Friday, May 31, 2013

Comic Cuts - 31 May 2013

Anyone wondering how my attempts to slim down a few inches is going will be pleased to hear that I'm 1% smaller than I was three weeks ago. There's 1% less of me to lug around town when I'm doing the shopping, 1% less of me collapsing onto the sofa in front of the TV and 1% less of me hauling myself up the stairs to go to bed.

I don't feel slimmer and I still can't see my knees when I stand up straight. I think, however, that all the walking is doing my back some good and the general idea at this stage of the game is just to build up my stamina. I haven't exercised for twenty years, so it's going to take time.

But... 1%, eh?

There was a bit of a disaster last weekend. After almost two weeks of reasonable activity – I'm trying to walk a minimum of an extra two miles a day – on Saturday I was starting to struggle. We had to do some gardening on Sunday but I wasn't making much impact on the distance walking. On Monday we needed to start clearing out the attic and, again, as for Sunday, I felt I was putting the work in to make sure I also did my two miles, but the pedometer was telling me a different story.

By Tuesday I figured out the problem: the pedometer was buggered. I counted steps and checked what the pedometer counted and the damn thing was counting maybe every third or every fourth step. It was a many-years-old freebie that Mel got with a magazine, so it's no great loss, but it has rather screwed up the chart I was compiling from each day's figures. From the chart I know that I walked further during week two than week one (hurrah!) but week three I'm going to have to scrap while I wait on the arrival of a new pedometer. I'm still walking and doing a (very) rough estimate on how far I get, but hopefully I'll get things back on a scientific (?) basis next week.

Today's random scans are inspired by last weekend's little feature on Frank Clews. While I was pottering around during the week I stumbled upon another pop-related book from 1963, published by Mayflower, who published Clews' novelisation of His Women (which I don't have) that same year. Just for Fun is a very odd book, part novelisation of the pop movie produced by Columbia and partly biographical sketches of the stars who appeared in the film. Since Clews was also the author of Teenage Idol and Golden Disc, it strikes me that he is a likely candidate to have authored this anonymous novelisation.

Another book along the same lines as Teenage Idol is Top Twenty by Phil Buckle, which features biographical sketches of sixty singers or groups that were filling the hit parade in 1963. If you need to know that Scouse singer Lyn Cornell's favourite companion was her dog Nuts, or that Cleo Laine's favourite singer was herself (!), this is the book for you.

And finally for today, Al Hine's novelisation of The Beatles in Help! from Mayflower. The edition I have is the fourth printing from 1965 – and the book was first published in August, which makes me wonder how many copies the book was selling and whether Mayflower seriously underestimated demand for this Fab Four tie-in. It's apt to end on this one as the film was scripted by Marc Behm, who had previously scripted The Party's Over, novelised by Frank Clews. See... these random scans aren't so randomly chosen after all!

I think I'm running another set of World of Wonder galleries, but it really depends on what I can hustle together over the weekend. Tomorrow we have some background on author Dave Wallis, author of the cult SF novel Only Lovers Left Alive – and there was a bit of a surprise for me when I was researching this one – and hopefully I'll have a little gallery to celebrate the work of the late Jack Vance on Sunday. Jim Burns' fabulous trio of covers for Vance's Durdane books appears as this columns header pic., taken from his excellent collection Lightship.

Tuesday, May 28, 2013

Monday, May 27, 2013

World of Wonder part 80

Ron Embleton 

 Roger Payne

Ray Calloway

(* World of Wonder © Look and Learn Ltd.)

Sunday, May 26, 2013

John Varley Cover Gallery

John Varley struck like a hurricane in the mid-1970s and immediately became one of my favourite writers with a run of fantastic stories: "In the Hall of the Martian Kings", "The Barbie Murders", "The Phantom of Kansas", "The Persistence of Vision", "Press Enter []" and many more. When I put together these little galleries, I like to think that they bring back a few happy memories for people who have read some of the books by the author's covered. Secretly, I'm hoping that if you've not read anything by one of the authors, you'll take a chance and pick up one of their books. If I have to limit myself, I'd have to suggest you get The John Varley Reader, which has a fine selection of stories. Read "Tango Charlie and Foxtrot Romeo" and tell me you don't want to read more. Then try to find a copy of The Barbie Murders so you can also read "Lollipop and the Tar Baby", which is one of his best, and "Bagatelle" which opens brilliantly and just gets better.

