Friday, February 26, 2016

Comic Cuts - 26 February 2016

With the March issue of Hotel Business a distant memory—well, we finished it on Tuesday and I've blocked all thought of it for two whole days!—and the proof for Iron Mask only just arrived, I've very little in the way of news.

Given that, I thought I'd do a little digging to go with today's random scans. Ray Theobald is probably best know to a handful of collectors for his covers for Curtis Warren's early science fiction novels where they graced the likes of King Lang, Gil Hunt, Neil Charles, Ray Barry... all house names hiding a mixed bunch of writers of varying talent who had, for the most part, been asked to take a break from knocking out oaters and do a bit of Buck Rogers stuff for a couple of months.

I have a feeling that Theobald might have been brought in because Curtis Warren's regular Western artists, led by Nat Long, did not want to switch genre and, when there was a break in Curtis's SF output, he was bounced from space opera to horse opera.

Theobald went on to produce covers for Modern Fiction, John Spencer and even had at least three covers published by Pan Books. In the late 1950s he did some work for Robert Hale and Four Square Books, but he seems to disappear about 1960.

Who he was and what else he did is a mystery.

I've also added a couple of other early Curtis westerns, unsigned.


Here's a bit of bonus speculation about Ray Theobald. While I was searching around for any potential information, I stumbled across an eBay listing for a 1933 Gramol paperback, The Monocled Man by James Ronald. (The listing is still active at the time of writing.) I've cleaned up the cover as best I can, but it's still a bit blurry.

But take a close look—if you click on the image below and you'll get a larger version. Compare the two guys in the background to typical Theobald characters in the Modern Fiction covers for Griff and Blair Johns below (sorry about the quality of the latter). Theobald couldn't draw guns. That and the stiffness of his figurework makes me wonder if he was the artist of the earlier title and that we may have tracked his career back from his previously known earliest book cover (1950) by 17 years.

If I get a chance, I'll see if I can put together some more gallery pics for Ray Theobald—not the greatest artist of paperback covers, but you can't deny they're lively and colourful!

Ace O'Hara ep.89

Thursday, February 25, 2016

Ace O'Hara ep.88

Commando Issues 4891-4894

Commando Issues on sale 25 February 2016.

Commando No 4891 – Cossack Vengeance
Once more the Convict Commandos’ latest mission had placed them in grave danger.
   The Germans, in league with a Russian traitor and a horde of fearsome, renegade Cossack warriors, had concocted an assassination plot that would turn the tide of the war.
   Now all Jelly Jakes and the rest of the Commando team had to do was foil the enemy plan…but that was easier said than done.

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

Commando No 4892 – Break Through!
Time and after time, one British company outsmarted the Germans in Crete. If the Nazis planned a sneak-raid and began it five miles away, the British knew at once — and were ready for them. If a Stuka dive-bombing attack was decided on, they got into hiding an hour before it began. They knew exactly when to counter-attack too.
   How was it done? If anyone had told the Germans, they just wouldn’t have believed it. The secret lay in a strange invisible link between Private Bill Roberts and his twin brother, Jack…

This entertaining, borderline incredulous, yarn from 1966 definitely pushes the boundaries of what we and our readers might think as believable. Nonetheless, at its heart is a clever idea about the mysterious link between two soldier brothers and their determination to succeed on the dangerous mission assigned to them. This is an offbeat Commando, for sure, but I think it’s a good read.
   And the front cover…a homage to Sir Michael Caine? His breakout roles in classic films such as “Zulu” and “The Ipcress File” were certainly very popular back then, right in the midst of the Swinging Sixties.—Scott Montgomery, Deputy Editor

Story: Skentleberry
Art: Buylla
Cover: Lopez Espi
Break Through!, originally Commando No 196 (January 1966), re-issued as No 835 (May 1974)

