Sunday, February 28, 2021

Review: Photographs & Images of Artists, Writers & Editors of 19th and 20th Century British Comic Papers

If ever there was a book that “does exactly what it says on the tin”—as the famous Ronseal advertising slogan once said—this is it. Alan Clark has collected together over 100 photographs of some of the men and women who helped create vintage British comics and story papers, starting chronologically sensibly with he creators of Ally Sloper (Charles H. Ross, Marie Duval, W. G. Baxter). The rest of the book is somewhat random, but covers many of the creators who worked for Amalgamated Press and D. C. Thomson, including such notables as Tom Browne, Leo Baxendale, Ken Reid, Reg Parlett, Robert Nixon, Dudley D. Watkins, Denis McLoughlin and Derek Eyles.

Along the way he dips into the careers of editors like H. J. Garrish, G. H. Cantle, Fred Cordwell, Monty Haydon, George Moonie and R. D. Low in a series of snap shot biographies that accompany each of the photos, company founders like Alfred Harmsworth and James Henderson, and often-forgotten stalwarts of the comics like Charlie Pease, George Wakefield, Roy Wilson, Frank Minnitt and George Ramsbottom.

A random dip into the book reveals that Tiger Tim’s Weekly editor Will Fisher died in a car accident, Eileen Soper, who illustrated many books by Enid Blyton, was the daughter of Royal Academy artist George Soper, and Bert Wymer, coincidentally one of the artists of Tiger Tim, was also an amateur archaeologist, his family responsible for the discovery of the Swanscombe Skull.

It’s a fascinating little book to dip into as you’ll never know what you will stumble across next. Privately published, it can be purchased via Ebay:

Photographs & Images of Artists, Writers & Editors of 19th and 20th Century British Comic Newspapers by Alan Clark
Alan Clark, Autumn 2020, 119pp (A5), £15.00.

Saturday, February 27, 2021

Review: Essential Judge Dredd & The Rediscovered Scripts

Rebellion have launched a new line of ‘Essential Judge Dredd’ volumes bringing together some of the key stories that have helped establish Dredd as a character who has grown from the Lawgiver-toting roots of cookie-cutter Judges in his early appearances in 2000 AD into a complex and nuanced individual. In the dystopian world of Mega-City One, the lawmen are judge, jury and executioner… but the city, its citizens and its political establishment that control and inhabit the Justice Department have become more multifaceted as John Wagner has explored the world of Dredd more deeply.

In ‘Letter From a Democrat’, Wagner gave a voice to citizens who lived in fear of the self-elected Judges, who, after forty years, wanted to put power back in the hands of the people. A trio of ‘terrorists’ demanding freedom and democracy storm a TV studio knowing that, to get their point across, they must die as martyrs to the cause if their actions are to be remembered beyond the next news cycle.

The idea simmers until a march on the Hall of Justice boils over in ‘Revolution’ when Dredd is given carte blanche to stifle the march any way he can. “Democracy is a cancer eating at the heart of society. Any action we have to take to stamp it out – however regrettable – is justified,” he growls.

In ‘America’ we see the life of America Jara, the daughter of immigrants, through the eyes of her lovelorn neighbour Bennett Beeny. At the age of 15 America had already spent three months in the juve cubes for posting bills promoting democracy; her passion grows with the years, until she leaves her past behind to study politics. One night, Bennett stumbles upon her in the street. Now a member of Total War, she is part of an ambush that results in the killing of four judges.

Bennett covers for her and they later meet, but America admits that she wants money to buy explosives to destroy the Statue of Justice. Bennett gives her the money but informs on her, hoping to save her. The Judges allow the plot to unfold… they, too, know the power of symbolism – that shooting down the perps at the feet of the statue sends a powerful message.

The Democracy Now movement results in a referendum on whether Judicial control should continue, or make way for legislation by the people. The leaders of the democratic coalition want to separate the police for from the judiciary. Dredd believes that citizens will vote for the devil they know: “We’re not perfect. There may be room for us to take more account of the citizens’ wishes – some laws may be in need of revision – but otherwise, nothing’s changed. Discipline, good order, the rigid application of the law – those are the principals on which we stand.”

As Referendum Day approaches, even some of his fellow Judges target Dredd. It all boils down to the push of a button as over 100 million citizens vote…

Predicting the use of low-frequency sonics on marches (LRADs were used recently in the USA) and widespread misinformation to undermine the legitimacy of the march and those leading it, this classic series of stories have an undeniable ring of terrifying precience in these days of Donald Trump’s attempts to delegitimise the 2020 election and shock tactics at BLM marches. As Dredd chillingly says: “Justice has a price.”