He's also written some fine novels. The Ophiuchi Hotline is set in a background partly shared with some of his shorter stories; Titan, Wizard and Demon are a trilogy with a giant alien artifact called Gaea; Steel Beach and Golden Globe are linked to the Eight Worlds background; Millennium was based on a short story which became a rather so-so movie; Mammoth is a stand-alone; but if you're going to start somewhere, try Red Thunder which has all the exuberance of Robert Heinlein's Have Spacesuit, Will Travel and you don't need to be into "sci-fi" to enjoy it. It's the first of a linked series (the stories are each set some time apart) which has reached three novels.

As with all these cover galleries, most of the images are British paperback editions. A few random other editions appear where there was no UK edition and I have the books. And one or two images are from Amazon.

The Ophiuchi Hotline (New York, Dial Press/James Wade, 1977) 
Futura/Orbit 0-7088-8020-7, Jun 1978. Cover by Chris Foss?
Gollancz 0-5750-7283-0, Aug 2003.

Titan (New York, Berkley/Putnam, 1979)
Futura/Orbit 0708-88044-4, 1979. Cover by Peter Andrew Jones
Futura/Orbit 0708-88044-4, 1985. Cover by Tim White

Wizard (New York, Berkley/Putnam, 1979) 
Macdonald Futura/Orbit 0-7088-0876-2, 1981. Cover by Tim White
Futura/Orbit 0-7088-8076-2, 1985. Cover by Tim White

Millennium (New York, Berkley, 1983)
Sphere 0-7221-8839-0, 1985. Die-cut cover

Demon (New York, Putnam, 1984)
Futura/Orbit 0-7088-8160-2, 1985. Cover by Tim White

Steel Beach (New York, Ace/Putnam, 1992) 
HarperCollins 0586-21735-5, (Jul) 1993. Cover by Bill Gregory. Trade PB.
HarperCollins 0006-47726-7, (Jan) 1994.

The Golden Globe (New York, Ace, 1998)
Ace Books 0-441-00643-4, Oct 1999. Cover by Danilo Ducak
(no UK paperback)

Red Thunder (New York, Ace, 2003) 
Ace Books 978-0-441-01162-9, May 2004. Cover by Bob Warner
(no UK paperback)

Mammoth (New York, Ace, 2005)
Ace Books 0441-01335-X, May 2006. Cover by Matt Stawicki
(no UK paperback)

Red Lightning (New York, Ace, 2006)
Ace Books 978-0-441-01488-0, May 2007. Cover by Bob Warner
(no UK paperback)

Rolling Thunder (Ace, 2008)
Ace Books 978-0-441-01772-0, Sep 2009.
(no UK paperback)

Slow Apocalypse (Ace, 2012)
Ace Books 978-0-425-26213-9, Jun 2013. 
(no UK paperback) 

Dark Lightning (Ace, 2014)
Ace Books 978-0-425-27408-8, Apr 2015. Cover by Fred Gambino
(no UK paperback)

The Persistence of Vision (New York, Dial Press/James Wade, 1978)
as In the Hall of the Martian King, Futura/Orbit 0-7088-8036-3, Oct 1978. Cover by Tony Roberts

The Barbie Murders (New York, Berkley 0-425-04590-3, Sep 1980. Cover by David Plourde; also as Picnic on Nearside, Berkley, Jul 1984).
Orbit 0708-88097-5, 1983. Cover by Tim White

Blue Champagne (Ace Books 0-441-06868-5, Sep 1987. Cover by Todd Cameron Hamilton)
(no UK paperback)

The John Varley Reader
Ace Books 0-441-01195-0, Sep 2004. Cover by (Getty Images)
(not UK paperback)

Good-bye, Robinson Crusoe and other stories
Subterranean Press 978-1596-06528-4, Apr 2013.
(no UK paperback) 

Ace Books 0-441-00137-8, Jan 1995. Cover by Bruce Jensen
(no UK paperback)