Commando No 4893 – Do Your Duty
By October 1945 World War II was over but some British forces were redeployed to the island of Java to support Allied troops in a battle with Nationalist guerrillas. The beleaguered men had expected to have been back home by now and some refused to fight. RAF mechanic Danny Cullen was stuck in the middle — he wanted to do his duty but was continually intimidated by those who had downed tools.
   Meanwhile, as skirmishes with the guerrillas continued, Flight Lieutenant James Haldane made sure that he carried some grenades in his Auster spotter aircraft. You never knew when you might need them…

Story: Steve Taylor
Art: Vila/Muller
Cover: Ian Kennedy

Commando No 4894 – Red Alert
Facing the brunt of the massive German invasion of Russia in June 1941 were the lowly Red Army conscripts. Poorly fed, trained and equipped, they were still expected to repel Hitler’s previously undefeated armies…and could expect the harshest of punishments if they failed.
   So, join two of these hard-pressed heroes in their trench and see for yourself what it was like…

I hope that, like me, you’re interested in revisiting the early work of one of our current artists. This Eastern Front tale (with a neat, end of the Cold War framing sequence) is drawn by Carlos Pino — whose most recent brand new book was “Polish Pride” (No 4889), published just a fortnight ago in the middle of February.
   Carlos’ signature dynamic style is very clear to see here and it is apparent that he is still doing fantastic work to this day. We are delighted, and grateful, that this exceptional illustrator is still happy to draw for us more than a quarter of a century after his 1989 Commando debut.—Scott Montgomery, Deputy Editor

Story: Ian Clark
Art: Carlos Pino
Cover: Phil Gascoine
Red Alert, originally Commando No 2482 (June 1991)

Friday, February 19, 2016

Comic Cuts - 19 February 2016

I had hoped to have some news on the Harry Bensley book, but at the time of writing I'm still waiting for the proofs to come through from the printer. At 42 pages it's tempting to call it a booklet, but as it's A4, same as my other Bear Alley books, I don't want people to think it's a little pamphlet. I'll do it cheap, as I'm not expecting to sell many copies... it was written for e-book publication, but I thought I'd do a print version to show off some of the pictures I've accumulated and the family trees I compiled to help make sense of his complex family background.

But at least I can show off the cover!

Hopefully I'll have ordering information up and running by next week's column for the one or two of you who might want a copy.

Talking of covers, artist Jim Burns and a few other people recently pointed me in the direction of a short animated feature based on the old Terran Trade Authority books by Stewart Cowley. Folks of a certain vintage will remember them as they repurposed a lot of cover art that appeared on SF books in the  1970s and 1980s. I don't have them all—shame!—but I have some and they're full of artwork by the likes of Tony Roberts, Angus McKie, Colin Hay, Bob Layzell and Peter Elson.

The animation was the creation of Adrian Mann, who originally posted it on Vimeo but who has now reposted it on YouTube—but I'll embed it into this post below as I know I'll want to watch it again!

I was surprised to find that those old covers had also inspired another series of videos under the title Visions of the Future, which I'll post here. They're each about 10 minutes long, so it's a substantial series showing off lots of covers.

If you're interested in seeing some more Chris Foss artwork, way back in 2008 I did a post identifying sources for Diary of a Spaceperson which included lots of scans. A lot of these old covers have also turned up in various galleries over the years, including A. E. Van Vogt, James Blish, E. E. 'Doc' Smith, etc. Do a Google search with the name and 'bear alley' and you should easily find them.

Ace O'Hara ep.82

Thursday, February 18, 2016

Tony Luke (1966-2016)

Tony Luke, best known for his Japanese-inspired manga-meets-death-metal character Dominator starred in comic strips and an animated movie, died on 17 February 2016, aged 49. I knew Tony for twenty-five years and for fifteen of them he had been suffering from mesothelioma cancer, a rare form usually associated with exposure to asbestos. Diagnosed in 2000, he was given 8 months to live, but survived thanks to surgery at St. Barts Hospital where he had his right lung removed and his diaphragm and cardial linings replaced with plastic.

