Saturday, March 26, 2016

Spaceship Away #38

The latest issue of Spaceship Away (#38, Spring 2016) continues Des Shaw's ongoing celebration of the original Dan Dare, along with a bit of celebrating of other SF icons of the Fifties. Sometimes I think the magazine is designed just for me.

The first feature is about the old SF magazine Authentic... I co-wrote a book charting that magazine's history many years ago. It's illustrated with cover by John Richards, an artist whose work I love. Then there's Andrew Darlington's look at the Dan Dare yarns produced in the 1980s... which I read and enjoyed when they originally came out. Andrew weaves in a little history of the 'New Eagle' too, touching base with my obsession for British comics' history. And lastly, an article by Alan Vince about Keith Watson, which covers yet another of my obsessions for researching the biographies of old British comic strip artists.

When you add in Tim Booth's ever-impressive Dan Dare comic strips, the Jet Morgan and Nick Hazard reprints and Graham Bleathman's delightful cut-away centrespread, you have an issue that is pretty much guaranteed to get a good review from me.

So let's step back for a second and cast a critical eye over everything. Are the articles good as well as being about subjects of interest? Yes... yes they are. And the comic strips? Well, Terry Patrick was never my favourite, but there's nothing wrong with his Jet Morgan; and while it's late Ron Turner, Martin Baines does a remarkable job with the colours, lifting the strip out of the ordinary.

In other words, you don't have to be me to enjoy the magazine.

You can find out more about the magazine, buy back issues and subscribe to the latest issues at the Spaceship Away website.

Ace O'Hara ep.118

Friday, March 25, 2016

Comic Cuts - 25 March 2016

A frustrating week. My second proof for Iron Mask arrived but the printer had screwed up the pagination and the 44 page first proof had mysteriously become a 48 pager with four blank pages at the rear. Not only does it look terrible, but it moved a map away from the centre pages where it was intended as the centrespread. I'm still waiting to hear the explanation and whether they can guarantee to print the book properly when I make a larger order.

To balance things out, a copy of Spaceship Away arrived (review tomorrow) plus a huge thumping new volume from Robert Kirkpatrick, whose name you'll recognise from his articles here at Bear Alley. His new book, Pennies, Profits and Poverty: A biographical directory of wealth and want in Bohemian London, looks at the penny dreadful era and how some writers and publishers found success while others grubbed a living from their pens. I'll review it properly once I've had a chance to read it all, but, dipping in, I've discovered some fascinating details about some of the old writers that I never knew.

And then another stumble: the magazine has been shunted back a week because there was no time to sell advertising. Nobody's fault, that's just the way the schedules fell for the sales team, so we've shuffled the dates forward; now I've got a planning meeting on my birthday. Bugger.

Karma snaps back and  I've managed to scan over 500 book covers in the past couple of weeks; now comes the cleaning up. Some of the covers are really poor and beyond repair, but I must admit that I do like taking out the creases and trying to get the cover back to where it would be the day it appeared on the spinner racks fifty or sixty years ago. The column header is a clue as to what I've been busy scanning.

David Ainsworth often sends over cover scans, and it's he who has inspired this week's random scans column. His Ross Angel cover had some nasty creases and a small chunk of the young lady's face was missing, which I've repaired as best I can. I'm not sure who the original artist is here.

The cover for Easy Come Easy Go is signed Gilmore but is by none other than Oliver Brabbins. Drop Dead looks to me like John Pollack (although he usually signs his work), but I'm a little stuck on Skid Row. Anyway, they make a nice quartet.


Ace O'Hara ep.117

Thursday, March 24, 2016

Commando issues 4899-4902

Commando issues on sale 24th March 2016.

Commando No 4899 – Massacre In Malaya
In the arid jungles of Malaya in 1941, British and Commonwealth forces held out against the relentless advance of the Japanese.
   Private Josh Combe and his unit were determined to protect the life of a civilian boy who had been left silent, traumatised and alone by the murderous actions of a pair of enemy officers.
  In a last-ditch attempt to get to friendly territory they would have to take to the river to survive.