Novels (series: Gaea)
The Ophiuchi Hotline. New York, Dial Press, 1977; London, Sidgwick & Jackson, 1978.
Titan (Gaea). New York, Berkley-Putnam, Mar 1979; London, Sidgwick & Jackson, 1979.
Wizard (Gaea). New York, Berkley-Putnam, Jul 1980; London, Futura, 1981.
Millennium. New York, Berkley, 1983; London, Sphere, 1985.
Demon (Gaea). New York, Putnam, Jun 1984; London, Orbit, 1985.
Steel Beach. New York, Ace Books/Putnam, Jul 1992; London, HarperCollins, Jul 1993.
The Golden Globe. New York, Ace Books, Oct 1998.
Red Thunder. New York, Ace Books, Apr 2003.
Mammoth. New York, Ace Books, Jun 2005.
Red Lightning. New York, Ace Books, Apr 2006.
Rolling Thunder. New York, Ace Books, Mar 2008.
Slow Apocalypse. New York, Ace Books, Sep 2012.
Dark Lightning. New York, Ace Books, Aug 2014.
Irontown Blues. New York, Ace Books, (due 2017).

The Persistence of Vision. New York, Dial Press, 1978; as In the Hall of the Martian King, London, Sidgwick & Jackson, 1978.
(contains: Introduction by Algis Budrys; The Phantom of Kansas; Air Raid; Retrograde Summer; The Black Hole Passes; In the Hall of the Martian Kings; In the Bowl; Gotta Sing, Gotta Dance; Overdrawn at the Memory Bank; The Persistence of Vision)
The Barbie Murders and other stories. New York, Berkley, Sep 1980; London, Orbit, 1983; as Picnic on Nearside, New York, Berkley, Jul 1984.
(contains: Bagatelle; The Funhouse Effect; The Barbie Murders; Equinoctial; Manikins; Beatnik Bayou; Good-bye, Robinson Crusoe; Lollipop and the Tar Baby; Picnic on Nearside)
Tango Charlie and Foxtrot Romeo (bound with The Star Pit by Samuel Delaney). New York, Berkley (Tor Double 4), 1984.
Blue Champagne. Arlington Heights, IL, Dark Harvest, Jan 1986.
(contains: The Pusher; Blue Champagne; Tango Charlie and Foxtrot Romeo; Options; Lollipop and the Tar Baby; The Manhattan Phone Book (Abridged); The Unprocessed Word; Press Enter [])
Press Enter [] (bound with Hawksbill Station by Robert Silverberg). New York, Tor Double, Sep 1990.
The Persistence of Vision (bound with Nanoware Time by Ian Watson). New York, Tor Double, Jan 1991.
The John Varley Reader. New York, Ace Books, Sep 2004.
(contains: Introduction; Picnic on Nearside; Overdrawn at the Memory Bank; In the Hall of the Martian Kings; Gotta Sing, Gotta Dance; The Barbie Murders; The Phantom of Kansas; Beatnik Bayou; Air Raid; The Persistence of Vision; Press Enter []; The Pusher; Tango Charlie and Foxtrot Alpha; Options; Just Another Perfect Day; In Fading Suns and Dying Moons; The Flying Dutchman; Good Intentions; The Bellman)
Good-bye, Robinson Crusoe. Burton, Michigan, Subterranean Press, Apr 2013.
(contains: Introduction; The Funhouse Effect; Retrograde Summer; In the Bowl; Blue Champagne; Bagatelle; Equinoctial; Good-Bye Robinson Crusoe; Lollipop and the Tar Baby; The Black Hole Passes; The Unprocessed Word; The Manhattan Phone Book (Abridged))

Editor, with Ricia Mainhardt, Superheroes. New York, Ace, Dec 1984.

(* Originally published 8 November 2008, now updated with some additional information and images)

Saturday, May 25, 2013

Frank Clews

Here's a little mystery that has me mystified. Frank Clews briefly flared in the paperback firmament in 1962-64 and was then  heard of no more.

His first known book was the 1960 novelisation of Ordered to Love, described as "the story of one of the most gryesome projects ever known to mankind, a project which completely ignored all principles of human decency ... for this is the story of Hitler's Love Camp, that gruesome institution where the flower of Germany's youth was brought together to conceive the new super-race that would eventually rule the world."

