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Monday, March 27, 2017

Last chance to buy: Arena

(* We're in the last week of our 25% off Sale of Arena here at Bear Alley Books as our two-year license is about to run out. Here's a taster of the introduction which takes a look at the SF notion of gladiatorial fighting...)

Blood and Circuses
    Welcome to the twenty-first century and the greatest, most exciting sport ever. The ultimate conflict… a fight to the death… men locked in mortal combat employing the most ingenious weapons of the day.
    Welcome to the Arena.
From our lofty position in the teens of 21st century, looking back at the predictions of past scholars can be an amusing pastime. On 14 August 2014, The Independent carried a list of “Visions of a future that didn’t exactly pan out,” featuring six writers ranging from Nostradamus to Isaac Asimov. The author of the list was surprisingly dismissive of an elderly Nikola Tesla’s prediction that we could expect—to quote the Independent—“robots working as labourers, and that milk, honey and wheat would suffice everyone’s appetites. Both are yet to prove accurate.” But, of course, automated production lines do exist just as Tesla predicted in his 1935 Liberty interview: “Innumerable activities still performed by human hands today will be performed by automatons.” Chalk up a point to Tesla.

Science fiction has predicted many of the great inventions and social trends of the past century, from mobile phones to ready meals. We should perhaps be grateful that not all its predictions have come to pass. In New Maps of Hell, Kingsley Amis wrote, “Several writers devise a socially approved system of murder committed as therapy for the murderer or simply for fun, and the correlation between a regularised society and the incidence of uncontrollable destructive urges is even more widely explored.”

Welcome to the Arena. Written in 1978 and set in the then distant 21st century, “Arena” was one of six stories that debuted in D. C. Thomson’s The Crunch, a “sensational NEW paper with the most DYNAMIC bunch of stories ever!” A whole new experience in boys’ papers, boasted the editor. “It’s for the boy of TODAY—packed with never-before-told stories with true-life features on the men who have faced the crunch in their lives.”

The heroes of The Crunch included a bounty hunter, a footballer investigating a weird medical experiment, a German soldier who discovers that Hitler survived the war and a traffic cop attempting to uncover the plot behind the assassination of the President of the United States.

The story that led most issues from the very first was “Arena”. The hero, Mark Sabor, was not a  soldier or lawman, but a reporter accused of writing seditious material. The story has a long pedigree in dystopian fiction: like Nineteen Eighty-Four’s Winston Smith, Sabor is a journalist; like Kafka’s K, he is arrested and secretly tried in a future controlled by an oligarchy akin to that of Jack London’s The Iron Heel. The world is heavily state controlled and—per Orwell’s Big Brother or the Bureau of Guardians in Yevgeny Zamyatin’s We—the ruling elite are quick to act when the status quo is threatened.

Following his trial, the defiant journalist has his rights of citizenship revoked. Believing he will be imprisoned and able to appeal against the sentence, Sabor is curtly informed that, as a non-citizen, his future lies in the Arena.

The Arena is a gladiatorial gameshow, televised to keep the masses distracted and pacified, although they also hold a far more important role central to the commercial interests of countries around the world. Country borders exist in this version of the 21st century, but control seems to be in the hand of corporations—only later will we discover that there is an even higher power—who will hire a company of gladiators and use their champion to battle on their behalf. Disputes over trade rights can be settled this way, echoing the premise of Mack Reynolds’ 1962 tale “Mercenary”, which featured mercenaries and brawlers who sign up for battles (known as fracas) between businesses. These fracas are fought using pre-1900 weaponry that does not violate a Universal Disarmament Pact and successful fighters can raise their status in the caste-riven society of the story. A loss can mean the death of thousands of mercenaries, the destruction of millions of dollars of military equipment and financial ruin for the company.

These fracas are televised for the entertainment of the lower castes. As one the characters explains: “Automation, the second industrial revolution, has eliminated for all practical purposes the need for their labor. So we give them bread and circuses. And every year that goes by the circuses must be increasingly sadistic, death on an increasing scale, or they aren’t satisfied.”