During this incredibly painful period of his life, Tony continued working on an animated project that would eventually see Dominator make its movie debut at Cannes Film Festival in May 2003. Unfortunately, ill-health dogged him and he suffered a series of mini-strokes in 2008 and 2011, and in 2014 he was again diagnosed with cancer. It was hoped that chemotherapy would be able to keep the cancer in check, but Tony was aware that his illness was now part of him and he would never be free of it. Despite the pain, he kept in contact with friends and fans through social media.

Born Antony John Luke in Newcastle-upon-Tyne on 8 October 1966, Tony was educated at Manchester Polytechnic Film & TV school where he earned a BA with Hons. in 1987. Although he trained as a stop-motion animator, he found work in comics, creating Dominator for Metal Hammer in 1988. Tony collaborated with Pat Mills on a Nemesis photo-story for the 1987 2000AD Scie-Fi Special before joining forces with Alan Grant to write Middenface McNulty, Judge Dredd and Judge Anderson stories for Judge Dredd Megazine.

His output included work for video producer Manga Entertainment (Hellkatt) and NBM Publishing (Sin 7), as well as concept art, card art (Wizards of the Coast's Netrunner), cover art (DC, Vertigo, Marvel) and scripts for Psychonauts, illustrated by Motofumi Kobayashi and published by Marvel in Japan and the USA. Tony also directed and animated music videos for Wolfsbane, CreamingJesus, Urusei Yatsura, Shout Bamalam, Nectosanct, Digitalis and others.

Dominator had found a fan-base in Japan where the character was published by Kodansha in 1993-96. In 1995, Tony co-founded Renga Studios with Grant, artist Yasushi Nirasawa and actor Doug Bradley. He co-wrote (with Grant) and co-directed (with Kevin Davies) the live-action/stop-motion animated Archangel Thunderbird (1998), starring Bradley as a reclusive scientist who discovers that creatures from ancient myth are about to destroy the planet (one, Baal, was voiced by Neil Gaiman).

Broadcast on the Sci-Fi channel, the half-hour feature was made for "the price of a fridge" but inspired Sci-Fi to put up £10,000 towards a full-length movie, out of which came Dominator, filmed on a total budget of around £20,000. Voice talent for the film was provided by Dani Filth (from Cradle of Filth), Doug Bradley, Ingrid Pitt, Liza Goddard, Mark & Lard and Alex Cox.

As recently as 2015, Tony hoped to revive the Dominator character for Aces Weekly but his poor health meant that progress on any project was painful and slow. That said, he retained his sense of humour and humanity to the end, telling friends in 2014 "Enjoy your life. Live it. Don't waste a second. Tell your family and friends what they mean to you. Be nice to each other, or I'll come back from the dead and haunt the living crap out of you."

Comic World cover by Tony from 1994


John Freeman has shared a 6-second test piece from a story he wrote for Tony to animate: "Daleks versus Rocksnakes".

Alan Grant has posted a brief tribute on Facebook: "Tony was inspiring and lived life to full, always looking at new ideas, always full of new plans and schemes. We worked together on Dominator and, thanks to Tony, were the first non-Japanese creators to have a Japanese comic book produced in Japan... all down to Tony's hard work and belief in himself and others. A true talent and an inspiring individual." Full text here.

From Liam Sharp: "Tony was a kind of legend. He had imitators in Brighton - not of his work, but of his actual self. He was a photoshop pioneer, an independent movie pioneer, and a comic innovator. The cover work he did with Glenn Fabry was particularly memorable. Everybody knew Tony, and Tony knew everybody.
      " But he was also a kind man and a generous spirit. He gave credit where it was due, and helped people however he could - even in his worst bouts of ill health.
      Tony deserved more breaks than life dealt him. He deserved better, and he should have lived much longer." Full text here.

More tributes can be found at Down the Tubes.

