Jeremy Briggs

In the mid-1970s the plastic kits manufactured by British firm Airfix were omnipresent in toyshops, newsagents and corner shops around the country with their dramatic box illustrations making them stand out on the shelves. At that time Airfix had a 75% share of the United Kingdom plastic kit market and the company was selling some 20 million kits annually, the vast majority of which had illustrations on their boxes painted by one man – Roy Cross.

Born in Southwark in London in 1924, Cross had attended the Camberwell School of Art before moving into the aviation industry as a technical illustrator during WWII. After the war he began producing commercial advertising artwork, wrote and illustrated books, produced cutaway images for adults in Flight magazine and children in Eagle comic and, by the early 1960s, he was painting covers for both Eagle and its sibling comic Swift and signing them with his distinctive “- CROSS -” signature.

In 1964 he began his decade long association with Airfix by painting the box illustration for their kit of the Dornier Do-217 WWII bomber. His Airfix artwork covered a wide range of subjects including cars, tanks, ships, aircraft and spacecraft and continued through to 1974 at which time he moved into painting maritime and aviation fine art.

The Airfix company was set up in 1939 by Hungarian businessman Nicholas Kove to manufacture rubber inflatable toys. Moving into producing injection moulded plastic items in 1947, their first plastic kit was the Ferguson TE20 tractor which was manufactured in 1949 as promotional give-away followed in 1952 by the Golden Hind and in 1953 by the first of many versions of the Supermarine Spitfire, the popularity of which led the company to begin the range of plastic kits that they became famous for. These kits ranged in price and complexity from the small and relatively simple Series 1 kits, originally packaged in a simple plastic bag with a header card, up to the large and complex Series 12 and upwards “superkits”.

In 1966 the company hit on a method of repackaging its older 1/72 scale aircraft kits by taking two Series 1 kits and packaging them together in a single Series 2 box with a special A-shaped, two position stand to allow the pair to be positioned together in an action pose. Airfix released three sets of these Series 2 pairings under the title “Dog Fight Series” in 1966, all of which featured WWI aircraft – a Royal Flying Corps Sopwith Camel vs a German Albatros DIII, a RFC Bristol F2B Brisfit vs a German Red Baron-style Fokker DR1 Dreidecker, and a German Roland C11 vs a RFC Royal Aircraft Factory RE8.

In 1967 the series was expanded to cover WWII subjects, with a Series 1 and a Series 2 kit repackaged in a Series 3 box and the overall series, including the previous WWI sets, retitled to the snappier “Dog Fight Doubles”. These three WWII sets were all RAF vs Luftwaffe with a Bristol Beaufighter vs a Messerschmitt Bf109 G6, a Supermarine Spitfire IX vs a Messerschmitt Bf110, and a De Havilland Mosquito vs a Messerschmitt Me262.

Between 1968 and 1971 a further three sets were released from a mixture of conflicts that brought the series up to the then contemporary Vietnam War. These were the WWII Soviet Air Force Illusyhin Il-2 Stormovik vs a Luftwaffe Focke-Wulf FW190, an Arab/Israeli Six Day War theme of an Israeli Air Force Dassault Mirage IIIC vs an Egyptian Air Force Mikoyan-Gurevitch MiG-15, and finally the rather uneven pairing of a propeller United States Air Force Cessna O-2 Skymaster vs a jet North Vietnamese Air Force Mikoyan-Gurevitch MiG-21. With the change of box styles around 1973 from the “red stripe” to the “circular logo”, the series title was subtly changed to “Dogfight Doubles”.

Despite having already painted box illustrations for many of the individual aircraft that made up this series, Roy Cross would paint new artwork for each of the nine Dogfight Doubles boxes. For these he would initially produce one or more pencil roughs for the kit box top framed within the standard Airfix box outline of the period. This format forced Cross, and all the company’s other artists over the years, to design virtually every Airfix painting for a long rectangular landscape format box, bar the odd space rocket, tall sailing ship and some human figures when only a vertical portrait format would work.

The chosen pencil rough was then quickly painted or chalked in black and white to give a closer impression of the final image. Once that was also approved, Cross would paint a small colour rough of the final image before he moved on to painting the final full sized version that would be printed on thousands of Airfix boxes. Unfortunately very few of these final paintings have survived the passing of the years but some colour roughs have and, despite the name, they are so detailed and similar to the final printed versions that they are often mistaken for the final artwork.