America: Lost and Found
, meanwhile, presents John Wagner’s original script (minus episodes two and six, now long lost) along with selected panels from Colin MacNeil’s interpreation of the script. Apart from being the very model of how a comic script should be presented and an insight into how Wagner shaped the story through both dialogue and the images he created in his panel descriptions, the script adds little to the America story, the major change being her surname (from Ortega to Jara). Wagner commentary, on the other hand, is interesting. We learn, for instance, that he prefers to let a story grow organically rather than plot it out in full synopsis. “Sometimes I have an ending in mind and a few incidents along the way, but not always. Then I shake the pieces and see how they fall.”

The book also contains the full story from Judge Dredd Megazine and a gallery of cover images and character sketches by MacNeil.

Essential Judge Dredd: America by John Wagner, Alan Grant, Garth Ennis (w), Colin MacNeil, John Higgins, John M. Burns, Jeff Anderson (a)
Rebellion ISBN 978-1781-08860-9, 3 September 2020, 160pp, £19.99. Available via Amazon.

America: Lost and Found The Rediscovered Scripts by John Wagner & Colin MacNeil
Rebellion ISBN 978-1781-08894-4, 30 September 2020, 128pp, £19.99. h/c.

Friday, February 26, 2021

Comic Cuts — 26 February 2021

We had a bad week for British comics recently with the passing of Gerald Lipman, Bill Titcombe and Si Spencer and I began last week's column on a rather sad / exasperated note. So this week I thought I'd take a moment to just say that there are also positive things to celebrate and life isn't all unremitting bleakness.

I began reading science fiction seriously at the age of 12 and have never given it up, although I do read other things (mostly crime novels and thrillers). Between roughly 1974-1989 I read science fiction to the exclusion of pretty much everything else. At that time there were a vast number of SF novels and collections coming out in paperback, and I was a voracious reader. There was a second-hand book stall at Chelmsford market which fed my reading habit for not too much money — the books were 10p each for the most part. I began a part time job in 1978 which meant I could buy my books new at Clarke's when a paperback was still under a pound.

In the Seventies I was also reading SF magazines, picked up at the W.H. Smith's at Chelmsford railway station where, one day in the summer of 1976, I discovered they stocked The Magazine of Fantasy & Science Fiction, Analog, Asimov's and others. I started picking them up regularly, and added to my collection with trips up to London — to Dark They Were and Golden Eyed and Heroes — where I found other magazines like Galileo and Cosmos. And we had our own magazines in the UK, like Science Fiction Monthly (the big poster-sized mag), Vortex and Extro.

In my usual roundabout way, I'm trying to say that there were a number of writers I grew up with as my SF horizons expanded. My favourites included John Varley, George R. R. Martin, Joe Haldeman and William Gibson. Of the three, Varley was my favourite and remains so to this day. There aren't many of his books that I haven't read and not many of his short stories that I haven't read and re-read.

I've reached an age where people whose work I loved as a kid are passing on. Last year Neal Peart, the drummer/lyricist of Rush, died and it had a far more profound effect on me than the death of other musicians I recognised. And on Monday, John Varley went into hospital for what was described as "extremely needful" quadruple bypass surgery.

Again, considering that I've never met the man, my anxiety about the outcome was probably out of all proportion, but the stray thought that there might be no more short stories of books from Varley's pen floored me. I later heard the operation went well and, although he's still hospitalised as I write this, he was said to be doing well. Good news.

My cousin, recently diagnosed with Covid, is doing fine. So more good news. Someone else I know was recently hospitalised after a nasty reaction to an injection, but he, too, is now back home and doing fine.

On a very different note, but also good news, one of my Bear Alley Books got a mention recently in the Sunday Times. Thanks to my ongoing battle with technology, I couldn't check my e-mail until Monday morning and there was a dozen orders waiting for me. All promptly processed, as were a bunch of orders for my Countdown book, so I'm guessing that, too, got a positive mention somewhere over the weekend.

My war with technology continues unabated. On Saturday morning, the fan in my computer was rattling badly and I decided to reboot the machine to see if that sorted it out. While it was rebooting, the lights flickered and the power cut out for a few seconds, shutting the machine down. I tried again and, again while the computer powered up, we had a full blown power cut that took out the whole block for almost an hour.

Nervously, I ran a diagnostic programme on the drives to make sure they were OK... which they were. The fan was still rattling, but I gave everything a good clean, cranked up the music, and managed to catch up on some e-mail. When I rebooted the computer after lunch, the fan came on with its usual whisper and hasn't caused any problems since.

On Tuesday, a programme I've used without any problems since May 2020 suddenly wouldn't work. I thought maybe it was the most recent update, but as there has been no mention of problems on related boards, I spent a chunk of this evening deleting and reinstalling the programme. Whether it works properly I've yet to check, but it seemed to be OK.