Battles in “Mercenary” are held on natural terrain. A later story in the same sequence, Time Gladiator, has a more specific setting: “The amphitheater covered an area of some six or seven acres. Overall it measured slightly more than six hundred feet by five hundred feet, but the arena itself, the fighting arena, was two hundred eighty feet by one hundred seventy. There were comfortable seating facilities for approximately fifty thousand persons, but on an occasion such as this—national games—they could, and did, pack in as many as seventy-five thousand spectators.”

This gladiatorial combat was, again, a way of turning large-scale arguments into manageable contests, the results binding—in this case a potential war between three major powers is to be decided by nine men who have been chosen to fight by the World Court.

(* Continued in Arena... available from Bear Alley Books.)

(* Arena © DC Thomson.)

Saturday, March 25, 2017

Colin Dexter cover gallery

Last Bus to Woodstock (1975)
Pan Books 0330-24896-0, 1977.
---- [8th imp.] n.d., 205pp, £3.99. Cover photo by Stephen Morley. TV tie-in.
---- [32nd imp.] n.d., 309pp, £6.99. Cover photo by Michael Trevillion

Last Seen Wearing (1976)
Pan Books 0330-25148-1, 1977.
---- [5th imp.] n.d., 221pp, £2.50. Cover photo by Stephen Morley. TV tie-in.
---- [28th imp.] n.d., 352pp, £6.99. Cover photo by Michael Trevillion

The Silent World of Nicholas Quinn (1977)
Pan Books 0330-25424-3, 1978.
---- [19th imp.] n.d., 205pp, £4.99. Cover photo by Michael Trevillion
---- [35th imp.] n.d., 294pp, £6.99. Cover photo by Michael Trevillion

Service of All the Dead (1979)
Pan Books 0330-26148-7, 1980.
---- [7th imp.] n.d., 255pp, £3.99. Cover photo by Tom Hilton. TV tie-in.

The Dead of Jericho (1981)
Pan Books 0330-26693-4, 1983.
---- [10th imp.] n.d., 223pp, £3.99. Cover photo by Tom Hilton. TV tie-in.
---- [23rd imp.] n.d., 223pp, £5.99. Cover by Michael Trevillion

The Riddle of the Third Mile (1983)
Pan Books

The Secret of Annexe 3 (1986)
Pan Books 0330-29976-x, 1987.
---- [5th imp.] n.d., 218pp, £2.99. Cover photo by Colin Thomas
---- [31st imp.] n.d., 301pp, £6.99. Cover photo by Michael Trevillion

The Wench is Dead (1989)
Pan Books 0330-31336-3, 1990.
---- [4th imp.] n.d., 200pp, £3.99. Cover photo by James Jackson

The Jewel That Was Ours (1991)
Pan Books 0330-32419-5, 1992.
---- [12th imp.] n.d., 275pp, £4.99. Cover photo by Michael Trevillion

The Way Through the Woods (1992)
Pan Books 0330-32838-7, 1993.
---- [13th imp.] n.d., 296pp, £4.99. Cover photo by Alain Choisnet
---- [21st imp.] n.d., 412pp, £5.99. Cover photo by Michael Trevillion

Morse's Greatest Mystery (collection; 1993; also published as As Good as Gold)
Pan Books in association with Kodak, 1994, 282pp, no/pr. Cover photo by Michael Trevillion
Pan Books 0330-34025-5, 1995, 282pp, £4.99. Cover photo by Michael Trevillion

The Daughters of Cain (1994)
Pan Books 0330-34163-4
---- [2nd imp.] n.d., 387pp, £4.99. Cover photo by Michael Trevillion
Pan Books 0330-35217-2, 1996, 387pp, £5.99. Cover photo by Tony Nutley. TV tie-in.

