Saturday, October 26, 2013

Thunderbirds: The Comic Collection review

Thunderbirds: The Comic Collection is a huge hunk of a book that takes me back to my childhood, right back to the late Sixties, when I was just starting to convert my pocket money into weekly comics. First Valiant, then Joe 90: Top Secret when it launched in January 1969 because it had The Champions and Land of the Giants, which were two of my favourite TV shows of the time.

I was also picking up TV21, which meant I caught the tail end of the Frank Bellamy run on Thunderbirds. Now, Thunderbirds was my favourite of all the Gerry Anderson shows, so to have new adventures, in colour, was mindblowing. Later, I could appreciate the skill with which Bellamy depicted the characters and the action, telling the story through an intricate jigsaw of jagged-edged panels, but when I was seven the story and the colour were the key issues.

This might be why I quickly went off the strip after TV21 and Joe 90 merged. As far as I was concerned, Valiant was the most consistently exciting paper I was reading and I drifted away from TV21 when Thunderbirds and Joe 90 disappeared in the summer of 1970, probably so I could spend the money I was saving on icecreams and at the penny arcades of seaside towns we visited.

So re-reading these yarns is like rediscovering a little bit of my childhood that I haven't stumbled across in some while. Ravette reprinted at least some of these stories back in the early 1990s, but I was too busy with other things to pick up every volume. That makes this current collection a real joy: it doesn't contain every story published, but it is a very solid run of strips published between September 1967 and April 1970, with 14 of the 16 stories painted by Frank Bellamy. The remaining two stories by John Cooper from TV21 & Joe 90 have been newly coloured in a style that makes the stories fit perfectly into the book.

The other big bonus is a run of three Lady Penelope stories from 1965 plus on story from that year's TV21 Summer Extra (wrongly credited as Lady Penelope Summer Extra here, and on the story credited to Eric Eden rather than its true artist, Frank Hampson, who is correctly credited on the contents page; while we're noting errors, one of the Lady Penelope stories is wrongly credited to Frank Bellamy when it is actually by Eden).

For the most part the integrity of the colour is pretty good: working from printed copies can be a pain (believe me, I know!) as delicate colouring can easily be lost as you remove the smoky yellow cast caused by age. Volumes where artwork has been restored or rescanned from original boards can give us a far better chance of the colours remaining true in a printed book. But I think Egmont, bar the occasional glitch (e.g. pages 54-55), have done a pretty good job.

Apart from 200 pages of Thunderbirds and 60 pages of Lady Penelope, there are also some very neat features from Graham Bleathman, who provides cutaways and details of launch sequences for all of the craft that can be launched, and a nifty look at how Thunderbird 5 was constructed in orbit, as well as revealing details of both Tracy Island and Lady Creighton-Ward's stately home. These provide a nice break from the helter-skelter action of the stories.

The pricetag for this chunky book is an equally chunky £25.00. But many shops will have the volume on offer and Amazon are offering the book with a 35% discount.

Thunderbirds: The Comic Collection. Egmont ISBN 978-1405-26836-3, October 2013, 288pp, £25.00.

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