I thought I'd end with this photo, taken this (Thursday) evening as we were walking home. The sky was on fire behind all the houses as we took our evening exercise. I waited until I could get a clearer shot and I'm glad I did.

(* The column header is an extract from a page by Glyn Protheroe, who is the subject of one of a series of articles I'm writing. All will be revealed shortly.)

Wednesday, February 24, 2021

Rebellion Releases — 24 February 2021

The issue of 2000 AD for 24 February is the first Regened issue of 2021. These are REALLY coming into their own - the best selling issues of the past two years, and the first collection (out last month) is currently our top-selling title!

In this issue, there's Cadet Dredd and Future Shocks, but there's also THREE brand new series! Action Pact: The Radyar Recovery by Mike Carroll and Luke Horsman, Viva Forever by David Ballie and Anna Morozova, and Mayflies: Precious Cargo by Mike Carroll and Simon Coleby.

2000 AD editor Matt Smith said: “It’s been fantastic to see that the amazing response to 2000 AD Regened continued in 2020 as we increased it to four issues a year. Both sales and reader feedback have shown us there’s a real appetite for Regened and that’s been reflected in the enthusiasm for new series that have debuted in Regened, such as Full Tilt Boogie by Alex de Campi and Eduardo Ocaña – which spun off into its own series – and Pandora Perfect and Department K. There’s lots more to come from Regened in 2021 – we can’t wait to explore strange new worlds with readers of all ages!”

Future Regened issues will be 2000 AD Prog 2233 on 26 May, 2000 AD Prog 2246 on 25 August, and 2000 AD Prog 2256 on 3 November.

2000 AD Prog 2220
Cover: Nick Roche / Harry Caldwell (col).

Cadet Dredd: Sub-Optimal by Arthur Wyatt (w) Davide Tinto (a) Gary Caldwell (c) Annie Parkhouse (l)
Pin-up by Ben Glendining
Action Pact: The Radyar Recovery by Mike Carroll (w) Luke Horsman (a) Matt Soffe (c) Simon Bowland (l)
Viva Forever by David Ballie (w) Anna Morozova (a) Pippa Bowland (c) Jim Campbell (l)
Future Shocks: Geeno Firenzo's Big Comeback by Karl Stock (w) Silvia Califano (a) John Charles (c) Annie Parkhouse (l)
Mayflies: Precious Cargo by Mike Carroll (w) Simon Coleby (a) Dylan Teague (c) Simon Bowland (l)

Friday, February 19, 2021

Comic Cuts - 19 February 2021

We're at the tail end of a rather chaotic week. It has also been something of a sad week with news of three deaths relating to comics. I will get to writing about Gerald Lip and Bill Titcombe at some stage, but Thursday I spent writing a piece about Si Spencer which should be appearing shortly. Since it is now getting rather late in the evening, I may keep this relatively short.

We got through our snow days without any mishaps and life has settled back into its regular furrows. Those few days when life came to a standstill have actually made a difference. We're taking our morning walks in daylight and at least starting our evening walk before twilight really falls. It makes a huge difference to how you feel — work isn't taking up every hour of daylight now and although we're not exactly chock full of Vitamin D, just the fact that we're stepping out of the house in the day and not at night lifts the spirit no end.

Our walks are starting to repopulate and we're starting to see some of our old dog-walking friends again who have been coming out a little later. We have a growing population of pandemic pooches to make a fuss of and with the weather warming, we're seeing more cats out for an early (or maybe a really late) stroll. We have some surprisingly friendly cats in the area... or maybe they're just so used to seeing us wandering along at the same time every morning they've grown used to us and figured out we're not a threat. And we might have food. You never know.

I realised quite suddenly that we were in the middle of February and I had a pile of borrowed comics that I promised I'd get back to the owner in March. I was hit with a sudden panic because I still have a lot of work to do. I mentioned last week that I was working on an article related to the comics, which I've now half finished. I spent Sunday through Tuesday indexing volumes that had 400 and 500 pages of comic strips, mostly by the same small group of artists. After a while I had my eye in and was able to glance at a page and identify the artist, which is quite a handy trick when you have 3,000 or so pages to look through.

I had to take a break — even I start to get bored after three days solid — and thought I'd write up some notes on the work of one of the artists. I realised I knew nothing about his background, but also found a note in my files that there was an article about said artist in an old fanzine. I used that to dig out some additional info. in family history records and was feeling quite pleased with myself when I stumbled across a rather darker side to the artist.