Story: George Low
Art: Olivera/Rodriguez
Cover: Janek Matysiak

CommandoNo 4900 – Sailor With Wings
Lieutenant-Commander Jim Treggaron, pilot in the Fleet Air Arm, had the blood of the old Cornish pirates in his veins — or so his men said. Otherwise, he’d never have tried to organise his Swordfish squadron to operate from a little beach in Greece. They were supposed to fly from their aircraft carrier.
   However, Jim found a bunch of tough Resistance helpers, a cave full of old R.A.F. fuel and ammo, and a beach long enough for take-off.
   The Italian navy was in handy range so zooming into action went the SAILORS WITH WINGS

Peter Ford is undoubtedly one of Commando’s unsung heroes from the earliest days of the title — and is a rare example of an excellent artist who was also a great scriptwriter. In terms of art, one of his specialties was aircraft illustration. Even from the first, dynamic page opposite it is apparent that we’re in for an action-packed, aeronautical treat.
   Buccheri’s cover is superb too — although one does wonder if Peter Ford had hankered to supply the cover too and make this book a creative Commando hat-trick!—Scott Montgomery, Deputy Editor

Story: Peter Ford
Art: Peter Ford
Cover: Buccheri
Originally Commando No 239 (December 1966)

Commando 4901 – Full Steam Ahead
So, just how did two downed Royal Australian Air Force pilots end up on a secluded Pacific island — as prisoners of a long-forgotten Imperial German Navy unit whose unhinged leader was determined to complete a decades-old mission?
   Sergeant Matt Herford and Corporal Ben MacAuley would have to commandeer an ancient, steam-powered torpedo boat in an attempt to escape and warn their superiors of an imminent threat.
   It’s a tall tale indeed, fantastic in every sense of the word.

Story: Stephen Walsh
Art: Keith Page
Cover: Keith Page

Commando 4902 – Branded A Coward
The heroic last stand of Lieutenant Hugh Overton in the mountains of the Indian North-West Frontier won even the respect of the enemy tribesmen who had wiped out his patrol to a man.
   Yet by his own people Hugh was branded a coward, a deserter who had fled in terror in the face of the enemy, condemning his men to death!

At first glance you might think that this book has several overly familiar traits that you might expect to find in a Commando story.
   An officer wrongly accused of cowardice. Check.
   An object – in this instance a silver cigar case – which serves as an important plot-point, or “maguffin”, according to film director Alfred Hitchcock. Check.
   A relative of the accused who is determined to find out the truth. Check.
   However, thanks to the conviction of all the creators involved, it all still works — no matter how superficially familiar the tropes of the tale itself may seem.—Scott Montgomery, Deputy Editor

Story: C.G. Walker
Art: Keith Shone
Cover: Phil Gascoine
Originally Commando No 2440 (January 1991)

Ace O'Hara ep.116

Tuesday, March 22, 2016

Eagle Adventures Special #1

Although I had for the most part given up reading comics by the late 1970s, I rediscovered their pleasures in the mid-1980s and was regularly buying Eagle and Roy of the Rovers—which was a bit of a surprise as I had no great love of football. That didn't stop me thoroughly enjoying the soap-opera antics of Melchester Rovers and the wild and hilarious adventures of Mighty Mouse, who was shortly to become part of an unbeatable double act with Hotshot Hamish.

Eagle's attractions were initially the discovery that favourite artists from my earlier comic reading days were still active: Ian Kennedy on 'Dan Dare', Eric Bradbury drawing 'Doomlord', John Burns on 'The Fists of Danny Pike' and Mike Western waiting in the wings

Comics brightened up an otherwise dull existence, living in a cheap, grotty flat in Chelmsford and working at a frozen food warehouse, sometimes until the wee hours of the morning. Eagle was a bright, colourful splash of excitement that reignited the pleasures I felt when I first discovered comics in the late 1960s.

So it's great to see Hibernia tackling more reprints from those heady days, including an Ian Kennedy Dan Dare, plus short but complete tales featuring Comrade Bronski, Dolebusters, Doomlord, News Team and The Amstor

Computer. Bronski, a former KGB Major, is now in a Russian gulag, although he promptly escapes in this, his debut story by Alan Hebden and Carlos Ezquerra.

Dolebusters was entertainingly drawn by John Burns features a rag-bag of young lads who set up a business in a local cafe doing any job going—in this instance acting as bodyguards to a man convinced he will become a werewolf when the moon is full.

Doomlord takes centre stage in a colour yarn in which Vek is sent to retrieve a renegade Servitor named Kel who has laid a planet to waste.

