Friday, January 29, 2016

Comic Cuts - 29 January 2016

I had something of a jaw-dropping moment earlier this week when I went for an eye test. I've been struggling with small print for a few months now and decided that I'd need to sort it out after Christmas. So I paid a visit to Boots Opticians on Saturday and booked an appointment for Monday morning. All very efficient and the people doing the eye test were great.

My eyesight has got poorer, although it's in line with what you would expect with age. As a lifetime wearer of glasses I was expecting this and fully expecting to have to buy new glasses.

What caught me off guard was the price: my new glasses - one pair of varifocals - will cost me £360! Oh, and the eye test is £25 so that will be 385 quid, please!

I shit you not. My glasses will be the third most expensive thing in the house that I own behind my computer (bought in 2011 for £985) and my laptop (bought in 2006 for £974). The new washing machine we bought in 2014 cost £250 and the blu-ray player was £219.

A new blu-ray player costs less than two-thirds the price of a pair of glasses! How the hell did that happen? Wasn't opening up the market for opticians meant to bring the costs down? All I can say is that Boots Opticians certainly saw me coming.

And they wanted the money up front, which I didn't have on me. Again, kudos to the staff on duty at the time who allowed me to pay £140 deposit. We'll find out whether I've bought a pig in a poke when I go back on February 5th to pick up the third priciest thing I currently own!

The whole experience was perhaps cursed from the moment I thought of it on Saturday. I was doing my tax returns on Friday and wasn't expecting to be troubling the exchequer to much this year; in fact, I might be due a rebate, which (in part) is was what prompted me to finally get my eyes sorted. I could, I thought, put the rebate towards new glasses. As we were heading out Friday evening, I left the final steps until Sunday to sort out.

Punching in my income and outgoing figures into the online returns website—which at first wouldn't accept my i.d. and password, although I thankfully managed to prove who I was so I could complete the form—I got to the end. Yes, I'm due a rebate, thank you very much, although it turned out to be £15. I can add this to the £11.50 I'm due to receive in PLR in February and pay off the eye test with enough change to buy a... no, wait, probably not enough to buy a coffee!

As for the rest of the week, I was ploughing through mail that had built up last week, catching up on over 200, which I managed to get down to 10 by close of play on Wednesday. I'm writing this Thursday evening having spent much of the day with my Mum, although while I was waiting for her I managed to put a bit more time with the Harry Bensley book, which is now almost finished. I finished designing a second family tree page—compiled as following the intricacies of his family life on the page can be quite confusing without a road map—and have rewritten the ending to take in some new information about his wife.

With luck and a good tail wind, I'll get back to designing the book at the weekend and will keep my promise to have the finished product published next month.

In honour of my expensive glasses, our random scans this week all have the word "glass" in the title. Not very imaginative, I'll grant you, but it makes for an interesting little collection and certainly it lives up to the "random" part of the title I give these columns.

The column header this week is a shot of the Moon, taken on January 19th. It's the first time, thanks to my new camera, that I've been able to take a picture of the Moon that actually shows some detail. We have another "Supermoon" in November, although there are other interesting phases of the moon earlier in the year, including Super New Moons in early April and early May, plus a Blue Moon in late May and a Black Moon in October. (Details can be found here.) With luck I might manage to get some pictures... although I suspect they'll be relatively poor pictures.

Ace O'Hara ep.61

Thursday, January 28, 2016

Ace O'Hara ep.60

Commando issues 4883-4886

Commando issues on sale 28 January 2016.

Commando No 4883 – Old Rusty
Dick Avery was a captain in the Merchant Navy. He’d sailed with some of the best — and worst — ships and crews on the seven seas. He reckoned he’d seen it all.
   That was before he took command of Old Rusty, an ancient tub with a crew made up of drunks, brawlers and raw seamen of every nationality.
   When Dick left Gibraltar he didn’t fancy his chances of ever seeing England again.
   But then they ran into a German U-boat, and he wouldn’t have swapped that ship or that crew for the best in the Royal Navy!