Further digging turned up a raft of information about how this artist fleeced a number of poets, lyric writers and perhaps even cartoonists in the  1930s, a very different side to the character sketched in the biographical sketch I had found. So there's another article in the works under the title The Two Sides of Glyn Protheroe, which I'm hoping to finish off tomorrow. Then it's back to The Curious Worlds of William Ward, which I'm aiming to finish for the first issue of BAM! (Remember that? Don't worry, I haven't forgotten!) Ward is the artist of our two illustrations today.

I have been catching up on money matters. I'm still broke, but got a surprise payment of £4 from Public Lending Rights. Bizarrely, it all related to one title in my back catalogue — Aces High, the old Air Ace collection from Carlton. I was wondering what on earth could have happened as I wasn't expecting a dime this year, what with libraries being closed. My usual payment barely registers, at £1 or £2 a year, and all I can think is that someone borrowed a copy of the book at the beginning of lockdown last March and it has been automatically renewed while their local library has been shut!

Sales of the four Gwyn Evans books have been slow but steady. I was pleased to see that sales haven't been limited to just the first book in the series, Hercules Esq., which I had kind of expected at this stage. But, no, some of the others have sold, too. As has my biography of Gwyn, The Lunatic, the Lover and the Poet. We've had one very good review appear on Goodreads (thanks, Norman!), which notes the first book's passing resemblance to John Buchan's The 39 Steps. I haven't read the latter for forty plus years, so it never occurred to me.

If you haven't given them a try yet, please take a look at the Bear Alley Books site and see if they're something you might fancy picking up. Scroll down the page, in fact, and see if there's anything else that takes your fancy.

That's my lot. Time to crawl off to bed.

Thursday, February 18, 2021

Commando 5411-5414

A thought-provoking set of tales about camaraderie and loyalty in land-warfare feature in Commando issues 5411-5414— out today!

5411: Ready for Anything!

When a prank wins Callum Phillips a promotion over Heath Antwi, their rivalry becomes as cold and desolate as the Falkland hillside — where they find themselves pinned down by Argentinian snipers! With the enemy closing in and time running out, the pair must decide who their true enemies are to make headway in this tense standoff.

Russell Sheath’s third story for Commando is complemented by gritty interiors from Muller and Klacik, with an explosive cover from Keith Burns.

Story | Russell Sheath
Art | Muller & Klacik
Cover | Keith Burns

5412: Breaking Point

Is he real? Or Just a mirage? In the depths of the desert, anything is possible. This mysterious hooded figure seems to turn up just when help is most needed — but who’s side are they really on? As German and British forces collide at a hidden base, the truth will soon be found out!

In this intriguing story from Lester, dynamic interior and cover art is provided by Segrelles.

Story | Lester
Art | Segrelles
Cover | Segrelles
Originally Commando No. 337 (1968).

5413: Canine Commando

As he retreats from Lwow, a small scuffling in a pile of rubble will change the course of Jakub Leszczuk’s war forever. As his new companion Rebus’ abilities are realised and developed, this parachuting war-dog and his master help steer the course of World War Two against the Nazi onslaught and towards liberation!

From tense training to dramatic battles, Colin Maxwell’s canine caper features Khato’s expressive artwork and a dramatic cover from Neil Roberts.

Story | Colin Maxwell
Art | Khato
Cover | Neil Roberts

5414: Time for Heroes

Every man’s war is a series of choices, but the one that cuts deepest can be the choice between heroics and retreating to live to fight another day. Now in a Japanese internment camp, Mike Palmer knows there is more than just the jungle between his freedom and the lives of his men. His next choice could seal their fate once and for all…

Parker’s thoughtful story features crisp interiors from Carmona and a stylised cover from veteran artist Ian Kennedy.

Story | Parker
Art | Carmona
Cover | Ian Kennedy
Originally Commando No. 1650 (1982).

Wednesday, February 17, 2021

Rebellion Releases - 17 February 2021

The fourth in a major series of new collections bringing the long lost UK war comics of master artists back to print!

This new collection contains two exciting and explosive war stories lushly illustrated by Hugo Pratt, comics legend and creator of iconic character, Corto Maltese.

In Night of the Devil, take a hallucinatory trip through the oppressive heat of the Burmese jungle along with British soldiers engaged in desperate skirmishes with the enemy. In Bayonet Jungle, Private Jack Green’s presence is seen as an omen of bad luck but he struggles to prove himself to the experienced soldiers of Third Platoon as they fight against the Japanese army that surrounds them.

Presented in a larger format than originally published to better show off Pratt’s incredible artwork, these stunning ‘lost’ stories have never been reprinted and are a real eye-opener to fans of Pratt’s work as they form a missing link in his artistic journey.