In the debut tale of News Team they are sent to a rebel African state in the midst of a military coup and then to America where the President is kidnapped, both tales giving artist Jose Ortiz plenty of action to get his teeth into.

The Amstor Computer is one of a number of short yarns filling out the issue, with art by Cam Kennedy; Jose Casanovas contributes a one-page one-off and there's an Alan Moore-penned photo story featuring The Collector.

The whole package adds up to 64 pages of pure nostalgia for the days of Summer Specials!

You can order your copies from Hibernia via their Comicsy webstore, price £7.00.

Ace O'Hara ep.114

Friday, March 18, 2016

Comic Cuts - 18 March 2016

The second proof for Iron Mask is on its way... it may even arrive today, in which case you might see the payment page go live any second now—or it may already be live by the time you read this. If that's the case there will be a link in the text under the cover picture at the top of the column to your right. Go take a look.

So I'm thinking about what I'm going to do next. I've an idea and I've even started doing some of the scanning that I'm going to need to do if this turns into Project 27. It could be a bit pricey because it needs to be full colour but I don't think it will work in b/w. It's something I've got to think about because it is going to involve cleaning up a lot of book cover scans.

We went to see Richard Herring at the Colchester Arts Centre on Saturday. The show was sold out and 300 people were packed in like sardines, although thankfully this is March and it wasn't nearly as uncomfortably hot as it sometimes can get at packed gigs at the Arts Centre. Herring was on good form, the show following the trend towards cheery, bubbly optimism of last year's Lord of the Dance Setee. If anything, this year's show was even more joyful and upbeat as it centres around the birth of his daughter.

I took my annual photo—one taken last year was later used in Herring's newsletter, so I'm hoping for big things this year.

We have a couple of other comedy nights out lined up for March—Jenny Eclair and Simon Evans. And we're planning to see Sara Pascoe again later in the year. Let's hope they're as good.

Maybe it's my age, but I screwed up spectacularly on Thursday when I was buying a couple of cheap old paperbacks. A little bookshop has opened up locally and I stuck my head in to find it was a very pleasant little place with about 25 shelves of second hand books tending towards reference and literary fiction. Burrowing deep, I spotted a British Library 'Crime Classics' reprint that I didn't have for £3 and an old wartime Services Edition of a slim book called The Reluctant Erk, for £2. The only really good find was a rather tatty copy of Ernest Dudley's Armchair Detective Reader, with a nice Denis McLoughlin cover, which was priced at 30p.

So I took my three books to the desk and the nice lady said "We'll call it a tenner". It was at that point that I realised that when I'd glanced at the price of Reluctant Erk I'd read £2 when it actually said £7. I should have put it back but, perhaps thrown by the fact that she was giving me a free Boardman paperback, I smiled at the shop owner and left.

But did I win the day? After an admittedly fairly brief search of the internet, the asking price for only copy I can find is £73.99. Which makes my free copy a bit of a bargain... certainly enough for me to forget the extra fiver I paid for the Macadam collection.

Continuing our collection of covers by Ray Theobald, here is a small gallery of Theobald's war covers for Badger Books. I can't recall whether Theobald ever signed any of his Badger covers... probably not as they were unlikely to have turned down any of his work, however poor, as long as the price was right. They're very good examples of what was wrong with his work: there was usually absolutely nothing wrong with the idea behind the image but it was let down by his stiff figurework and minimal effort to put in any detail. A shame, as he was able to improve when given the chance.


Ace O'Hara ep.110

Friday, March 11, 2016

Comic Cuts - 11 March 2016

I'm very close to having the Harry Bensley book finished... close enough for me to put up a cover over there in the right hand column as "coming soon". I've had a proof copy and Mel has kindly gone through it looking for typos, but I had another problem that needed to be resolved.

This is a saddle-stapled A4 booklet which means the pagination must divide by four as that's the way it is printed. The text ran comfortably to 41 pages and I didn't want to pad it out with extraneous text, oversized pictures or adverts and it took me a little while to figure out what to do. What was missing was a route-map of Harry's journey.

Finding a map of the UK of a high enough resolution that you can make use of without infringing copyright is almost impossible. It took me until Wednesday to sort one out that I could use in print and I'm still drawing out the route that "Iron Mask" took on his tour of the country... well, his tour of a bit of the country. But even in that bit he may have visited over 100 towns and cities, many of which aren't shown on the map, so I'm having to put them in. It's a painfully slow job. A bit like every aspect of this book seems to have been!