Death is Now My Neighbour (1996)
Pan Books 0330-35034-x, 1997, 413pp, £5.99. Cover photo by Michael Trevillion

The Remorseful Day (1999)
Pan Books 0330-37639-x, 2000.
---- [5th imp.] n.d., 448pp, £5.99. Cover photo by Michael Trevillion

Friday, March 24, 2017

Comic Cuts - 24 March 2017

We're entering the final week in which Frontline UK and Arena can be sold by Bear Alley Books, so if you want copies at 25% off the cover price, now is the time to put in your order. Click on the links under the cover photos in the right hand column.

I've had a somewhat frustrating week. The idea was to put aside the Valiant index and get on with some work for a magazine. I put together a bunch of questions but my contact needed confirmation that I was working for the mag. An e-mail didn't get any response, so I spent Wednesday trying to phone the editor... and Thursday... Every call has gone through to voicemail. I'm beginning to wonder if the magazine still exists!

I switched back to Valiant and doing some other bits 'n' bobs that needed doing. I'm trying to index some old annuals and summer specials, and to try and make sure the work gets done, I'm trying to do one every morning. (The same principal has worked quite well before. Long-time readers might remember the "daily annual" I used to compile for the CB&M group probably ten years ago now, maybe longer.) The information will eventually appear in future indexes.

The same idea means that we have our random scans every week. Sometimes they're very random indeed, based on what I've managed to rescue from charity shops, but some weeks have a theme, and given the frustration I've had this week, the theme is waiting.

Thursday, March 23, 2017

Commando issues 5003 - 5006

Commando issues on sale 23rd March 2017.

From the skies of northern France to ruined towns and the sometimes sunny, sometimes stormy Mediterranean, our heroes brave it all in the next few issues of Commando. All set during the turbulence of WWII, each issue tackles different conflicts in Europe – and it’s not always clear who the enemy is…

Commando 5003 – American Eagles
Kicking it off, with story by Steven Taylor, issue 5003: American Eagles features Spitfires and Thunderbolts fighting against German ME 109s in the skies over northern France. American Lieutenant Eddie ‘Mac’ MacDonald was one of the first to travel across the Atlantic and join the Brits in their Eagle Squadrons. But then, after the bombs fell on Pearl Harbour, his homeland ventured into the war and Mac couldn’t wait to share his experience with his fellow Yanks. But not everyone wanted to learn… Bullets are fired straight at the reader from ME 109s in Janek Matysiak’s cover, preparing adventure seekers for the perils within!

Story – Steven Taylor
Art – Jaume Forns
Cover – Janek Matysiak

Commando 5004 – Trouble Squadron
Then, from one squadron to another, we find out that not everyone is as friendly as Mac, and your wingmen don’t always have your best interest at heart. Story by Boothby, issue 5004: Trouble Squadron follows Michael ‘Scatty’ Wilson, who is the only surviving pilot of his unit. Bitter and twisted, he’s ready to take revenge on the Nazis – even at the cost of his new squadron. Emotionless, he’s a zombie among his new men. His chief objective is to hit his targets - his men’s survival no longer a priority. Framed in cover art by prestigious veteran Commando artist, Ken Barr, who designed the first ever cover of Commando, Trouble Squadron’s cover contrasts serene sky blues against a trail of fire spurting from the engine of a Spitfire…

Story – Boothby
Art – Auraleon
Cover – Ken Barr

Commando 5005 – Urban Gunners
Then, from the tight American formations of the Eagle Squadron and the perilously low altitude flights of Scatty Wilson’s Blenheims, issue 5005: Urban Gunners shows our heroes in the claustrophobia of the American infantry after the D-Day landings. Bored and eager to see the action of the front, American Private Brad Lynch had no idea of the fear he would soon know all too well. Part of the anti-tank division tasked with covering infantry under German machine gun fire at Aachen, Lynch’s nerves are shaken. His friends are dying – shot down by enemy snipers. His aim is off; he’s tormented by nightmares. Will he ever regain control of himself as he deals with the horrors of war? With interior and cover art by Manuel Benet, the blackness of Aachen’s crumbling streets compresses the panels, showcasing the confined paranoia of Lynch, as the tight buildings offer no escape from the pressure of the front.