This hardcover volume also includes a new introduction to Hugo Pratt’s life and work by comics critic Chloe Maveal.

2000 AD Prog 2219
Cover: Patrick Goddard / Dylan Teague (col).

Judge Dredd: Against The Clock by Ken Neimand (w) Patrick Goddard (a) Dylan Teague (c) Annie Parkhouse (l)
Durham Red: Served Cold by Alec Worley (w) Ben Willsher (a) Jim Campbell (l)
Proteus Vex: The Shadow Chancellor by Mike Carroll (w) Jake Lynch (a) Jim Boswell (c) Simon Bowland (l)
Sláine: Dragontamer by Pat Mills (w) Leonardo Manco (a) Annie Parkhouse (l)
Hershey: The Brutal by Rob Williams (w) Simon Fraser (a) Simon Bowland (l)

Judge Dredd Megazine #429
Cover: John Higgins.

Judge Dredd: Destiny's Child by Kenneth Niemand (w) Simon Coleby (a) Len O'Grady (c) Annie Parkhouse (l)
Megatropolis by Kenneth Neimand (w) Dave Taylor (a) Jim Campbell (l)
Dreadnoughts: Breaking Ground by Mike Carroll (w) John Higgins (a) Sally Hurst (c) Simon Bowland (l) 
The Returners: Heartswood by Si Spencer (w) Nicolo Assirelli (a) Eva De La Cruz (c)
Deliverance by David Hine (w) Nick Percival (a) Annie Parkhouse (l)
Features: new digital graphic novels, The Steel Claw, Future Shocks Radio
Bagged collection: Judge Dredd: Trauma Town (Michael Carroll, Nick Percival)

Night of the Devil by Tom Tully, Gordon Sowman & Hugo Pratt
Rebellion Publishing ISBN 978-178108903-3, 17 February 2021, 144pp, £14.99. Availabale via Amazon.

Two exciting and explosive war stories lushly illustrated by Hugo Pratt, comics legend and creator of iconic character, Corto Maltese!
    In Night of the Devil, take a hallucinatory trip through the oppressive heat of the Burmese jungle along with British soldiers engaged in desperate skirmishes with the enemy. In Bayonet Jungle, Private Jack Green’s presence is seen as an omen of bad luck but he struggles to prove himself to the experienced soldiers of Third Platoon as they fight against the Japanese army that surrounds them.

Friday, February 12, 2021

Comic Cuts - 12 February 2021

My office is freezing! I work in a converted garage with one radiator and no insulation in either the walls or the roof. The door opens onto a utility room with a clear plastic roof with a door to the outside world that has a taped-up cat flap. It gets very cold out there, and the snow laying on the roof plunges the room into perpetual twilight. On the plus side, the fridge and freezer won't be using up much electricity. On the debit side... my hands are chilled to the bone!

To counter the cold, I'm wrapped up in about five layers — t-shirt, shirt, jumper, jumper and coat — and wearing a hat so my ears don't get frostbite. It is as comical as you're imagining, and no there won't be any photos. Instead, the photos above were taken on the first day of snow, one around 8.30 in the morning not long after it started, and the second a couple of hours later when we had almost total coverage. That first day (Sunday), we had an almost full day of snow, and we've had lighter snow showers on Monday and Tuesday which keep the levels topped-up.

I had to go down to the post office on Tuesday and, even at 9 o'clock, there was fresh snow to walk on. Thankfully, there was also almost no traffic, so I actually walked down the middle of the road where cars and trucks had cleared the snow, occasionally veering into the slush at the roadside when someone drove by. I'm expecting a record number of pot holes when the snow clears. Mind you, the paths are no better around here.

The pot holes have become so prevalent that a local began highlighting them in a way that the local council couldn't ignore... I should add that this is the bridge over the railway line, and the hole is so deep you can see the structure holding it up!

Despite the cold hands, I've managed to write one and half articles that will earn me a bit of cash and should hopefully have the second half finished by the time you read this. Then its back to an article that I'm writing for the horribly delayed launch of BAM! — I'm still aiming for March to tie-in with the celebrations of Bear Alley Books' 10th Anniversary.

Other than that, I've had a week of running to stand still as far as my e-mail is concerned. Every time I think I'm catching up, a whole new batch of questions arrive. Snow days are helping tho' because we're being very lazy about our walks. Not going out means we're a bit cut off from weird news, which is what makes visiting local shops so interesting. For instance, on my one trip out this week — to the post office — I discovered that the price of flowers has sky rocketed and morgues are filling up with bodies. Apparently, we import a lot of coffins and caskets and they're arriving in much reduced numbers. And if you think this is an unforeseen consequence of Brexit, think again... these guys foresaw problems and have been preparing since 2018.