Filmed as Lebensborn, this German production starring Marie Perschy, Joachim Hansen and Harry Meyen was eventually passed for British release in a cut version in May 1962. The book may have been written some time before as it carried a publication notice saying it was published in 1960. However, the cover noted the name of the British distributor (Miracle Films) and that it was an X certificate, which could only be known once the film was certified; also a variety of titles were advertised that appeared as late as December 1962 and January 1963, which leads me to believe that the book did not appear until late 1962 at the earliest.

Clews' second novel also suffered from similar problems. The Party's Over was a novelisation of the movie starring Oliver Reed, scripted by Marc Behm and directed by Guy Hamilton. The original movie filmed in 1962 became entangled in various censorship battles and eventually emerged in a mangled form in April 1965; the uncut original only emerged on DVD in 2010. For more details of the film, see here.

Clews' only other known novelisation was also of a Miracle Films title. His Women was a cut version of the Italian comedy Il mantenuto [The Retained].

Frank Clews also wrote two books about pop stars and pop hits of the day. In Teenage Idols he covered dozens of young stars, many of them represented with brief interviews. In his introduction the author notes:
... what of the enormously wealthy young people the teenage idols? What of Helen Shapiro and Mike Sarne, Joe Brown and Eden Kane? What are their backgrounds and their ambitions, their successes and failures, their likes and dislikes? What sort of people are they, these young ones, away from the stage and the cameras, relaxing at home, or at parties or just meeting other people? These things I hope to throw some light on in the following pages, for I too have been deeply involved in the top twenty charts for some time, as each week I review records and films in my syndicated column. The newspapers this column appears in are compelled by pressure of space only to quote little tit-bits about my meetings with the stars, in their homes, at receptions, or sometimes, even accidentally, walking along the street. We have discussed together many things, swapped yarns together, been serious and joked. I know the big names and the little names, those on the way up and those who seem to be slipping from favour. And so when my publishers suggested I write a book about these young ones, I greeted the suggestion with enthusiasm, for here is the chance to tell, in more detail, the stories of the stars, the facts and the feelings.
Clews' other title, The Golden Disc was a collection of biographies of singers whose records sold more than a million copies.

In 1964, Clews wrote the forward for Scream, a 32-page magazine subtitled "Top Pop Parade of the Stars No.1", and featuring the likes of Dave Clark, The Hollies, Billy Fury, Joe Brown, Cilla Black and Dusty Springfield; a colour pull-out featured The Beatles.

And that is the last positive sighting I have of him.

Ordered to Love (novelisation of the movie). London, Digit Books nn, 1960 [1962?].
The Party's Over (novelisation of the movie). London, Digit Books R680, Mar 1963.
His Women (novelisation of the movie). London, Mayflower Books 3603, 1963.

Teenage Idols. London, Digit Books R677, 1962 [Feb 1963].
The Golden Disc. London, Digit Books R711, Jun 1963.

Friday, May 24, 2013

Comic Cuts - 24 May 2013

Followers of Bear Alley will know that a little over a year ago I gave up smoking. I've now been clean for over thirteen months and felt it was about time to address the other growing problem I have.

Twenty years ago I moved to Colchester. No, that's not the problem. Before that I had been commuting and walking to get myself to work; even further back, I had jobs that were physically demanding, so that although I enjoyed a drink or six and had probably an average teenager's laziness level (until I was thirty-five!), I was never more than pudgy. I wasn't slim – never have been – but I was reasonably fit.

The move to Colchester initially meant walking to work each day, wandering around town and, at the end of the day, walking back home. When I reverted to freelancing after a couple of years, I didn't walk to work and, over time, I starting putting on weight. When the company I worked for sold out to a company based in Birmingham, I didn't even have the excuse to "pop into the office" any more. Everything was done by phone and fax. E-mail became the norm; the images for the magazine I sent in on a CD (later DVD).

In other words, I got even less exercise because I wasn't going into town two, three or four times a week. And I put on more weight. After our latest move, I'm usually only in town once a week to do the shopping and we're too far out to walk. Coupled with giving up smoking and, once again, I've piled on the pounds in the last two years.

For every move I've added a stone or so in weight. For every change of circumstances I've also added a stone or so in weight. The only thing that has stopped me turning into a Zeppelin was giving up drinking. Mel doesn't smoke or drink, so living with her keeps me on the straight and narrow in that respect. (I will have the occasional pint but they can be weeks and sometimes months apart.)