Ace O'Hara ep.81

Friday, February 12, 2016

Comic Cuts - 12 February 2016

Working from home means finding ways to entertain myself throughout the day when there's nobody else to talk to. At the same time, because of the kind of work I do, I can find it difficult to listen to the radio when I'm trying to write as the area of the brain you use for writing is the same bit of brain that you use to make sense of spoken language.

If I'm trying to figure out how best to phrase a sentence, it's difficult if, for instance, I'm also trying to figure out who the murderer was in an Agatha Christie audio drama on 4extra. I have had days when the writing has been going well and I suddenly realise that I've managed to listen to a 90 minute murder mystery and I don't have a clue who was murdered, let alone who was the murderer.

That being the case, I like podcasts because I can store them as long as I like once they're downloaded and I don't have to worry about them disappearing – unlike the iPlayer which, until recently, only held programmes for 7 days. Even a month, as it is now, can mean missing episodes while I scramble to catch up during the gaps between issues of the magazine I work on.

This week, while I was playing catch-up with the Attaboy Clarence podcast, I was delighted to hear Bear Alley get a mention. I discovered Attaboy Clarence and it's spin-off podcast The Secret History of Hollywood last October and put in a couple of links. It would seem that quite a few of you visited Adam Roche's site and it earned me a "Canterbury" (you'll have to listen to the podcast to understand that this is a high honour).

The latest series in The Secret History of Hollywood has just started. These are massive, so it's easy to understand why there can be a few months between episodes. "Bullets and Blood" is the title of the new serial, covering the history of the founding of Warner Brothers studio and the background of one of it's major stars, Jimmy Cagney. You can download the episode here, but make sure you've set aside 4 hours because it's absolutely compelling once you get into it. And if you like it, have a listen to the others, too, as they're as good.

Our random scans this week are a few sequels by other hands. Including the Philip Marlowe sequel by Benjamin Black. The title was one of 32 unused titles found in Raymond Chandler's notebook.

Hopefully this won't sound smug, but I'm rather pleased that I've managed to keep Bear Alley going every day, albeit with a brief post featuring Ace O'Hara most days. The quality of some of the recent episodes has left a lot to be desired, but I'm afraid these copies are the best I've been able to find—the storyline currently running dates back to 1954, so the papers are over 60 years old and the original scanner wasn't too worried about quality.

Ace O'Hara ep.75

Thursday, February 11, 2016

Ace O'Hara ep.74

Commando issues 4887-4890

Commando issues on sale 11th February 2016.

Commando No 4887 – Out Of Time
It seemed that the Grossin brothers couldn’t be more different.
   Marc was a mild-mannered watchmaker — the occupying German garrison had used his skills to mend various timepieces dotted around their base.
   Meanwhile, his younger brother, Bernard, was a member of the local French Resistance and he had begun to wonder if Marc was getting too friendly with the Nazis.
   That was the least of Bernard’s worries, though. During a shoot-out at a ruined churchyard, he wondered if he was finally OUT OF TIME

Story: George Low
Art: Rezzonico
Cover: Janek Matysiak

Commando No 4888 – Codeword – “Torch”
One man held the key to the operation called by the codeword — “TORCH” — the huge Allied invasion of North Africa. His name was Pete Macrory, a Canadian in the Royal Engineers — and nobody trusted him an inch.
   To find out why, and what made Pete tick in his own peculiar way, you had to go way back to General Wolfe’s attack on Quebec in 1759. That’s when a distant ancestor of Pete’s, young Jock Macrory, was involved in a deadly adventure of his own...