That's my lot. It's getting chilly in here and my nice warm bed is calling. That's not right — time to Google "Does cold cause hallucinations"...

Wednesday, February 10, 2021

Rebellion Releases - 10 February 2021

Slightly off the comic book topic, School’s Out Forever by Scott K Andrews has been adapted into a film by Rebellion Productions! The film of the same name, directed by Oliver Milburn, will be available for digital rental and download February 15th and out on DVD and Blu-ray April 12th.

No sooner has 15-year-old Lee Keegan been expelled from his private school than an apocalyptic event wipes out most of the world’s population. With his father dead and mother trapped abroad, Lee is given one instruction: go back to school. But safety and security at St. Mark’s School for Boys is in short supply. Its high walls can’t stop the local parish council from forming a militia and imposing martial law, while inside the dorms the end of the world is having a dangerous effect on his best friend and his unrequited crush on the school nurse isn’t helping him concentrate on staying alive.

This is the first full-length movie from Rebellion Productions, who are also behind plans for upcoming movie — Rogue Trooper — and TV — Judge Dredd/Mega City One — productions.

2000 AD Prog 2218
Cover: Simon Fraser

Judge Dredd: Health & Happiness by Rob Williams (w) Simon Coleby (a) Len O'Grady (c) Annie Parkhouse (l)
Durham Red: Served Cold by Alec Worley (w) Ben Willsher (a) Jim Campbell (l)
Proteus Vex: The Shadow Chancellor by Mike Carroll (w) Jake Lynch (a) Jim Boswell (c) Simon Bowland (l)
Sláine: Dragontamer by Pat Mills (w) Leonardo Manco (a) Annie Parkhouse (l)
Hershey: The Brutal by Rob Williams (w) Simon Fraser (a) Simon Bowland (l)

Friday, February 05, 2021

Comic Cuts - 5 February 2021

Just when I thought everything was going fine... Twitter!

As mentioned last week, I have been trying to tidy up my two blogs, Bear Alley and Bear Alley Books. The former, which you're reading now, has been around since August 2006, and I set it up originally with a custom three-column template that I found online and liked. When I put together the Bear Alley Books site, I used the same template. Over the years, Blogger has made various changes to its programming, not always for the better. It is far less flexible now, and, since last year, I've had problems trying to add third party code.

Most of this hasn't been visible on the surface because I tend to keep things simple with my posts. However, after 14 years I thought both blogs had started to look a bit untidy and needed a bit of a clean-up. I didn't want to do too much with Bear Alley, but I did spend a day this week resizing all of the book images down our right-hand column and cutting out some of the dead wood. There are still some things that need doing, but it's already an improvement.

The Bear Alley Books site has had a bit more of a transformation. Gone is the three-column format. I did try to retain it, having found a different third-party  template, but Blogger simply wouldn't accept it. Instead, I went for a nice, simple, clear template which means that (hopefully) all of the books currently available are visible, easy to find and it's easy to access payment options.

There are still improvements to be made. I now have two-thirds of Bear Alley's output listed on Lulu's stores, but only a handful of titles are directly linked. (I have put in links to the latest batch of releases, and the two Longbow books, so that people no longer have to email me to order them, but I'll work on others over time.)

Also, I now have all available titles up on Amazon, so you can order that way, too. You might notice price differences between ordering direct from me, ordering from Lulu and ordering from Amazon. This is down to how they calculate postage costs and fees. Just to give you an example: the novel Hercules, Esq. by Gwyn Evans is available on Lulu for £9.95 plus p&p, but is £13.99 on Amazon. Now, I'm not ripping off Amazon customers. They fix their postage prices at £2.80 and then roll that into the cost of the books, and then take a fee as a percentage of that total of £15.79. In other words, they're clawing back a percentage of the postage. The total fee is almost a third of that total, leaving £10.78. Out of that, I now have to pay for the printing, postage & packing of the book through Lulu, which comes to £8.18. However, that's not the end of the costs, as payment is made to PayPal who charge 30p + 2.9% per transaction — in this instance, 54p. So the profit on a £13.99 book is only  £2.00. Sales will be in the tens, not the tens of thousands, so I don't benefit from the economics of scale that a publisher like Penguin Books will, nor a warehouse so I can carry stock. (If you click on the pic, you can buy the books at Lulu for the cheaper price of £9.95, and my Gwyn Evans bio for a mere £6.95.)

Books sent abroad are a whole new hell since Brexit. Through Amazon, I'm limited to selling in the UK now rather than across Europe as happened pre-Brexit. Amazon are offering a service to make sure you are VAT compliant with sales across the EU, but that only lasts for a year. Under the heading "Low Cost" they say: "for the second year you only need to pay €400 per year per country for your on-going VAT filing report submissions." So about £350 per year per country. I think not.