Story – Ferg Handley
Art – Manuel Benet
Cover – Manuel Benet

Commando 5006 – Go Down Fighting!
And finally, with cover art by another veteran, Jeff Bevan, issue 5006: Go Down Fighting follows two heroes in their battle for the Mediterranean. On one side, Italian navy Lieutenant Ricardo Brazzo fondly remembers his youth, working on his father’s fishing boat. He had wanted to see the world, so joined the navy. He was good, eager to chase The Royal Navy out of the Med – to make it Mussolini’s Lake. But he had no idea how good the British navy was. Still he fought on. On the other side, British navy Lieutenant Norman Ryan commanded a Fairmile launch. He easily tore through Italian convoys and tankards. Then a storm hit, damaging Ryan’s engines. Both men’s paths will cross, but both will fight on against all odds. Ian Clark’s captivating story of the war at sea shows a side not often seen, blurring the line between hero and villain, friend and foe.

Story – Ian Clark
Art – Peter Foster
Cover – Jeff Bevan

Wednesday, March 22, 2017

Rebellion Releases (2000AD)

Rebellion releases for 22 March 2017.

2000AD Prog 2023
Cover: Cliff Robinson
Judge Dredd: Get Jerry Sing by John Wagner (w) Carlos Ezquerra (a) Annie Parkhouse (l)
Brink: Skeleton Life by Dan Abnett 9w) INJ Culbard (a) Simon Bowland (l)
Future Shocks: The Best Brain In The Galaxy by Andrew Williamson (w) Tilen Javornik (a) Ellie De Ville (l)
Scarlet Traces: Cold War - Book 2 by Ian Edginton (w)  D'Israeli (a) Annie Parkhouse (l)
Cursed: The Fall of Deadworld by Kek-W (w) Dave Kendall (a) Annie Parkhouse (l)

Tuesday, March 21, 2017



If you look over to the right hand column, you'll see that we have a special offer on two of our latest books from Bear Alley. You can save 25% off the cover price for the next few weeks. This will be your last chance to buy Frontline UK and Arena as our license for these titles runs out shortly and both books will be officially OUT OF PRINT after March 31st.

So if you want copies, grab 'em now. After the end of the month, they'll be disappearing for good.

Frontline UK by William Corderoy, Ian Kennedy & Clemente Rezzonico.
Arena by David H. Taylor & Enrique Alcatena.

Monday, March 20, 2017

Illustrators Special #1: Warren Magazines - The Spanish Artists

A bumper, 144-page issue of Illustrators has been releases alongside the regular issue 17 featuring some of the most stunningly gorgeous artwork from some of Spain's finest artists. The thread running through the whole book is Vampirella, who stars on the cover. In the late 1960s, Josep Toutein the founder of the Selecciones Illustrades artists' agency in Spain, went to New York to offer his services to James Warren.

Warren saw him out of courtesy rather than any desire to do business; his comics were struggling in an overcrowded market and hiring new talent was low on his priorities. Depending on who tells the story, Warren saw the samples Toutain had brought with him and immediately / a week later offered his artists work, most notably putting Jose "Pepe" Gonzalez to work on Vampirella. Over the next few years, Toutain became integral to Warren's success – the science fiction comic 1984 was his suggestion, for instance – and the artists of the S.I. agency produced some of their most memorable work for the company.

This special issue looks at the work of six artists in particular, with an introductory piece on Toutain setting the scene. Both Enric Torres-Prat and Sanjulian (Manuel Perez-Sanjulian Clemente), the first two subjects of this volume, never tackled comic strips (Enric was too slow, Sanjulian was too awful) but became famous as cover artists, using their skills as illustrators to create a formidable body of work. Enric produced 52 covers for Vampirella alone, and Sanjulian produced 60 for Warren, mostly for Eerie, Creepy and Vampirella.

