Valiant and TV21 – 31st March 1973

It’s that time again, lets grab a random single issue of a classic British comic and review it!

… last time I did this, I was pretty spoilt for choice, but this time, I really only had this one (or a bunch of recent Viz, Beano or Commando issues). I bought it from an antiques shop in Kyoto for ¥1000, though a comparable one bought in the UK would probably be no more than a quarter of that.

Anyway, Valiant is a well-known British comic, even amongst people who normally only like American ones. This is probably because most of it’s “serious” characters had powers, and these people can’t fathom the idea of a comic about ordinary people (unless it’s some small press pamphlet about a hipster’s life, which would have been better off as a blog entry).

TV21, on the other hand, ought to be a better-known British comic. It is, in conventional wisdom, the second best British comic, after the almighty Eagle. It contained stories of the various Gerry Anderson productions, the comic and television arms of Century 21 productions complementing each other perfectly, without the comic being some bland, hacked-out retread of the TV show with a bunch of clipart chucked all over it.


By 1973, and the merger, the stars of both comics had waned considerably, though as the senior partner, Valiant has retained a number of it’s classic characters. TV21’s only contribution is Star Trek, which occupies the coloured centre pages (but doesn’t really gain anything from the colour). Even before the merger, the latter day TV21 had long since relegated the Gerry Anderson material to black and white reprints, while the colour pages were occupied by strips based on imported TV shows (though at least they were hand-illustrated especially for that comic, even this would be a rare miracle in today’s Britain).

Anyway, in the style of a number of comics at the time, the cover is not taken up by some dramatic image from a story within, but with a “factual” page about a famous sports star. Valiant did a lot of this, and DC Thomson’s Victor ran “true war stories” for decades. A waste of the colour if you ask me, but it sold in numbers any publisher in the anglosphere would kill for, today!

The first story is Captain Hurricane, the long-running comedy war story in which a huge marine would go into a “ragin’ fury” and start punching tanks, calling the occupants “bratwurst-munching Brandenburg bootmakers” or “slant-eyed yellow weevils” every week. The people who sing Valiant’s praises as the “acceptable face” of retro British comics like to quietly pretend this story never existed. I, on the other hand, want a collected book of the funniest episodes. At least 300 pages, please!

Anyway, in this particular episode, Captain Hurricane’s batman, “Maggot” Malone, is writing his “memwars”, in which he calls himself a general, on the assumption he’ll have been promoted that far by the time the war ends. Some Germans assume he’s a secret agent writing a report, and try to capture him, one thing leads to another and soon the Squareheads are being shaken out of tanks like pepper.

The next story is Kid Pharoh, who is an ancient Egyptian who was cursed to “sleep while darkness reigns” by an evil wizard, then shut up in a tomb for thousands of years. Released by American archaeologists in modern times, he went to America and became a pro wrestler (that’s the first thing you’d do, right?). Anyway, the curse is still in effect, so he falls asleep the instant the lights go out, he’s also up against the descendants of the wizard, who are now his enemies in other ways (rival wrestling promoters, I’d imagine).

The next story is one of Valiant’s best-remembered ones, Janus Stark. He’s a famous escapologist from Victorian times, who is somehow never recognised by the various villains who keep trapping him in complicated ways and leaving him to a slow death. In this story he’s also clapped in irons by the well-meaning crew of a ship, but casts off the “mere trinkets” when he spots real saboteurs approaching. One thing leads to another, and he ends the episode tied up once again, this time watching the fuse on a barrel full of gunpowder burn down!

Yellowknife of the Yard follows. If we’ve had an ancient Egyptian wrestler, why not a Red Indian detective, still dressed in full regalia? Anyway, he’s captured by Count Terror (who looks like Count Dracula) and subjected to the “fear machine” which has already terrified several MI5 agents. Yellowknife, however, finds it “um heap big bore”, before rather conveniently escaping and lassooing the badmen.

Now it’s The Nutts, one of Valiant’s pure comedy strories, and only a single page long. It’s about a family living in a tiny house, the husband always has money-making (or saving) schemes that go wrong.

I don’t normally cover adverts, but here’s one for some other comics! Battle Picture Library was, at the time, putting out eight issues per month, but unlike today’s Commando, they released them all in one bunch on the third Monday. Like today’s Commando, I doubt that was eight NEW stories per month! The descriptions make the stories sound far more interesting than they probably were. The best war picture library was, well, War Picture Library, but only up to the mid 60’s! After that, Commando was running away with the title, and it’s certainly the only one to have reached 5000 issues!

After that, another staple of British comics, a football strip! This one’s called Raven on the Wing, and is about a gypsy boy, with amazing ability, who signs up for Highborough United, aka The Toffs. Here another of his tribe, Spider Mulford, is competing with the team’s back-from-injury goalie, Lionel Jeeps, for custodian duties at an upcoming championship match. Other members of the tribe have got into the crowd and are trying to put the regular keeper off during the first half, but Raven, naturally, doesn’t want to see any of that, preferring a fair contest.

No doubt there would be howls of derision at such a story today, making as it does the stereotyped suggestion that gypsies have strong family ties, even though it’s true. Mind you, family ties among a lot of regular brits are pretty strong too, these days. They side with their own kids against teachers and the police, undermining social order… filthy savages.

After that, we have The Swots and the Blots. Which is a bit like The Bash Street Kids if the class goody-goody, Cuthbert, was mob-handed. It’s resemblance to The Bash Street Kids is mainly due to the fact it has the same creator! Leo Baxendale left DC Thomson in the 1960’s, after a disagreement about the scale he did his artwork at, and went to Odhams, who were later swallowed up in the IPC Empire. Anyway, the strip is across the centre pages, with a huge title, and centres around cooking class. You can well imagine the chaos that ensues!

After that, we get the, erm, “colour” strip, on the centre pages, and it’s a contribution from the junior partner, TV21! As I said before, the days of TV21’s gravure-printed Gerry Anderson epics were behind it even before the merger, but here we have a Star Trek story coloured (badly) with the four-colour overlay method. This story is really Star Trek in name only, it’s more like a World War 2 spy caper given a Trek coat of paint, just replace the Germans with Klingons and the Italians with thier Morkolian allies.

After that, the letters page, with some illustrated jokes (when I was young, I always thought the senders provided the illustration, too, and got quite dispirited that people the same age as me already had skills equal to the pros!) and an interesting notice about the introduction of VAT.

Now for another stone-cold Valiant classic (and one due a Rebellion reprint?), The Claw! This is about Louis Crandell, who has a mechanical hand, and also the power to become invisible when he gets an electric shock (no chance of something like this appearing in a kids’ comic these days!). While not a cop or secret agent, he keeps coming up against flamboyant super-criminals, enemy spies and so on, and must use his powers to bring them to justice. Here a man pretending to be a ghost has nicked the takings from a funfair.

One classic follows another, as the rather spoiled reader now gets their weekly dose of Kelly’s Eye. In this story, Tim Kelly is a time-travelling adventurer who ends up in various times and places. As long as he holds the Eye of Zoltec, a magic stone, he cannot be harmed by anything but a weapon made of gold. Guess what material the villains of the stories always had a fondness for forging their custom knife, sword or bullets out of! When that gimmick had been used too often, he would simply lose the stone instead. I believe the story began with him simply fighting modern-day crimes, but here he is travelling through time in “Doctor Diamond”‘s time machine. Though it also appears able to travel vast distances and land on inhabited alien planets, too. I presume alien planets are used as a shorthand for “the future”. Anyway, if I remember a randomly-purchased annual from later in the 70’s correctly, he later started falling through time at random, by magical means.

Anyway, in this story he and Dr Diamond have joined a rebel movement on the planet Lyrius, which is ruled by intelligent apes (because why nick ideas from just one franchise?). They are in the sewer system, which can amplify a whisper in one place into a shout in another, which doesn’t seem like a very safe idea, to me. A workman burping in the wrong place could devastate a city with the resulting earthquake.

After that, there’s a half-page comedy strip called The Crows, pretty standard material.

I don’t usually cover adverts on my blog, because I’ll get braindead comments from people who are amazed that Matchbox cars used to cost “only” 16p (made you scroll up), as if inflation doesn’t exist and a new Ford Cortina wasn’t £1100 at the same time. But here’s an advert which is also a full-page strip. It appears to be the end of a serial, but that might just be to make it look “comic-ey”. It’s pretty fluffy, as these things are, but better than some generic clipart slapped on a page.

Brain Drayne is another comedy strip, in the Corporal Clott mould. He’s a tad more intelligent, though, coming up with half-baked “clever” ideas that cause more problems than they solve!

After a quick “soccer roundup” page, which reports the usual facts about the early days of football that were in every other one of these comics (fans used to bring planks to stand on because the field was muddy, etc), we get to The Wild Wonders, a comedy adventure strip about two amazing boy athletes. Here they have been tricked into blasting off in an experimental rocket, and have now landed on an “alien planet”, but some things don’t seem quite right…

And last, and definitely not least, we have Billy Bunter, who has hardly changed at all from his debut back in 1908. Only the 1908 stories were text, and Billy was not usually the main character (more of a force of nature that drove the plot). He’s still coming up with “get stuffed quick” schemes to secure a supply of food with minimal effort!

The full-colour back page of the issue is just used for another model car advert, so I’m sure I don’t need to waste your bandwidth with that 😉


Note: I wrote most of the text of this entry “in isolation” (on the bog at my old job, most likely), without referring to the photos I’d taken, so some of them don’t really match up to the passages. I also live in Japan, now, so I’m several thousand miles away from the book, and can’t take any more!


Like Boys, which I reviewed on this blog some time ago, Rovering was an also-ran, “upmarket” story paper, in the vein of the Boys’ Own or Chums. It was a weekly of 36 pages, and first appeared on the 22nd of March, 1924. It ran for just over a year, until it’s abrupt cancellation “owing to a drop in circulation over the summer months” in May 1925. In all, there were 60 issues.

There may also have been monthly, and hard-bound “annual”, editions, but the only ones I have appear to be a collection of privately-bound weeklies. The paper quality is suspiciously good, though (especially as it cost no more than the contemporary Union Jack, Magnet, etc). This may be a bound volume of monthly editions (though it has the weekly covers inside, but so did the monthly editions of The Boys’ Journal – as seen here). I have 29 issues, just under half the run. There’s a faint inscription on the inside front cover saying “2 volumes”. Looks like it was once sold as half of a complete set!

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But anyway, to the content itself. “Rover”, in earlier days, was another word for pirate, or at least a freelance “privateer”, on the high seas. Going into the 20th century, it appears to have become a word for “one who roams around”, on land or sea (and I don’t doubt there’s a story about air pirates called “The Sky-Rovers” out there somewhere!).


This was also the age when scouting was at it’s peak of popularity. An organisation called the Rover Scouts was created, for boys too old for the normal scouts (that is, the ones still under Lord Baden-Powell. It turns out all was / is not harmony in the world of scouting, and there’s all sorts of breakaway movements within scouting itself – to say nothing of the various political and religious alternatives). There was no such thing as a teenager in those days, and “boys” may have been as old as 18 or 19. There’s no longer Rover Scouts in the UK, but apparently they still exist in some other countries. The guidebook for the Rover Scouts was called Rovering to Success, and the title was the direct inspiration for this magazine. This isn’t just a hobby magazine, though (I don’t intend to cover those, though I do have an interesting Hobbies Annual from the 30’s knocking about), it has plenty of stories, too!


The first main serial is called A Sword of Nippon. Naturally I started reading that one! It’s set in 1600, and is about the son of an Englishman, who is kept a “favoured prisoner” (he saved a Spanish aristocrat’s life) on a South American island, where he rules over pearl-fishing slaves. He’s really a slave himself, though, and keeps his half-Spanish son a secret (he also married the aristocrat’s daughter, but she died in childbirth). In the opening part he dies, and, at almost the same time, a Japanese ship is wrecked on the shore. The survivors are all samurai, and are led by a Christian called Sanza. Both can speak a little Latin, so communicate until the main character, John Lake, learns Japanese (apparently in just three weeks! Though that only seems to be speaking, not writing. Unless the plot decides it convenient for him to be able to write). They soon capture the monthly pearl-collecting ship, and sail for Japan. Sanza is carrying a sacred Masamune blade, said to bring victory to it’s wielder, to his master, Tokugawa Ieyasu. He’s one of many military leaders of Japan, but there’s a large rebellion building against him. Many of the rebels are actually Christian, though most of them know nothing of the struggle between Protestantism and Catholicism, which was the source of unending strife in Europe at the time (including the father’s imprisonment. And the Anglican main character has to be wary of the Portuguese in Japan).


Once they arrive in Japan, they end up in rebel territory, but journey to the territory of Daifusama (as Ieyasu keeps being referred to), bringing him his sword. They also meet a blue-eyed woman called O Hasuko-san… which is funny, as both “O” and “-san” roughly mean “honourable”, and are said when mentioning somebody else’s name. They aren’t actually part of the name XD.


James and Sanza then travel to enemy territory, where they find O Hasuko San had been taken hostage (she had been left at a monastery). After a number of captures and escapes, James becomes involved in the Battle of Sekigahara (referred to in the story as “The Field of the Barrier”), in which Daifusama triumphed, and the other princes were crushed. In the story, James himself kills one of the rebel ringleaders, Prince Yukinaga after a long, exhausting fight, in which Sanza dies at the last.


After this, despite being offered the title of prince, and lands of his own, James says he’d rather be a beggar in the England his father had spoken of, than a great ruler in Nippon. He ends up coming back to his “native” Devon, and eventually being knighted by Elizabeth the first. Though he’s already experienced plenty of proper armour-and-swordsmanship knighthood in Japan.
And Daifusama? After having had so much help from a Christian foreigner? Er… he bans Christianity and closes Japan’s borders.


After this serial, another called Black Man’s Diamonds begins. This ends in issue 29, so a third serial must have rounded out the remaining issues of volume 1. Black Man’s Diamonds is described as “a tale of South Africa and the IDB”. Now, I was raised by British television of the 1990’s, so my primary knowledge of South Africa is “it was terrible, until the flawless, near-messianic pacifist Nelson Mandela took over and sorted everything out”. I therefore assumed “The IDB” was some sort of black liberation movement, but actually it means “Illicit Diamond Buying”. Basically unscrupulous White men would entice the Black labourers at the Kimberly diamond mines (oh yeah, it’s set in the 1880’s) to sell diamonds directly to them, for a lump sum greater than the wages paid by the mine owners, but still far below the actual value of the stones. One of these men, called Peter Levinsky is trying to get two workers from the Brannon mine, A Basuto and a Zulu, to sell him diamonds. Just as they agree, a master-criminal called Jack Kinch appears on the scene, and forces a division of the profits.


The Pole gets his diamonds in due course, then steals from Tom Brannion, the son of the family, the newly-found “Aurora Diamond”, worth thousands. The Pole tries to take all the diamonds for himself, but is caught and killed by Jack Kinch. A thousand-mile chase, headed by Captain Steele, the local policeman, and Henry Brannon, owner of the mine ensues.


They trek up through South Africa, what would one day be Rhodesia, and probably into what is now Botswana, finding savage bushmen, ancient lost cities and warfare between tribes of Barotsi, an agricultural people.


As well as the obligatory complete stories in every issue, there’s occasionally series stories, the first of these being The Exploits of Yakoob Mirza, a Middle Eastern story.