At the moment I'm not sure what the solution is. With postage costs soaring and a variety of VAT rates on books to negotiate — 5.5% in France, 7% in Germany, 5% in Romania, etc. — and shipments taking ages to get through, I suspect my sales to Europe will dry up, at least until things settle down. We shall just have to wait and see.

OK, that's my rant for the week over.

You want to hear some good news instead? I had a blood test recently and health review and I'm going to be around for a while longer. I was diagnosed as diabetic a year ago, but I'm now in remission thanks to a few lifestyle changes I've made — eating more healthy food, getting more exercise and losing some weight. I had a clean slate as far as the health of my liver and kidneys were concerned, blood sugar and blood pressure were good, and I've been told to "keep doing what you're doing because it's working."

I'm back under the microscope in six months, so we shall just have to wait and see how that goes, too.

Oh, yes, Twitter. I was trying to think of ways to promote the release of the four Bill Kellaway novels that I've just reprinted. The usual way is to send review copies out, but in these days of online websites it isn't always easy to track down a contact point. There was one site in particular that I thought would be a good one to get some publicity through, but all I could find was their twitter account. So I thought it was finally time to join Twitter.

On Wednesday I signed up, which proved quite easy, and changed my Twitter address to @BearAlleyBooks, which I thought would be easy to remember. I posted a tweet to say that the Bill Kellaway books were now available. I then went to see how I could post a tweet to other accounts and immediately hit a screen that asked if I was a robot. Ticking the box took me to a page that asked for my phone number so I could verify that I was not a robot. Put in my number. No call. Tried again. No call and this time my account was suspended for suspicious activity! Could this be a record? I think I only had the account active for a couple of minutes.

I've contacted them, but had no response so far other than an automated one which, again, resulted in no phone call. The dumb thing is, they say they will phone, text or e-mail, and they have my e-mail — and they've verified that it works. So why not try sending another verification code that way? I'm still waiting to hear from them.

Because I'm suspended, you can't even see the tweet! I'm now thinking of setting up an Instagram account. Wish me luck! I'll report back in next week's "Steve vs. Technology Blog".

(* Our column header is a random yarn by Gwyn Evans to illustrate the kind of thing he wrote. This is 'The Assassin' from Thriller, artwork by Arthur Jones, which is © Rebellion.)

Thursday, February 04, 2021

Commando 5407-5410

Drama, drama and more action-packed drama! A tense and fast-moving set of Commando comics take on the perils of air, land, and sea in issues 5407-5410— out today!

 5407: Fair Play

Even in warfare there are rules, but as tensions rise and ordinary men strive to become heroes, those can be thrown aside. As notions of fair play give pause for thought while at sea, one man’s disregard for these standing agreements between allies and foes alike could throw his reputation, and the survival of his colleagues, into doubt. In the choice between revenge and honour, Davie Jones’ locker is waiting regardless…

Paolo Ongaro’s dramatic artwork adds tension in this submarine drama from Steve Taylor, with a dynamic cover from Ian Kennedy.

Story | Steve Taylor
Art | Paolo Ongaro
Cover | Ian Kennedy

5408: Gold Collection: Terror Team

Tom Barton makes a bold move when he takes on another man’s identity to get into the thick of the fighting and dodge his desk job. But little does he know the back story of the identity he has assumed! With a vengeful Sergeant breathing down his neck and a constant battle against claustrophobia, Tom has an uphill battle to prove himself in this tense drama.

Leach’s story has been brought to life with stunning interiors from Gonzales and a classic Penalva cover.

Story | Leach
Art | Gonzales
Cover | Penalva
Originally Commando No. 401 (1969).

5409: The Flight of the Lanky Lou

As a new plane arrives with fresh-faced Flight Sergeant Owen Lewis, the bomber is christened after the tall and beautiful Louise, who has just dumped one of the plane’s crew in waiting. Just like her namesake, the Lanky Lou proves to be a cruel mistress, as Lewis does his best to fit in as a replacement for a well-loved team member. But with an unforgiving bomber who’s grief is still fresh, at zero feet over Germany, Owen finds himself the prime target!

Morhain and Defeo’s interiors add humour and pathos to Andrew Knighton’s fresh and thought-provoking story, with a cover by veteran artist Ian Kennedy.

Story | Andrew Knighton
Art | Morhain & Defeo
Cover | Ian Kennedy

5410: To Catch a Spy…

Captain Barry West is on a mission to locate and identify a thorn in the side of the Allies — an untouchable spy known only by the codename “Leopard”. Undercover and in Britain wreaking havoc, Leopard remains elusive until Barry finds himself on the continent dodging Nazi bullets and red herrings as he closes in on a sinister trail!