Both artists eventually left Toutain as the latter concentrated on publishing and found employment doing book covers; Enric became notably associated with Harlequin where his beautiful women in long, flowing white dresses and virile young men were perfect for the romantic market; Sanjulian drew dozens of covers for the German western market and film posters.

Inside the covers of Vampirella, Pepe Gonzalez revolutionised the look of the strip. A precocious talent, Gonzalez bored easily and, having made Vampirella his own, he all but abandoned her, disappearing for days rather than working, leaving strips half finished. He could not paint: the iconic Vampirella poster published by Warren signed by Jose Gonzalez was only pencilled by him; the actual painting was done by Enric.

In later life, Gonzalez let himself go completely and was unable to look after himself, let alone work in any coherent way. It was Toutain and, after Josep died, his widow and family who tried to keep Gonzalez working and healthy until his death in 2009.

Luis Garcia was considered the new Pepe Gonzalez when he found his way to S.I. in 1961, aged only 15. He learned technique from those around him in the S.I. studio and soon became a prolific artist of romantic stories for Britain's comics for teenage girls. Visiting the UK a number of times during the Sixties, he embraced the hippy spirit, having then recently experienced life at an artist's commune a few miles outside Barcelona.

His London experience ended thanks to bad LSD and chronic flu, but his desire to not draw any more romances set him on the path to Warren's horror magazines where his ultra-realistic artwork soon became a favourite amongst fans. Garcia soon found work in Pilote, which maintained his Warren connections, as his French strips were reprinted in Vampirella. Garcia subsequently had a varied career as a comic artist (still recognised for his graphic novel Nova-2), as an advertising artist and as an illustrator and painter.

Garcia was a member of El Grupo de la Floresta, where artists would help out each other. One of his fellow artists was Esteban Maroto, four years older and another teenage prodigy. By the mid-Sixties, Maroto was experimenting with radical layouts for his strip 5 x Infinity and Wolff, and he would draw over 100 stories for various Warren magazines in the 1970s and 1980s. Maroto would also draw for DC in America and DC Thomson here in the UK.

Another prodigious artist, Jordi Bernet, is the subject of the final feature. Born into a family of cartoonists and scriptwriters, Bernet gained vital experience assisting Jordi Buxade before approaching Bardon Art, who put him to work on westerns and adventure stories for the British market, mostly for Victor, although also including work for Hornet, Smash!, Tiger and Lion.

He was introduced to Spirou in the 1960s and notably drew 'Paul Foran' for almost a decade. He went on to work for the American, German and Italian markets. When Josep Toutain began publishing magazines rather than agenting artists, Bernet created 'Torpedo' with writer Enrique Sanchez Abuli, which was a success around the world. Bernet has also worked successfully with Antonio Segura (Sarvane, Kraken) and Carlos Trillo (Cicca Dum-Dum, Calra de Noche) and has worked occasionally for DC Comics, most notably on Jonah Hex. Unlike some of his contemporaries, he continues to draw comics to this day.

The production on this special edition cannot be faulted. The artwork on show is spectacular, representing some of the best work of these immensely talented artists. Each essay gives context to characters and comics you may not have seen before and it is this discovery of whole new worlds of comics that makes the book so easy to recommend.

The Illustrators Special Edition is available directly from Book Palace, as are current and back issues of the regular Illustrators magazine.

Sunday, March 19, 2017

Illustrators #17 (Winter 2016)

The latest issue of Illustrators contains three main subjects who couldn't be more diverse. The issue leads with Mort Küntsler, American artist who may nowadays be best known for his paintings of the American Civil War but who spent the Fifties and Sixties painting covers and illustrations for the thriving men's magazine market and the Seventies doing illustrations for the better paying magazine markets and film posters.