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A selection of the complete, or mini-series, stories

Later there’s a mini-serial called The Problems of Doctor Vasuki, about a “Eurasian” (he wears a turban, so we can assume he’s Anglo-Indian) private detective, who is described as quite feminine and awkward to get on with (and he gets through opium like nobody’s business), but who can spot the solution to baffling mysteries instantly. So far, so Holmesian… unfortunatey, I only have the one full story about him, but a second is advertised.


The first story is pretty good, anyway – an impossible “haunting” in an old house leads to riches for the new owner, and the unmasking of a totally unexpected burglar.


As this is a Rover Scout paper, there’s naturally a lot of articles about camping. These fall into the usual categories of where to pitch tents, how to build a good fire, and so on. More scouting-specific are mentions of dividing the duties at camp – detailing people to find wood for the fire, buy food at the nearest farm, etc.


There’s also a number of articles on places to go camping, and modern ways of holidaying. A regular column is dedicated to bicycles and motor-cycles (I believe, at the time, that motor-cycles could be driven by anybody who could afford them – even children! If there was a “licence”, it was probably just something you bought at the post office, not something you took a test for), and taking tents and equipment on these for a holiday, stopping the night in fields en-route. Not something that’s really possible these days.


There’s also an article on holidaying by “motor caravan”, though it’s more like a modern camper van (not many people had cars or horses with which to tow the conventional kind, though horses could also be rented). There’s a picture of a then-modern model, the level of driver visibility looks terrifying! Though I suppose it didn’t go very fast, and there wasn’t much traffic outside the cities.


As well as these articles, there’s plenty of suggestions for places to visit. These contain plenty of local history and items of interest – and not just the “big” ones like cathedrals, either. Modest houses where some poet lived (or which are just architecturally interesting) are covered, and the ancient traditions and stories behind certain things found in towns are described in detail.


One town once had vivid red figures depicting various sports on the ends of rows of houses, no doubt all faded into nonexistence, or painted over, now. The people of Penzance as described as being “more swarthy”, and differently dressed, compared to the rest of England. Articles about countryside walks comment on interesting churches, and famous writers and artists buried in their grounds, plus how the surroundings inspired their works in life. All neglected, mossy and forgotten about today, haven’t we made so much progress?


There is, as well all of these sorts of publications, the general interest pages, and suggestions for what boys might want to do when they leave school.


Not always on the front cover!

What may be called the “editors page” is actually called On The Trail. It only rarely refers to Rovering itself, often concentrating more on what’s happening in the world of scouting. It seems that scouts were being exploited as free errand-boys and leaflet distributors, their eagerness to do a “good turn” every day giving unscrupulous business-owners a means of avoiding having to pay a “down-and-out” a handful of coppers to do the same job. The column also contains a number of literary and historical allusions. Maybe just the style of the writer, or maybe a way of adding in even more educational value?


A similar column was called For Scouters and Rovers. This one was dedicated more to Rovers who took on a senior role in Scout troops, or Scoutmasters themselves. It was about running a good troop – observing ceremonies, taking pride in your uniform, and so on. This column is about “The Court of Honour”, a ceremony where a scout troop has a meeting to discuss division of duties, upcoming events and other issues. I doubt even the “militaristic” Baden-Powell Scouts call it by such a victorian name, these days.

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Other regular columns included It’s Up to You, which dealt with good citizenship, clean living and the state of the world in a Christian context. Some of them make very interesting reading. Check out that middle one! We all know what the term “British Empire Exhibition” is going to stand for in 2024, and it isn’t quite what the writer imagined.

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Young Citizen Papers was a similar, but non-religious, column. It featured Plenty of exhortations about seeing both sides of a debate, voting for the greater good, and not simply following the crowd, etc. As well as these regular columns, there was occasionally “single” articles, or short series, on similar subjects. For instance What Makes a Gentleman, and The Gambling Problem.

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Another regular column is called Books and Bookmen. It’s really more of a general interest column, talking about a different subject each week, about which a book has been recently published. Subjects covered include science, engineering, travel and the post-WW1 “awakening” (though it started just before) of some non-white races, especially the Chinese and Japanese, to their own industrial revolutions and serious economic competition with Europe.

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Compare this page with the feature pages from Thunderbirds Are Go!

Broadcast radio was a brand-new technology in the 1920’s, but Rovering was ready to cater for boys interested in this new medium, running a regular wireless column with advice on buying (or building!) a set, tuning it, and erecting a suitable aerial.


Much like Boys, and other papers of this stripe, not an inch was wasted. The tiniest free space was filled with a poem (many submitted by readers), tidbit of information, joke or other item of interest. There was also a regular column dedicated to upcoming events, in Scouting or in general, and the occasional advertisement for jobs. Remember that Rovers were “teenagers” (though that demographic was invented by 1950’s marketing men) and compulsory schooling ended much earlier in those days! A lot of the jobs advertised are government ones, recruiting for the police, military or civil service around the Empire.

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Oh, and there’s the inevitable stamp collectors’ column… but I didn’t take a picture of it!

In addition to these, there were often articles about other youth organisations, how “scouting” in many forms is spreading (or is already in existence) throughout the world, or about upcoming jamborees and other major camps. The most prominent of which in the world (if not in the pages of Rovering, more on that later!) was undoubtedly the International Jamboree in Denmark, which is previewed with an article on Danish scouting in general, and followed-up with a write-up of the festivities some weeks later. The camp sounds like it was great fun for all involved, even if it did tip it down and flood part of the camp. The Danish contingent gave up on camping and went to their (relatively close) homes, leaving their tents for the use of the victims! The final passage of the article says it all…

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There was plenty else going on in the world of 1924, especially among the Scouts and their alternatives. Towards the end of this book, the Scout-like (but church-oriented) Boys’ Brigade get their own column, called B.B Notes. Interestingly it says they used to all keep, and drill with, rifles. No doubt that’s been long-since abolished, even in favour of inert mockups, lest somebody gets twiggered during a parade.

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They also get several mentions in editorial columns and articles before this, as do the Kibbo Kift, another society which glorified outdoor life, though with a greater emphasis on “oneness with nature”, ancient languages and clothing, and quasi-religious ceremonies. The Kibbo Kift would later turn into a fascist-inspired political movement called the Greenshirts (their armbands had a back-to-back KK on them), who wanted to bring in “Social Credit”, the system that the Green Party more recently pushed as “National Income”. The Public Order Act 1936, banning uniformed political rallies, effectively silenced the Greenshirts. I also forgot to take any pictures of pages mentioning them! But I do have a few other Scout-like youth organisations, some of around the same age as the Scouts, some of incalculable age…

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As well as these events, 1924 was an Olympic year, the games being held in Paris. It was nothing like the media circus it’s become now (not that I object to the idea of people bettering themselves, the pushing themselves to the limit in friendly competition, being shouted from the rooftops), and remarks are confined to the sports section. They also treat the various competing nations as equal, the writer as confidently predicting American victories in the pool as British ones in the ring.


But above all that, the event for Britons in 1924 was the British Empire Exhibition, at Wembley. Rovering was in on the act, securing a nearby field and setting up their own Rovering Camp, for readers of the paper. This was heavily advertised beforehand, and ran for six weeks, with visitors to the exhibition coming and going.


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The main part of the field was taken up with large, semi-permanent tents, which parties of rovers could stay in, though another area was available for people who bought their own. The farmer who owned the field supplied fresh produce, and stray branches from his trees were used as firewood.


A nearby firm of “motor owners” (we can presume a minibus-like “charabanc” was used) arranged excursions, while a nearby glass factory invited parties from the camp to look around. There was also a number of camp mascots (a goat being the subject of repeated annoyed references to items of food it stole), and a camp cartoonist.

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Of course, the Empire exhibition itself was the main attraction, and it’s opening was marked with an 8-page supplement, included in this volume. There’s a guide to the main pavilions (it seems every colony was represented, though the big ones like Canada, Australia and especially India, attracted most attention), and things on show within – examples of a nation’s culture, people, wildlife and industries.

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There was also a separate “palace of engineering” where the great trains, marine engines and factory machinery were displayed. The supplement also suggests sightseeing tours around London, for readers from further afield. I just wish I could have gone to the exhibition myself! But I’ll have to make do with the photos. Also, while Rovering ran it’s camp, nominally for Scouts, the exhibition also incorporated an Imperial Jubilee, for the Scouts of Britain and her empire. Presumably the lucky boys involved in this got to camp right on the grounds! (and, depending on how late the exhibition ran for, and proximity to the factories and docks, never slept!).


Rovering had a two-page photo spread in every issue (except for the first three, where it was a single page). During the Empire exhibition and Rovering camp, these featured heavily – though there was plenty of other stuff too, including pictures of other Scout groups “under canvas” around the world. Also appearing were scenery, life abroad, interesting buildings, sports teams and one of the first ever “cosplayers”… whom I also forgot to take a picture of. He was dressed as Felix the Cat.

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From issue 25, the paper got a new, more modern-looking cover design. But that’s modern looking for the 1920’s, when several story papers adopted a “clean, crisp” look. But to our modern eyes, those “clean, crisp” page designs look like they’ve been made in “super poster maker 2000”, running on Windows 98. Presumably this same cover design continued for the rest of the 60-issue run.


Oh, and the early issues contained some great poetry in box-outs.

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Radio Fun Annual, 1950

As the “first edition” (well, and many subsequent reprintings) of Boys Will be Boys by E.S. Turner laments, British comics in 1948 were in serious trouble, as their audience was being stolen by the convenience, accessibility and sheer excitement of the radio adventure serial. Surely British comics were doomed, now that the wireless had a firm place in every home? Well, things didn’t quite go that way, and television didn’t seriously threaten the popularity of British comics, either. Apparently videogames and the internet will, though. Comics only thrive in Belgium, France, Italy, India, North Korea and Japan, all countries without videogames or the internet. …Well, okay, that is actually true in North Korea.

But anyway, comics of the 1940’s responded to the threat of the radio, by producing comics about the radio! Radio Fun was born, and with it came an annual:


Certain British comic collectors just let out a gasp, as they recognise that as the the infamous Tommy Handley cover. Who was Tommy Handley? He was a famous comedian on radio in the 1930’s and 40’s. He died unexpectedly in January 1949 which, as you can probably guess, had implications for his appearance on the cover of a 1950-dated annual (it also shows just how far in advance they were working on it! Unlike today, annuals in those days appeared around late September, to be bought for Christmas. These days, the following year’s Beano annual is out in May). Different people tell different tales of how a few editions of the Tommy Handley annual “escaped”. Some say they were a handful of printers’ proofs / copies for salesmen who went round the newsagents. Others say that the earlier cover appeared on editions sent out to the colonies, as these were sent out even further in advance. One website (I think it was the currently-defunct Comics-UK Family Tree) claimed there’s only three copies of this annual in the world! But, as this one cost me £50, I doubt it’s that rare. Still, it’s not in brilliant nick, either.


The inscription from the shop

But we’re not here to discuss values, we’ll leave that to fluff pieces in the Mail, we’re here to discuss stories! I’ve not really seen a copy of Radio Fun weekly (at least, I don’t own one. No doubt Lew Stringer’s put at least one in my subconscious before now, though), but I believe it to have been a mixture of comedy and adventure strips, along with comedy and adventure text stories, and maybe some factual content (though I should think that took up no more than half a page). The annual is much the same. Most of the strips and stories are based on contemporary radio shows, though some were created just for the comic / annuals. Others have only the loosest connection to “radio”.


It opens with an introduction from the editor, who writes as if he’s in a studio, about to begin a grand live variety performance. A faint “7/6” can also be seen, an old shop’s stock number? An old price? Or maybe both! The following page is a full-colour picture, and then we’re in to the “colour” comic strips. These only have red and white, as the ink shortages and style of the times dictates. Most of the comic strips are in “colour” like this, though some are also black and white. Colour is generally reserved for the comedy strips, to make them “more jolly”, I suppose.


Now, while I know more than most people about 1940’s British radio, that only amounts to having listened to a few episodes of Much-Binding-In-The-Marsh, so for most of these characters and stories I’m just going to have to guess what their shows were like. Mind you, a lot of the comedy strips just seem to be generic comedy strips of the time. The Wilfred Pickles one opposite being a case in point. He could easily have been switched for Charlie Chaplin, or some totally made-up character. A lot of British humour strips of the 40’s and early 50’s were not about their characters at all, they were just jokes about the life of austerity people led, and the pompously-inflated authority figures they ran up against. There’s a reason Dad’s Army was such a hit, 20-something years later! Oh, also, after Tommy Handley died, the replacement cover had Wilfred Pickles on it. Perhaps simply because he was the star of the first strip!


The next strip could, again, substitute virtually any woman as the main character. But as it is, we get Gracie Fields, today best remembered for that “sing as you go” song, which was actually the theme-song of a film about a factory worker, starring one Gracie Fields. Here she’s making a jelly in a children’s hospital.


This spread has a huge lump ripped out of it, but the first strip is Charles Cole and his Magic Chalks. He draws things which come to life! There’s several strips on the same theme, though I don’t know if he also had magic chalks in whatever radio show he appeared in. Though these radio stars appear in photos at the top of their stories, the artist has gone for only a rough representation of them in the strip itself. They are as detailed as the other characters, which works far better than the celebrity appearances in the Beano, when I was reading it. Usually, when a real person showed up in the 90’s Beano, they would have a super-detailed face, often too big for their body. It just looked bizarre next to the likes of Roger the Dodger or Ivy the Terrible.


There’s a few apperances of this two-page strip, called Our Brains Trust (which might even be the origin of that phrase?). I’m assuming it was a sketch that was part of a larger show, though I suppose the format of a panel of people telling funny anecdotes could itself be extended into a full half-hour. Here they talk about the relative merits of front or back brakes on a bicycle. I wonder if the actual show had “real” letters from the public, and the comedians had to improvise a story to fit?


Here’s some more general humour strips with radio characters. Actually, as there’s no picture of Vic Oliver, he might have been an original character, invented for the comic. I expect “Jewel and Warriss” were a cross-talk duo, like Morecambe and Wise. But you can’t really do crosstalk as a comic strip.


Issy Bonn and his Finkelfeffer Family was apparently a sitcom-type show about a Jewish family, with various stereotyped accents and exclamations. Naturally that’s been quietly knocked on the head, much in the same way as Love Thy Neighbour went, and Citizen Khan will go. Laughing at our differences must be stamped out, everybody must be the same. It’s the only way to preserve diversity! Anyway, this particular one is actually one of my favourite late 40’s / Early 50’s strips. Most of the gags in other publications of the era, like Comicolour, are pretty forgettable.


Another spread of radio characters. Jimmy Durante seems to be some gentleman adventurer telling tall tales about his adventures around the world. For some reason he speaks in what might be described as a “black” accent (the way black people talked in British comics at the time, anyway), even though he’s white. Avril Angers is, presumably, somebody whose innocent misunderstandings of simple instructions make other people angry. Or that might have been her actual name. Cool name!


Ethel Revnell and Gracie West are “radio’s chirpy cockney kids”, though there’s nothing very cockney about this particular strip. It’s another one that could easily be about anybody.

Opposite, we have one of the serious text stories. So let’s take this opportunity to move on to those. This one is called In The Lamp-Light’s Glow. Presumably that was also the title of the radio show on which it is based, dramatic stories, recounted by only one person. Perhaps as if meeting in a dingy pub? It saved on the budget, anyway. Only needs a writer and a reader, not a full cast!


Westerns were incredibly popular, at the time, so it’s no surprise there was western radio shows. I wonder how convincing the American accents were? Anyway, Big Bill Campbell’s Rocky Mountain Tales probably followed the same format as the show above, one man recounting a story, as if in a saloon in the wild west. Though this one might have had a bigger cast.