Although veteran artist Ian Kennedy is renowned for his superlative aircraft (and spacecraft) illustration, this cover shows that, naturally enough, he is equally adept at drawing ships and submarines too.
   This behemoth of a painting really sets the scene for the wonderful maritime adventure that follows. For me, it’s like The Dirty Dozen at Sea — chock full of memorable characters and action set pieces.
   Many thanks to reader Yasmin Akbar for suggesting that Old Rusty should set sail once more.—Scott Montgomery, Deputy Editor

Story: Powell
Art: Gordon Livingstone
Cover: Ian Kennedy
Old Rusty, originally Commando No 708 (January 1973)

Commando No 4884 – The Wreckers
Young Naval lieutenant Dan Blain teamed up with Kang Wu and his cut-throat pirates of the Java Seas to wage all-out war on the warships of Japan. When this pair of modern buccaneers got going, not a single Japanese sailor ashore or afloat could sleep soundly.

I can almost imagine the pitch for this back in 1966 — “Pirate Commandos”…that’s definitely a winner…
   Actually, I’m cheating a little (okay, a lot) — a glance at the trusty Commando records file told me that author Spence’s original working title was indeed “Pirate Commandos”.
   However, I do think that the then-current editorial team made the right decision to go with the snappy, more foreboding “The Wreckers”. It really seems to suit this tough, sea-faring tale and Scholler’s menacing, murky cover illustration.—Scott Montgomery, Deputy Editor

Story: Spence
Art: Alonso
Cover: Scholler
The Wreckers, originally Commando No 212 (May 1966)

Commando No 4885 – The Black Eagle
Major Heinrich Keil of the Luftwaffe was an ace…and a killer. A mad, evil Nazi whose chief delight was to hunt and kill, whether he was chasing animals on the ground or British pilots in the air.
   Now he was going after another British pilot — but this time he was going to hunt him down in the forest…with a crossbow.

One of the best things about working on Commando is uncovering fantastic stories from our archive, one that now spans 55 years.
   I’d never read this tale as it was published in March 1972, two months before I was born. When I saw that the interior art was by the brilliant Cam Kennedy, whose 2000AD work I had admired in the 1980s, and then realised that it was a fantastic revenge yarn anyway, I knew that we just had to let another audience discover this absolute classic, which features a truly memorable villain in Major Heinrich Keil.
   My sincere thanks to reader Roger Worsley, who suggested that we uncage The Black Eagle once again.—Scott Montgomery, Deputy Editor

Story: C.G. Walker
Art: Cam Kennedy
Cover: Ian Kennedy
The Black Eagle, originally Commando No 629 (March 1972), re-issued as No 1732 (September 1983)

Commando No 4886 – The Wrong Enemy
The Italians fighting in North Africa clashed not only with their British foes, but also with their German allies.
   Enzo Lanzini certainly wasn’t happy facing the advance of British armour across the desert, but he certainly was no coward either. It was just that he had seen the way the Nazis operated, and he had come to the conclusion that he was in fact fighting THE WRONG ENEMY

Although a Commando comic must have a solid military premise and plenty of action — at its heart, more important than anything else, it must have a strong lead character. Here we have exactly that.
   Corporal Enzo Lanzini is a machine-gunner with a strong moral compass and, since he is Italian, is traditionally seen as the enemy. Right away he has the potential to become a leftfield, classic Commando hero. I hope you enjoy his story.—Scott Montgomery, Deputy Editor

Story: Ian Clark
Art: Keith Shone
Cover: Keith Shone
The Wrong Enemy, originally Commando No 2474 (May 1991)

Saturday, January 23, 2016

Jeff Hawke's Cosmos v.9 no.3

The latest issue of Jeff Hawke's Cosmos (Volume 9 Number 3, January 2016) dropped through the letterbox yesterday, containing the usual mix of strips and space features. The meat of the issue are four latter-day Jeff Hawke tales from his Lance McLean days—during this period (1983) the strip appeared in the Scottish Daily Record as Lance McLane but was syndicated under the more familiar name of Jeff Hawke.

Of the four strips, two are substantial and two slightly shorter. We begin with 'The Phoenix at Easter' (Jan-May 1983), a story that involves and explains the heads on Easter Island; next is 'Tangaroa' (May-July 1983), named after a mythical god, in which Jeff and Fortuna try to trace a missing medic, only to discover an underwater alien race. The longest yarn in this issue is 'Nest of the Phoenix' (July-Dec 1983), which has a more familiar space setting and begins with some mysterious findings on the planet Mercury. Finally 'I Talk to the Trees' (Dec 1983-Feb 1984) isn't about Earth-based trees, but genetically modified trees being grown on asteroids.