Küntsler's pulpier illustrations are beautiful. The men's magazines were full of salacious thrills dressed as stories of soldiers in battle or thrillseekers fighting sharks or hero cops fighting gangsters. It didn't matter where these tawdry tales were set, there were always busty women in peril, usually facing that peril at best in a bra or more often topless, their arms carefully posed for modesty's sake. It made as little sense as the metal contraptions women wore in space on science fiction pulps. While it's easy to deride the subject matter, you cannot fault the artistry and talent that went into the images.

From the Eighties on he has made his name for painstakingly researched Civil War and historical art which have been gathered in numerous books and made available as prints. Küntsler is, thankfully, still with us and, although he's ninety this year, he's still painting. His book The New Nation was published as recently as 2014.

Francisco V. Coching might not be as familiar a name but in the Philippines he was the one of the leading lights in the local komics industry, leaving school in 1934 at the age of 15 to begin drawing professionally; he continued to draw comics for four decades, retiring in the 1970s. So popular was Coching that the majority of his comics characters were turned into movies.

Writer Diego Cordoba calls him "perhaps the best comic book creator you've never heard of," and based on the examples seen here that could be true. His artwork owes much to his inspirations Hal Foster and Alex Raymond and his apprenticeship to Tony Velazquez, one of the pioneers of Filipino komics.

Gustave Doré was featured in issue 11, but a second article is welcome to show off more of his astonishing artwork. Professionally published at the age of 13, Doré illustrated some of the greatest books of all time, from The Bible to Don Quixote. He lived through some of history's bloodiest times, including the Crimean War and the Franco-Prussian War, inspiring some of his darkest works. One of his finest works was London: A Pilgrimage with text by William Blanchard Jerrold, which recorded London's slums in all their grisly honesty.

An interview with children's illustrator Zac Retz completes the issue in fine style.

For more information on Illustrators and back issues, visit the Book Palace website, where you can also find details of their online editions, and news of upcoming issues. Issue 18 will feature Mort Drucker, Ernesto Garcia Cabral, Becky Cloonan and the early years of Puffin Books.

Saturday, March 18, 2017

Spaceship Away #41 (Spring 2017)

The latest issue of Spaceship Away is out now and launches a whole new Dan Dare yarn, so it's a great jumping on issue if you haven't tried the title before now.

Tim Booth has been central to the success of Spaceship Away, having painted a series of new old-style Dan Dare yarns for many years. His long-running 'Parsecular Tales' storyline has finally come to a conclusion after 28 episodes – and as there are only three issues per year, that particular strip has been running since 2010 – and a new story begins, with eight pages of the new 'Shakedown Cruise' getting his latest yarn off to a good start.

Four graduates from Astral College are selected to join Dan, Digby and the crew of the Discovery on a training mission that will begin with a trip to Far City on the dark side of the Moon.

This issue has a second, complete Dan Dare tale from the pen of John Freeman, still probably best known for his editorial stint at Doctor Who Magazine and as publisher of the online Down the Tubes comics' news site. 'Martian Menace' was written back in 2013 when it was hoped that the Freeman-edited Strip comic would be allowed to run new Dan Dare material. After creating a bible for the new strip, work began in 2014 only to grind to a halt when payments due did not arrive.

Thankfully, John's hard work was picked up by B7 Media when they came to producing audio adventures of Dan Dare recently – the second tranch of stories is due shortly – and the strip, drawn by Joe Pimentel and gorgeously coloured by John Ridgway, had finally made its way into print.

Another Ron Turner strip completes the comic compliment this issue, a bit of pulpy fun that fits the Spaceship Away formula beautifully.

Articles this issue include a look at Bruce Cornwell's artwork for Express Annual and a piece by David Ashford on two artists you might not expect to have contributed to the Dan Dare saga in the original Eagle: Jack Daniels and Norman Williams.

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