Targa The Untamed is one of those “white man in the jungle” stories. And is probably one that’s been written for the annual, rather than being based on a radio show. These had reasonable popularity at the time – Strang The Terrible was reasonably regular in the DC Thomson story papers.


The Haunted Tunnel is a detective story about Peter Wilmot, perhaps a radio-drama detective, or one created for the comic. It’s written as if he’s solved a lot of crimes down the years, so he must have been a recurring character, somewhere.


The Deserter is about a member of the French Foreign Legion deserting, thinking of ambushing an “Arab” (who turns out to be Irish), and being hailed as a hero for returning to warn the fort of an impending attack. It’s probably another one-off story, written for the annual, rather than based on a radio show.


Inspector Stanley “writes exclusively for Radio Fun!”. But that doesn’t mean he didn’t speak for the radio itself! I expect he had a show a bit like Dixon of Dock Green on the television, a copper telling stories of the crimes he has investigated. Perhaps as a warning to younger listeners.


As this is a unisex annual, it also has a few romantic stories, including some that are apparently “from the pen of” Vera Lynn. While she was an extremely talented singer, and maybe did write stories, too, I doubt her pen came anywhere near these. As I mentioned at the start, the fact these stories were supposedly written by a singer is all the connection they needed with “radio” to find a place in the annual XD.


There’s also some comedy text stories. This one is about Petula Clark, “radio’s merry mimic”. In this story, she replaces a famous Spanish guy who was going to visit her school, but had to cancel. Presumably she was an impressionist on the radio, though I don’t know if she was in a show set in a school, or if this is simply a fictional story about her schooldays. Mind you, she looks pretty young. Maybe she was a child star?


I’m sure I’ve heard references to Will Hay and St Michael’s before. Though The Magnet and Gem had both vanished in 1940, the boarding school story remained popular for years afterwards (Charles Hamilton wrote several books about the characters from those papers, after the war, too). This was, no doubt, the radio-based “replacement” for the weekly school story-paper.


Jerry Jones and Uncle Bones is a comedy story that appears to have been written just for the annual, it’s mostly about a boy and his parrot, which gets him into trouble. But I found this picture amusing XD


Now on to the serious strips. And here’s another western! This time it’s about Roy Rogers, who was an American western star with his own radio and TV show. I don’t know if the BBC just used the American recordings, or produced their own. Either way he also had his own annuals and comics on both sides of the Atlantic. “Brand identities” weren’t as closely guarded in those days (and things were so much the better for it- The Thing will never take on The Hulk in Hollywood), some executive in America probably rubber-stamped a “do what you like” license, and an Amalgamated Press team was given a brief to “tell any old cowboy story, but use these names for the characters”. No back-and-forth approvals of every little thing!


The Falcon was, I imagine, a full-cast radio drama, about a freelance crook-catcher who is a master of disguise. This appears to be the end of a longer story. Perhaps the whole thing was originally a serial in Radio Fun, and they’ve reformatted the final parts into one four-page story? Also “colour” has been added, if it was in the weekly, it was probably pure black and white.


Here’s a comedy adventure strip about some sort of colonial officer in Africa. The “bush telegraph” songs, explaining what is happening, were probably popular musical interludes in the actual show. There’s also some talking animals, and various stereotyped people of different nationalities. Much of the tracking of escaped crooks is actually done by an ape!


And here’s another comedy adventure, called Pitch and Toss. It’s about sailors, but the most interesting thing is the very plain-looking title. I should imagine it’s a reprint from the front and back covers of a comic (maybe Radio Fun itself, or maybe something else), the “empty space” would have originally contained that comic’s masthead.


There’s also some feature and puzzle pages. This is a combined code and treasure map puzzle, where you have to figure out a pirate’s directions, then compare them to a map to find the treasure!


Another, erm, “factual” feature

Some of the features were more serious than others! The Mutiny on the Bounty is also covered.


Cadbury’s had some sort of tie-up with Amalgamated Press, clearly. Bournville Cocoa was advertised on the back of annuals for years over the 40’s and 50’s. Still, it is just the thing for cold winter nights! Sweets were still rationed in 1949/50, maybe kids got a tin of that, instead of solid chocolates?


I’m moving to Japan soon, and I need every penny, so I am selling this book on Ebay… or I was, seemed like nobody wanted it, so I’ll keep it after all XD

Triumph – 17th February 1940

Well, I looked at a Japanese story paper from World War 2, last time. So now let’s look at a British one!


This may be from World War 2, but it’s not the World War 2 we recognise today. The Russians were the enemy, we were cheering on the Finns, nothing much was happening in France, Winston Churchill was only First Lord of the Admiralty and many an armchair aviation expert would have predicted glorious things for the Boulton-Paul Defiant (the what? – exactly!).

There was also not yet a severe paper ration (if any), so a half tabloid, 20-page story paper with a two-colour cover could still be a going concern. Triumph was a typical post-WW1 Amalgamated Press story paper. It was in an imitation of the “Thomson style”, with several short stories in each issue. Unlike the Thomson story papers, where every story was 2½ pages long each week, and they were all “serials” (albiet ones where every part could be read on it’s own – no cliffhangers!), Triumph mixed things up a bit. While one story is only three pages, another is nearly six. The editor says that early issues had a ten-page complete story, too. Some of the Triumph stories are “singles”, while others are true serials, with cliffhanger endings.


The Magazine data file says Triumph had 28 pages, which was probably the length when it launched (in October, 1924). This issue is number 800, we can presume the 20-page length is down to the war. Apparently it ended on issue 814, in May 1940. Another casualty of “Graveyard week”, when the invasion of Norway caused a sudden paper shortage in Britain. During it’s life, Triumph incorporated the tabloid-sized Boys’ Friend (by then a shadow of it’s pre-WW1 greatness) and The Gem (in January 1940). Triumph was itself incorporated into The Champion, one of very few Amalgamated Press story papers to keep running through the war (the other one of note being Girls’ Crystal).


Back to the issue in hand. The first story is a short, complete detective story about Peter Farrell who, amazingly enough, does NOT have a cockney boy assistant and a clever dog! Instead he has a valet, with whom he has an officer-and-batman type relationship. The story is only 3 pages long, so rushes along at a pretty hectic pace. Peter is investigating a fake coin scam (and has a bunch of ‘dud’ coins on him), when a reporter friend stumbles in and says he rather conveniently witnessed a murder. Peter investigates, hoping to bluff his way into the flat of a master criminal, by pretending to be there to fit a lamp. The criminal recognises him, but he escapes, and chases them across London, as they try to get the body away for disposal.


The cars crash, and Peter is recaptured. The criminals brazenly hire a cab to transport the body (which is crammed into a large trunk). Peter slips the cab driver the dud coins, and allows himself to be taken in to another flat for torture. The cab driver is soon back, with a couple of bobbies, and the crooks are soon rounded up. From the very beginning of the war, Britain was “blacked out”, and much is made of the difficulty of driving under these conditions. At least the streets were free of craters and rubble!


Stories about World War 1 remained surprisingly rare in British story papers, after 1918 (the serial stories running over the armistice needed some time to end, of course!). But in the 1930’s they exploded – though most of them were about the air war, an arena where the gallantry and challenges to single combat of medieval times had been briefly revived. Major “Mad” Carew of 333 Squadron is typical of the ace pilot characters in these stories. He knows nothing of danger, frequently takes on tremendous odds single-handed (or with the one observer blazing away in the back seat), brings down a crack German ace, then has the laugh over his Prussian arrogance, every week, etc etc.


In this story the Major (an Army rank, as it was still the RFC, in those days), who exclaims “purple thunder!” every third time he speaks, shoots down a German plane which is pumping out some sort of gas over the front lines, then halts a massed German attack (with submachine guns) against a trench defended only by corpses. Despite the machine guns having shot his wings to ribbons, he then takes on fully seven crack German aces, led by the feared Von Haumann, who he forces down at his own base, and captures. And that’s only half the story! Though the Baldy’s Angels stories from The Boys’ Friend Library were totally ridiculous, I actually quite like this one.

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Speaking of World War 1, here’s an advertising leaflet which has survived. It’s for a four-volume set of books called “I Was There”, with hundreds of recollections and thousands of photographs. I bet publication of that had to be stopped in short order! From the one sample image, it appears I Was There is written in a similar breezy style to The Wide World Magazine, which I really must cover some day (though it’s allegedly “factual”). I’d like to hunt this set down, but I bet the prices are silly money. Any publishers out there fancy a slipcased reprint? …Actually, a modern slipcased hardback edition would probably be even sillier money.


Anyway, hidden under the advert, we have… St Jim’s! This was the lead story in nearly every issue of The Gem (except for about 7-8 issues when it first started), and during the roaring twenties was second only to The Magnet in the hearts of British boyhood. The St Jim’s stories here are just “making up the numbers”, after The Gem was amalgamated with Triumph. Had paper rationing not come in, I don’t doubt that they would have quietly slipped away.

Anyway, the St Jim’s stories used to take up most of the length of a Gem issue, and were arranged into series, so the readers effectively got a full-length novel every 6-8 weeks. These stories are a mere shadow of that, probably about three pages in length (though spread over four), and complete in one issue. This particular one is about the Indian boy, Koumi Rao, slipping into a “strange mood”, which his friend Figgins tries to snap him out of. Koumi is wondering if his province (of which he is the “Jam”, presumably a contraction of some Indian royal title, though I can’t find any obvious root word) could be freed from British rule with Russian help. Figgins assures him that the Russians “can’t fight” and are “getting it in the neck a bit too thick” from the Finns to be any danger to British India. Though, come to think of it, it probably was a worry at the time. Back-and-forth proxy wars around central Asia and Afghanistan in the 19th century were all about keeping Russia out of India, so Britain could rule it instead.


Anyway, after reminding “Jammy” that his state has not suffered any famines, or attacks by other Indian states, since it came under British rule, Figgins forces his friend to join him in the school’s “hare and hounds” chase. This was also known as a “paperchase”, and involved the fast “hares” rushing off over the countryside, throwing out a trail of pieces of torn paper from a big bag. The rest of the boys would follow them after a certain time had elapsed, and would try to catch the “hares” before they got back to the school (with, presumably, “referees” posted in the vicinity, to make sure nobody just hid in a bush and ‘ambushed’ the hares at the last minute). Naturally, such a huge waste of paper had to be stopped when rationing came in, to say nothing of the mess it made!

Koumi Rao manages to lose Figgins during the race, and sneaks back to school. After the race, he creeps out again, but the other boys race off on bikes and lay in wait for him. He turns out to be meeting with a German, who is trying to turn him. He refuses, and the other boys choose this moment to barge in and detain the German (by getting Fatty Wynn to sit on him). Koumi is vindicated, having proven that he’s not a traitor within earshot.


The last of the text stories is The Football Cracksman, which is about a team called Milton Rovers (I very much doubt the “Milton” in question is the village just outside Cambridge!), and a supervillain called Black Mask. The local detective has got it into his head that Steve Bradshaw, star player of the Rovers, is Black Mask, but he never has any proof, and always ends up looking ridiculous. Which is a shame, because Steve Bradshaw is Black Mask! Naturally, he’s not really a villain, he’s just pretending to be one in order to take on a master criminal known only as The Boss. This story is a true serial, with cliffhanger endings, in the last part, it appears The Boss got one of his men to steal the Rovers gate-money, while pretending to be Black Mask. In this instalment, Steve gets to know where they money is hidden, but it’s an obvious trap. He lets the police inspector get to the money first and, as the criminals all attack him, snatches the bag and disappears.


The team manager is surprised to find a bag, containing all the stolen money, on his doorstep one morning. The same day, the Rovers are off for an away game – to a town where Black Mask has business with somebody’s safe! The detective is also there (told he looks like he has “lost a fight with a regiment of Russians, or a couple of Finns”) – he has proof that the phone call which told him where the money was hidden was made from Steve Bradshaw’s house!


Triumph also contains that rare beast for British comics of the time (though they were on the increase, especially in Knock-Out and Pilot), an adventure comic! This one is called Derickson Dene, and is about an inventor who built a rocket and flew to another planet. He has got involved in some war there, and is secretly building another rocket, with the help of some “beggars”, members of one nation who are prisoners of another. Just as he finishes his rocket, the secret police find him, and he has to blast off. He makes it back to the capital city of the nation he is helping, and is thanked by the king.


After that, he builds a radio capable of receiving transmissions from Earth, and hears that war has been declared! He hastens to his big interplanetary rocket, and blasts off for home. But somebody called The Vampire stows away on it. No doubt his amazing inventions will go on to help fight he Nazis, whom The Vampire will join. But he’d better be quick, there’s only 14 more weeks! Champion had no comic strips, so this story may have either had a rushed ending, or just vanished entirely.


There’s not much else to Triumph, just this little section for sending in jokes, to win “useful prizes”. What are these “useful prizes”? Funny card games! No doubt paper rationing put an end to those, too! Though then again, maybe thick, crude card could be more easily made by fourth-time-round recycled pulp than thin, white paper.


There’s actually something to be said for using crude stereotypes to quickly and easily teach young children about the world.

Apart from that, there’s a few adverts on the back cover, where “Mad” Carew is concluded. There’s also an advert for a new serial, Sandu of the Himalayas. It’s about a boy doing work for his tribe in the fight against another – not sure if it was going to be cast as a “proxy war” between British and German-backed tribes, or set in the past. Probably the former, though.


Peeps at Foreign Comics – Shonen Kurabu, November 20th 1943

I’ve taken a look at numerous Japanese publications on my Things Japanese blog, but I think this one is worth airing here. I’ve long dreamed of getting a story paper or comic from one of our enemies during (or, in the case of WW1, the years immediately before) the world wars, and in 2014 I finally got an issue of Kodan Kurabu from 1942! … but, aside from some funny cartoons, it’s not that interesting (I’ll still “do” it on Things Japanese one day). Then, in 2015, (from the same shop, even) I got a Boys’ Own story paper from 1943. This one is full of derring-do, talk of how the allies will be smashed by the might of Japan, etc… yet is tempered with air-raid advice, which indicates the situation on the “unreachable” Japanese home islands wasn’t as in keeping with the government propaganda as they would have liked.


Much is written in English about American and British comics during the war (most of it, in recent years, sneering contempt for “propaganda”, or mock-shock at the depiction of children in battles), but virtually nothing is said about the other side, so let’s say it! (Actually, there are a few English-language articles about Shonen Kurabu. But they’re all full of critical theory).

Unfortunately, even my modern Japanese is hardly up to scratch, so I can’t say very much. The written language underwent a number of rationalisations and simplifications in 1946, getting rid of a number of irregularities, such as words that are said with U (う) at the end being written with Fu (ふ), and also the “long Ku” (く), which actually means “repeat the previous two letters”. Even my old Japanese teacher managed to slip up on that, pronouncing it “Kuuuu” in front of a bunch of Japanese historians. This probably also explains my bizarre / incomplete translations on previous occasions. I knew some kanji had been removed from circulation, but not about words being “spelled” differently!

Anyway, this particular story paper is the issue of Shonen Kurabu (Boys’ Club) from December 1943. You might think that “Kurabu” being used for “Club” indicates a loan word, taken from English, which would be written with the katakana クラブ. But actually it’s written with the kanji 倶楽部, which also means “Club” in Chinese. The fact they are pronounced Ku Ra Bu in Japanese appears to be nothing more than an incredible coincidence! That didn’t stop them from going over to katakana after the war, anyway.


