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Saturday, March 23, 2013

The Commando Interviews Part 8: Calum Laird

A brief introduction. 

The following interview with Calum Laird, editor of the British comic book Commando, was conducted by Michael Eriksson in January 2011. 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.

Landmark year is here - Commando turns 50 in 2011 - interview with editor Calum Laird.

Things are going well for Commando and this year will see another opportunity for the classic title to grab some well deserved attention in the media as 50 years has now passed since the first issue (published in July 1961 - as it happens, I was born then so I will join the celebrations myself!). The time has come to dig up some questions for the Commando headquarters to sort out, and as always it is good fun to see what´s going on with these guys. Where Eagles Dare is glad to support this classic title.

Michael Eriksson: 2011 is coming up, marking the 50th anniversary of Commando. You have had some time to think about this so what can we expect from your headquarters in the next 12 months?

Calum Laird: You can expect our usual selection of high-quality action stories. 48 of them will be brand-new and the other 48 specially-chosen tales from right back to the beginnings of Commando. The first 12 stories (the original Dirty Dozen) will be reprinted with the stories reproduced as close to the way they were in 1961. I’ve asked various people connected with Commando to choose some of their favourite yarns and these too will be re-issued. Some of them haven’t seen the light of day for nearly 50 years so I think even long-serving readers will find something new and exciting there. The Raiders will return for a pair of missions which were previously unknown, the Headline heroes will also return for a one-off story. We’ve a new band of characters called the Convict Commandos dreamt up by Alan Hebden. And Mac Macdonald has written a special anniversary story for the middle of the year. We’re working on two exhibitions, one in London, one in Dundee, but as they’ve not been finalised I’d better not say any more about that for now.

The last year has seen a few nice commemorative bulks of issues, “War in the Ardennes”, “VE Day 65” and “VJ Day 65”, and there was also an “Aces High” series. What can you say about these?

I think your question gives a clue to why we did it. At certain points in history, anniversaries capture the minds and hearts of many people and they want to read more about the events of those times. Commando doesn’t pretend to give formal history lessons but we pride ourselves on producing authentic stories which can give a flavour of the times. Partly we want to inform people, partly we want to salute the people involved at the time and partly we want to entertain. As you must have enjoyed the stories (which I’m pleased to hear) I think we got the balance about right.

Ian Clark scripted a rather unique run of issues in the “VE DAY 65” series, in which soldiers from different nations met and talked about their experiences. I felt that Commando did something very special with these issues.

These were master-minded by my predecessor and mentor George Low. They must have been a difficult series to co-ordinate but the idea of the linked stories was an absolute winner and I take my hat off to him for pulling it off. Will I try something similar? Time will tell.

What has happened in the team since our last interview in September 2009?

The basic team of Scott and myself is the same. Older but probably not wiser. In the wider team sadly we’ve lost two artists, Ricardo Garijo and Josè Maria Jorge. Both had drawn for us for years (almost from the start for Josè Maria) and both had become friends as well as colleagues. The loss has been keenly felt. Commando welcomed back Manuel Benet who has drawn for us on and off for many years. We’ve also had scripts from new writers Mac Macdonald, Steve Coombs and Colin Howard which has worked out very well.

Your homepage has been updated recently and seems to be ready for new things, what is going on with that.

After a number of years working in a blog-style, the site has been re-vamped for a fresh look and to provide a platform for our new online services. Already you will be able to buy posters direct from the site. Books will follow. You can sign up for a paper subscription and, early in 2011, we will be offering a digital subscription to Commando. These are exciting developments which we hope will secure the future of the title for many years to come and provide a place where any future Commando products can be showcased. More to the point we hope it will allow us to regularly update our loyal readers on what’s going on in the Commando world. We’re working on a Facebook page for that too.

Also, in the last 12 months, Commando has resurfaced in Norway as Kamp og Kommando, any more countries showing interest?

At least one other Baltic nation has expressed an interest but it’s early days so we don’t know if it will progress any further.

You have also worked with Airfix in at least two campaigns, who contacted who?

About the time I took over, there was a documentary on the TV about the re-birth of Airfix after many troubled years. Watching it, I was struck by the similarity between Airfix and Commando. It only took a phone call to Darrell at Airfix to start the relationship off as he was in complete agreement. I handed things over to our marketing folks and they did the rest. It’s definitely benefitted us as our subscription rate has soared a massive 25% in the last year. I hope it’s helped them too as their products played a large part in my childhood.

I thought it was a brilliant move, how did it work out for you?

I think it’s been a great success and I hope we’ll be able to keep collaborating for years to come.

How has media interest been lately?

We seem to pick up interest from time to time but we are expecting more this year coming, especially around the middle of the year at our 50th birthday.

It has been said that the Commando books that has been released by Carlton sold rather well, any chance of a few more to come?

We’ve put our heads together with Carlton to select another 10 stories to be released as “Rogue Raiders” in May. They’ll also be producing a new three-issue format to be released in July. There will be four books in the range and the titles are not confirmed as yet.

It would be nice if somebody penned a book about Commando, any signals that something like this is going on?

Can’t say anything definite at the moment but it’s not outwith the bounds of possibility...

I guess issue 5000 is going to be the next reason to celebrate after 2011, that has a nice ring to it does it not, 5000!

That’ll be late August 2015 by my reckoning. We’ll definitely have a party for that!

Do you have a current storyline in the works that you can give us a hint about right now? I know ideas pop up in many different ways.

Mac Macdonald created two new characters for his story "Seeing Double" which were very well received. In particular Carlos Pino the artist who gave the characters form. We had intended that the story would be a one-off as there surely couldn't be more than a single story based on lookalikes of Adolf Hitler and General Bernard Montgomery. Yet Mac has come up with one so Carlos will be illustrating it in the next few months and we'll release it later this year. The setting has changed from the North African Desert and the war is over. The pair have gone their separate ways for the time being but danger is not far away and their "identities" are crucial to the tale. One to look out for. Ferg Handley has set off for the Aleutian Islands for his latest story. This remote outpost was the scene of fierce fighting between the Japanese and the Americans during World War 2 and Ferg has used this as a backdrop to his story as tensions between some of the US soldiers threaten to land them in deep trouble.

Any Roman or Viking stories in the pipeline at the moment?

Nothing on the stocks right now but we never know what’s going to pop through the letterbox.

Would you like to add something to this interview?

I'd very much like everybody who reads this to visit our new website and have a good look round. Then please tell me what you think. Comment direct to the site or e-mail me through the contact form. Tell me if there's anything you think we've missed out and how you rate what we have done so far. It's your site, so tell us how to make it suit you better.

Thank you very much.

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