I don’t think I’ll be spoiling things for you, as there is a big clue in the title, when I reveal that this story features Operation “Torch” — the real life British/American invasion of French North Africa in the winter of 1942.
   However, people often mistake Commando for some kind of history book but this is not the case. Although we use authentic military events as a backdrop (and strive not to be wildly inaccurate regarding their use), we will always have fictional principal characters placed among them, ensuring that the stories are works of the imagination, with scope for action and adventure.—Scott Montgomery, Deputy Editor

Story: Eric Hebden
Art: Victor De La Fuente
Cover: Ken Barr
Codeword – “Torch”, originally Commando No 220 (July 1966), re-issued as No 859 (August 1974)

Commando 4889 – Polish Pride
When their unit was wiped out in the Blitzkrieg that heralded the beginning of World War II, Lieutenant Bartek Abramski and Sergeant Jakub Brejnak reluctantly found themselves on the run from the Germans.
   These proud Uhlan cavalrymen were determined to survive and live to continue their fight another day. As time wore on, though, the chances of this seemed increasingly slim. However, when they teamed up with a downed pilot, a fellow Pole, it looked like they might have a chance to escape the clutches of the enemy…

Story: George Low
Art: Carlos Pino
Cover: Carlos Pino

Commando No 4890 – Dive And Kill!
It took nerves of steel to survive in the deadly skies over war-torn Europe…Pilot Officer Chris Bennet had proved that. Or so his fellow pilots thought. They reckoned he was the bravest guy they knew.
   But even steel can break, and so could Chris…

I reckon we could call this story a “bromance” — even though it was published long before that particular word came into widespread, everyday use.
   Its main focus is on the friendship between two pals — who have known each other since their university days — and how they cope with the tumultuous pressures of being RAF pilots at the height of the Battle of Britain and beyond.
   Naturally, both men are very different. David Gouldie’s quiet introspection is a neat counterpoint to Chris Bennet’s dashing showmanship — but it seems that he really is putting on a show…—Scott Montgomery, Deputy Editor

Story: Ian Clark
Art: Terry Patrick
Cover: Ian Kennedy
Dive And Kill!, originally Commando No 2470 (May 1991)

Monday, February 08, 2016

Illustrators #13

The latest issue of Illustrators leads off with a lengthy appreciation of Mitch O'Connell, the self-proclaimed "World's Best Artist" from Boston, although nowadays based in Chicago. A lover of kitsch, he revels in the lowbrow, trash culture of America. Growing up on comics and monster magazines, he studied at the Art Institute of Chicago and American Academy of Art, quitting when he began receiving commissions from Heavy Metal, Playboy and the Chicago Sun-Times.

After a couple of years as art director at a role-playing games company, he drew the graphic novel The World of Ginger Fox (1986) and commercial illustrations. His most lucrative assignment was creating clip art for ad agencies, newspapers and magazines. His books have included Good Taste Gone Bad, Pwease Wuv Me and the 2013 retrospective Mitch O'Connell: The World's Best Artist.

Diego Cordoba's feature is heavily illustrated with O'Connell's brightly coloured pop art cartoons which range from tattoo designs of Elvis to unused character designs for Dastardly and Muttley.

I'm usually more at home with painters and illustrators of a more realistic persuasion, so the article on Sep E. Scott is a real delight.Primarily a poster and advertising artist during the years before the Second World War, Scott's bold use of figures made him an excellent choice as a cover artist for comics in his latter days. Usually chosen to tackle swashbuckling characters, Scott's figures in heroic action were a highlight of Thriller Comics Library in the 1950s.

David Ashford provides many examples of Scott's earlier poster work, delightfully promoting various destinations served by railways, and adverts for Mars, Lifebuoy and Players. There's also some interesting comparisons made between some of Scott's later covers for War Picture Library and the film stills he used for inspiration.

Jeff Miracola is a fantasy artist whose work I was unaware of as his work was for the role-playing trading card company Wizards of the Coast, with later work appearing from Blizzard Entertainment and Warhammer; he's also worked in design for toys and games.

Editor Peter Richardson also interviews children's book illustrator Brooke Boynton Hughes, who paints beautiful, simple images in watercolour, and the issue is wrapped up with a brief look at the work of Tor (Victoria) Upson who has worked in theatre design and illustration.

For more information about Illustrators and back issues, visit the Book Palace website where you can also find details of their online editions. Issue 14 should include features on Tara McPherson, Joe Jusko, Maurice Leloir and Adam Stower. 


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