This one’s from 1951. Note the writing now goes in the other direction.

But, to drag ourselves back to the issue in hand, it opens with the usual ads and contents page, many of the adverts have a greater or lesser war theme…

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We also get this page, which appears to be an imperial edict, right from the pen of Emperor Showa himself! Old British story papers used to get celebrities like Lord Baden-Powell (who may be familiar as the founder of the Scouts) to write to them, but I’m not sure one ever secured the reigning monarch! Anyway, it’s written in “court Japanese”, which is heavy on kanji, broken up by small katakana. There’s no hiragana at all! You can see a rather more famous example of court Japanese on this Wikipedia page.


The contents page is not the “usual” fold-out thing, due to paper shortages. It does contain some happy islanders, greeting their liberators, though. It also repeats the slogan from the cover, which is something along the lines of “Victory in the great East Asian war number” – perhaps indicating that this was an especially war-themed issue, even for the time?


Following that, the coloured plate that many Japanese magazines of the period seem to have (see my look at King from 1939). This one shows patriotic school children bowing to their teacher. The title is “Reliable / Level-headed Pupils”. Perhaps they are being rewarded for the best attendance record, or highest score in thier exams?


After a page on how some ancient Chinese “bone script” characters evolved into modern Kanji, there’s some more wash plates. This time thrilling accounts of derring-do at the front. Here some soldiers bravely charge an enemy tank. The title appears to refer to “meat bullets” who “sacrificed themselves”. Was it a suicide bombing (one guy’s got some big cylinders on his back), or just a last-ditch charge to avoid the shame of surrender?


Another plate shows an artilleryman, who has somehow ended up in the sea, with his gun on a raft, tellling sailors to rescue the gun first. That really is straight out of Commando!


Well, War Picture Library, actually…


The main body of the paper is, of course, the stories! They cover the land, sea and air campaigns (with some very faint and ghostly illustrations). There’s also the usual samurai tales, and a story that looks-like-comedy-from-the-illustrations-anyway. The first of the stories has an odd character in it, but the title is something to do with the water of a river (though it’s not “the river water flows”, or anything like that). It’s subtitled as an old legend of Japan.


The first adventure story is called Marai no Tora, or “The Malay Tiger”. I would have thought “Malay” would have been Marei (マレイ), not Marai, but there ya go. Anyway, it seems to be about a spy in Malaya, witnessing the cruelty of the British, and helping to lay the groundwork for the Japanese invasion. Just look at this picture of an old man about to be run down by grinning Tommies. The art style actually reminds me of Commando. Maybe they ought to do this same story from “the other end” XD.

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There’s another very short story, or article, which I couldn’t initiallly understand the purpose of (it’s only over one spread). Until I realised it was called “The 8th of December”. In Japan, the date of Pearl Harbour!


Airmen are represented by this story, called Homeward Through the Jungle of Death. As the name implies, it doesn’t involve much flying – instead, it’s about a shot-down pilot on a trek through the jungle, meeting giant bats, alligators and a hulking native with an axe!

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On the subject of the navy, the story Kuri Sailor’s War Account (“Kuri” meaning Chestnut, but I assume it’s the name of the ship, in this instance) is about sailors – seemingly either ratings, or young, junior, officers – as was common in old British navy stories, too. Anyway the illustrations are very faint and murky, but they show a torpedo tube being fired at a distant ship, and, in this one, a line being tied onto a burning carrier, probably so it can be towed to safety. It also starts with a section labelled “previous number up until”, aka “the story so far”, indicating a serial!

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The next story is Appare Katsu Tachira-kun, or “The Praiseworthy Boy, Katsu Tachira”. It’s billed as a true war story and seems, from the illustrations, to be about some boys who kept a lookout for spies / enemy soldiers, allowing a boatload of them to be machine-gunned before they reached the beach. This sounds like the sort of cautionary tale that was also rife in British comics of the time, even Tiger Tim’s Weekly! (Though in that, of course, the spies just ended up arrested).

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Except, there’s actually photos of Katsu Tachira and his friend, as well as the machine gunnners! There’s also a picture of some sort of list they kept, counting the numbers of men and women “seen” (it says “investigated”) in the north of… something.


Those letters, written over and over, mean “correct”, but they’re also the Japanese version of tally marks, as they take 5 strokes to write.

The first of the “historicals” appears to be called “Become the Camphor Tree of Justice”. I guess I’m missing some samurai metaphor. Anyway it has sword fights and archery. This one’s also a serial, it has a “story so far” section, and the first chaper appears to be numbered 14 (though, oddly for the time, written as “1 4” and not “10 4”).


There’s another historical tale called Book of the Spirit Times. Though “spirit” in this case is more “the essence of” something, rather than ghosts. Maybe it’s Book of Ages? Anyway, it has an illustration of some very angular-looking samurai…


There’s one main comic strip, 30 panels long (they’re all numbered). I can’t make head nor tail of the main title. It’s something about “flying big son XX’s look study”. It’s about a kid who goes to visit a training camp for pilots, called “Bear Valley Military Flying School”, with some incredibly primitive-looking equipment. I doubt “the west” was much better, though – no computerised simulators in those days!


There’s some sort of contraption with a bicyle-powered cockpit, and a model plane on the front (probably a general primer for how an aircraft handles). There’s also a fake fuselage with a box over it, perhaps for training pilots to fly by instruments.


Later there’s a cockpit on a zipwire (landing training?), and a big spinning wheel with a seat on it (a fitness test, for flying upside down?). The boy has been taken to the camp by his high-ranking dad. On the train back he falls asleep, then suddenly wakes up, saluting, and shouting that he wants to be the first pilot to bomb “Washinton”.

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“Washinton” doesn’t do too well out of the other comic strip, either. It opens with a formation of American bombers approaching Japan (at this stage, only Kyushu was in range, though the Doolittle raid, an effective “kamikaze” mission, had made token hits on other cities in 1941). Then some sort of intercontinental ballistic missiles get launched, with magnets on the end, drag the bombers all the way back to Washington DC (surely all those big, square buildings are the stereotyped apperance of New York?), and blow the city to bits. You wonder what the Germans would have thought about this strip “giving away their secrets”! (The only time Jane was censored was when there was a storyline about a secret plane called a “Meteor”, only weeks before the real thing went into service).


Another “comic”, of sorts, is this page of “Japanese-style songs”. And two other letters I can’t make out at all! Anyway, they seem to be short poems, actually, not songs. Or maybe they’re all verses of one song. Anyway, they show kids doing things like obeying thier teacher, taking food and water to women who are working as air-raid wardens / fire watchers and, erm, stealing apples. There’s probably meant to be a point of contrast, somewhere!


There’s a later section called “Poems for People in Small Countries”, which features a Burmese teacher (and, on the next page, Japanese soldiers coming away from a shinto shrine, cheered by schoolboys). The text doesn’t look much like poems, though.

sk43_31 – sk43_32

As for factual content, though the horrors of sustained firebombing were yet to come, Kyushu was experiencing sporadic air attacks, so there’s an article about air-raid precautions. Readers are advised to sleep near their bundled-up possessions, ready to head for the shelters. There’s also diagrams of American bombs, and advice to wear padded clothes and an “air raid hood”. I’ve seen one of those hoods in the Osaka Peace Museum, it’s not much more than a padded balaclava; I wouldn’t trust it to protect me against a thrown stone, let alone bomb fragments!

sk43_33 – sk43_34 – sk43_35

There’s another diagram showing the lethal range and height of shrapnel from a high explosive bomb. Note the nearby shelter – unlike Britain’s corrugated Anderson shelters, the usual Japanese bomb shelter was a short trench, with wooden planks over it. By the time of the major city bombings, the Americans had developed cluster incendiary bombs, especially designed to start the most intense fires possible in Japan’s wooden residential areas. The resulting firestorms sucked up oxygen from the lowest spaces first, suffocating families to death, even if they were untouched by the explosions.


Another article is about an assault course youngsters can build (or, perhaps, get their teachers to organise). It features bars to balance on, walls to climb, nets to crawl under, etc. All as a primer for future military training, when the readers are old enough. There’s also another article about general fitness, with push-ups, running, etc. One picture shows how you should motivate yourself by imagining you’ll one day be a soldier, charging into battle!


There’s also an article called Minna Sendo Da, which is roughly “It’s Everybody’s War!”. An illustration shows Japanese and American boys building model planes, while the men fight in the skies above. Basically it’s like those poems in the contemporay Beano, telling children to “do their bit”, even if it’s just saving waste paper. Fortunately, the Kyoto kid who bought this one hung on to it, instead!

sk43_38 – sk43_39

Still, it wasn’t all worry and self-sacrifice. The article Sea Eagles Hitting the Enemy’s Fleet is about successes the Japanese naval air arm have had against allied ships. Pearl Harbour is well known, they also sank HMS Prince of Wales, which had survived the infamous encounter with Bismarck, where the Ark Royal was blown to pieces by a shot in the magazine. The artist doesn’t seem to have had many reference pictures, though. An American carrier is drawn in the “top heavy” Japanese style, and a battleship, seen later, looks a bit Yamato-ey too. No internet image searches in those days!

sk43_40 – sk43_41

This is accompanied by Filming The War at Sea, which is apparently (from the pictures, anyway) an account of a Japanese ship being attacked by American planes, but it survives, and the crew rescue one of the pilots.

sk43_42 – sk43_43

More light-hearted is an article called Koko ni Konna Kufuu, or “How to Make These Useful Devices”, including a frame apparently designed to stop roosters, but not hens, getting seeds, and a thing for clipping an umbrella to a belt, leaving your hands free.


This section advertises the next issue, as a “New Year Number”. As well as the continuing adventures of The Malay Tiger and the good ship Chestnut, there’s an article / interview with a submarine captain who sank a ship, and got a picture of it through the periscope.


I beleive the Japanese government banned all “entertainment publications” at some point in 1944, as the paper shortage became desperate (and, no doubt, to free up the lumberjacks, paper factory workers, and writers, for army service). But Shonen Kurabu was among several magazines re-started after the war. The picture I showed earlier is from 1951, but, if we look at the publishing details (which, at the time, always gave the date of first publication), we can see they both have the same “first published” date:


Continuity was clearly intended, though the later Shonen Kurabu is quite a different publication (more comics!). I’ll also give it a review on Things Japanese one day.


(And there was a spare image left over… erm…)

Thunderbirds Are Go!

There’s a new Thunderbirds show on, and this time it’s done with CGI instead of puppets (a method Gerry Anderson referred to as “Hypermarionation”, though they’ve no doubt dropped that like a bag of hot sick, now that he’s out of the picture. He’s only the British Disney / Tezuka, why show respect for that, eh?). Anyway, to accompany it, there’s also a new comic!


Er, my scanner appears to have turned the bright orange into pink. Didn’t even notice!

I bought it, hoping it would have reprinted Frank Bellamy strips from TV21 (perhaps referred to as “great rescues of the past” – the new Thunderbirds are the children of the old ones, right?), but it doesn’t. It IS mostly comic, though! There’s one long strip, broken up into three parts, and which is also “to be continued”!


Unfortunately, it’s done with the same CGI as the TV show, rather than illustrated art. Now, I’m as innocent as a babe unborn, so on first glance, I thought “oh, cool, DC Thomson have been given access to the same models and software used in the show, so they can pose them in new ways, in original settings, to make up exciting new stories. That’s far better than just stitching a limited batch of pre-made production stills together”.

Silly me, eh?

I then noticed that the master villain from the old series, The Hood, is introduced in this first story’s cliffhanger. “Oh cool” I thought. “They’re bringing back an old character in the comic story, thus making big steps in the overall plot in both the comic and TV versions, rather than treating the comic as a bit of knocked-out merchandising. Still, it’s strange that they’re putting such a major character in the comic version, when, in the 60’s, he mainly showed up in the TV version, and…”



Yes, the comic stories are just screencapped adaptions of the TV episodes, and therefore TOTALLY WORTHLESS AND POINTLESS. It’s like they’ve not even heard of video recorders, let alone anything else that’s been invented since then. The adaptions aren’t even any good, just look at this:

ntb_04 – ntb_06

Never mind, eh? It’s only for kids.

75% of the issue is taken up by these worthless “repeats”, and the intervening feature pages are, well, exactly what you’d expect from a current British comic.

ntb_05 – ntb_02

Never mind, eh? It’s only for kids.

Wow, a futuristic rocket plane in the, er, 2080’s (the original Thunderbirds was set 100 years in the future, in the 2060’s) has an auto pilot! And Brains (who is now Indian, because an Indian is always the scientist in these things. Well they can’t use a Japanese, Chinese or Korean, can they? That’d be a stereotype! Not that I’m being a critical theorist, I’ve seen a documentary where they went to an Indian secondary school, and the girls were all saying they wanted to be scientists or doctors.) has managed to invent a method that allows it to travel anywhere in the world… though I think the Wright Brothers got there a little ahead of him.

I wonder how much DC Thomson paid for the licence to use Thunderbirds? And then they crank out this rubbish. A couple of work experience lads could throw this together in an afternoon. They’ve even had the audacity to make it a monthly, no doubt to avoid the risk of running out of episodes to adapt before a new series starts. Imagine having to pay somebody to come up with a new plot! There is, I must grudgingly admit, some brand new, illustrated comic material in there. Here’s a whole third of it:


One of the others had “Thunderbirds are glow!” as the punchline… just in case you think I picked out the worst one.

I would like to remind everybody that Britain is a G8 nation and the works of Gerry Anderson are popular all over the world. And THIS is what our comic “industry” (partly from apathy, and partly hamstrung by the WH Smith / Tesco “these ‘magazines’ must come with a toy” monopoly) is turning out. Look down a couple of entries. See that? See what NORTH KOREA is producing? Why are their comics better than ours? Where’s the bosses of DCT, Smith’s and Tesco? Would they like to explain why NORTH KOREA is producing better comics than a country with a GDP in the trillions?


The Sexton Blake Library turns 100


I don’t actually own this, I nicked the pic off an Ebay auction years ago

 The Sexton Blake library was the longest-running publication to contain stories of Sexton Blake – who, by the time it was launched in 1915, had already been around for 22 years – and had been appearing in the Union Jack every week for 11 of those (plus extra serials and short stories in the Boys’ Friend, Boys’ Realm, Penny Popular, Answers etc etc). There had also been a few longer, book-length stories in the Boys’ Friend Library. But, in 1915, Sexton Blake was given a library all his own!

I don’t know the exact date the first issue went on sale, but it was sometime in September. Somebody with a collection of Amalgamated Press publications for that year might be able to find an advert with a specific date, though. The first issue was The Yellow Tiger, and cost 3d. It was a “yellow peril” story, with wartime elements; the “minister of munitions” is kidnapped, and at one point, Blake & co are held up by a German submarine (at this point, they would surface and use their deck guns on unarmed ships). Wu Ling, basically the Sexton Blake version of Fu Manchu*, teams up with another guy called Baron De Beauremon, who leads a gang called The Council of Eleven. Many super villains had been established in the Union Jack stories, by now, and Blake regularly had to fight team-ups, like an evil “Avengers”! Anyway, the story is one of the best in the Sexton Blake saga, with loads of fist fights, gun fights, plane chases, ship chases, captures and rescues. But copies of issue 1 of the SBL are very rare and expensive…


Fortunately, the first four issues were reprinted (apparently very hastily – many spelling mistakes!) in this book. The Sexton Blake Detective Library, published by Hawk Books (who also reprinted some Eagle material, and had a very familiar logo) in 1989. Being considerably easier to find, and considerably cheaper, to boot (I got it in a Mind charity shop, for £1), it’s a great introduction to the world of Sexton Blake. The first four SBL stories are all vintage Blakiana – master villains, devious disguises, journeys to exotic lands and conspiracies that nearly ruin innocent victims, until Sexton Blake comes through! The book also contains an extensive introduction (still more-or-less “up to date”, there’s been precious little additional Blake material since 1989, and only one “official” new story!). There’s also several pages of cover pictures from various story papers, including full-page reproductions of the first four SBL issues, though the quality is, erm…

sb100_05 – sb100_06

Not colour filtered in any way, only brightness and contrast!