Being a writer I'm sat in front of the computer a lot. Most writers will know that the weight goes on at the front. When you reach the point you can do a passable impersonation of Demi Moore's Vanity Fair cover with your own pot-belly, you know it's time to do something about it.

I have taken up walking. I'm in the early stages of building up my stamina, but I'm doing around two to two-and-a-half miles a day extra walking; some days ... well, one day ... I walked an extra five miles. Last week (Monday to Sunday) – and don't forget this was my first week – I walked nearly 17 miles. I'm planning to build on this slowly as I don't want to put my back out and ruin all the good work. Actually, I'm told that walking is good for my back, hence the reason I've started trying to get a bit fitter this way rather than running, swimming or cycling. Maybe after a couple of months I'll get to them.

Now, I have no intention of banging on about this as it will quickly turn very dull for all of us. But I might keep you updated every now and then. And it has given me this excuse to run these Richard Bachman book covers as a visual metaphor for my situation ... possibly the finest visual gag you'll see today. Or maybe not.

If I get a chance on Sunday I'll hopefully sort out some more World of Wonder illustrations. Also we should have the recent releases and upcoming releases columns ... so much for me getting out for a walk.

Thursday, May 23, 2013

Commando 4603-4606

Commando issues on sale 23 May 2013

Commando No 4603 – Scarecrow Squadron

The de Havilland Tiger Moth was a reliable, if rather old-fashioned, aircraft used as a basic trainer for RAF pilots. Pilots like Charlie Chard who was only recently qualified when he and his comrades found themselves in the thick of the action against the German Kriegsmarine and Luftwaffe.
   He and his fellow fliers were known as “Scarecrow Squadron” — given the nickname because they were meant to chase away enemies flying over England’s coast. A dicey job that, given that their planes were unarmed! Sitting in his open cockpit, Charlie wondered if any of them would survive…

Story: Norman Adams
Art: Keith Page
Cover: Keith Page

Commando No 4604 – Bernie’s Buccaneers

With four 1400-horsepower Packard-built Merlin engines powering them forward at close to 40 knots, the crew of MTB 989 felt like the raiders of old when they fired a broadside of torpedoes at enemy shipping.
   Privately they called themselves “Bernie’s Buccaneers” after their fearless, swash-buckling skipper. They always said would have followed him into the jaws of death…and one day they did just that!

Story: Bill Styles
Art: Vila
Cover: Janek Matysiak

Commando No 4605 – Target For Tonight

When crack British Commandos were ordered to fight alongside ace American Rangers in a double strike against an important target, it sparked off the bitter, blistering feud between them that made the “other” war look like a petty quarrel.
   Here is the story of this war within a war; of Mike Travers and Red Dooley, who were tough enough to lead and control the fightingest bunch of men that two great nations ever produced.


The names of Eric Hebden and Ken Barr are well known to Commando fans — for their gripping stories and dynamic cover art respectively. Once again, they don’t disappoint. This story of bitter, fist-fired rivalry is beautifully set up on the cover where the two main characters are pitched against one another…at daggers drawn figuratively and literally.
   It’s different with illustrator who provided the black-and-whites for the inside pages for Roca drew only one Commando book. 50 years on it’s difficult to say why that would be but it certainly wasn’t due to lack of quality. He imparts movement to the figures and uses a scatter of original compositions. Who knows what he might have made of subsequent commissions?

Calum Laird, Editor

Story: Eric Hebden
Art: Roca
Cover: Ken Barr
Originally Commando No 57 (February 1963).

Commando No 4606 – Lost In France

Crash-landing a burning Blenheim bomber in occupied France would generally be reckoned pretty dangerous. And so it was, but compared to what fate still had in store for Harry Conway and his crew, that crash was a picnic!


Veteran artist Ian Kennedy’s stunning, dramatic depiction of a crash-landing Blenheim bomber would, quite rightly, make the reader imagine that they were in for a rollicking air story. It certainly starts off as one but, unusually, this tale takes an intriguing detour into espionage territory, becoming more of a spy caper — which suits Nebot’s almost cartoony art. It’s a good thing when a few neat twists and turns can challenge readers’ expectations.

Scott Montgomery, Deputy Editor

Story: Allan Chalmers
Art: Nebot
Cover: Ian Kennedy
Originally Commando No 2162 (February 1988)


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