RA Montague’s action-packed spy drama keeps you guessing, with solid interiors from Ruiz and a timeless cover from Ian Kennedy.

Story | RA Montague
Art | Ruiz
Cover | Ian Kennedy
Originally Commando No. 1647 (1982).

Wednesday, February 03, 2021

Rebellion Releases - 3 February 2021

2021 is the year of The Steel Claw! Check out the brand new cover by legendary British artist Brian Bolland for the exclusive hardcover edition of The Steel Claw: Invisible Man - out on 2 February 2021!

This series of graphic novels collects together every strip of classic 1960s adventure comics for the first time. The paperback edition will be available from all good book and comic book stores, with the exclusive hardcover available only from the Treasury of British Comics webshop.

Written by stalwarts of the British comics industry, Ken Bulmer (Jet-Ace Logan) and Tom Tully (Roy of the Rovers, Janus Stark) and illustrated by the legendary Spanish artist, Jesús Blasco (Capitán Trueno), Rebellion’s Treasury of British Comics is proud to present the first in a series of graphic novels collecting together for the first time every strip of 1960s adventure comics like none other!

Louis Crandell was but a lowly lab assistant with a prosthetic, steel hand until an experiment gone awry results in a horrific explosion. Surging with electric charge which bestows Crandell the power of invisibility with the exception of his steel hand, so commence a series of uncanny thrills!

2000 AD Prog 2217
Cover: Dan Cornwell.

Judge Dredd: Naked City by Ken Niemand (w) Dan Cornwell (a) Jim Boswell (c) Annie Parkhouse (l)
Durham Red: Served Cold by Alec Worley (w) Ben Willsher (a) Jim Campbell (l)
Sláine: Dragontamer by Pat Mills (w) Leonardo Manco (a) Annie Parkhouse (l)
Proteus Vex: The Shadow Chancellor by Mike Carroll (w) Jake Lynch (a) Jim Boswell (c) Simon Bowland (l)
Hershey: The Brutal by Rob Williams (w) Simon Fraser (a) Simon Bowland (l)

Judge Dredd: The Complete Case Files #36
by John Wagner, Gordon Rennie, Andy Diggle (writers) Siku, Ben Willsher, Ian Gibson, Paul Marshall, Mick Mcmahon, Jim Baikie, David Millgate, Simon Fraser, P.J. Holden, Carl Critchlow, Mike Collins, Dylan Teague, Staz Johnson, Henry Flint, Anthony Williams, Carlos Ezquerra and John Ridgway (artists)
Rebellion Publishing ISBN 978-178108769-5, 2 February 2021, 304pp, £19.99. Available via Amazon.

Mega-City One – a nightmarish enclosure located along the Eastern Seaboard of North America. Only the Judges – powerful law enforcers supporting the despotic Justice Department – can stop total anarchy running rife on the crime-ridden streets. Toughest of them all is Judge Dredd – he is the law and these are his stories...
     Judge Dredd has brought countless monsters to justice but now the ultimate killing machines, cinema’s most famous xenomorphs, surface in Mega-City One and it may well be more than the Justice Department can handle!

The Steel Claw: Invisible Man by H. Ken Bulmer & Jesus Blasco
Rebellion Publishing ISBN 978-178108906-4, 2 February 2021, 128pp, £14.99. Available via Amazon.
Exclusive hardcover edition

Louis Crandell was but a lowly lab assistant with a prosthetic, steel hand until an experiment gone awry results in a horrific explosion. Surging with electric charge which bestows Crandell the power of invisibility with the exception of his steel hand, so commence a series of uncanny thrills!
    Written by stalwarts of the British comics industry, Ken Bulmer (Jet-Ace Logan) and Tom Tully (Roy of the Rovers, Janus Stark) and illustrated by the legendary Spanish artist, Jesús Blasco (Capitán Trueno), Rebellion’s Treasury of British Comics is proud to present the first in a series of graphic novels collecting together for the first time every strip of 1960s adventure comics like none other!

Revere by John Smith & Simon Harrison
Rebellion Publishing [Digital only] 125pp, £7.99.

Originally published in the mid '90s, Revere is writer John Smith and artist Paul Harrison's stunning psychedelic fever dream. Set in a climate-ravaged future London, the Witch Boy known as Revere must discover his true self, master his powers, and cope with being in love. This is one of Smith’s signature works – a weird, trippy nightmare that evokes Aldous Huxley’s The Doors of Perception and JG Ballard’s The Drought with a teenager’s journey of self-discovery in a blasted wasteland.


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