Part of the reason things are moving so slowly is because I've also had to start work on the next issue of Hotel Business, so I'm fielding e-mails and phone calls and commissioning features for the next issue. Each issue consists of about 50 small features, some of which I write, although most are put together by PR companies which I usually have to rewrite to cut them down to the required length. The two phrases I hear more often than any others: "It's written but I'm just waiting for it to be signed off" to explain why the feature is late, and "It's a bit longer than you asked for...".

Anyway, hopefully I'll have the map finished over the weekend and I'll send off for a second proof; with luck I'll have the payment page up and running just in case anyone wants to actually order the book!

I've been working on a few more Ray Theobald covers. These are scans from other folks, so I've done my best with them, but they're not up to the usual scratch. They are, however, good examples from Theobald's days at Modern Fiction in the mid- to late-fifties.


Ace O'Hara ep.103

Thursday, March 10, 2016

Commando Issues 4895-4898

Commando Issues on sale 10th March 2016.

Commando No 4895 – Home Front Heroes
The crew of a Boulton Paul Defiant night-fighter were puzzled. Why was an Airspeed Oxford trainer aircraft flying above England under cover of darkness? The gunner wondered if perhaps something secretive was going on.
   How right he was. But there was no way that he could have known that the Oxford was being flown by a German crew, and was an integral part of an audacious plan by the Nazis to snatch back one of their spies.
   At times the Home Front was almost as dangerous as the Front Line.

Story: George Low
Art: Morahin
Cover: Ian Kennedy

Commando No 4896 – The Great Escape
Ted Malloy knew him as Corporal Don Granger of the Australian Army, his best pal, young, dark-haired and full of spirit.
   The Kachins, a Burmese tribe, knew him as “Urgu” — their Holy Man, chief and river god, tall with a lined face, bronzed skin, a mop of snow-white hair, and no memory of any past.
   Ted and Don were the only two men ever to escape from “Death Valley”, the dreaded Japanese labour camp, where men died by inches under the blazing sun and the whips of the guards.
   The tale of how Ted got clear and how Don became Urgu truly is a thrilling one.

It did not come as much of a surprise to learn that a Commando book carried this title. It appeared a mere two-and-a-half years after the cinema release of director John Sturges’ classic prisoner-of-war movie in July 1963.
   However, this story has only appropriated the movie’s title as the setting and content are completely different. In fact, with its jungle tribes and allusions to river gods, our tale probably owes more to the fantasy fiction of author H. Rider Haggard, but given a gritty, World War II twist.—Scott Montgomery, Deputy Editor

Story: Spence
Art: Victor De La Fuente
Cover: Scholler
The Great Escape, originally Commando No 198 (January 1966)

Commando No 4897 – The Mortar Boys
Brothers Vic and George Adams were part of a Pacific Expeditionary Force mortar team. They had been tasked with engaging the Japanese on Mono Island in the South Pacific.
   Their superior officer, Lieutenant Jeff Danten, was not keen on mortars, seeing them as a waste of time compared to a decent machine-gun. It didn’t help that Danten was also impatient and reckless, too eager to get into battle without decent tactics.
   It looked like the Mortar Boys had more than just the enemy to worry about…

Story: Mark Blackham
Art: Vicente Alcazar
Cover: Janek Matysiak

Commando No 4898 – Fight To The Last
When Fred Burke made a vow to his dead mate that he would fight to the last to see the war won, it wouldn’t be his fault if the Allies lost, for Fred was a man of his word. So in Fred’s book anything went — like breaking out of a prison camp for a start, then after commandeering a civilian vehicle, battling alongside the partisans to hold a vital bridge. Fred just went on fighting and fighting…

This is a relentless tale where Lance-Corporal Fred Burke is driven by a promise made to his best friend that he will never give in until the War is won.
   It’s a testament to the work of all the creators involved that, despite the fairly straightforward premise, our hero is so full of determination that we can’t help but admire his integrity and courage and are with him every step of the way.
   Therefore, in terms of script, art and cover, Fight To The Last remains a classic, textbook Commando to this day.—Scott Montgomery, Deputy Editor

Story: N. Allen
Art: Mones
Cover: Ian Kennedy
Fight To The Last, originally Commando No 1108 (March 1977), re-issued as No 2443 (February 1991)


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