Still, the introduction reproduces several illustrations from the Blake saga, many by prolific Union Jack artist Eric Parker – who also did a large number of Library covers:


And, to round it off, a reproduced comic strip from Knockout. There was a later and (now) better-known Sexton Blake comic strip in Valiant, but that was rubbish – the plots were Scooby Doo esque ghost investigations, and not even original! They were re-drawn, and slightly re-worded, copies of a modern-day ghost hunting strip from Buster.


This is the real stuff!

Anyway, the SBL’s publication schedule was initially just one issue a month (there was, after all, a war on. It didn’t affect the paper supply nearly as badly as World War 2, though. At least, not to begin with). By 1916/17, the schedule appears to have increased to two or three per month (“digests”, like the SBL, BFL, and today’s Commando, generally come out in ‘batches’. Though the My Weekly and People’s Friend libraries come out every two weeks). But 1917 paper shortages saw the page count drop from the initial 120 to just 72. By 1919, with the war over, the library went up to four issues per month (five per month for most of 1922, but it dropped again, at the beginning of the following year), and stayed that way until the paper shortages of World War 2 again hampered it.


The oldest one I actually own is from 1917… features a train chase across Argentina!

In 1925, “Series 2” of the library began, though it wasn’t much different (not even a price increase, it had gone up to 4d in 1918). The golden age of Sexton Blake encompassed the post-WW1 period until the mid 1930’s, at which point a time known in Blakian circles as “the lean years” began (heralded, more or less, by the death of Union Jack in 1933 – it was replaced by the less-glamorous Detective Weekly, though the very first series of Blake tales to run in that was a belter).

sb100_09 – sb100_10

A late issue in series 1, and an early issue from series 2. 

There’s actually a new “Blackshirts”, having a meeting somewhere in my county today. But, though they claim to have “no policy” on homosexuality, I’m still too scared to go.

In 1940, wartime pressures saw the SBL increase it’s price from 4d to 4½d. It was also reduced to three, and then two, issues per month. In 1941, the third series began, with a whole 1½d leap to 6d! By this point, stories of supervillains and epic adventures were out, and hunts for spies and war profiteers were in. Uninspiring titles like “The Scrap Metal Mystery” hid tales that are still of use to social historians (or just people who want to soak in the atmosphere of a long-gone age), being more concerned with the trials of everyday life in those dark times. Paper shortages also saw the page count drop from 96 to 64. Some issues containted two short stories, instead of one long one, in an attempt to keep things varied.

sb100_11 – sb100_12

The library remained at two issues per month until December 1950, when it finally returned to it’s pre-war publication level. In the late 1940’s, it began to take on a more ‘standardised’ look. First, the title of the story was in a blue bar on the cover. This was soon replaced with the title being written in yellow, often in a red block. This look endured for many years.


The stories were still of the more “ordinary crime” type. There’s lots of house parties where a shot suddenly rings out, impossible murders in a locked room, or some poor guy being in the wrong place at the wrong time. Some of the golden-age supervillains made occasional appearances, though, but the days of them raising private armies and trying to destabilise the west were more or less over (or just didn’t seem so romantic, after two people had managed to do exactly that, a few years earlier!). Again, though the stories of this period didn’t live up to the epics of the golden age, many of them are still interesting mysteries in their own right. The odd secret mission behind the Iron Curtain harks back to the spy capers of the world wars, too.


In 1956, the at-first-unofficial (the editor later ‘retconned’ it) fourth series began, with No. 359, “Frightened Lady”. By now, the library was 10d, and had a red bar down one side of the cover. The cover artwork was a lot more “suggestive”, often with glamorous women showing a lot of leg! This sort of thing continued on the inside, too. Sexton Blake moved from his cosy baker street home to offices in Berkeley Square, and a secretary called Paula Dane – who often assists him on cases, sidelining Tinker to a cameo appearance at the very beginning or end. Tinker also dropped his old “street arab” nickname, preferring to be called Edward Carter. These changes all became known as the “New Order”.

The plots started to feature more gruesome hints of torture and brutality – and romance and hints of sex also began to make an appearance (though were then toned down in 1957, when the Obscene Publications Act threatened). A spymaster called Eustace Craille was introduced, and Blake was once again jetting off around the world (on jets, not steamships, too!), fighting master villains – though these were more in the cold war, James Bond mould. Most of the stories were still murder mysteries, set “at home”, though. Oh, there was also a few tales featuring “flashbacks” to World War 2 – and, it turns out, these are the only New Order stories I have! So I can’t show you any of the “leggy” covers. The New Order war stories were in that grim, gritty style that characterised the lurid war paperbacks of the 50’s and 60’s – and the early issues of War Picture Library and Commando – written by men who had actually been there!

Anyway, series 4 ran into the 1960’s with the James Bond-ish stuff increasing slightly. There was even a cod-golden-age story called The World Shakers, about an ex-Nazi supervillain who has built a fleet of flying saucers! This was written by “Desmond Reid”, who was an interesting character. At some point, the format was also stretched upwards, going from “Library” size to “Paperback” size. Though still only 64 pages!


The “regular” Sexton Blake library came to an end in 1963, with the story The Last Tiger. The New Order did a lot of re-writing to Blake’s back-story, and it’s almost tempting to believe the return of the word “Tiger” in the title was a happy accident, rather than intentional! Anyway, this was another “yellow peril” story – this time, the villains are Japanese soldiers who don’t realise the war is over, and are using a “tractor beam” to kidnap airliners. Sexton Blake ends the tale proposing to Paula Dane, and writes a letter to the readers on the back cover, in which he reveals he has the middle initial “T”, and says that “nobody seems to have met” Desmond Reid. This is probably because he doesn’t exist! It was a fake name, used for editor-reworked stories, or just to cover up an author’s name, if they had written too many stories in a short period. Still, that didn’t stop his photo appearing in The World-Shakers! They chose a picture of some actor who looks like a right spiv.


Anyway, after 1964 passed Blake-less, the fifth series of the Sexton Blake library appeared in 1965, this time published by Mayflower-Dell. This time, they were in the standard paperback format – tall and narrow, with around 150 pages. But the type was considerably larger, so the story length was probably about the same. These came out at the rate of two per month, and initially cost 2/6 (quite a jump from the 1/- The Last Tiger cost!), though soon went up to 3/6. Some of these were terrible, though others are alright. Some follow the New Order mould, with Berkeley Square and Paula Dane, while others feature Blake plodding about his office, smoking a pipe while being fed by his housekeeper, Mrs Bardell. Several of them are very 60’s, with twangy pop bands (and hysterical fans) and hippies present and correct. This series lasted until 1968, ending with Down Among the Ad Men.


Howard Baker, the last editor of the regular SBL, was, by this time, reprinting loads of old Amalgamated Press material (he kept it up until the 1980’s). This included hardback Sexton Blake omnibus books, reprinting two issues (mainly from series 4 and 5) at a time. In 1969, four new stories appeared, in the same hardback format, and apparently costing a whopping 16/- (or 18/- or “90p”… erm…). Those were the last “official” Sexton Blake stories published (except for a TV show adaption in 1972), and the end of the SBL…


Until 2014! A company called Obverse Books launched series six of the Library. This time, it’s a “series” of “quarterly” hardbacks, retailing at a whopping £20 each! Containing one original story, and one reprint from the archives. I say “series” and “quarterly”, because there has actually only been one issue, so far, and that came out more than a year ago. Looks like they’re not going to “make the century” with a new issue this month. But “insiders” report that the second book is on it’s way… slowly!


I think series 6 is far too well-bound and irregular to be truly classified as a story paper, though. Oh, for “that” Euromillions win. I’d buy up the copyright and have cheap, Commando-sized issues pumping out like a shot! Oh well, if the newest issue of my favourite “comic” won’t come out in September 2015, at least my third favourite will…


Better go and buy it, quick!

Reference: As with pretty much anything to do with Sexton Blake, I inevitably made use of Mark Hodder’s Blakiana website: , he pretty much wrote this entry for me XD.

*-At one point, at least, Amalgamated Press were actually publishing stories of both characters, but they didn’t meet. Until 2009 – when Mark Hodder did a fanfic! Fu Manchu and Wu Ling are mortal enemies, though. They both want to take over China, and use her mass of people to take over the world. Mind you, if you ask me, Fu Manchu’s green-tinted skin and sideways eyelids hint at him coming from rather further away…

Peeps at foreign comics – comics from North Korea



You may be surprised to hear that North Korea has an active comics “scene”. But when you hear that it’s all state-run, it’s not so surprising. North Korean kids are pumped with carefully-constructed propaganda from birth, and comics are considerably easier to make than edutainment iApps, especially for a heavily-sanctioned regime. If only our own government would “nationalise”, then print at-cost paperbacks of, our greatest, copyright-hell-stuck, comic heroes, eh?

But how do people from the capitalist west (and east, for that matter) get hold of comics from this secretive, insulated regime? Well, there’s three options. The hardest is going to North Korea itself. Visits are possible, though they’re heavily stage-managed, a “guide” takes you everywhere, and the secret police are always breathing down your neck. Tourism is one of their major sources of income, too, so everything is overpriced. Well, what you can buy is! Apparently there’s department stores full of fancy stuff, but it’s all for show, and the staff merely acting.

Anyway, the next option is “West Korea” aka Yanbian, in China. In the old days, this was a propaganda-filled enclave for North Koreans visiting the People’s Republic. Just to make sure they would keep worshipping the correct cult of personality! China is a lot more open these days, and “West Korea” is swarming with southerners, as well as Chinese, faintly amused at a living “theme park” version of their own country, a generation or two ago.

The easiest way to get these anti-Japanese-propaganda laced books, then, is to… get them in Japan! (That’s what true freedom of speech does for you – when will Britain see a true anti-censorship party?). Yes, Thanks to a “quirk of history”, Japan has a large community of people who align themselves with North Korea (though do not seem in a great hurry to go back – their children and grandchildren becoming naturalised Japanese citizens in ever greater numbers). Japan directly ruled Korea from 1910 until 1945, and many Koreans moved / were moved (depending on who you ask, and the historical period in question) to Japan. After World War 2, they found themselves in a sort of limbo, many either didn’t know where their ancestors came from in Korea, or else they’d come from the north, but now couldn’t go back from American Japan to Soviet Korea. When the country offically seperated into two, they became effectively stateless, in any case. They became known as Zaichini, and, a bit later, many became part of a community called Chongryon, which is aligned with North Korea. For a while, after the war, the political ideology was equally repressive in both the north and south, but the north had a better economy, thanks to Russia (and, to begin with, China) pumping in loads of money. Kind of like how the west made a showpiece of West Germany by funneling in money to “prove capitalism works”.

Anyway, the Chonggryon have continued to exist in Japan, running “North Korean” schools, teaching the language and producing propaganda (they run several of “North Korea’s” websites). As there’s no official relationship between Japan and North Korea, the Chongryon HQ is actually a de-facto “embassy”.

But, more to the point of this blog, the Chongryon also run a book shop, called コリアブックセンター, or “Korea Book Centre”. Students of Japanese will note that, for some weird reason, the name is neither Japanese or Korean, but “English”, written with Japanese letters! This is where you can buy the comics, there’s also various other books (including a load of heavy, brown leather-bound volumes on who-knows-what), CD’s, DVD’s and even some videos. All in Korean, though.


Anyway, the shop is in central Tokyo (that is, inside the Yamanote line, tokyo doesn’t “work” like most other cities, so it’s actually in quite a quiet, deserted area). The nearest station is Hakusan, come out, bear round to the left, and go down a small pedestrianised street (with a number of comic-heavy Japanese bookshops. One has thousands upstairs! But they’re all run by the same 2-3 people, so aren’t always open). At the end, there’s an unnesescarily-huge zebra crossing. Cross that, and “double back”, a little to the right. Then discover the Korea Book Centre is closed, because it has bizarre opening times. It took me 3 visits to finally catch it! (Edit that is not an edit: I kept going in the morning, but have since found out it opens at 1 in the afternoon!).

EVEN BIGGER EDIT THAT IS NOT AN EDIT: Apparently the shop has closed down for good. Close Skyscanner now!

(“manually” shopping around airlines’ own websites, but on somebody else’s computer, is usually better, anyway).

kitakank_02 – kitakank_03 – kitakank_04

kitakank_05 – kitakank_06

The shop is at the base of a big office / flat building, but is pretty small inside. When I went in a few regulars were popping in and out, all talking to the woman behind the counter in perfect, Tokyo-accented Japanese.


There’s not much to distinguish the comics from various other thin propaganda books, and I nearly left disappointed (or grew a pair and attempted to ask where the “manga” was). But then I finally found them on the leftmost shelf, about halfway down the shop. Though that doesn’t mean there might not be others scattered around!

Anyway, the big handful I bought (altogether coming in at around the ¥5000 mark. I doubt a sen of that got back to the concentration campin’ regime, though. In fact, maintaining both their HQ, and this shop, in central Tokyo, probably costs them hundreds of thousands of yen a month.) includes a large number of what may be called the “old series”, and a couple of what may be called the “new series” of comics. Though the oldest one is still only from 2000. The old series encompasses the 2000’s:


While the two new series ones are from the 2010’s. However the new series ones also have a Tokyo address in their copyright section. The older ones are pure Korean:

kitakank_10 – kitakank_11

The newer ones are on thick, glossy paper (which many non-me people would consider “better”). But they’re also drawn in a cod-“Japanese” style. In fact, they remind me of British small-press “manga”! Here’s a comparison:

kitakank_12 – kitakank_13

There’s actually some Brit ones that look even closer than this. But It’s the first one I grabbed from my box-o-small-press.

The old series ones are on thinner, matte paper, with lurid-looking covers and starkly black and white “Boys’ Own” type artwork in them (nb: except for some ones for young children, but I’ll get to that). If such an impoverished regime can still produce comics like that, why can’t we, eh? why can’t-


Oh, alright then. To continue… I’m sure I read somewhere that North Korea “recently” (well, around 2010) bought some new printing machines, so it’s possible that the “new series” books are down to that. But then again, the Tokyo address, and Japanese-ish art style, makes me think they might even have been made in Japan by the Chongryon. I did briefly wonder if they were South Korean (they’re on historical themes, both sides of the border would teach their children about national mythology), but they have a 주체 (Juche) date, which is counted up from 1912, when Kim Il Sung was born (apparently on a mountain that borders China… but actually in Russia). The south wouldn’t put that on their books!


I should state that several of the books (actually, the majority of the ones I have) are not true comics, but heavily-illustrated text stories. Some examples of both kinds have 그림책 (Geulimchaeg) written in the top right-hand corner of the cover. It means “Picture-Book”, and is Perhaps the North Korean word for comic. In South Korea, comics are called “Manhwa”, which is the Korean way of pronouncing the characters which say “Manga” in Japan. If the non-comic ones were aimed at very young children, I’d have called them “Picture books”, like the ones we have in Britain, but they seem to be aimed at an older / teen audience. Well, most of them.