Between 1963 and 1973 Airfix used a style of packaging that collectors refer to as the Type 3 box which had a distinctive diagonal red strip on the top and sides. As all the Dogfight Doubles were originally released during this period, the surviving pencil roughs for all of them show this diagonal as part of the frame of the image. As well as some approved pencil roughs, some other alternative takes on the Dogfight Doubles box art have survived that show what was initially offered to Airfix but was rejected.

As interesting as all these alternative roughs are, there is one which stands out from the rest as it shows a Dogfight Doubles pairing that was never released. Like the 1968 Mirage vs MiG-15 release that showed a French-built Dassault Mirage III of the Israeli Air Force firing rockets at Soviet-built Mikoyan-Gurevitch MiG-15s of the Egyptian Air Force that it had caught on the ground, this rough is also an Arab/Israeli Six Day War scene of the same Mirage III but this time it is tangling in the air with a MiG-21 of the Egyptian Air Force as smoke rises from what could be a recently attacked airfield in the background.

Airfix had released their Mirage III as a Series 2 kit in 1964 and their MiG-21, also as a Series 2 kit, in 1967, and so this combination would not have been the then standard Dogfight Doubles combination of a Series 1 kit with a Series 2 kit. Given his long association with aircraft at this point in his career, it is highly unlikely that Roy Cross would have mixed up a MiG-21 with a MiG-15 and so it is possible this image represents a pairing, perhaps planned to be released as a Series 4 set, that Airfix initially considered but then decided not to proceed with.

Roy Cross’ artwork on the Dogfight Doubles, and all the other boxes, proved so popular that Airfix reused it as they reworked their packaging over the years and, some forty years after it was painted, the rejuvenated company still uses it on some of their boxes today.


The modern Airfix company released new pairings of Dogfight Doubles in the 2000s however the original batch of Dogfight Doubles that Roy Cross provided the box artwork for in the 1960s and 1970s were as follows –

Series 2 – Dog Fight Series
Camel and Albatross         (WWI – issued in 1966 as 02140-3)
F2B and Fokker DR1         (WWI – issued in 1966 as 02141-6)
Roland and RE8         (WWI – issued in 1966 as 02142-9)

Series 3 – Dogfight Doubles
Beaufighter and Bf109         (WWII – issued in 1967 as 03140-6)
Spitfire and Bf110         (WWII – issued in 1967 as 03141-9)
Mosquito and Me262         (WWII – issued in 1967 as 03142-3)
Mirage and MiG-15         (Six Day War – issued in 1968 as 03143-5)
Stormovik and FW190         (WWII – issued in 1969 as 03144-8)
Cessna O-2 and MiG-21     (Vietnam War – issued in 1971 as 03145-1)

The RAF Museum at Hendon in London is planning an exhibition about Airfix which is due include examples of Roy Cross’ artwork for the company. The exhibition is due to open in June 2013 and is planned to relocate to the RAF Museum at Cosford in Autumn 2014. Both RAF Museums are free.

There is a highly detailed account of Roy Cross’ career on the Hatfield Hertfordshire website. There is more general information on Airfix box artists by Airfix expert Arthur Ward on the Collecting Friends website. Details of all Airfix kits currently available are on the Airfix website.

(* The photo of Roy Cross, taken in 2011, was borrowed from the Airfix Facebook page.)

Friday, February 22, 2013

Comic Cuts - 22 February 2013

This has been my second full week concentrating on the Ranger book. Trying to keep things bubbling along, I have worked on a few scans in between bouts of writing the introduction. The latter is now coming together quite nicely and was 5,700 words at the last count.

The scans have been fun to work on. Only a handful of pieces of original artwork seems to have survived for Ranger, some of it black & white war illustrations. To get the best possible reproduction, I have reset a number of pages and dropped in the original artwork, an example of which you can see above. Not to toot my own trumpet, but the results look pretty darn good and pushing up the quality of the artwork should give the finished book a chance at looking good once it is printed.

The actual index bit of the book is also almost complete. With luck and a good tail wind, I should be starting on layouts next week and finalising the content as far as reprint strips is concerned. I'm definitely planning to include 'Macbeth', as drawn by Ruggero Giovannini and at least one strip by Franco Caprioli. The final decision will depend on balancing page count with costs and making sure that the end result is affordable.

I need some help with one section ... I'd like to include the two Ranger books but I only have one of them. So can anyone help out with the contents of the second (1968) annual? That's the one pictured above.

Random scans ... sticking with the Ranger theme, here are four covers from the magazine painted by James E. McConnell, a regular artist here on Bear Alley, although normally its his paperback covers.

Roy Cross should be making an appearance on Bear Alley over the weekend. Next week, we will be back on the trail with Lesley Shane.


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