The strips here haven't been in print for years – in fact, the last story adds some episodes missing from a previous reprint. Duncan Lunan adds a variety of features and story notes to the package, which is an always welcome arrival.

Subscription rates are £26 for three issues here in the UK and £34/38/41 for overseas subscribers, payable in a variety of ways. You can find more details (and back issues) at the new Jeff Hawke Club web page or by contacting william AT 

Ace O'Hara ep.55

Friday, January 22, 2016

Comic Cuts - 22 January 2016

I've spent two days working full-pelt on the Harry Bensley story. Most of the time has been spent double-checking information and putting together a family tree for Bensley, as trying to follow the family background in text form might be a bit confusing for readers—best, I thought, to have a visual back-up for them to refer to, just in case.

The simplicity of the tree disguises the hours of torment I went through trying to discover how many kids some of these people had and what are known as "vital" records—dates of birth, death and marriage. Census records were a great help in establishing roughly when people were born (although you quickly discover that a lot of people told some pretty big fibs about their age); what census returns don't help much with is that second most vital piece of information: a date of death.

There are still one or two mysteries that I've not been able to resolve, but I think I now have everything I need to tell the story. To be honest, I'll be glad to get back to laying out the book. For something that was intended to be an e-book, I'm spending far too much time worrying about the design of the print edition!

I asked last week after a handful of books published by Wells Gardner Darton in around 1940/41 and was pleased to hear from Ward Saylor, who pointed me towards scans of all three. A couple were tiny, but one was slightly better than tiny, so I've done my best to clean it up... here they are:

This last is another cover by the mysterious S.C. who provided one of our covers last week.

Ace O'Hara continues all next week. And hopefully I'll have more news of Iron Mask... I'm determined to get the book out next month!

Ace O'Hara ep.54

Friday, January 15, 2016

Comic Cuts - 15 January 2016

Halfway through the month and I still haven't finished Iron Mask. Grrrrrrr! I mentioned last week that I was waiting on a couple of certificates that would, hopefully, resolve some of the mysteries surrounding Harry Bensley's wife. Well, my educated guess at what could have been her death certificate proved to be correct, so I should now know how old she was when she died and, by implication, roughly when she was born. And her marriage certificate should have given me her age on the day of her marriage.

Well, I now have that information to hand, but I still haven't been able to confirm with absolute certainty her date or place of birth and the names of her parents. You see, I think there's a mistake on her marriage certificate and the name given for her father is wrong.

I might know more next week because I've had to spend another tenner getting the certificate from her second marriage to see if all the information matches up. At that point I might be able to pick up her birth certificate... which will take another week or so to turn up.

At the moment it feels like everything is against me getting this damn book out. I've a tight schedule for the next issue of Hotel Business, which will have to be turned around in less time than usual, and I've various other obstacles.

I'm sometimes amazed at how I managed to get books out years ago when I was managing more than one magazine. I'm sure I've slowed down considerably over the years. Or maybe I'm just more obsessive about researching a subject.

I mentioned last week about our local avian celebrities, the two swans and their pal the goose, who have been firm favourites for around five years now. Some years ago the painting below appeared on one of the houses on the quay:

You cannot tell me that the person painting this didn't realise what (s)he was painting. The closeness of the swans, the emotions playing across the face of the goose – surprise, shock, disgust – as he looks up to discover that his friends are engaged in a little swan romance.

Mel and I wish to thank whoever produced what has become our favourite filthy mural. We laugh every time we pass it.

Random scans this week are four titles from around 1940. The first two are Donald Henderson Clarke yarns as published by John Long, the latter two Wells Gardner Darton first editions of two Darcy Glinto tales. The covers are... well, not the finest in the ranks of Good Girl Art, but they have a certain charm. The artists are all but unknown: Campbell, Dolan, S.C. (or maybe G.C.) and anonymous. Campbell and Dolan also painted covers for contemporary paperbacks published by Jarrolds, Stanley Paul and Rich & Cowan – all part of the Hutchinson group.