They all appear to be one-off “graphic novels”, rather than ongoing publications, though one comic does appear to be part of a series. North Korea definitely has at least two regular story papers, though. Maybe some of these text-heavy stories originally appeared in one of those, as a serial, and is now available as a book. Or maybe they were all just written as books. We need a Korean-speaking comics enthusiast (with deep pockets – they overcharge tourists something rotten, I hear) to get over there and start asking their “guides” a few probing questions.

Oh, and as a quick warning: my Korean is about as good as my Welsh (oh, there’s another biiiig article incoming!), so I’ve just GUESSED what’s going on in all of these stories. Luckily, there’s plenty of pictures!

Anyway, let’s begin with the oldest book – dating all the way back to Juche (주체, the online translator says it’s “subject”, but it’s obviously “Self-Reliance”) 89, or 2000 to you and me. It’s one of the thickest ones too, weighing in at a “whopping” 124 pages (not including the covers).


The title is 신기한 술법 (those scribbly covers are hard to read, fortunately the title is usually in clearer type on the “copyright” section), pronounced “Singihan Sulbeob”, and apparently meaning “Novelties Sulbeob”. There’s a few words that I couldn’t persuade Google to translate. North Korea uses a slightly different writing system to South Korea. The south uses Hangul, an indigenous Korean writing system, which is apparently the most logically-organised and easy to learn in the world. Mainly because it was actually created over just a few months, on the order of a liberalising ruler (does Korea have Kings or Emperors?), rather than evolving over centuries. Later rulers, either Korean monarchs, or the Japanese, realised that a literate populace could mean “dangerous” ideas being spread, and banned it in favour of Chinese-made-to-fit-Korean, or just Japanese. Modern South Korea uses mostly Hangul, with a FEW Chinese characters, though they are nowhere near as common as they are in Japan. North Korea uses pure Hangul, and the two countries also have a few different ways of spelling things (see the translation for Juche, above!). But, by and large, they can read each other’s writings without too much effort – though it’s illegal in both countries!

Anyway, this is possibly part of a series, being labelled “백두산녀장수절그림책 (5)” , which is apparently “Paektu lady longevity clause picture book 5”. I don’t think it translated properly. It’s published by “Literary Arts Publisher” (문학예술종합출판사). There seems to be several comic / childrens storybook publishing companies in North Korea, I’ve also seen “Venus Youth Publisher” and “Gold Star Children’s Press”. Though the identical art styles, paper, sizes and bindings hint at there really being only one publisher. The multiple names are just a blind, to give a faint illusion of a “free press”.


To carry on with the review… this book contains multiple stories, some of them longer than others. One of them is even broken up into three chapters! Heres’s a quick translation of the contents page, though the names may not be particularly enlightening.

1 – 오산의 전설 = Miscalculation of the Legend

27 – 신기한 술법 = Novelties Sulbeop. In three chapters:

1) 류치장에 생게난 이야기 = Kenan (cainan) life on the type of story stucco (embellishment)

2) 공사장에서 구원된 칠성이 = Chilsung has been saved from the construction site

3) 상동마을의 “수호신” = “Guardian Deity” of the same village

63 – 사각장에 나타난 녀장수 = Ladies longevity appears in chapter square

87 – 마천령의 이상한 샘물 = Ma Chun-Ryung the court medic unusual spring water

107 – 다시 울린 종 = Bell Rang Again

I can’t tell anything at all about the first story. It appears to involve some sort of wise man, going around and talking about kings and things. There’s some nice scribbly-looking artwork of temples and houses. There’s also a turtle carrying a big slab on it’s back.

kitakank_18 – kitakank_19

He is possibly some sort of communist agitator. The story appears to be set in the past, maybe in 1917. As this was during the Japanese occupation, he’s probably talking about how great Korea used to be, and keeping their heritage alive.

kitakank_20 – kitakank_20a

The next story is, erm, well…

Officially, North Korea has freedom of religion. Also officially, many people in North Korea willingly choose not to follow a religion, as they see it as a primitive superstition used to oppress the working class. Actually, the North Korean government have created their own religion, centered around worship of the “eternal president”, Kim Il Sung, who will one day return to life and lead the country to glory. Not that I’d object to a mass revival of Northern European Paganism in the UK, but with elements of Shinto ancestor worship bolted on, and even a deification of King Arthur. But anyway, when Christian missionaries first arrived in Korea, Pyongyang became a very Christian city, and this has not entirely gone away. The government of North Korea have neatly “snatched” Christian beliefs by, for instance, celebrating the birthday of Kim Il Sung’s mother on the 24th of December. As everybody will be “too busy” celebrating that, they’ll “forget all about” Christmas. Which is why you don’t see Christmas celebrations in the DPRK… it’s nothing to do with repression, honest!

Anyway. “Novelties Sulbeop” seems to borrow more than a little from the Book of Exodus, and parts of the Gospels, too! It starts off fairly ordinarily, though. A damn dirty jap is torturing an innocent Korean…


“fairly ordinarily” for a North Korean comic, anyway…

He’s also seen intimidating people on the streets (apparently accusing an old man of being an arsonist, just because he happened to be carrying some matches). He then hears a voice ordering him to stand to attention, even though there’s nobody there. He doesn’t look too chuffed, but goes about his business of torture and intimidation regardless. Later he calls his officer to come and interrogate the old man, captured earlier. But when the opens the cell, it’s full of some sort of madness-inducing “gas”. Though that may just be representative of something that is invisible.


The officer treats him in the usual manner of Japanese officers of the time. At least according to “more moderated” accounts of allied POW camps I’ve read.


But the guy continues to go crazy, and wanders through the town, becoming a laughing stock.


In the next chapter, a bunch of Korean prisoners are being forced to work on some big project (and you thought “construction site” was a mistranslation!). Their Japanese overseers stay in the huts, partying and drinking. One of the prisoners is looking up at the moon, when a magic bridge appears, leading over the fence, and to freedom! The prisoners all rush over it. The Japanese follow, but it vanishes when they’re halfway over.


The escaped prisoners meet up with Kim-Il-Sung’s liberation army, having apparently been guided there by a myriad of sparkling stars. They see an apparently divine vision of a free, united Korea, covered in blooming flowers.


They then meet a wise old man, who preaches to them under a tree. They are also given a lot of food – bread, and “something else”. They’re also next to a river at the time… hmm.

kitakank_20h – kitakank_20i

After that, they go about carving messages (apparently also “divinely inspired”) on trees and rocks (people who have toured North Korea and Cuba have remarked on the natural scenery being blighted by carved slogans). These messages eventually being about the end of Japanese tyranny.


There’s not much to the other three stories. “Ladies longevity appears in chapter square” is apparently about an oldish man standing around near some Japanese cavalry regiment. One of the horses escapes, and I think he volunteers to track it down, but doesn’t. Also one of the officers can’t sleep (or is maybe being haunted?). Apparently the horse running away inspired the guy to think of freedom. Or something.


kitakank_20k – kitakank_20l

The next story is possibly an extension of the “biblical” one. The camping communist rebels have no water, but some “smoke” and sparkling “stars” lead a girl to a hidden well. She digs a little, then tells an old man about it. They go and dig further, finding a spring, so the rebels have their own, abundant, water supply.


The last story is perhaps a ripoff of the American legend of the “liberty bell”, though not quite the same. It appears that a temple bell in a village must not be rung, the Japanese take a guy away for merely cleaning it. The man’s son and father are left there, but it rings on it’s own, for some reason, and everybody celebrates. Perhaps the spontaneous ringing was to symbolise the defeat of Japan?


They appear to be ringing it with hammers, rather than a log on ropes, as in Japan. But maybe that’s the Korean way.


This one is in a slightly smaller format to most of the others, and is called 살인자의 정체 (Sal-injuai Jeongche), or “The Identity of the Killer”. It’s published by “Literature and Arts Publisher” (문학예술출판사), a very similar name to the publisher of the previous book. The story is a thrilling, all-action tale of military… paperwork. It’s another of the “illustrated story” style books, and we catch all the action as our heroine bravely collates, files and, yes, indexes!

kitakank_22 – kitakank_23

Oh, and the illustrations are done with green ink

Well, okay, there’s a bit more to it than that. A one-eyed woman comes to the army / police, as she’s been attacked by somebody who looks like a ninja. He also kills another guy in a forest. It appears there’s been multiple murders, and we see some first rate pondering-over-ring-binders action.

kitakank_24 – kitakank_25 – kitakank_26


Our Lieutenant (an inconclusive Google image search shows that to apparently be her rank) wonders about the connection between various dead people (or at least, I assume that’s who they are). Then there’s a flashback to the Japanese occupation (oh yeah, this story is set in 1959). The one-eyed woman was then a servant to a cruel Korean couple, who were collaborating with the Japanese. Anyway, she didn’t serve them fast enough, so the husband poked out her eye with a big skewer (even the Japanese soldiers are shocked).


The girl’s mum vows revenge, and it appears that the unseemly display scares the Japanese (and their money) off. The couple blame the mum and daughter, and they leave. It appears that the cruel wife is later beaten to death by other Japanese soldiers, or maybe the girl’s mother killed her, and the soldiers just found the body.


Anyway, the girl grows up with one eye, and I think she falls in love with a guy, but the evil man has tracked them down, and pushes the guy off a cliff. Also a rioting mob attack his home, but somebody else gets him away in the bottom of a farm cart. I can’t even tell if this scene is set during the Japanese occupation, or the “present day”.

kitakank_30 – kitakank_31

The guy is still in hiding. The cop/soldier/both(?) returns to her office and selflessly goes through ledger after ledger. She also collaborates with a guy who specialises in box files, in the true spirit of socialist cooperation.


I think I took too many pictures of this one

They somehow turn up a photo of the evil guy, and show the one-eyed woman. He is now running a collective farm, and pretending to be a good socialist leader, a mere advisor to his workers, with whom he is on equal terms, otherwise.

kitakank_34 – kitakank_35

Then… well, actually, he is rather undramatically arrested. The one-eyed woman finds a big knife, used by the “ninja” who attacked her before. Clearly the guy was trying to do away with all the witnesses to his previous collaboration. The cops also arrest some other guy (the one who helped him escape the mob?).


The guy then tells his own tale, under interrogation. As I only have the pictures to go on, I can’t make this one out too well. I think he got another guy to help him with threats (the big knife is a bayonet off a Japanese army rifle), then hoarded loads of money, without the other guy knowing (but he found out, by spying though the not-quite-closed door).

kitakank_38 – kitakank_37

Then the glorious army of the DPRK, under the wise guidance of Kim Il Sung, single-handedly hurled the Japanese out and set up a socialist paradise, in which money has no purpose. The guy then started running a farm, and “doing in” everybody who knew about his past life. Beats me why he didn’t escape to the south during the Korean war, but I guess North Korea is so incredibly wonderful that he couldn’t drag himself away, even with multiple murder charges hanging over him.


Yet more Japan-hate. I remind you which country I bought these in!

The next book is one of many that I have from “Venus Youth Publisher” (금성청년출펀사). It’s name is 성난 메아리섬, or “Angry Echo Isles”. It’s also the thickest one, at almost 200 pages! There’s actually two stories. “Angry Echo Isles” is “half and half” illustrated text and pictures (IE – Half of a page is text, and half is a picture). Part of it is printed in reddish-brown ink, and part in green ink. The change just occurs abruptly, in the middle of chapter 6 (though, as will be seen on my Things Japanese blog, North Korea isn’t the only country to do such things!). The other half of the book is taken up by a true comic strip, called 해돌소년, or “Haedol Boy”. They are possibly both about the same characters, though.


Anyway, the text story appears to be set around 1598, when Japan briefly occupied Korea “on the way” to attack China. The king of Korea fled to China, and rallied an army, which counterattacked through Korea, all the way to Seoul, where the Japanese made a stand (Seoul is not far from the current border between North and South Korea, coincidentally). Then the Shogun of Japan died, and the council of five rulers, who temporarily replaced him, decided to give up.

But that’s got nothing to do with the story, which appears to be about Korean traitors collaborating with the Japanese, and a boy and girl going on adventures. The boy seems to be a young teen, and the girl is still little. They live in a village, and out hunting one day, meanwhile Japanese warriors apparently sack the village (or just kill the headman, who may be their dad).


They also know Tae-Kwon-Do, and meet some guy who seems to be a high-ranking Korean (they had “cowboy” hats in those days, apparently). The boy is taught swordsmanship and, being hunters, they’re both handy with a bow. They then go on a long adventure, over hills, through swamps, and so on. Also they get a lift on a carriage, and later meet a “merchant”. The girl realises he’s the guy who attacked the village. They capture him, take him to another village and smear something sweet on his face, so wasps swarm around him and sting his face into a swollen mass.

kitakank_43 – kitakank_44

He is then beaten with poles by the villagers, and put in prison. The headman of the village (another guy with a “cowboy hat”, or maybe the same one) makes friends with the girl, but then is apparently turned, or maybe imprisoned, by some Korean traitors, or just Japanese guys in disguise. They let the prisoner out, and he becomes the new headman of the village. He’s also opened the village treasure chest, and is throwing the money in the air XD.


But the girl has got away, takes a raft out to a ship, where the boy is fishing, and tells the crew. There may be a long-haired young guy, or another girl, on the crew. From this point, it’s kinda hard to tell how many Koreans are involved XD. Anyway, the village is occupied by samurai, but the crew start throwing rocks and arrows down on them, from a cliff. One of the boys / crew fights them with a sword, while the others sneak round behind, and stick them up with bows.


Then the Jap-no, wait, it appears that, actually, it’s the village full of Koreans who get into boats and sail into the sunset. Dunno what’s going on there.

kitakank_47 – kitakank_48

The next story, Haedol Boy, may be about the same characters, though they are younger. Or it may be different, as the boy seems to be the same age as the girl. Anyway, they have an idyllic village existence, when the Japanese invade and kill most of the adult men. Some old woman also hates the boy, she might be Japanese, or maybe just a Korean collaborator. There’s also a man who is a collaborator.


The boy swears to get revenge, and there’s some various scenes of adventure around the countryside, gathering men and weapons. Somebody else (his mother?) is caught in, or near, a Japanese guy’s house, and is attacked. Samurai chase her, and the only way to escape is to jump off a cliff. She is badly injured, and dies. He gets an axe from a nearby farm, planning to kill the Japanese official, but is talked out of it by a wise old man. He goes into some longwinded explanation (no doubt a propaganda-heavy overview of the occupation).


Later, the boy and girl head into a seaside cave, and find a skeleton, scary daubings, and creepy echoes.


They get out, and the boy, “through” the Korean collaborator, tricks the Japanese official, the collaborator, and some other people, into the cave. The scary daubings and echoes terrify them, the boy apparently keeps them talking about something, until the tide comes in, and they all drown. The Samurai outside spot the floating bodies, and run away.


The sister is sad, but the old man gives her some speech, apparently about how this shows the Japanese can be “beaten” (even if somebody had to commit suicide to do it). Then there’s a montage of battle scenes, and a load of text over a peaceful countryside scene – no doubt showing how the sacrifice inspired the Koreans (with Chinese help… in real life, anyway) to fight back, and drive the Japanese out.