There are a handful of titles from Wells Gardner Darton that I'd love to see if anyone has scans. They're all from the same period: The Devil Thumbs a Ride by Robert C. Du Soe, They Shoot Horses Don't They by Horace McCoy and How Sleeps the Beast by Don Tracy. Any of those old 1/- WGD titles, in fact. Anyone?

More Ace O'Hara next week and whatever else I can squeeze in.

The photo at the head of today's column was taken just before Christmas. We've had some particularly beautiful sunrises and sunsets recently,  helped along by some fine weather... although the weather is now on the turn. As I write (Thursday evening), gusts of sleety rain are hammering down on the plastic roof of the utility room next to my office. It's chilly here in the office, and "Snow Vogue" is definitely an apt title to end on this week, although the "Snow" referred to isn't the stuff you make snowmen out of!

Ace O'Hara ep.47

Thursday, January 14, 2016

Ace O'Hara ep.46

Commando issues 4879-4882

Commando issues on sale 14 January 2016.

Commando No 4879 – Banquet Of Blood
Budapest, 1945.
   Why is Doctor Jane Mallory poised to attack her cowardly colleague, “Jelly” Jakes?
   The answer is at the heart of the latest mission for the Convict Commandos. They must uncover a dangerous secret which turns normal soldiers into crazed, ravenous hordes capable of killing anything — or, indeed, anyone — who gets in the way of their desire to eat.
   Is this the Commandos’ most terrifying adventure yet? Jelly definitely thinks so!

Story: Alan Hebden
Art: Manuel Benet
Cover: Manuel Benet

Commando No 4880 – Showdown!
Everybody had thought a lot of Inspector Harry Andrews of the Malayan Police. He was a real man, all guts. Pity he had been captured and probably killed by the Japanese when the invasion over-ran his outpost. He’d put up quite a fight, though.
   Then, there was his brother, Colin — just a war correspondent, not a fighting soldier. He’d never be half the man Harry was, they said. Even though he got himself on a desperate mission to the district in Malaya where his brother had disappeared…but they didn’t really know Colin Andrews…

Our premier Gold Collection title of 2016 kicks things off in spectacular style, with a reassuringly gritty jungle tale. This book is brimming with action and intrigue which never lets up.
   Spence’s script is expertly drawn by C.T. Rigby with his usual aplomb, while Lopez Espi’s cover is a masterclass in pulp illustration.
   I hope you enjoy this story and are looking forward to many more like it throughout the year.—Scott Montgomery, Deputy Editor

Story: Spence
Art: C.T. Rigby
Cover: Lopez Espi
Originally Commando No 227 (September 1966)

Commando No 4881 – Death Drop
In 1944, Allied forces in Southern Italy met fierce resistance from the German defenders who fought bitterly from the cover of the mountains and hills.
   When a British airborne unit were tasked with landing behind enemy lines and hampering the German escape, this seemed straightforward.
   However, Captain Roy Hopkins soon found out the hard way that nothing ever went according to plan. He and his men would have to fight every step of the way if they were to complete their mission…

Story: Ferg Handley
Art: Keith Page
Cover: Keith Page

Commando No 4882 – Another Tight Spot…
Andy Leslie had known all along that he would have to face danger when he volunteered to serve with the Parachute Regiment. That had turned out to be the way of it, Andy battling his way clear from one tight spot after another with the famous Red berets.
   Nobody had ever warned him that he might end up in the sea, bobbing about in a dinghy. There was nothing predictable in any day of Andy’s war…

Welcome to the premier Silver Collection issue of 2016.
   This fast-paced tale of the continuing adventures of a Parachute Regiment soldier was drawn by the late Ricardo Garijo. Another Tight Spot was actually his first Commando book – the first of over 90 issues that he completed before his death in October 2009. His final book, The Winter Warriors (No 4257), was published posthumously in December of that year.
   An exceptional talent, this influential and hugely popular Argentinian artist is much-missed to this day.—Scott Montgomery, Deputy Editor

Story: Alan Hemus
Art: Garijo
Cover: Ian Kennedy
Originally Commando No 2469 (May 1991)


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