This is one of the books which IS a young childrens’ picture book. But I may as well review all of the ones I have! It’s called 보약먹은 그림자 (boyagmeog-eun geulimja), which is apparently, erm, “Restorative Ate Shadow”. I think there’s probably words in there that are “supposed” to be Chinese characters, in South Korean! The book is part 5 of the far-more-clearly-translating “Korean Folk Tale Picture Book” (조선민화그림책) series, so these stories may also be available in South Korean versions. Bet the art isn’t as good, though. The illustrations in this book are a mixture of grey and red washes, and the text beneath is usually only 3-5 lines.


It begins with some sort of introduction, dunno what that’s about. Then we have the nice-looking contents page. It contains four stories, of variable length, which are:

개구리바위 = Frog on a rock

보약먹은 그림자 = About eating shadow

은혜갚은 호랑이 = Grace Paid off Tiger

들쥐가 고른 사위 = Son-in-law Picked Vole


Well it would be “nice looking” if I’d not cropped most of it, oops.

The first story, “Frog on a Rock”, is kind of hard to follow. It’s about a frog, who is a teacher, and a bird. The bird carries the frog around, while the frog pupils give advice to the bird (who appears to be trying to fish). The bird also gives the frogs a talking-to. The bird later carries the frog teacher up a mountain, where she can see a waterfall (perhaps the source of the river she lives in). Then she appears to sing / teach a ladybird, and, erm, the bird leaves her there.


I think.

The next story is super short, only 7 pages (and a title). I think a man has lost something, and accuses a boy of stealing it. But actually the boy had found it, and was giving it back, so then man gives him money for food.


The next story, “Grace Paid off Tiger” is about a boy who finds a man in the snow, when he’s out hunting. He carries the man to safety, and gets a coin as a reward. His mum is happy, and sends him out to buy something (I assume). On the way, a tiger leaps down in front of him, but it has a thorn in it’s paw. He takes it out, and the tiger runs away.


Later, the boy becomes a rebel / soldier, and fights against some army (maybe Japan, or maybe some other war, between different kingdoms in Korea). He gets captured, and put in a cangue, a punishment which used to be used in the Far East. It’s similar to the Stocks, only a big wooden board is locked around somebody’s neck, and he has to carry it about / sit in a cell with it on. It makes laying down, or sitting against a wall, very uncomfortable. In China, people had to wear it out and about on the streets, often with their offence written on it. But in this story, the boy is locked up. He’s allowed to write letters, though!


Anyway, it seems the leader of the bad guys intercepts his letter, and decides to execute him. He’s taken to the edge of a cliff, where it seems inept guards argue about who is going to prod him over. Then the tiger shows up and attacks them. The boy is set free, and spots the scar in the tiger’s foot, where the thorn used to be. The story ends with the boy once again going into battle… riding the tiger!


The next story is also pretty short. It appears to be about a vole in love. He talks to other animals to gain confidence, then gets the girl. Erm, hooray.

kitakank_062 – kitakank_063

As this is book 5 in a series, the back cover contains something that is very daring for an official North Korean publication – advertising! Well, promoting other books in the series, anyway.


Surely a reproduction of the cover of one the reader doesn’t have would be better?

Following on, a year later, another book in the same series, this time number 10. This one only has 64 internal pages, as opposed to 128, in book 5.  It’s also all one comic strip, printed with blue ink, rather than multiple text stories with wash illustrations. It’s called 해와달 (Haewadal), which is “The Sun and the Moon”.


Anyway, this one’s about a sometimes-fighting, sometimes-friendly cat and dog, who are following a wandering trader around. A magical old man descends from the heavens (like ya do) and gives him a marble, which he puts in a jar. Later some guy steals the marble, and puts it in a jar at his house. The cat and dog steal it back, the dog tries to eat it, but spits it out, into a river. Presumably that was an accident, as they then start fighting.


The magical old man later finds a boy, and lectures him on something. The boy, erm, goes for a long walk in the rain, and ends up very tired and muddy, then gets another lecture. Must be some sort of morality tale, probably with a heavily socialist tone about selfless work. The art style in this bit sometimes reminds me of early Tezuka!


The third chapter, taking up half the book, is about an evil tiger menacing a family. He can also talk, and use tools. He’s looking for something, which they have presumably hidden. The boy and girl escape, and climb up a tree. The tiger spots them, and tries to climb up, but can’t do it. He pours something on the tree (oil?), and slips off even more easily. After a failed attempt at chopping the tree down, a rope appears. He tries to climb the rope, but it snaps, and he falls into sharp, chopped-down stumps.


This book gives a subtle clue that all is not well in North Korea, the intensity of the ink varies through the pages, the middle pages are clear and dark, but those at each end are really faint – like they’re running the machine right down, before topping it up. You see that on some old British comics, too, but not quite as obvious (then again, most of the mass-printed ones were under 40 pages…. often well under), and not this side of 1960!


Also from 2006 is one of the cooler-looking ones. It has a really “gritty” art style, which reminds me of one of the also-ran “Commando-like” war comics of the 1960’s (or, should that be “War Picture Story-like”?). It’s set in 1905, during the Russo-Japanese war, which was used as an excuse by Japan to further occupy Korea (at the time, coming more under Japanese, rather than Chinese, influence, though there was other foreign powers at play too, mainly Russia). While most land battles of the war were fought in Russia (several of the battlefields are now in China, it seems that the border was not entirely clear in those days, and the whole region was remote from both countries’ centres of government), the first one was at the Yalu River, the traditional border between China and Korea (today a terrifying moat, helping to imprison would-be defectors).


The story is, again, about a boy and a girl, and, again, they’re Tae-Kwon-Do experts. At the start, they seem to be friendly with a Japanese naval officer, who takes them sailing, and talks about the war. The artist does not appear to have had much access to reference materials (which would probably have been published in Japan, so no wonder!). The naval officer’s uniform looks very ostentatious, with acres of gold braid – even Togo, admiral of the fleet, had a plainer one! Also, an image of the naval battles show a Japanese paddle steamer being hit. Paddle steamers were no doubt still in use, then, but every modern naval power would have long since dispensed with them as front-line vessels.

kitakank_072 – kitakank_073

I didn’t spread out my picture taking particularly well

Interestingly, the Japanese captain’s own yacht looks like a Junk, with the slatted sails, and the anchor at the rear. I don’t think Japan ever had ships like that – they always either bought, or copied, European designs. Anyway, the comic shows various scenes of Japanese atrocities, like executing injured soldiers, dressing as “anonymous thugs” and beating people up, or brutally suppressing peasant uprisings. The children meet an old Korean man, who witnesses one of these atrocities with them, and shames them into becoming Korean patriots. They go to pray at a temple, but hear a commotion behind them, after leaving. They go back, and find all the monks massacred. One of the victims tells them the Japanese did it, and there’s a huge fight. One of the Japanese guys is armed with a huge morning star, but the boy throws a big rock at it, and tangles the chain up.

kitakank_075 – kitakank_076

The boy and girl jump off a cliff, swim away, and intimidate somebody else, who spots them coming out of the water elsewhere. The scene then changes, apparently to several months later. Now the two are waging a successful guerrilla war against Japan, but the Japanese commanders have a description of them. They make and distribute “wanted” posters, and the story ends with two merchants in some town spotting the pair, and comparing them with the poster. Presumably it’s a to-be-continued… but I don’t have part 2!


The next comic is another small one. I can’t make much sense out of it, but it appears to be a comedy. One blog I once read, about somebody’s trip in North Korea, said that you almost never hear laughter there, and comedy acts seem to be rare to nonexistent, even though they theatre, musicals and synchronised dancing. Well, here is some North Korean comedy… or, at least, people laugh in it an awful lot. It’s called 성천량반의 망신, or “Last Cheonryang Half Disgrace”, and is yet another one from Venus Youth Publisher.


It has four chapters, or short stories… but I’ve been writing this post in bits and pieces for months now, so can’t be bothered to translate them (XD). Anyway, the chapters appear to be separate (and end with everybody laughing), but characters and locations carry over. The main character (who, I can’t help but think, looks like a Mexican bandit) appears to be some sort of wandering trader, going from place to place.


You quickly learn the Korean sound for laughing

Having only the images to go on, I can’t be sure, but there seems to be a bunch of moral instructions in the stories, like “don’t gossip” and “don’t overload pack animals”. But they don’t seem to be dwelled upon.


Towards the end, some other character shows up, but he has a bigger nose and more-slanted eyes. Three guesses as to his nationality. Anyway, he’s really arrogant, and eats loads of food… so they, erm, give him loads more, until he feels ill. Then laugh.


I believe an old Vice article about a North Korean-sponsored theme park, in China, said it was “what only a nation of prisoners could confuse with fun”.


Well, that’s the comedy over with. Time for more high adventure! This is yet another historical, called 명장의 장검 (myeongjang-ui jang-geom), or “Sword of the Masters”. Well, actually, Google translate called it “Sword of Scenes”, but 명장의, when on it’s own, becomes “The Masters”, and that seems like a far more likely title. Once again, it’s from Venus Youth Publisher, the blue box at the top of the cover says 조선력사인물이야기 그림책, which translates to “Korean history tale figures picture”. Perhaps about a real-life historical person? Unfortunately, I can’t see any obvious dates in the text, so I can’t go wiki-ing.


The boy, the girl, the other boy (a smuggler?), the wise old man, and the evil king.

The book opens with the usual contents page, this time with pictures giving the names of the cast. The story opens with the boy and girl practicing with swords, under the guidance of a bearded master. They leave, but spot some sneaking figures, who turn out to be ninjas! In the following fight, somebody stabs the girl in the back. The boy vows revenge, but he doesn’t know the evil “king” (I think, anyway, same facial hair!) was the one who stabbed her.


Anyway, the king/lord/whatever guy goes back to the palace, while the boy bothers the trainer (presumably for more training, so he can carry on fighting the Japanese). The trainer goes for a walk, and catches the king unloading treasure from a boat, with somebody else. Bribes from the Japanese, maybe? After some more mucking about, the trainer is injured at his day job (in a quarry), and laid up.


The lord’s palace

While he is in bed, his wife hears something, so he goes out and confronts two ninjas, stealing from the village treasure house. He fights them, but also gets stabbed in the back. The boy comes along, and the dying trainer gives him some advice. The boy then apparently moves away to hide, but keeps training, to become a great warrior. Also, one day, he meets a woman and saves her from a tiger.


Is there nothing Tae Kwon Do can’t solve?

The boy lives in some tiny village / farm, with an old lady, and some other guys, who seem to be archers. He’s later walking in the forest when he’s forced to fight another tiger. Some old hermit spots him, and takes him in, giving him even more training in the art of war.


Which apparently involves massacring most of Korea’s wildlife

The boy later becomes a knight. He’s at a jousting contest one day, and impresses the “queen” who has organised it. The woman he saved before is the princess of this kingdom, and he later marries her. The other evil king is apparently oppressing his people, or else has risen against the overall rulers of Korea. The boy is now a prince, and a commander of the army sent to fight him. Some of their soldiers bathe in a deep lake, but all tread water, so it looks shallow. The enemy soldiers charge them, fall into the deep water, and get stuck. Then the rest of the prince’s army sweeps down from the nearby hills, and an epic battle scene ensues.


This was North Korean culture’s Helm’s Deep.

 Anyway, after the villain is vanquished, the hero (who now looks very similar to his old trainer), is celebrated, and no doubt lived happily ever after.


Onto the shiny-covered new series now. The previous one was from 2006, but this one is a jump ahead, to 2010. It’s also the first of the ones with a Tokyo address in the copyright section.


Clinical computer colouring

The title is 성기, which apparently means “Genitalia”, though Google Translate also suggests “Consecrated Vessel” or “Wedding Day”. It also asks if I meant to say something else, with a very obscene translation! Anyway, none of the suggested translations seems to really correspond to what happens inside, so lets just carry on.


It begins with a messy photoshop, and an introduction which suggests it takes place in 108-109 BC. The Roman Empire was still a big power in Europe then! Though, in the east, China was in control, and Europe was all but irrelevant. Anyway, it seems to be another boy-and-girl-in-a-war story, though with fewer notable incidents I can really pick out. The first part, going purely on the pictures, is just a bunch of talking and battles. Without being able to read the text, it’s hard to tell which character is which!


Anyway, eventually some rhyme-and-reason emerges out of it. A bunch of soldiers are fighting bandits / another army in a forest, when they are saved by a hail of arrows fired by a load of “ninjas” (though they’re probably meant to be Korean; Japan-Korea rivalry was nonexistent in that remote era, and even North Korean propaganda can’t pretend it was!). The leader of the ninjas is a woman, and the main guy falls in love with her. There appears to be some recap, where she almost commits suicide, but he talks her out of it.


After that, there’s something about rebels laying siege to a castle, and political intrigue on the inside ending with the assassination of the king. This may be a flashback to explain why the girl is an exiled outlaw. Or it might be that her and the guy are in a rebel movement against the current king. Also, another woman gets killed in a battle, and apparently has a baby.


The siege

Anyway, the rebels apparently capture the castle, but the leaders of the government flee, and are defeated in a bunch of smaller battles. The queen, or princess, gets an arrow in the eye, but still tries to take on her spear-armed attackers with a knife. Another guy finds her body, and rallies the remaining soldiers in a last battle against the rebels. The rebels win, and the girl holds up her baby (or, maybe the baby of the other woman, who was killed earlier) to the sun, no doubt to symbolise the world of peace and hope he can grow up in.


Before the final battles. Note the Chinese character in the background.


Last one! This one is from 2012, and looks a little less “wannabe Japanese” than the previous one. The characters do all have big, shining eyes, though. Some of the background scenery – rocks, trees, grass etc, is very well drawn. It’s called 봉선화 (Bongseonhwa), which apparently means “Touch-me-not”. That name does kinda make sense, when you look at the story!



Anyway, the actual story is a bit Snow White-ish, only with some differences. The main character is this girl, who is being treated as a slave by some people. Maybe her parents, or maybe she’s adopted. Anyway, they keep punishing her for not working hard enough. She goes to a secluded place near a waterfall, and dreams about comforting a crying angel. Then wakes up, and finds a shining comb in the lake. She takes it to various people nearby, but it doesn’t belong to any of them.


Meanwhile, her-slave driving owners continue to beat her…


“And there’s no such thing as magic!”

She goes back to the cove, and meets the angel from her dreams. The comb belongs to the angel, but she tells her about her harsh life, and the angel lets her keep it. She combs her hair with it, and becomes beautiful. She goes about her work with a smile, which makes her mistress suspicious. Somehow she works out the girl has something valuable, and steals the comb while she sleeps – replacing it with a different one.

The next day, the woman accuses her of theft, using the other comb as “evidence”, she’s badly beaten, right in front of everybody, and left crying against some big pots. The woman then tries to use the golden comb, but it makes her more ugly, instead.


Later on, some guy is leading the girl away with a rope (to stand trial for theft, somewhere?). She decides to commit suicide instead, so breaks free, and jumps off a cliff. Another guy rescues her, but she dies from her injuries shortly afterwards. I also think her real mother finally discovers her, just as she’s dying.


Anyway, the people who saw her die make a big burial mound, and plant a flower in it, which grows tall and blooms. Then later an old man is telling some children the story, next to the flower. The book ends with a “moral of the story” summing-up page.



And that brings us to the end of my North Korean comic collection. This entry took ages to do, I’d better bung out some shorter ones, just to keep the blog going! As the Korea Book Centre has closed down, I don’t know if I’ll ever get any more, but I’ll have a scout around when I’m next around Hakusan, or Tokyo in general. Chongryon people are bound to have sold their books to second-hand shops at some point, right? (I did, also, ask the guy from whose blog I learned about the Korea Book Centre if he’d “rescued” any comics, when it closed down. But never got a reply. Annoyingly, it closed down on the day I was supposed to arrive in Japan, but my flight was delayed, so I was actually in Rome that day. Not that I went there on my first day!)

The new Doctor Who Adventures

Doctor Who Adventures (and it’s incredibly short-lived stablemate, Robin Hood Adventures) summed up everything that was wrong with modern British comics – characters imported from another medium, pages of filler pictures, terrible jokes and insultingly easy “puzzles”. Let’s not even mention the astronomical price, inflated by a bunch of cheaply-made toys stuck on the front. You’ll also notice I’ve left any mention of the comic strips until last – well that’s exactly how they were treated! A bit of penny-pinching filler, only shoved in so the publication can be branded a “comic”. They were no more than four pages, often just an extended joke, and ended with some terrible pun. Mind you, I once saw a website which listed every non-fanfic Doctor Who story, and apparently they did experiment with two-parters during the Ten/Rose era, but I never saw any of those.


But NOOOWWW… There’s a new one! It’s been taken over by Panini, who also handle the reprinting of the Doctor Who Magazine comic strips. They also produce the UK editions of Marvel comics, which collect three American issues, about 3-4 months late, but for the price of 1.25 imported US comics. The new Doctor Who adventures is a big improvement in the most important area, it now has 9 pages of comic strip! Okay, they’re still a fairly fluffy story with a joke ending, but it’s a step in the right direction. At last, the UK has another ‘proper’ adventure comic which comes out every wee-er, wait a minute…


Oh, okay then.

Oh, alright, they’ve gone and made it monthly. Still, comics. It also still comes in a bag, with a load of miscellaneous bits and pieces. This time round it’s a bunch of stickers, and what appears to be a notebook, with a 3D Cyberman on the front, plus some glasses. Surprisingly, they’re solid plastic ones, not the cardboard ones they used to give out when we had 3D nights on the telly (doubt there will be any more of those, though. Too many channels, not to mention that “wobbling” 3D thing).


The issue opens with the depressingly-inevitable contents page. There ought to be a law against anything with fewer than 50 pages being allowed one. There’s also an introduction from the Doctor – promisingly, he actually uses words like “Disquiet”! I once read a blog, where some guy said he fed passages from The Magnet and The Gem into an “analyse your reading level” website, and it came back as “Master’s Degree”. Surely the twenties and thirties were not that long ago? Still, looks like his rantings were not entirely in vain!


There’s also the first of a few puzzle pages, in the form of a message from UNIT. One of the puzzles is a “find the Cybermats” trail around the rest of the comic, as well as a series of “secret codes”, left by invasion-planning aliens.


Somebody’s just discovered the Wingdings font!

Then, we’re on to the comic! It’s split into two parts (both in the same issue), and is set in modern-day India. It’s a more “serious” story than other DWA (or “Official Annual”, which I presume to be in a similar style. The 50th anniversary annual was pathetic – it should have been the size of a 30’s Chums volume, and had at least one novel-length text story) strips I have seen. The ending is still a bit coppey-outey, though. But I’ll carry on getting this for a few months, and see what else they do. Go on, do a proper serial, you know you want to!


Oh, also, it features the current Doctor and Clara, as you’d expect. No flashbacks here! Clara also appears to have grown giant eyes XD. No doubt somebody’s describing it as “manga style”, as we speak.


Yeah, look at those giant eyes.

The bulk of the issue is still filled with features and puzzles. Back in the day, Doctor Who Weekly (which is now Doctor Who Magazine) had features, too. But they were mainly intelligent text pieces about how the show is made – make-up techniques, how special effects are done, and so on. The DWA material is considerably more lightweight (though, come to think of it, if it gets more in-depth, behind the scenes, text-heavy articles, after having gone monthly, it will basically just be DWM 2!). There’s one section about the show’s current main characters, with mini-profiles.


And also, a UNIT guide to monsters. This particular one’s home planet is so unknown, they had to tell us twice! It also has “advanced high tech” weapons – don’t miss anything, them UNIT guys! (Never mind, eh, it’s only for kids, after all. They probably won’t even notice, right?).


Wait a minute – who is that, at the head of the school governors?


There’s also a science page – with the old batteries-from-nails-and-lemons experiment. Nails, you say? But they’re sharp! And it asks the readers to cut the lemons! With a knife! There’s not even a “get an adult to help you!” warning, taking up a full quarter of one of the pages! That’s a big risk to take, in 2015. Shame we don’t have the judiciary the public clearly want, who will throw money-grabbing no-win, no-fee claimants out on their ears, eh?


Where are you expected to get wire and an LED these days, though? The days of Tandy, and repairing electrical appliances rather than just buying a new one, are long gone!

There’s more puzzles, too. As well as more Zygon codes, there’s this one, harking back to the days of old DWM. Von Doogan it aint!


Slightly better is this map reference hunt. In the old days, the black and white map would have had a colour picture of the TARDIS stuck on it, rendering the directions-following “puzzle” totally pointless. (A bit like “Where’s Dennis?” in the Beano a few years back. his vector face was photoshopped on to an old bitmap scan, and clearly stood out).


After that, there’s something very unexpected, and very cool – a text story!! Sadly, it stars that Victorian trio who keep popping up on telly, but you can’t have everything. It’s three pages, but has very large illustrations, so is really more like one page. The illustration across the second two pages looks cool, but I can’t take a photo of that, it’d give away most of the story!


There’s not much more to tell. There’s a “Who News” section, where the Doctor put in an appearance at the Doctor Who Experience in Cardiff, while three school parties just happened to be there (why, it’s almost as if they planned it that way). This page also promises a letters section, to begin in the next issue. Sadly, I expect it will be a two-page letters section, in a very large font, and the text stories will be obliterated. But I may be wrong – the next issue is actually out by now, so I could just go and check XD.


The content is rounded out by a poster, which can be unstapled from the middle. It’s of the 12th Doctor and “Missy”, the Master “shockingly” regenerated into female form, which ceased to become shocking and became totally ordinary in the very next episode – no doubt to “soften the blow” for the upcoming female Doctor.


Never mind eh? Sci-fi fans need no longer be the shows audience. In fact, the identity of “sci-fi fan” is dead.

This new comic now sits alongside a totally different, monthly Doctor Who comic which is also seperate from the “canonical” strips in Doctor Who Magazine. This one is published by Titan, who produce the UK editions of DC Comics such as Batman and Superman, as well as UK editions of IDW comics such as Star Wars (which I was buying for a short time, a few years ago). Titan’s comic is the UK edition of the American IDW Doctor Who strips and, as usual, is 3 issues worth (several months late) for £3.99. The individual US comics, bought in the UK, are about £2.99, so the new Titan version is better value… if you wait! Oh, also the pages are bigger.


Also, it’s got the world’s most obvious name

This one has three US-length strips. One for each of the most recent Doctors (though a Ninth Doctor series is starting, across the pond!). The Twelfth Doctor is once again in India, this time in the 1830’s and 2310’s. There’s also hints at an (unseen?) Fourth Doctor adventure in the same country!

dwac_19 – dwac_20

I wonder how a scene of Britain in 2314 with an all-white family and two white cops would go down?

The Eleventh Doctor is in Britain, taking his new assistant to her favourite singer’s first-ever gig, only to find him a bit, well, disappointing. Then there’s a trip to 1930’s America, and Bessie gets a bit of an upgrade. Some alien has been “stealing people’s souls” in return for stage presence XD.

dwac_21 – dwac_22

The Tenth Doctor is in New York / an alien world full of invisible creatures who feed on positive or negative emotions. It’s getting near to some Hispanic version of Halloween, and everybody’s starting to feel depressed, as the negative emotion aliens are becoming more dominant… or something. I’ve not actually read this one yet. Better get to it! (also, I snapped two random pages, may be spoilers!)

dwac_23 – dwac_24

There’s also an additional photo-strip, made with toys. In which the Doctor jokes about a Cyberman made of wood, and thereby “triggers” an artist. Todays Doctor Who fans won’t like that!


Of the two, I greatly prefer Doctor Who Comic, it’s all comic! But Doctor Who Adventures is better for really young readers. It’s not as dumbed-down as it used to be, so will help them to “read up” to the level of the Titan comic more quickly.

The Boys’ Friend – March 20th, 1915

It’s time for another 100-year-old comic! This time it’s an issue of my favourite, The Boys’ Friend.


Cover dated March 20th 1915, so that’s probably the day it went off-sale, actually!

This is possibly a significant issue, but now I’m not so sure. It features a story of Rookwood school, the other, other, school series that was primarily written by Charles Hamilton (aka Frank Richards, of Billy Bunter fame). Apparently Rookwood stories began a mere 4 issues earlier, in no.715. The beginning of the Rookwood stories apparently heralded “four consecutive double numbers”. However, this issue appears to be the first of four consecutive double numbers, rather than the last of them. Is this really the first Rookwood issue, or did the stories begin in a less-ostentatious manner, in an ordinary “single number”?


The adverts and “contents” page. Maybe the Beano having one isn’t so bad after all – not if my favourite comic also did it!

Anyway, this issue is interesting, because usually the double numbers were sold for double the price – at this time, 2d. But they have kept the price of this one (and, apparently the following three double numbers) down to 1d! As good as sign as any that the Boys’ Friend must have been selling incredibly well, and making a huge profit. Not something that is likely to ever be repeated in this country, sadly.

It also came with a “free gift” a coloured war picture. But, unfortunately, this is missing. There’s reproductions of the first three pictures on the inside back cover, though:


 A scheme that would be repeated after the war, too!

This was also before paper shortages forced the Boys’ Friend to shrink. In 1916 it would drop from 16 pages (ordinarily!) to 12, and later still a mere 8! It wouldn’t get back to 16 pages until 1922.

Anyway, as I said, the first story is about Rookwood School. written in the usual breezy, fun Hamilton style. Rookwood is divided into two large “houses”, Ancient and Modern. They seem to almost be two separate schools, complete with their own masters. The masters of the Ancient house all come down with the flu, leaving the boys to play football all day, and to crow over the Modern house, who still have to work!


Naturally, the headmaster isn’t having that, and sends prefects from the Modern house to watch over the Classical boys, who have to do acres of ‘prep’. Inevitably, there’s a rebellion! Presumably the story of the rebellion continues over the four double numbers (I’ve not actually read any of the stories, yet!). Though an early attempt to make a diplomatic protest ends the way you’d expect!


After that, we come to the editor’s page. The editor’s page in the Boys’ Friend (and, of course, The Boys’ Friend itself!) was at it’s best in the 1900’s – and one of the best editor’s pages there’s ever been in a British comic. Along with those in the two near-identical sister papers, The Boys’ Herald and The Boys’ Realm, that is! It was still pretty good in 1915, but was, sadly, already starting to show signs that it was being dumbed down slightly. Here’s one from 1906, alongside the one from this issue:


Fatherly, yet friendly, advice, and interesting information.

By the end of the war, it had been reduced to little more than a box, describing the next set of stories. Mind you, when the Boys’ Friend had been reduced to only 8 pages, I don’t suppose they could afford to give the editor a whole one to himself – the readers wanted stories, after all!


The very week the war ended, in fact.

As the page number began to increase again, after the war, the editor’s box started to fill out, again. However, the tone had subtly changed. There would often be jolly “pen pictures” of places and jobs, rather than advice on getting jobs, or visiting nice places for yourself. There would also be crosstalk-type jokes, and funny “catches” to try out on your little brother.


The second issue after the return to twelve pages

By August, 1919, the editor could occupy a whole page again. There’s plenty of references back to the late war, and the vast changes happening in the world – particularly in the Ottoman and Austro-Hungarian empires, which were being speedily dismantled into a collection of not-always-satisfied independent states.


The editor’s section began to shrink again, sometime in the 1920’s. The Boys’ Friend was already in decline then, anyway. The coloured covers of Union Jack, and Scottish rivals like Adventure, were making swift inroads into the sales of big, black and white, old-style tabloid papers. Here’s an editor’s section from late 1927, one of the very last issues.


To return to 1915, though… The next story is part 1 of a new serial. In fact, every serial in this issue, begins in this issue! I suppose a coloured-cover double number for a penny was too good a chance to pass up, and they wanted the issue to become a “jumping-on” point. Probably the first “jumping-on” point they’d had since issue 1, back in 1895! (they were re-numbered when it became a penny paper, in 1901, but serials may have continued over the “join”. They did in Union Jack!)


Anyway, there was a war on so, inevitably, there has to be an army story! This one begins with a young man having to take care of his sick sister. Both of their parents are dead, and his lowly office job is very poorly paid. On the way to work, a newly-formed battalion of soldiers marches past, an old man asking why he isn’t with them. Later, he is forced to swallow his pride and ask his uncle for help, but just as he gets there, he discovers somebody has murdered him! Now he is the prime suspect, and has to enlist under a false name to escape – all the while wondering how he’ll be able to go on sending his sister money.

The next story is a rare (for the Boys’ Friend) sci-fi / fantasy / paranormal adventure story. Usually Boys’ Friend stories stayed strictly within the realms of “possibility” (wildlife native to South America infesting African jungles notwithstanding), often featuring vaguely informative stories set in famous historical events, “accurately” (by colonial standards) described far-off lands, or various workplaces. This is another new serial, called The Hidden World.


It starts off with two boys having a fight. Then there’s a huge earthquake, and their entire village vanishes down a sinkhole. The sister of one boy survives unharmed, and he clambers down into a vast cave network, to look for other survivors. Also, dinosaurs live in the caves!


It’s all a bit DC Thomson. Though later on, in the 1930’s, Captain Justice would be doing this sort of thing constantly, in the pages of Modern Boy.

The next story is the first of the long completes, which weigh in at around 10-15,000 words and were in most, if not all, issues of The Boys’ Friend. I love reading through them in my big bound volumes. They’re hit and miss, but often hits – though character development is, by necessity, a bit short (and was far from a priority, anyway, in the boys’ stories of this era). They can usually do whatever the story happens to require of them XD. Double numbers often included two of these, this one no exception. At Christmas, I always settle down with one of the snow-covered ones from the end of December, over a hundred years ago!


Anyway, this one is called A Fighting Chance, and is about a “nut” (a posh toff who throws his money around), who has got in over his head with a bookmaker. He sets out to rob his own father, and blame the office-boy. The boy is sacked, and takes to boxing to earn some money.


Following that, another story paper stock-in-trade, the detective story! The detective in this one is called Harvey Keene, and he’s up against a gang called The Circle of 13. Perhaps taking one down in each installment of the story? No doubt Harvey Keene himself is a Sexton Blake-alike, with a cockney “Street Arab” assistant. I wonder if he was in any other stories?

The next story is the second complete one, called The Slacker’s Triumph!. It’s only a coincidence that this one is also about sport – this time a young boy, who loafs about and smokes, is persuaded to take up football by his older brother, who is just about to go out to the trenches, and may never return.


As most of the fit young men have already gone to France, this village team of boys who are just too young feel like they’re in with a chance of winning something!

Though I prefer the previous decade, it was the arrival of Charles Hamilton (in a regular slot, anyway. He’d probably written many stories for the paper before!) that put The Boys’ Friend “on the map”, for later story paper collectors. Anything the Bunter man touches turns to gold! The idea of having four double numbers, for “single prices”, all one after the other, must have terrified what little competition AP had, too. Something that helped brighten up the war years, anyway!

And, while I’m here, this page is a useful overview of what happened to the B.F., and when: