British comics herald the start of World War 1

ye_14-15-01

And, as usual with my ‘projects’, I’m starting to write this post the day after the anniversary. But then again, the British Expeditionary Force did have to get to France, then march across half the country, before they even saw a German.

Anyway, while I say “British comicS”, I really only have one thing from the true start of the war (I did have some Dreadnoughts and Boys’ Journals from that time, which I sold ((making all of 7p profit, after postage -_-)), but they didn’t mention it), which is the 1914-15 volume of Young England.

ye_14-15-03

The volume seems to have started around September or October, so was probably well along the line of preparation when war broke out. It opens with this introduction, stating that “very different fare” had been prepared:

ye_14-15-04

The serial stories in this volume – probably fully written in advance, rather than in separate parts, as they were in “downmarket” papers – don’t mention the war at all. Though the main one is also set in 1911, and is about a quest across China to retrieve the “true emperor” from a mountain hideaway. Only to find that the Chinese have risen against the monarchy and established a republic in the meantime!

ye_14-15-05

The other main serial story is a school story, presumably set when it is published. Though it too doesn’t mention the war at all.

ye_14-15-06

Though the title could suggest mysterious spy capers

The third one, rather shorter, and appearing at the end of the volume, is quite warlike… but set several hundred years previously! Perhaps this one was at least partly written after war was declared, and is an attempt to conjure up the “spirit of old England”?

ye_14-15-07

Stay, thy Norman churls!

The short stories in the early part of the volume don’t mention the war either. Later ones do – but not all of them! Several seem to have a Canadian Backwoods theme. Perhaps, before the war broke out, there was a push to expand the colonies in Canada.

ye_14-15-08 - ye_14-15-09

Before long, the war-related fiction appears, such as this story called The Yellow Streak, which starts off in a school before moving to the Western Front.

ye_14-15-10

There’s also a number of factual accounts of heroic deeds, often with a big illustration. Some of these are “independent”, whilst others are part of a regular series. I suppose they were written-up and crammed in as quickly as they came into the office. Several are about the war in the air – this new arena of battle fascinated the public of the day, especially boys! One article is about the first Zeppelin to be destroyed in an air-to-air fight. Though we now see them as rickety flying bombs (the planes of the era were proabably more dangerous!), early in the war Zeppelins seemed invincible – they could fly much higher than any plane could, and ordinary bullets would pass straight through them. “Archie” was still in nappies, too. It wasn’t until incendiary “tracer” bullets were invented that they could be reliably bought down by gunfire.

ye_14-15-11ye_14-15-12ye_14-15-28

ye_14-15-13ye_14-15-14

Right from the word go, the articles are almost all about the war. Except for some of the early Scout and Boys’ Life Brigade (seemingly an even more militaristic “scouts” – are they an ancestor of today’s cadets) ones, which were ‘regulars’ and so written as they went along. Later ones explain why the war hadn’t yet been mentioned.

ye_14-15-18

It’s interesting to see how the BLB and Scouts helped out with the war effort – taking messages, acting as lookouts, training in first-aid, and so on. If the “balloon went up” and a major war started today, would the Cadet and Scout leaders dare to use thier boys for war work (at least until the nukes started falling, anyway)? Or would they be facing the wrath of furious parents, who put thier “fammleh” above the greater calling of service to one’s country?

ye_14-15-19

Several of the early war-related articles were rushed in to replace other material. Treating thier readers as intelligent beings, rather than money-laying chickens, the editors of Young England admit that these are reprints:

ye_14-15-15

While a few other articles were nothing to do with the war, but became important – for instance, this one about the Suez Canal. In peacetime, it was just an interesting feat of engineering, but in wartime it became a place of vital strategic importance – especially with Britain’s colonies in the east (and her alliance with Japan). A new introduction has been added, mentioning that the Turks are making a move on the canal.

ye_14-15-16ye_14-15-17

Apart from that, there’s plenty more up-to-date articles written about the war, they really dominate the volume – featuring all sorts of stuff about uniforms, aircraft, songs and slang of the time.

ye_14-15-23ye_14-15-24ye_14-15-25

ye_14-15-26

Inevitably people die in wars, and this means obituaries. Though one of the biggest is actually dedicated to a military commander who died of old age, having led British (and Indian!) troops in former times. Even before the war broke out, military commanders were regarded as celebrities – they, and thier campaigns, being household names in the same way actors and pop stars are today. How much do we hear about the leaders of our forces in Iraq and Afghanistan?

ye_14-15-27

Another feature of the more upmarket story papers was poetry (though editors of the likes of The Marvel and The Boys’ Friend threatened to throw poets down the the stairs!). The poems follow the themes of the complete stories, starting off “normal”, but getting more and more warlike:

ye_14-15-20ye_14-15-21ye_14-15-22

Some nice illustrations, too.

As the war dragged on, and got more and more bitter, propaganda pieces started to appear, often illustrated. In this volume, they concentrate on the use of submarines by the Germans. Interestingly, it doesn’t seem that the use of gas by the Germans is mentioned – you’d have thought that would be an atrocity worth commenting on (though, before very much longer, everybody was at it).

ye_14-15-31ye_14-15-30

There’s quite a few sea illustrations, actually. Though the much-vaunted Dreadnoughts of the early part of the 20th century didn’t really score the smashing victories either side was hoping for (though the blockade of Germany was a ‘victory’, it lasted years and involved very little gunfire!).

ye_14-15-29

I’ll be lookig more at WW1 publications (what I have, anyway!) as the 100th anniversaries come up. Not all of them will be in English, though! I’ve already reviewed a Japanese story paper called Hiko Shonen here:

http://thingsjapanese.crystal-knights.co.uk/2014/08/08/hiko-shonen-may-1917/

I also have the Christmas 1914 issue of Union Jack, which is worth another look. Unfortunately, I don’t have any German story papers from that era… time for a holiday? I bet they make very interesting reading!

The only British thing in the Kyoto International Manga Museum

gugnunc00

Which is very difficult to take a decent picture of

What do you suppose is the one, single mention of British comics in the Kyoto International Manga Museum? (well, to be fair, American-published British works like V for Vendetta and Watchmen are almost directly in front of you once you go through the ticket barrier). It must be one of the more famous ones, like The Dandy or The Beano, right? Nope! Well then, what about famous “modern” adventure comics like Action, or Battle Picture Weekly? No, it’s not them either… How about the well-known Eagle? Not even hinted at! And neither is Roy of the Rovers, the longest-running title devoted to our national game.

What else could there be? How about Newspaper strips? Now we’re on the right track… Modesty Blaise, perhaps? Nope! Garth? Nope! Not even Andy Capp… and even Homer Simpson reads Andy Capp! In fact, the only British comic to be mentioned in the Kyoto International Manga Museum is… THIS!

gugnunc01

Well okay, that’s actually the annual based on the newspaper strip.

Pip, Squeak and Wilfred, as the main strip was known (in the 20′s, there was a separate Wilfred annual for younger readers) first appeared in the Daily Mirror in 1919, initially drawn by an artist called Austin Bowen Payne. The writer was Bertrand Lamb, or “Uncle Dick”, as he called himself in editorial segments. A.B. Payne left the strip sometime in 1939, and from then on it was drawn by uncredited artists. The strip finally ended in 1956, having run in the Mirror (presumably) daily, and also having produced two series of annuals – one pre-war, and one post-war. The first Pip & Squeak and Wilfred annuals appeared in 1922, cover-dated 1923, and it’s the first of these that I’ll be looking at to start with.

gugnunc02 - gugnunc08

As the annuals are aimed at younger readers (apparently the Wilfred annual was aimed at younger readers still, it was probably designed for parents to read to their children, whereas this one is for the children to read themselves), they have a lot of colour. Though this is 1922, so the full colour pages are limited to a few plates, but many of the others have red spot colour, or blue ink.

gugnunc03

The book begins with a rather long introduction, in which Uncle Dick reminds readers that blackcurrant jam is not good for annuals, and that puppies are likely to think there’s a mouse hiding inside it. He also introduces the characters, and their origins, Pip was apparently a stray dog, Squeak was born on an arctic island near South Africa, and later came to London. Wilfred was found in a field, having wandered away from his burrow. Other characters included Angeline, who is Uncle Dick’s maid, and who looks after the animals, and Bendy, who is a half-fairy girl.

After the introduction, we go on to the first comic strip, which is in the “big caption” style of the time. As well as speech balloons, a written story underneath explains what is happening, though usually just repeats what you can already see!

gugnunc04

They also meet Santa, who apparently has loads of toys stuck to the outside of his house

There’s also several text stories, though they’re still quite simple compared to those in “typical” annuals of the period (and the later ‘mixed age’ annuals like Feathers). There’s no battles against “savages” in this tale of shipwreck, the only real danger the characters (some boys and girls, not Pip, Squeak and Wilfred) face is their dog getting stuck in a hole. They also stumble upon an incredibly convenient Frigate Bird (apparently the South Sea Islands’ version of a Carrier Pigeon) which they use to send for help.

gugnunc05

No “savages”, but the unfortunate racial attitudes of the time are still in evidence.

Then there’s this “story without words”, featuring Wilfred. Though you will quickly notice that it does have words! What’s going on there? Well the sounds like “Boo Hoo!”, “Nunc!” and “Gug!” that Wilfred made formed his entire vocabulary until the postwar period. “Nunc” was apparently his pronunciation of “Uncle”, which is what he considered Pip to be. “Gug” and “Nunc” later took on another meaning, but I’ll come to that further down!

gugnunc06

There’s also a few puzzle and hobby pages. Apparently some later “Uncle Dick Annuals” had lots of puzzle pages you could solve, cut out and send in for prizes, though the ones in this annual (and almost every other in British comics history!) are just for fun.

gugnunc07 - gugnunc09

Finally, there’s some poems, with wonderful illustrations, and nice calligraphy on the writing, too. It may even have been drawn onto the original artwork, rather than printed later.

gugnunc10

Of course, the main Pip, Squeak and Wilfred strip was appearing in the Daily Mirror. From 1921 to 1924 it was given it’s own Saturday supplement, initially of four pages (though I should think the other three pages contained the Mirror’s other strips!), but this was later reduced to three pages, then two. In the 50′s, the Mirror had spread it’s comic strips across almost every page of the paper, though more recently they have all been crammed together, next to the horoscopes.

The strip had a tremendous cultural impact during the interwar period, more than any British made comic strip could hope for today. It even became the nickname for the three medals the “old contemptibles” and Kitchener’s volunteers received for surviving the whole First World War. In addition, three RAF training aircraft of the interwar period were named Pip, Squeak and Wilfred, as were some armoured cars in service in Iraq. Handley-Page also named their HP39 aircraft “Gugnunc” in Wilfred’s honour, and a small operation to mine the Norwegian coast in 1940 was codenamed “Operation Wilfred”.

gugnunc11

Also showing how Pip, Squeak and Wilfred occupied a whole page of the paper in 1928!

More importantly, and recorded on a double-page spread in the Gravett & Stanbury Great British Comics book, was the establishment of a huge fanclub called the Wilfredian League of Gugnuncs, or W.L.O.G. This was organised into “Burrows” and “Warrens”, and at one pointed counted thousands of members throughout the Empire and wider world. The W.L.O.G. had special badges, and a number of rules encouraging “Gugnuncliness”. These included being kind to animals, protecting younger children, and never eating rabbit! There was even a blue-and-gold enamel badge for club members to wear.

gugnunc13

Swiped from an Ebay auction (I later bought it XD)

The W.L.O.G. reached it’s height on the 14th of April 1928, when eight thousand members of the club flocked to the Albert Hall for a mass celebration, an “appearance” by the characters and even a live performance of the club’s song, The Gugnunc Chortle, on BBC Radio. This can also be found in the book, and goes:

Gug! Gug! Nunc! Nunc!
Gugnuncs Merry are we!
We sing this song, for we all belong
To the W.L.O.G.

Stand By – Friends all-
Members merry and free!
For hand-in-hand goes the gugly band
Of the W.L.O.G.

Nunc! Nunc! Wilf! Wilf!
To Wilf we bend the knee,
To Wilf we sing, to the gugly king
Of the W.L.O.G.

Gug! Gug! Nunc! Nunc!
To Friends of all degree!
Give gugly hugs to the nuncly gugs
of the W.L.O.G.

Apparently this was recorded and sold on a gramophone record, as were other Gugnunc songs, though they are extremely rare today… so somebody decided to re-record one from sheet music!

https://soundcloud.com/stanley-bad/the-gugnunc-song

gugnunc12

In addition to those records, and the annuals, a few other books appeared (including a compilation of the first newspaper strips, published in 1921) as well as jigsaw puzzles, games, toys etc. At the height of the strip’s fame, a huge model of Pip, Squeak and Wilfred’s house, Mirror Grange, went on tour around the country, and featured walls that could be opened, to reveal the rooms inside. I found an old Independent article which seems to indicate the model was still in existence in 1995, though there doesn’t appear to be any more recent information on it, nor Google Images pictures (though apparently it had a book to itself in the twenties!).

gugnunc14

Though Pip, Squeak and Wilfred once had a huge cultural influence (apparently dwindling in the post-war period, with Wilfred now speaking properly, and a young penguin called Stanley, previously only occasionally seen, becoming a full-time member of the cast), they’re largely forgotten today. Except among British humour comic fans, and antique toy / militaria collectors, anyway.

So why are they featured in the Kyoto International Manga Museum? Well they only appear as part of a display in what might be called the “centre” of the museum, which focuses on the evolution of manga. The middle of the room has examples of how it developed, along with examples of the influences of western-style humour magazines (a reproduced cover of Japan Punch, inspired by Britain’s Punch, is shown), while the outer shelves have year-by-year shelves going from 1947 onwards, with books you can take down and read (all in Japanese, of course… and the older ones are more modern reprints, not actual 1947 volumes!). It is in this room that Pip, Squeak and Wilfred appear, alongside a similar Japanese “funny animal” newspaper strip, showing how the comics of all nations have influenced one another down the years (though die-hard manga fans in the west will insist it’s “unique” and “different” and somehow sprang into fully-formed existence at some point in 1947).

The other area that contains foreign comics is the lobby, which has a quite disjointed collection of “manga from around the world”. The USA being a load of Marvel / DC (and the odd “indie”) graphic novels, France being Tintin, Asterix etc albums (if I remember rightly, in a rather random assortment of languages, though mostly Japanese). Oddly the sections for other Asian countries just feature their own versions of Japanese comics, translated into Chinese, Thai, Vietnamese etc. Further along there’s a separate “English Manga” section, with the American-translated volumes we get in the UK. There’s no section for British comics at all.

Or at least there wasn’t in late summer 2012! I suggested a long list of titles they could collect and feature on one of the feedback forms (though should probably have added ‘or if you can’t be bothered to collect and bind all them, at least fill a shelf with Titan and DFC Library books). I’m going back to Kyoto next month, so I’ll see if the situation has improved…

Peeps at foreign comics 4: Frisette

Hands up who thought these were all going to be Japanese, then? *puts hand up*

fris_01

Frisette was a French story paper published in 1925 by J. Ferenczi et Fils. This was a company run by Joseph Ferenczi, who came to France from Hungary and published a lot of adventure, sci-fi and detective stories between the wars and into the 1950′s… at least according to an auto-translation from the French Wikipedia, anyway!

fris_03

A typical issue – not sympathetically trimmed!

Frisette, and perhaps his other publications, is in a series of ‘penny part’ style publications, which dominated British comics for much of the 19th century – primarily as horror-and-crime focused Penny Dreadfuls. These “penny” (or 30 centime) parts have an illustrated cover, and text inside. But unlike Story Papers, they only serialise one story, with no other articles, stories or adverts. This style of publication had probably long since vanished from British shops by the mid-twenties. I own Frisette as a book, containing all of the penny parts – presumably some readers bound their own, but this appears to be an official binding, with an artistic cover, name on the spine, and other volumes advertised on the back (all of which look more interesting than this one).

fris_02

Inscription I can’t read, from the inside front cover.

The subtitle for the series is “Aventures d’un petit filles”, which is “Adventures for little girls”. The story is about a girl called Frisette (and possibly her friends / sisters) who are apparently at either a boarding school (Lychee, as they were called in France), or possibly at some kindly old auntie’s house. They then go on a journey around the world, visiting various places and travelling by ship and car.

fris_04

China

fris_05

Don’t know where that is

fris_06

On a ship

fris_07 - fris_08

New York

fris_09

Milan

fris_10

“La Place Du Ferrari”, somewhere else in Italy?

There’s also a section involving  adventures in mountains, and German-speaking people. A journey to Switzerland or Austria? Interestingly, each issue has it’s illustrations crammed together in this comic-like spread on the middle two pages. The rest of the pages are just text. The back cover is apparently an advert for the next issue, and information on what the story is about.

fris_11

From early in the story

There’s also plenty of poems, or songs. I don’t know if they are ones that were well-known in France at the time (like our own Vitae Lampada), or if they were written for the story. I’ve just finished a 30′s school story for girls with one character who makes up poems about every event. Some of them are quite short, whilst others occupy almost as much page space as the story itself!

fris_12 - fris_13 - fris_14

fris_15 - fris_16

Bound British story papers and penny parts, whether officially or privately bound, usually didn’t include the covers. I’m glad they were included in this volume though, they have great artwork and quality printing – by the standards of a mass-produced, working-class publication of the day, anyway. They also allow you to see the price, which was interestingly written as “0F30Cent”. It’d be like Union Jack saying it’s price is “£0,0s,2d” XD. The first issue of Frisette enticed new readers in with an “Exceptionnellement” price of 5 centimes:

fris_17

This was increased to 15 centimes for the second issue, and to 30 from the third onwards.

fris_18

Also with a look at the back cover information.

Marvel(ous) Miracle!

marmir01

One of the most famous of Britain’s home-grown superheroes is Marvelman, who has a long and pretty complicated history. He came about when National Publications (later DC Comics) threatened to sue Fawcett Publications, the owner of Captain Marvel, because he was considered to be too similar to Superman (later, DC simply bought out Fawcett instead).

Captain Marvel was an ordinary boy, who was chosen by an ancient wizard to become a mighty hero (with the powers of various Greek gods) when he said the word “Shazam!”. Much later, the Captain Marvel comic was actually named Shazam!, due to legal threats from Marvel comics.

marmir05

In the UK, Captain Marvel had been a big seller, so Len Miller and Mick Anglo created their own version, called Marvelman. Marvelman was the alter-ego of Micky Moran, who transformed when he said “Kimota”, which is Atomic backwards. Marvelman also had a slightly more “scientific” basis, as opposed to Captain Marvel’s mythical basis. The character first appeared in “issue 25″ of Marvelman, so numbered because there had been 24 issues of Captain Marvel before it. Mind you, it wasn’t unusual for the one-shot and short-run comics of the late 40′s and early 50′s to begin with high numbers, to make them look more “stable” and “regular” than they were.

The series came to an end in the 50′s, but was revived in the early 80′s in Warrior, written by Alan Moore. This carried on, but a battle over pay saw the series end abruptly 5 issues before Warrior itself ended. Then an American publisher called Eclipse Comics got hold of the character, and Neil Gaiman started to write an epic story, continuining on from the Warrior stories. But then Eclipse comics went bust before it could be finished.

After some back-and-forth legal battles, it was discovered Dez Skinn, who started Warrior, had never actually bought the rights to the character anyway, so Mick Anglo still owned them. Marvel Comics jumped in and bought the rights for themselves – so we can finally enjoy complete reprints of the stories, sold in large numbers from shops – without any worries of legal wrangles / bankruptcy causing the character to vanish again!

The first issue of the new Marvel title. which is still called Miracleman, as that’s the name American readers are more familiar with, came out in January, containing the first two parts from Warrior, three old stories, a (new?) introduction story, and some short articles and unadulterated art board scans.

marmir02

We start with the introduction story, a tale which leads into the first part of the Alan Moore version. With depressing inevitability, it’s been done in a “retro” style. The colouring is done in that ‘deliberately bad’ way, which can also be seen making Batman ’66 unreadable. What makes it even worse is the fact that, as we learn from the pages at the back of the very same issue, the original stories were not even in colour! The story is about the original Marvelman of the 50′s, who encounters time-travelling villains from the utopian future world of 1981. They invade “Cornwall” (which is full of American soldiers), and are able to fight our heroes using “magnetic gas” which is fired from “video rings”.

marmir03

After they are defeated, we jump into the Warrior story, which is set in 1982. But this time it’s the 1982 we remember (well, people who are old enough to XD), with lots of eco-warriors protesting against nuclear power stations. Now Micky Moran is a middle aged journalist, who is covering one of these protests when terrorists appear and herd everybody inside the power station’s canteen. Micky feels ill, and collapses, so they drag him out. On the way, he spots “Atomic” written on a glass door, but as he’s on the other side it reminds him of “Kimota”, the magic word from his recurring dreams about superpowers. He transforms into Marvelman, easily defeats the terrorists (they only bought AK47′s with them) and goes home. He starts to tell his wife all about his super-adventures, but she just thinks they sound stupid. Then “the big bad” turns up.

marmir04

After that, we get some short interviews and articles about the original Marvelman, and some reproductions of the very gaudy covers (with far superior colouring to the “retro”, “deliberately bad” colouring of the introduction story).

marmir06

Then we’re onto the good stuff – the 50′s stories! These short, wacky tales treat superheroes as the ridiculous concept they are, every one featuring some pantomime villains planning to steal this, or blow that up. One of the first things you’ll notice about these 50′s stories, though, is how they’re all talking about “malt shops”, “bucks” and “autos”. That’s right – THEY’RE SET IN AMERICA! The fact the “modern” version is set in Britain really highlights the spitting contempt in which our modern wannabe-yank creators and fans hold old British comics. They’d probably just guessed the old Marvelman stories were set in Britain, because those tweed-wearing, pipe-smoking chaps from the 50′s couldn’t possibly have written anything set in johnny foreigner land, eh? What good was the 50′s anyway? There was all racism, and it was illegal to be gay. There was even near-full employment, chances for promotion and ‘social mobilty’ for talented members of the working class, living wages for most workers and railway lines that went everywhere. They even built flood defences after a major storm surge, rather than just telling people they were going to be sacrificed. Thank god we live in more civilised times now, eh?

I Lived in the Desperate Days

comment

Like The Last Men Alive, this is another story set in a world after a nuclear war. However, whilst that one was set only a few weeks after the “balloon went up”. This one is set around 500 years afterwards! It was published in The Wizard in 1959. When people talk about the DC Thomson “Big Four”, they generally talk about the pre-and-during war years. But The Wizard, Adventure et al were fine, high-quality publications in the 1950′s too! After more than a decade of so-offensive-it-goes-all-the-way-around-and-becomes-funny-again racism on the covers:

desperate_days_01

The Wizard started to use the covers to promote the exciting stories within:

desperate_days_02desperate_days_03desperate_days_04

desperate_days_05desperate_days_06

Or else provide interesting facts. These were usually related (sometimes pretty vaguely – facts about 18th century sailor’s superstitions tied in with a story about modern trainee submariners, for instance!) to one of the stories inside.

desperate_days_07desperate_days_08desperate_days_09

desperate_days_10

(Will the Americans of 2059 remember to publish issue 3 of the Illuminated Quadruple Constellation?).

There was a great variety in the stories too, from the wartime adventures of V for Vengeance – surely a large influence on a certain other story – “Hard” Science Fiction (shortly to become science fact!) of The Ace of Space, and a series of “historicals” set in famous disasters of the late 19th and early 20th centuries. Curiously, most of those are set in the USA.

desperate_days_11desperate_days_12desperate_days_13

But on to the story itself. I Lived in the Desperate Days is set in 2492, on the small community of Land End, at the far southwestern corner of an island that, according to legend, was once called Eng, or Brit. Land End is the only fertile part of the island, the rest is made of fused, black rock and ash-like cinder sand, where nothing has grown for centuries. A nearby island called Ire is also made of nothing but this lifeless black rock. The Folk, as the population of Land End are called, number just 400. They have legends which talk of a time when Eng was home to millions of people, as were other lands around the world – though some of them don’t believe that any other land exists, and that Eng and Ire are all alone in The Great Sea.

The main character is called Jordon The Writer, who chronicles the events of the folk, and copies out their few books. He lives in the same house as Silas the Scholar, who teaches children to read and write. He also owns the few books that remain in the world, and Jordon is slowly copying them so there will be a second set, if anything happens. One of the books tells of people called Americans, who had ships that sailed under ice, Jordon thinks it’s an interesting story, but can’t possibly be true.

The first part of the story just gives an introduction to the Folk’s way of life. Their previous harvest was bad, and a harsh winter killed many sheep. Though they number only 400, the “Folk Father”, John Winter, decides that 100 people have to sacrifice themselves by going out into the “barrens”, as they call the melted and destroyed rest of the country. This is really a death sentence, as there’s no way of getting food out there. They draw sticks from a bag – white for life, and black for death! Jordon draws a black stick – though the people due to die are given a week to say goodbye to their families.

desperate_days_15

Jordon’s friend, Bob Gray, has a small fishing boat, and all of his crew, including the villainous Zeke, are doomed to die. They decide to sail out and catch fish while they still can. Zeke is not happy about being merely one of the crew, but boats are worth their weight in gold, due to a severe shortage of wood, and the Folk Father and his council think Zeke is too irresponsible to have a boat of his own.

They sail out to look for fish, but are caught in a gale and blown close to Ire. Whilst sailing around the coast, looking for a place to land and repair the damaged boat (not to mention bury a dead crewman), they come across a huge “sea monster”, stranded on the rocks. Jordon, from his reading, realises it is a whale, and that it contains many tons of edible meat, which can save the doomed hundred! They also explore Ire a little, and in the meantime Zeke is left with the boat, which he almost loses. The damage takes several days to repair, and when they get back to Land End, they discover the rest of the doomed people have already gone out into the barrens. Bob Gray sails around to a bay further out into the barrens, and follows some tracks. Eventually they bring back around seventy of the hundred sent out to die.

A large operation (by the standards of a community of 370-odd with hardly any boats!) is mounted to go and collect the meat of the whale. While this is going on, Zeke decoys Jordon away from the harbour, and he ends up being left behind!

desperate_days_16

Jordon spends a night on the coast of Ire, then wanders inland a little way to try and find fresh water. Instead, he falls through a crust of dust into a small cave, apparently once open to the air. At one end, he finds a heavy steel door, though after 500 years it’s so rusty he can push through it with his hands. Inside he finds a room lined with more books than he has seen in his life! There’s also a diary, with the last entry written in 1990. It says that nuclear proliferation had run out of control, and many nations had huge stockpiles of atomic warheads. When World War 3 started, the pulses of radiation from atomic explosions caused these stockpiles to detonate on their own (apparently this is theoretically possible – so real-life bombs are shielded against it). The huge fireballs quite literally melted at least Western Europe, apart from Land’s End. The writer of the diary didn’t know that, of course, his air purifier failed shortly afterwards, and he has long since died and crumbled to dust. The people huddled on Land’s End somehow survived the radioactivity (presumably many of the original ones died, and the few survivors have repopulated the area since), and the events of “the change”, along with details of the pre-war world, all faded into legends. Jordon lights a fire with the dead man’s ragged clothes, fortunately the crew of the fishing boat have come back for him, and spot the smoke. He is taken back to Land End, where Zeke is worried that his trickery will be exposed.

desperate_days_17

Jordon sails out in Bob Gray’s fishing boat again. His leg was injured when he was a child (this is why he is a “writer”, not a farmer or something), but he can still haul on ropes and nets. Instead of catching fish, they spot something even more valuable – a huge tree! Quickly taking it in tow, they bring it back to Land End. It creates a sensation – if there’s huge trees growing somewhere, then there must be fertile land!

Jordon has been reading more about the old world in his newly-found books. He reads about a man named Christopher Columbus, who, 1000 years earlier, sailed west until he found a huge continent. Jordon comes up with a plan to use the wood in the tree to build a replica of Columbus’ ship, the Santa Maria, and try to find this continent again. Jordon even builds a model of the ship – but is betrayed by Zeke. Wasting wood is a terrible crime in Land End, and he is sentenced to be banished into the barrens. However, he overhears a conversation between the Folk Father and one of the farmers – a disease which killed many of the sheep the previous winter has come back! Of course, they have no medicines, and probably no medical knowledge beyond the absolute basics.

Jordon goes to sleep, but when he wakes up he finds he has been pardoned, and that the Folk Father has decided they must attempt to build a “Santa Maria II” and find new lands, or the whole human race might perish! The construction of the ship begins, though there is quite a bit of resistance – some of the “Fathers Minor” (who rule under the Folk Father) think there’s no other land in the world, and that stories of a ship a whole seventy feet long must be fictional. When the Folk Father commands every household to give up one blanket (and there’s precious few of those) to make the sails of the ship, there is a minor riot, stirred up by Zeke.

desperate_days_18

The rioters accidentally knock out the Folk Father with a thrown rock – then sidle away, feeling guilty. They blamed Jordon, rather than him. After they have got over the shock, they riot again, this time trying to tear apart the half-built ship and take the timber away for other uses. Jordon sails out in another fishing boat and finds Bob Gray, who returns in time to stop the riot. He has also found another tree, which will serve for the ship’s masts, and there will be plenty of wood left over for other uses too.

Finally the ship is finished and launched. The crew, with Bob Gray as Captain and Jordon as log-keeper (plus Zeke, because he is “at least good at his work”) have to learn sailing from scratch, and panic when they make a mistake! A sudden squall from the wrong direction brings down part of the rigging, and knocks Bob unconscious. Fortunately Jordon remembers that a ship can be steered using sails alone, if you work them correctly. The second-in-command, a man called Clark, takes command just in time, and the ship avoids being wrecked on the coast of Ire.

desperate_days_19

Now it’s time for the voyage to really start! Just before they set out, a weird light called “St. Elmo’s Fire” is seen on the mast. Many of the crew think this is a sign of bad luck, and Zeke stirs up a minor mutiny, telling the men that Jordon will bring disaster to the ship. Just as they are about to charge the poop deck, a stowaway – a condemned criminal – is found. Bob grants the man a reprieve, and later he sacrifices himself by swimming under the ship and jamming himself in a hole. He plugs it, but drowns in the process.

The journey goes on, an encounter with waterspouts almost wrecks the ship in mid-ocean, but the spout which sucks them up collapses just in time, though several of the crew are killed. Then they sight land! But it turns out to be a huge floating mass of seaweed and rotten trees. Worse, it’s infested with huge, carnivorous jellyfish! The story doesn’t make it clear if these are creatures mutated by radiation (or, rather, their descendants), or else freaks of evolution produced by the abrupt change in climate caused by the war (tests with fruit flies have shown that ‘random shots’ of evolution happen if their environment is changed drastically – meaning a new species may be created in tens of generations instead of millions, though many more of these ‘random shots’ are useless and fatal). Of course, the story is written by Jordon himself, and for all he knows, Columbus met creatures like this too!

desperate_days_20

After fighting off the Jellyfish, the crew encounter some more sea monsters, including some kind of sentient seaweed, and a thing which looks like a flying Manta Ray with a spiked, razor-sharp tail. Several more crew members die during these attacks, and the ship suffers a lot of damage, but is still able to limp onwards.

desperate_days_21

Finally, they sight land, real land! But, to their horror, it’s the same fused, black rock as Eng and Ire are made of. They anchor at this island to repair the ship anyway, though their supplies of fresh water and food are running very low. They also discover the island is infested with giant killer crabs! Jordon, trying to escape from these, accidentally falls into a pool of hot water, which he discovers is also fresh water! The crew also try to eat the crabs, but it makes them drunk, and the ship is almost set on fire. Fortunately some men stay sober, and are able to put it out. Instead, they try fishing, and find the sea around this island (it’s probably Iceland… which is made of fused, black, lifeless rock now, let alone after a nuclear war XD) is full of fish. With their supplies refilled, they sail onwards.

After many more days, they sight a huge column of smoke in the air – is it a fire lit by human beings? The ship sails at high speed, but the smoke only seems to come towards them very slowly. The wind drops at night, and in the morning it seems that the smoke has got further away. Again, they sail at high speed, but again the smoke appears to move away. The lookout then notices that the water around the ship is brown. Bob tastes a bit, and discovers it’s fresh! They are sailing in the current of a huge river, pouring out to sea. Altering course, they close in on the distant land – and run dangerously close to a mountain, which appears to be on fire!

desperate_days_22

The Land Enders are terrified by the sight, though Jordon realises it must be a volcano, something the ancient books tell of. The coast of the country around it is the same black, lifeless rock as they have seen in other places – but then they spot several more huge trees floating out of the river mouth. Somewhere up there is the fertile land they dream of!

Anchoring the Santa Maria II, the crew take to the boats and row up the river – straight into the jaws of a sea monster! After an epic battle, in which Bob Gray is almost killed, the monster is killed. Later on Bob and several others row up the river in the two boats, whilst Jordon is left behind. Zeke comes back alone, frantically ranting about “giant birds” and how the others “disappeared in the trees”. Jordon and a few others row up the river themselves – spotting gigantic black birds perched on a jumble of giant logs. Bob Gray’s voice seems to come from below them – the crew of the other boat have fallen into quicksand, and have almost gone under! Most of them are saved in time, as is the boat itself. Bob had been trying to grab something when he went under, and he shows it to Jordon now – it’s heather, of the kind that grows in Land End. Somewhere beyond this swampy pile of logs is a vast land, more fertile than Land End and with enough room for everybody!

desperate_days_23

Then… 1959, and my collection of Wizards, comes to an end! >.< Looks like I’ll never find out what happened to them – did they find an uninhabited land? Was it full of monsters? Was it full of hostile tribes? Perhaps the United States still exists, and has maintained a higher level of technology, but never realised anybody was still alive in Europe? I doubt I’ll ever read the end XD.

desperate_days_24

The Last Men Alive

Just after the end of the war, “nuclear weapons” were seen as amazing wonder-weapons which could make battleships ‘melt and sink’ using ‘rays’ (as described in the last episode of The Yellow Sword, a Wizard serial from 1955-6). However, as time went on, people began to understand the real horrors of atomic warfare. In 1946, the New Yorker magazine ran a full-length article on the experiences of people in Hiroshima, which found it’s way to Britain as a Penguin not long afterwards.

 lastmen_01

In 1954, a Japanese fishing boat called Lucky Dragon no. 5 sailed too close to an atomic bomb test, causing the crew to develop severe radiation sickness. At the time, the American occupational government were trying to play down the effects of radioactive fallout from the bombs. Even back at home, US Marines were performing manuovres in the immediate aftermath of a nuclear blast, as part of the “Desert Rock” project.

Going into the late 50′s, the consequences of an actual nuclear war were filtering down into the boys’ story papers, and in 1958 Adventure began a serial called The Last Men Alive, about the crew of a nuclear-powered (though it did not carry ballistic missiles. “Atomic torpedoes” are mentioned, but these were probably supposed to be smaller-scale kiloton-sized weapons for use on fleets of enemy ships) submarine in 1996. The sub, called the Argos (interestingly never called HMS Argos… a subtle assumption that the monarchy would have been abolished by the nineties?), is on patrol in the South Atlantic, during World War 3. Her mission is to prevent “the enemy” from sailing around the Horn of Africa. We never find out exactly who “the enemy” are, but can assume it’s the Soviet Union, perhaps allied with China.

The war is already about six months old when the story begins, though so far nobody has used nuclear weapons. The sub has not received any messages for almost three weeks, so they decide to surface and have a look around, as soon as they reach the surface, alarms start to go off – the air is dangerously radioactive! It looks like a nuclear war has been fought, after all.

The captain, Lt. Cmdr Vince Bryant, decides to sail back to Britain and investigate. On the way, they stop at St Helena, finding everybody on the island dead – apparently they dropped dead whilst going about their everyday lives. The air is still alive with radiation, and the crew can only go outside in special suits. They visit the “telegraph office” (now the story shows it’s age!), and find that three weeks previously, enemy bombers managed to avoid Britain’s radar and fighter screens, and drop “Hydrogen-Cobalt bombs” on London and other cities. Britain retaliated, and these new, powerful bombs somehow caused a ‘chain reaction’, which ‘set the upper atmosphere on fire’ and spread a huge amount of powerful fallout around the entire globe in only a few hours (the one realistic part, the jet stream races around the world at hundreds of miles per hour).

The sub sails further north, past “French Senegal” and the “busy port of Dakar”, now also ‘bleached’ of all human and animal life. Of course, Senegal was long-since independent in the real 1996! The journey also takes them past a number of lifeless, drifting surface ships. It appears that only submarine crews, safe under the sea, have survived. Eventually the Argos reaches Britain. There too, the coast is lifeless, deserted and radioactive. They sail into the Thames (“cl0gged with ships”, as are many other major rivers into the traditional port cities – by the real 1996 the advent of containers had rapidly decreased the number of working docks in Britain), to find that London has taken a direct hit, the few buildings left standing are roofless, blackened ruins.

The Argos sails south again, down the channel and eventually finds a Cornish village called Trelorna, where some freak of the wind has keeping the fallout away. The people here are isolated and starving, but fortunately the Argos carries a large supply of food, and is able to give them at least one meal. The crew begin handing out tins to the women of the village, though a big man called Black Jack pushes his way to the front and snatches a can from an old lady. Fortunately Vince Bryant is a champion boxer, and soon has Jack on his back!

Other villagers are more friendly, namely Henry Penkevil, the headmaster of the village school, and Tom Couch, coxwain of the local lifeboat, and expert fisherman. The crew of the Argos come up with a plan to use electric shocks, generated from the hull, to “herd” fish into the safe bay, where they can be caught by the villagers. It will keep them going until they can start to grow crops on the small area of radiation-free farmland they can access.

Tom Couch comes out in the submarine (“A unique and terrifying experience, even in the year 1996″! – though Eagle and other publications were predicting huge passenger-and-cargo carrying submarines, unaffected by storms), which dives beneath the surface as soon as it gets beyond the headland – where the radioactive zone starts. They find a huge shoal of mackerel with the sonar, and begin to herd the fish towards Trelorna bay, using electric shocks generated on the surface of the sub (supposed to be a futuristic ‘silent sonar’). However, the fish attract something else – a sea monster bigger than the sub!

lastmen_02

After a cat-and-mouse chase, Argos is able to fire off two “rocket torpedoes”, which curiously only have a thousand-yard range (surely traditional propellor-powered torpedoes can go for miles?). These hit the monster and it’s huge body goes floating to the surface. Is it a radioactive mutation? Nope! The story is more scientifically ‘accurate’ than that. It’s described as a creature from very deep in the sea, which has been attracted to the surface by the ‘turmoil’ of the nuclear war. As the crew watch it float, they notice bubbles coming from it. Suddenly it bursts open and sinks, as it lives in the deep sea, it’s body is under tremendous pressure. This pressure was held in by an exoskeleton, which the torpedoes broke open.

The crew can now get back to herding fish, and successfully drive them into the town, for now, the population have something to keep them alive! The schoolteacher has been surveying the boundaries of the radioactivity in more detail, now that he has protective gear from the submarine.  He tells Bryant there is a store of seed potatoes in a deep vault at St. Austell, and if people in protective clothing could drive there, they could bring them back and start to grow them. The crew set off, finding many crashed, or just stalled, cars, with dead drivers – people fleeing the cities who were caught out by the intense fallout. They reach St. Austell, described as “centre of the china-clay industry”. People in the 50′s couldn’t possibly have foreseen how quickly and completely British industry would be destroyed.

The crew soon find the seed potato vault, and open it. There they are attacked by a madman! He has been shut in there for 5 weeks, living on potatoes and condensation, and not knowing what had happened to the outside world. Rather conveniently, another protective suit and airtight cases for transporting the potatoes come to hand, and they all make their way back to Trelorna, where something else crops up – confused, meaningless messages in Morse are being transmitted from some elderly wireless set!

lastmen_03

On the way to find the source of these signals, they spot another sea monster through the periscope. This one has six huge legs, black scales and snail-like antennae. It was originally intended to walk around at the bottom of deep-sea canyons, but was drawn to the surface by the nuclear explosions. When it tried to walk on land, the radiation killed it.

The Argos carries on into St. Ives, where they find some minesweepers, an oil tanker and a couple of “tramp steamers”. Of course, by the real 1996 I doubt St. Ives had any industrial port facilities at all. But then again in the real 1996 the country hadn’t been at war for 6 months! They soon discover the morse code is coming from the oil tanker, and after breaking in, find a kid called Tommy Clarke alive below decks. He was shut in the deepest part of the habitable area of the ship, having been planning on stowing away for a ‘life at sea’ (hah, imagine a real British kid of 1996 doing that!). The rest of the crew had tried to make it home when the air raid warnings sounded, and had been killed. Tommy had food, water and power from the ship’s small generator (which had a whole tanker’s worth of fuel to run on!), so was able to survive.

With Tommy rescued, the Argos turns back, only now one of the artificers, called Dorsey, leads a minor mutiny. He and some other want ‘shore leave’ in St. Ives, even though they’d have to have it in cumbersome radiation suits. The Captain guesses they really want to loot beer from the pubs, and challenges Dorsey to a fight. Bryant wins, and the Argos continues with her mission, on the way back to Trelorna some whales are driven into the harbour and captured. Also they witness the detonation of a nuclear mine(!) which broke it’s moorings in a storm, drifted against the coast and detonated, incinerating many square miles and releasing even more fallout – good thing that didn’t drift into the harbour!

With a supply of food, and also whale-oil for fuel, secured, the survivors start to wonder if anybody else has survived the war. They reason that atomic research facilities and nuclear power stations (accurate prediction of the future! We only had one nuclear power station in the 50′s, and that was a small one, with production of material for nuclear weapons it’s main priority.) will have ‘safe rooms’ with radiation shielding, where there might be survivors.

Argos sets off once more, spotting a still-working lighthouse – which means it must still be manned (the story shows it’s age once again). Two of the men in the lighthouse have been killed by fallout, but the third is “naturally immune”, though he still has some radiation burns, and has gone mad. Bryant has to call on his boxing skills once more, and the mission proceeds. They also come across a drifting American aircraft carrier – sent to help Britain repel enemy bombers, but it didn’t get there in time. No doubt in a real nuclear World War 3 Britain would just be classed as an American aircraft carrier, but one crewed by foreigners, so it’s okay for the Americans to leave if it’s in danger of being ‘sunk’.

lastmen_04

The Argos carries on to the Mersey, finding Liverpool has taken a direct hit and has been entirely flattened. They sail to the other side of the river, get a lorry and start to drive towards a nuclear power station at a place called Werton. Before they get there, they find a car coming the other way! A few scientists from the power station have survived, but had run out of food and were going to search for more, using their own anti-radiation suits. One of them, Professor Woodley, has been working on a compound which neutralises radioactive fallout, but it’s still early days. The scientists are taken back to Trelorna and begin to work with the farmers on growing potatoes successfully in the irradiated soil.

The scientists need more information, so the Argos sets off to Plymouth to find some books. The town has not been hit by a nuclear bomb, though is as lifeless as everywhere else. They go to the library and start to fetch a load of scientific books, suddenly they hear the recall signal from the Argos – three shots of the deck gun! The story showing it’s age again – why would a nuclear submarine, able to submerge for months at a time, and with the ‘chivalry’ of the First World War long dead – need a deck gun? Even HMS Dreadnought, out first nuclear sub which entered service in 1959, didn’t have one. Anyway, the shore party race back to the dock, and find Argos has disappeared! The dingy which had been tied to the outside of the hull is floating freely – obviously she has crash dived in a great hurry.

One of the crew suddenly spots a submarine entering the harbour – but she is of a strange design, and has X7 painted on her conning tower – an enemy! The shore party get under cover, and watch as an enemy shore party enter the town and look around. Bryant knows something of “the enemy’s language”, and overhears them saying that the situation in Britain is “the same as at home”. They then console themselves with the fact that “the scientists who created these infernal bombs are dead” and go back to hunting for fish. The party from the Argos keep out of sight, they only have one revolver between them, and the war is not officially over. The enemy captain – Commander Stok – orders his men back on board, and they sail off. The Argos reappears, and they set off back to Trelorna, this time with the crew at action stations!

lastmen_05

Later, Argos is trying to navigate a horde of eels into Trelorna bay, but it is proving difficult – they have to chase them around the Scilly Isles several times. Just as they get into the channel, a huge blast of sound scatters the eels. It’s the X7! She hasn’t detected the Argos – she was instead trying to direct the eels with sound, rather than electric shocks. The Argos goes into stealth mode, and watches as the X7 battles another sea monster. The X7 fires two torpedoes at the monster, and Argos has to dash out of the way, in case either of them misses. The Argos is mentioned as travelling at 50-60 knots underwater, by contrast the Royal Navy’s Daring-class destroyers of the 1950′s could only do 30 knots on the surface (and our nuclear “fleet submarines” which were in service in the 1990′s, could do about the same underwater). One of the X7′s shots kills the monster, and she goes back to directing shoals of fish using sound waves, followed by the Argos.

Eventually X7 gets close to the Somme river, which is at low tide. Bryant orders the Argos to overtake the shoal of fish, and steer them into the estuary using electric shocks. With this done, the X7 races to follow, and jams herself in a mud bank. Bryant then calls X7 on the “undersea telephone” (at least there’s no “imagiser”, I suppose), and reveals the existence of the British crew. The X7′s immediate response is a pair of torpedoes!

lastmen_07

Bryant moves Argos into a position immediately above X7 and waits. Eventually Captain Stok agrees to a truce – the politicians who started the war are all dead, and it’s up to the two crews to work together for the future of the human race. X7 has been herding fish for two similarly-stranded colonies of people “a thousand miles away” on the other side of the North Sea. Assuming the enemy is the Soviet Union, these colonies could be in Poland or along the Soviet shore in the Baltic. Or, if this was happening in the actual 1996, there could be Russian survivors in Kaliningrad.

Argos prepars to take the X7 in tow, when another sea monster appears on the radar. It is heading towards the shoal of fish, which still swarm around the X7 in confusion. Argos disengages and fights the monster, Bryant has to be careful about when he fires the torpedoes, as the explosions might damage the X7. After a short battle, the monster is blown up, and X7 is successfully bought to the surface and towed to Trelorna.

The people of Trelorna are wary at first – they are the last British people alive, and any trickery by the enemy might result in the entire country being wiped out. But when they hear that there’s other desperate colonies of people just clinging to life, they accept the truce as real. Soon the X7′s crew are meeting the locals, and playing a football game, despite the language barrier.

Bryant, Captain Stok and some others are invited to Professor Woodley’s house, where he shows them some formerly-radioactive soil he has treated with his powder. It’s now completely inert, and safe to grow crops in. Henry Penkevil, who has his own gieger counter (with the threat of nuclear war, maybe headmasters would be issued with them – the balloon could go up at any time!), reports that the area of radiation-free land around the village appears to be slowly growing, too. Bryant looks forward to a future where these three small colonies of people will be able to rebuild human society, together and in peace.

The Headhunter of St. Hal’s

comment

By the mid-late 50′s, the writing was well and truly on the wall for story papers, as all-comic strip, “American” (sometimes) “style” (sometimes) “Slicks” began to sell in ever-greater numbers, the Beano and Dandy trampled what was left of the older humour comics into the dust, and Eagle gave Britain’s own adventure comic “style” a quality product to imitate.

Still, some story papers were soldiering on – especially those from DC Thomson. Their first foray into the weekly story-paper market had been Adventure, which began in 1921, and really shook things up with it’s strange stories of super powers, time travel, space travel and sportsmen of amazing ability. Adventure, and three of it’s stablemates, were kept running throughout the war, whereas Amalgamated Press had killed off story papers wholesale – keeping their more modern, comic-focused publications for boys going instead.

headhunter_01

With the all-text style starting to look old fashioned at the end of the war, Adventure began to feature (very!) simple, four-colour picture strips on the covers. By the mid-50′s, these had increased in sophistication, and the centre pages featured a similar strip in black, white and red.

 headhunter_02

Neither of these strips had speech balloons (and, of course, sound effects should be rare and unusual in British adventure comics anyway!), but were instead a series of pictures with large captions underneath, explaining the story. The frames were almost always the same size, though sometimes a new cover strip would be introduced with a large panel.

 headhunter_03

Like the text serials, the strips were regularly changed around, in order to feature stories on different themes. These included wartime adventure with frogmen and Spitfire pilots, science fiction with deadly walking machines, early-Victorian boxing with Tinker Cobb and the strange tale of an RAF test-pilot who is also a first-division goalkeeper!

 headhunter_04headhunter_05headhunter_06

headhunter_07headhunter_08headhunter_08b

headhunter_08cheadhunter_09

The Headhunter of St. Hal’s was another of the red, white and black strips. This one is a boarding school story, a craze for which had been kicked off by Tom Brown’s Schooldays right back in 1857, and was only now starting to slow. Probably more through accident than design, nearly all boarding school stories appearing in British comics were text. Girls got a few strips, but boy’s ones were pretty rare. That makes this story quite interesting, even if it is pretty terrible! Also the tale is told from the point of view of the villain, which is pretty unusual even by DC Thomson standards (though characters acting in defiance of the law – like Tinker Cobb – were fairly common, they weren’t evil as such).

headhunter_09a

The story begins with the headmaster of St. Hal’s recieving an evil-looking carved idol from his brother, who is exploring in Borneo. The head is reminded that a new boy, called Juma, who comes from Borneo, is starting at the school that day. He doesn’t yet know that the boy has been sent by his tribe to recapture the idol! The headmaster’s brother had stolen it, and had been tortured to death in revenge.

headhunter_09b

The head sends Dick Donovan, the captain of the Fourth Form, to the station to meet the new boy. The ethnic majorities of Borneo are Malay, Chinese, Banjar and Dayak (who are apparently very similar to Malays). But Juma looks more like a Black African with the eyes of a cat. On the way back, they are attacked by some bullies. Juma pulls a knife and tries to stab one of them! Dick stops him in time, but Juma later threatens the porter in the same way. Dick tells him “we can’t have the law of the jungle at St. Hals!” XD.

headhunter_10

They go to the headmaster’s office, where Juma spots the idol and starts to worship it! The head arrives shortly afterwards and greets Juma, who notices a red stain from the idol on his hand. Any White man who touches the idol must die! But Juma decides to bide his time, and formulate a very over-complicated, messy plan XD.

headhunter_11

Dick shows Juma to his study, where some bullies later threaten him. But he knocks one of their caps off with an expertly-thrown knife, and they decide to leave him alone after that. Juma’s first day at the school passes normally, but that night he sneaks out of the dormitory and goes to the headmaster’s office. At the precise moment Juma looks through the wall, the head discovers a long-forgotten secret passage which leads out from a panel in the wall. Juma shoots the head with a drugged blow-dart, and locks him into some very convenient (and still working) old handcuffs that are chained to the wall.

Juma sneaks back out of the hidden passage, only to find a burglar who has just finished picking the lock of the head’s safe! Juma strangles him, and throws him off the balcony.

headhunter_12

Juma then opens the safe, but this sets off alarms throughout the school. The alarm needs to be deactivated by pressing a secret button, before the door can be opened. Juma quickly hides the idol on top of a cupboard, then joins in with the crowd of boys surging down the corridor. They find the dead burglar, and assume that he ran out of the window and fell when the alarms went off.

headhunter_13

Sam Taylor, the porter, finds the idol and hides it in his cottage, thinking it might be worth something. He assumes the burglar hid it on the cupboard, and with the headmaster missing, nobody will bother to look for it. Juma is angry at finding the idol missing, but thanks to it’s ever-wet paint, he quickly works out who has stolen it, darts the porter, and locks him up in the secret tunnels too.

headhunter_14

Two other masters are in the headmaster’s office, so Juma explores the tunnels further, finding another exit in a ruined castle near the school. He runs back, but is late for class, so is put in detention with Bully Bates, the boy whose cap he had knocked off earlier. The bully notices Juma is agitated and trying to escape, so follows him to the headmaster’s office when they are let out. But Juma has already ‘vanished’ into the secret tunnels!

headhunter_15

By this time, the porter has recovered from the drugged dart. Juma learns (by, lets not beat about the bush here, torture!) that the idol has been sold to an antique shop in the town. He tries to leave the school by the front gate, but is caught by some prefects and bought back.

headhunter_16

That night, Juma sneaks down to the tunnels again, intending to get out through the other end. Bully bates follows him and… (missing reel) …my volume has a few missing issues! Anyway, in the next issue he has captured Bully Bates, drugged the shop owner, and holds him up whilst “waving” with his arm to a policeman outside the shop! Juma can’t find the idol, so returns to the secret passage, pushing the antiques dealer in a covered wheelbarrow. Two tramps spot him and, no doubt because of his skin colour, assume he has stolen something.

headhunter_17

While Juma fiddles about with the door of the secret passage, the tramps look in the barrow, and see the “dead” shopkeeper. They run off before Juma comes back, and drags the shopkeeper into the school the hard way, adding to his collection of missing persons. Quite why all those chained-up people don’t shout for help at once is beyond me. The walls of the school can’t be that thick!

headhunter_18

Juma goes down the passage and frees the other door, but quickly closes it again, as he can see the tramps and several police on the other side! The next day, the police investigate the school, searching every study. Juma, for some reason, as the death mask of the headmaster’s brother in his suitcase, which would take a bit of explaining! A policeman is about to find it, so Juma does the sensible thing and… oh wait, he attacks the copper with a knife! He is quickly overpowered and locked in the detention room. But, would ya know it, he has a special weed which can be used to ‘hypnotise’ people!

headhunter_19

Mr Davison, the senior master, comes to check on Juma, and gets a face-full of the weed. Juma commands him to hand over the keys, then go to sleep. Soon Juma is running back to the antique shop, but the police, having found evidence of a break-in, and nothing but the owner missing, have rigged up an alarm system.

headhunter_20

Juma manages to grab the idol anyway (despite stopping to worship it once again), and only just escapes the clutches of the law. He runs back to the school and commands Mr Davison to go and tell the police he has been locked up in the detention room all night. What Juma doesn’t know is that Dick Donovan (remember him?) is hiding in the room too, and overhears what happens.

headhunter_21

With the police off the sent, Juma puts the master out of action again, with a kick to the jaw! Donovan follows him across the quad, and into the headmaster’s room, where he spots the secret passage. Rousing the Fourth Form, Dick leads an attack on Juma’s hideout just as he is about to start torturing the head with a red-hot iron. Juma is overpowered and all his prisoners set free. The headmaster congratulates dick, and promises to send the idol ba-what? no of course he doesn’t, he’ll have it put in the local museum. It’s well-known that tribes who consider an idol so sacred they will send one of their number right around the world to regain it, using deadly force if necessary, will give up if the first attempt fails XD.

headhunter_22 - headhunter_23

It’s Hard To Get On!

hardtoget_01

Quick! What was the biggest news story of the 1910′s? Well, World War 1, obviously. In fact, many “potted histories of Britain” mention nothing else from that decade, except maybe the second biggest story of the decade, the Titanic.

But what else was going on during that decade, of major concern to the people living through it? Strikes! The time before the First World War saw a large amount of industrial unrest, as the living standards for the rich rapidly improved, but most of the poor may as well have been living in the 1810′s, for all the good scientific progress was doing them. The trade unions were growing ever stronger, though – and in that golden age of publishing, getting propaganda printed was cheap. Nobody had yet tried out the new ideas of Karl Marx, either.

All this led to a number of large strikes in Britain’s industrial heartlands. These would often spill over from one factory to a whole town, and in 1912 the situation in Liverpool got so serious that the navy sailed up the Mersey and threatened to shell the town!

The Amalgamated Press, then basically the only power in British comics worth talking about (for working class readers, anyway. Chums and The Boys’ Own were big names in more respectable homes), always sought to reflect the world of it’s readers, and so numerous stories about strikes appeared. The very first story in the penny re-launch of Union Jack was about a miner’s strike, and the Boys’ Friend and Dreadnought had their own tales of industrial action. Many of these stories followed a simple pattern – the strike was either the fault of an unreasonably extreme union leader (who would be caught in the act of trying to fire a coal mine, derail a train etc), or else the main character would the unknown eldest son of the previous owner of the company, and thus the real boss.

Of course, the reality was usually much different – the managers of those days often had no interest in the safety and well-being of their employees, and it was hardly surprising the unions walked out. There was never any “nicer” manager waiting in the wings to swoop in and put things right, either.

Horace Phillips, writing in The Boy’s Journal, obviously thought there was a need for a more realistic strike story, one which would actually reflect what the union members up and down the country felt. And this resulted in It’s Hard To Get On! The first instalment of which appeared in issue 17, cover dated January 10th, 1914. Yep, exactly one hundred years ago!

hardtoget_04

Given the cover, too!

Before I get on with reviewing the story, I may as well talk a little about The Boy’s Journal itself. It appears to have been an Amalgamated Press attempt at creating a 1d “upmarket” story paper aimed at readers of Chums and Boys’ Own. Unlike most/all of the other AP weeklies, it could also be bought as 6d monthly editions, which came on better paper and included a coloured plate and contents page.

hardtoget_05

Contents page of one of the monthly editions

My collection of “BJ” amounts to one volume of a few random weekly issues from 1913-14 (along with similarly random issues of Dreadnought from the same period). These are in terrible condition, but do have their covers. I also have a bound volume of the first 35-odd “weekly” issues, though most of this volume is actually the monthly issues, only the latter part is bound weekly issues (this time without covers, or trimmed edges, so they’re in poor condition). I also have one loose issue from late 1914, the early part of World War 1 and full of hysterical anti-German ravings. But there’ll be more on that when the time comes.

The volume with the bound monthly issues doesn’t include thier covers either (it may have been a coloured cover, or possibly a black and white one. It may also have been a very simply-designed cover with a load of adverts on it – that wasn’t unknown at the time, and people were expected to throw the cover away if they were binding the contents). It does, however, include the coloured plates, though they’re not “full colour”, as such, but black, white, red and blue, with fine ‘screentone’ used to blend them. The subject matter is the usual images of dashing heroes in peril, as befitted the time of empire.

hardtoget_06

The tallest guy looks pretty disintrested in his impending spear-filled doom.

The serial stories (some of them ‘ran over’ the end of the volumes, as was standard practice for AP, rather than all being complete inside a volume, as seen in the Boys’ Own, Chums, Boys of Our Empire etc). generally followed the pattern of at least one adventure, at least one ‘serious’ (ish) boarding school story, and then a comedy story (usually also set in a school) and another one. It’s Hard To Get On! being the “other one” at the time it ran.

There was also a number of complete stories, some arranged into series featuring the same character(s). In early 1914 these included Dick ‘O Hara, a wireless operator who got into adventures, and Three Chums on the Spree, a series of slapstick comedy stories with “black head” illustrations.

The BJ also included articles, of greater or lesser length. Running at the same time as It’s Hard To Get On! was a series called Boy Slaves of Britain, which addressed the then-widespread issue of child labour, and poor safety standards in factories. Like a lot of serial stories, they got shorter as they went on – but I’ll reproduce the first one here (I had to take photos of the pages, so the tops and bottoms may be a bit hard to read).

hardtoget_07hardtoget_08

As the target audience of The Boy’s Journal was more middle class (though no doubt plenty of readers of the Marvel, Union Jack etc picked it up too), these articles often ended with appeals to public school boys to “consider their less-fortunate comrades”. Later it encouraged them to raise the issue of child labour with their teachers and fathers, adding a mock “wanted” advert for “an MP who will stand up for Britain’s boy slaves”.

hardtoget_09

Oh, also, the inner page of the weekly edition started to use a unique, and more-modern looking, masthead as it went into volume 2.

But (finally!) on to the story itself! It’s first appearance was in an advert on the back cover of the preceding issue, which reproduced one of the illustrations (also used in the title block) and listed the main characters. Up until a modernisation, circa 1917, The Boys’ Friend would often list the main characters of a story as part of serial re-caps. I suppose it was a device taken from adverts for plays, only where those would list the actors playing the parts, the story paper equivalents would give a little information on the characters.

hardtoget_02

The tale opens with Hetty Hansard trying to persuade her brother, George, to stop drinking before he goes on duty as train driver. George has been encouraged to “act manly” and drink by Arthur Melrose, son of the director of the Stonemoor division of the Central British Railway Company. Geoffrey Norman (who was adopted by the family) comes home and angrily confronts George, before taking a flask from him so he can’t drink and drive. After George and Arthur leave, Joe Hansard, George’s blind father, shows up. He is very trusting, and doesn’t know his son drinks (he doesn’t mind “a harmless smoke”, though. How times change! …though actually The Boys’ Friend ran constant anti-smoking articles for at least the first 20 years of it’s life). He also thinks it’s a good thing that Arthur Melrose is mixing with the common workers, and recalls former strikes that were provoked by Sir James Melrose, the current director.

George Hansard sets off on his train, and Geoffrey Norman goes to work in his signal box. The things going on at home distract him, and to his horror, George’s train goes racing past his signal box when it was supposed to stop. There’s a crash (“at thirty miles per hour”!), though it seems that everybody escapes without serious injury. Geoffrey had set the signals correctly, but when he hears the crash he deliberately sets the signal for George’s train incorrectly – as “anybody can make a mistake”, and it will cover up for George being drunk on duty. However Arthur Melrose is on the scene, and when Geoff arrives, pulls the flask out of his pocket and accuses him of being drunk on duty.

hardtoget_10

Nobody beleives this, and a huge demonstration gathers outside the police station and, the next morning, outside the magistrate’s court. Geoff is found to be sober by the police doctor, and is released without charge. The protesters outside are happy, though they still boo and hiss at James and Arthur Melrose as they leave the court.

hardtoget_11

Geoff goes home, and shortly afterwards gets the expected letter telling him he’s been sacked. However the letter says he has been sacked for drinking on duty, and “somebody” has made sure the rest of the workers have got to know about it. Soon a huge crowd gathers outside the house, an agitator called “Mad Max” making firey speeches.

Mad Max would, in a lesser strike story, be an unreasonable extremist, trying to get people to walk out for every petty grievance. However in this story he is an excitable orator (described as both “breathless” and “hatless” XD) who is only able to stir the men up when they have a legitimate greivance. Geoff comes out of the house and Max is unceremoniously shoved off the ‘stage’ and Geoff shoved on. He says that the men shouldn’t go on strike just yet, as the union’s funds are low. If the men run out of money and have to go back to work before the strike is resolved, the union will lose it’s credibility.

We soon learn that Sir James Melrose is actually hoping for a strike, as he has been saving his money and hopes the unrest will reduce the price of company shares, he will then be able to buy them all up and become the sole owner, rather than just a member of the board.

Public opinion around the country is on the side of the union, and the popular press reflect this. Sir James persuades his son to lay a sleeper on the track in front of the train he will be travelling on. This will then make the strikers look like wreckers and anarchists, and turn the public against them. Arthur duly sets out, but Geoff catches him in the act and they fight. George is driving the train and the fight (more clearly seen in the fog than a sleeper on the line) alerts him to the danger, so he is able to stop the train in time. Geoff and Arthur run off, but Geoff is later arrested for trying to wreck the train. He would have a good reason to – having been sacked by the company, and it’s his word against that of a “respectable gentleman”.

hardtoget_12

At the same time, Hetty and Joe were with the board of directors, pleading for Geoff to be reinstated. One of the board, a kindly man who helped Joe when he was blinded in an accident years before, has almost swayed his colleages when the news comes through. Now Geoff is looking at prison! The union beleives he is innocent, and a large demonstration gathers in the town square. This turns into a riot when the prison van tries to come through. Hetty gets back to Stonemoor in time to see the van beseiged and broken open, then the mounted police charge the crowd and Geoff escapes in the confusion.

Meanwhile, George is coming home, having left his engine at the sheds. He is accosted by Arthur Melrose in disguise, and threatens to tell the press who really put the sleeper on the line. Arthur reminds him that he has betrayed the union in the past – telling Arthur that it’s funds were low. George succumbs to this blackmail, and promises to keep quiet.

Meanwhile, Geoff has hidden at the house of Reverend Peter White, who beleives in his innocence. Arthur has guess that Geoff will be hiding at the house of this “interfering do-gooder”, and leads the police there. Geoff manages to escape by jumping on a goods train that is setting out (then, as now, there was a lot of different railway companies, so they were not all on strike). Arthur also jumps on, then follows him when he gets off. Geoff goes into hiding in an old hut on the moors, not knowing he has been followed by Arthur.

Arthur returns home, and the next day a large demonsration gathers outside. Max and Peter White come to the house to negotiate, but Sir James refuses to see them. The rest of the strikers riot and break down the railings. They smash their way into the house, but Peter White gets there just ahead of them, and stands between them and the two cowering directors, saying “no hasty blow will right your wrongs!”. The strikers hesitate, and the police come up and move them away. Peter White tries again to convince Sir James to negotiate, but he refuses.

hardtoget_13

Back at their home, Hetty is certain George knows something, but George insists he doesn’t, and leaves. Then Geoff sneaks in the back door, bringing them a soverign which he has been carrying around. Many of the striker’s families are already low on money, and the strike pay from the union will soon run out. Geoff says the only way to clear his name is to find some evidence against Arthur Melrose. He goes to their mansion, climbs up some creepers and manages to overhear them discussing how they framed him, and how they plan to buy up the worthless shares in the company, in great detail. A bit convenient, but it keeps the plot going XD. Geoff then slips off the window-ledge and the plotters overhear him, the household staff give chase, but he gets away. Arthur guesses Geoff was the spy, and decides to have him arrested. However, George gets to know and stows away on the open luggage rack at the back of Arthur’s car. Geoff, thinking he is safe, goes to sleep, only to be woken by police lanterns!

hardtoget_14

Arthur is confronted, some distance away (in case the “dangerous fugitive” fights back!) by George, who says he has had enough of living a lie, and is going to tell the truth of what he saw from the train. Arthur again threatens to expose his work as a spy in the union, but George has made his mind up. At that point the police bring Geoff, and drive him away in the car. Arthur says he has “decided to walk home”, then continues trying to threaten George, to no avail. Eventually Arthur gets angry and gives George a shove, accidentally pushing him into a deep, abandoned open-cast mine. No sound comes from the mine and Arthur, thinking he is a murderer, runs off.

Hetty and Joe hear that Geoff has been arrested, and will be tried at Stoneleigh, where the headquarters of the company is. The main strike is in Stonemoor, so having the trial there would be risking another riot. The two set off across the moor so they can be at the trail the next morning, but the badly-made path is full of potholes. Eventually it gets too dark to go on, and Hetty has to leave the path to find shelter. Meanwhile Joe, who pays more attention to his ears, thinks he can hear somebody in pain, and stumbles off to look, only to fall down the same hole George is in. The “bang on the head” returns his sight to him (a common trope in old stories, any ailment caused by a “bang on the head” can be cured by another one), but he still isn’t strong enough to escape from the pit.

hardtoget_15

Hetty returns to the hut she has found and rips up some sacking to make a rope. George and Joe escape the hole, but George is badly injured and they’re miles from anywhere. But then they find a locomotive which has been left idle by the strike. As Joe can see now, he is able to drive it, so Hetty gets the fire going and they set off for Stoneleigh.

Meanwhile the strikers, hearing of Geoff’s arrest, again lay siege to the Melrose house. The police have not organised themselves in time, so the strikers smash their way in and set the house on fire. Sir James and Arthur have already escaped in their car, but Arthur pushes it too hard and it breaks down on the railway line. The engine driven by Joe comes flying around the corner and hits the car, the three aboard are flung clear and the Melroses escape into the night, eventually moving abroad. George is rushed to hospital, where he recovers and tells the truth about the attempt to wreck the train. Geoff is freed and the strike comes to an end. He is also able to make a certain proposition to Hetty, with his job secure and chances of promotion in the future.

Buckle of Submarine V2

buckle_01

While much that has been written about the use of submarines in WW1 concerns the Germans alternating between the use of restricted and unrestricted (IE, torpedoing merchant ships without warning) warfare, other nations used them too. It was actually the first war where submarines were really used on a large scale, bar the famous one in the American Civil War (which sunk itself as well as the enemy), and rumours flying about in the Russo-Japanese War. With the war bogged down on land, and a lot of the naval engagements “inconclusive” at best, both sides looked to their submariners and airmen for “good news”. This was reflected in the boys’ own adventure stories published as the war went on, with tales of air raids on Berlin, by experimental new planes able to fly that far, or submarines pulling off daring attacks against the German fleet.

buckle_02

One of these stories was called Buckle of Submarine V2. My copy has an inscription dated to February 1917 (though it could have been published before then). It reads like a series of shorter stories – and in December 2013 I discovered why! It was originally a series of short stories published in Young England, from early 1915.

buckle_03

The inscription. Is that “young news bible class”?

Each of the shorter Young England stories is broken up into several chapters in the book. I have the 1914-15 volume of Young England (containing the twelve issues from September 1914), and this contains three Buckle stories. However, the book is longer – perhaps the extra chapters appeared in the 1915-16 volume, or else were written for the book.

buckle_04

The book opens with some verse, which is also reprinted from the original short stories, though the one of the poems has been put in the front of the book, rather than used to open a chapter, as it was originally.

buckle_05buckle_06buckle_07

The stories themselves feature a number of incidents, of greater or lesser realism. As you can see from the cover of the book, one of these involves Buckle and his crew taking on a Zeppelin! And yes, some of the submarine’s crew are killed or badly wounded during the course of the battle. No doubt, with this year marking the 100th anniversary of the outbreak of World War 1, we’re going to be hearing a lot of nonsense about how the “popular magazines” of the period made the war look like “fun”. But that’s an article of it’s own!

Another of the stories involves the successful sinking of a German submarine as it’s being resupplied by a surface ship. In the Second World War they’d learned their lesson and had dedicated supply subs, which traveled to their rendezvous underwater!

buckle_08

Another part of the story involves a large sea battle, in which Buckle’s sub acts as a scout. For most of the war, before Jutland (though some minor, half-forgotten battles did take place, such as the one near the Falklands), the British and Germans were both anxious to “get to grips” with the enemy’s navy, confident of a quick victory. But at the time, battlecruisers and dreadnoughts were the most expensive things the major powers owned, and they didn’t want to risk them coming to any harm! Even Jutland itself might best be called a draw, both fleets retreating after roughly equal losses (though it did ‘bottle up’ the German surface fleet).

buckle_09

The first of the short stories / chapters have Buckle on a fairly ‘routine’ (by the standards of the story, anyway) mission, to sneak up an estuary and spy on the German fleet at anchor. This involves a nerve-wracking trip through a minefield, using nothing more than blind dead reckoning! It sounds far fetched, but incredibly, an article elsewhere in the volume reports on something similar being done for real.

buckle_10

The submarine B11 passed through five rows of mines in the Dardanelles and sank the Turkish battleship Mesudiyeh (spelled Mesudiye in modern times). The feat is illustrated with a diagram which doesn’t make it look particularly difficult, the mines all neatly floating on the surface and the sub merely trundling along beneath them.

buckle_11

However, remember that the mines would have been anchored to the seabed by varying lengths of chain. In buckle’s case, V2 actually snags one of these chains and must be very gently handled, lest the mine is pulled down into the hull and detonated. The Young England episodes of the story don’t contain many illustrations, but this incident is given one.

buckle_12

100th post, 100th Phoenix!

This week (well, actually issue 101 is on sale tomorrow), the best (only!) British weekly adventure comic reached it’s 100th issue! So, for the 100th ‘proper’ post on my blog (though there’s many other hidden ones which I keep half-written stories in XD) I thought I’d take a look back over it, and talk about what I have liked so far.

pho16

The Phoenix was, of course, the successor to the DFC, which was cancelled after 43 issues. The DFC worked on a subscription-only formula, but The Phoenix is also (theoretically!) available in Waitrose shops. When that was first announced, I thought it was great, as I’d be able to go into Ely once a week on my way home and get it. Around about the time issue 3 was supposed to have been released, I’d not seen a single physical copy anywhere. Other people around the internet reported similar problems, with many staff (up to shop managers) not having the faintest clue what it was.

The problem has now been mostly solved, and the Little Waitrose in the centre of Cambridge now has it fairly reliably (they ‘only’ miss about one issue in every five, when I go in on Saturdays anyway. They probably have it out on other days). Ely Waitrose still rarely has it at all, then randomly puts out a few assorted old issues (still, I did get one I’d missed when my subscription ended there, by pure LUCK).

Subscribers also encountered problems. When I found myself unable to buy it, I subscribed “from issue 1″ (as a lot of people did). Only to recieve issue 2 and onwards instead. I later phoned up and specifically ordered issue 1, but never recieved it (Waitrose eventually put the first 3 issues on the shelves at once, so I was able to get it that way). Still, my yearly subscription did come with a nice binder and 52 issues for £99. As the individual issues are £2.99, that’s not too shabby. Still, when I tried to renew my subscription in January 2013 it didn’t work at all, the money never left my account. I decided to keep buying it in Cambridge, as it would encourage the shop to keep stocking it, and then other people might find it too!

pho47

The two binder designs

But on to the subject of the stories. One of my favourite items in The Phoenix is Corpse Talk, partly because it’s a short, one-off story (so I can read it in the qeue at Waitrose) and partly because it has loads of tiny panels packed onto the page but quite a few funny details, just like classic Jonah! In early issues it was one page, though it averages two now.

pho20

However, the hilarious epic of Henry VIII’s wives was a whole four! Mind you, It rarely, if ever, gives specific dates for things, it’s also not entirely clear about what country the events are taking place in, either. Today I know that Rasputin and Catherine the Great were Russians, but when I was a kid anywhere between Germany and China might as well have been one huge country. (Oh wait, it was!). For some reason the characters all talk like modern Americans, too. Perhaps we’re supposed to see it as a sort of Jerry Springer show? (The Henry VIII’s wives episode even had security guards holding them apart XD).

pho45

“I married my dead husband’s brother!”

pho7

Pirates of Pangaea

The first “lead” story in The Phoenix was Pirates of Pangaea. This takes the advice of the “How to draw AWESOME comics” section and features pirates… riding on dinosaurs! Some of them ‘sail’ ships mounted on the back of big four-legged Diplodicus-like herbivores, whilst others ride velociraptors as if they were horses. Some have even mounted flying pteradactyl-type beasts!

pho11

The story is set in 1717, and the main character is Sophie, a 12-13 year old girl who inadvertently tames a Tyrannosaur! She and Kelsey, a young cabin boy (who helped her escape from the first batch of pirates she encountered) are adventuring around the ‘sea of green’, the grasslands that cover much of the giant island of Pangaea. Sophie is supposedly trying to get back to her father, the British governor of the island, but they don’t seem to be in any great hurry XD. They run into several different pirate crews (many of whom end up being eaten) and go on quests for valuable treasure.

pho12

At one point a blue-skinned native tribe think Sophie is a god, and give her pet tyrannosaur (named Cornflower… obviously) some golden armour!

pho13

Another of the launch stories was Long Gone Don, by the Etherington Brothers. If you ask me, these guys are some of the best working in comics today, the writing and characterisation are great, with plenty of quick-fire gags and funny details. The art, though, is out of this world, there’s so much detail, and they love to cram loads of characters into sprawling top-down scenes.

pho10

I beleive a lot of this is done with enhanced computer models these days, though in thier old self-published work, Malcolm Magic, they produced scenes that were just as good, but fully drawn. Don has so far had two series, where he’s stuck in the insane world of Broilerdoom amongst giant worms, insane dictators, stupid soldiers, genius squid(s) and many green people. The first story revolved around a rebellion against General Spode, which was so cool I even made a “VOTE SPODE” T-shirt to wear at the first Camcon in 2012!

pho48

You can just about see it here XD (photo credit: Alan Baptiste aka Temphuibis)

Another of the recurring adventure stories centres around Zara and her friends. They are also children of around 12, only they live in modern-day, realistic London. In both of the stories that have so far been printed (Zara’s Crown and Zara’s Masterpiece), criminals force them to steal important works of art, in order to show up the government and cause political instability. MI5 are on the case, and believe that Zara and her friends are “infiltration specialists”. As nobody will suspect children of pulling off these amazing robberies, they have the perfect cover! This strip is by John and Patrice Aggs (husband and wife, or brother and sister, team?), and the artwork is in a very interesting style. At first glance it seems “unfinished”, with black lines missing and blocks of colour to ‘suggest’ detail, but the more you read it, the more used to it you get. It’s amazing how they can conjure up a crowded, detailed scene with only a few lines and blobs, a bit like Eric Parker, in a way!

pho27

The same team do the on-and-off series called What Will Happen Next? Which is best described as a sort of “Where’s Wally Comic”, each one is a detailed scene with lots of stuff happening, but the same scene is repeated over several weeks showing how events unfold (one sequence in the first one was actually running backwards in time! Something a certain Doctor ought to look at).

pho39

Interestingly, the first Phoenix folders (available alongside issue 1) featured a What Will Happen Next? series called something like “Crazy cook-off”, which has not yet appeared in the comic!

pho46

Another regular adventure strip is Troy Trailblazer, a sci-fi strip. Dan Dare this ain’t! The artwork is pretty good (it would no doubt be described as “manga style”, by people whose sole experience of “manga” has been a quick flick in a book shop seven or eight years ago), but the first stories were a bit naff. Troy, who is none too clever, flies around in space with Barrus (a big cat-like creature who grunts, but is still smarter than Troy) and Blip (an intelligent robot who tries to talk them out of crazy schemes). They are usually trying to find some lost treasure or artifact, such a sword that is hidden in a temple built on the surface of a star (even the robot couldn’t work that one out). The early stories were also pretty anti-climactic. Later on, a big evil empire called The Scourge appeared, along with Troy’s ex-girlfriend. After this the stories got a lot better, at one point they even help a princess escape from bounty hunters XD.

pho30

A common strip in early issues was Cogg and Sprokit, about a boy and a cynical hippo who search for hidden treasure. The first stories were quite short, but later some longer ones appeared. One of the first long serial ones incorporated a puzzle page too, readers had to work out the password to an underground temple themselves! The artwork in this is pretty good, but for some reason I don’t like it all that much. The villains (usually tattooed wolves with razor-sharp fangs and custom motorbikes) are much cooler than the heroes XD.

pho6

Another one I can’t seem to get into is Useleus, which is based on an idiot in Ancient Greece trying to have adventures like the legendary heroes. He meets loads of characters who are from those ancient legends, though I’m not particularly interested in them, I only barely remember them from primary school (are they taught at all in state schools these days?).

pho31

Also the stories are scribbilily “narrated” by his minotaur friend.

There’s also Sky Drifters, which is just plain wierd. It’s about a bunch of puffins who live on top of the clouds. The main character gets to the “cloud giving ceremony” late, and the only one left is a soggy rain cloud. He then sets off for various adventures, mainly short one-parters, though there was also a serial. This strip seems to be aimed at a younger age than some of the other Phoenix stories, but as the comic market in Britain has all but collapsed, they have to try and cater for a wider range all in the one.

pho22

Simon Swift is yer usual epic fantasy adventure strip. I wonder if it’s intended to be The Phoenix’s equivalent of Mirabilis? It’s even broken up into “books”, which will presumably come out as hardback annual-size publications at some point. (speaking of which, surely Christmas 2014 will see the first Phoenix Annual?). It’s about yer usual party of adventurers trekking across a fantasy land, all of them bought together by some wierd symbol tattooed on their bodies. I’ve missed several issues, and then bought them much later from the website, so I’ve not really read much of this #o_o#. But it kind of reminds me of Naruto… though I only read the first book of that rubbish before giving up on it. Maybe it just reminds me of Naruto because they both have a ‘fiesty’ pink-haired girl? Simon also has a voice in his head which advises him in battles, a bit like Nikolai Dante’s crest. Perhaps it will turn out that actually the story is a board game and the voice is the player using Simon’s character… wait, was that Naruto or Bleach? This shonen battle stuff is all the same!

pho32

In addition to these, there’s been a few “one-off” serial adventure strips. The first, and longest, of them was The Lost Boy, which began in issue 1. I didn’t think much of it, a boy who can’t remember who he is strolls around on an island with a ferret-like thing and finds pieces of a map. There’s also some shadow monster things. In the end he gets brainwashed, wakes up on a beach and starts again o_O. Also he talks stupidly.

pho5

When my brother used to talk like this I used to slowly form a fist then punch him if he hadn’t shut up in time.

Much better than that was Cora’s Breakfast, about a girl who finds an alien cereal which gives her superpowers (a different one each time, like flight and gigantism). It also gives her dog the power of speech. She later meets the alien who lost it.

pho33

Returning from the DFC, 1940′s canine cops Good Dog, Bad Dog have to solve a mystery in Hollywood (or Hollywoof?) surrounding the feuding Weiner Brothers. This story is full of great scenes and funny dog-related puns. Interestingly, in these days of other comics not putting a packet of sugar-free Haribo’s on the cover, lest they be accused of “promoting obesity”, Good Dog, Bad Dog features characters smoking and gambling!

pho21

Though for biscuits, not money XD

My favourite of the short serials so far has been Secret of the Samurai. Apparently the main character, Julius Chancer, has been in a book before now. Anyway, it’s a ligne claire (aka “The Tintin style”, but fans of it don’t like it being called that) mystery story set in the interwar period. A woman hires Julius Chancer and his boss to track down a secret of ancient samurai armour which was once sold to Dutch traders and is beleived to have found it’s way to Britain. They think they have found it, but various items on it appear  to actually be insulting, or challenging, them to track down the real suit. The artwork on this story is great, with plenty of detail on the fancy buildings of pre-war London, and on the armour of samurai in flashbacks. There’s also an amusing sequence in an army barracks with a shouty sergeant-major XD.

pho41

Set in the Victoria and Albert Museum, which ‘recently’ had a display of Eagle and related comics in one of the stairways.

There was also The Bald Boy and the Dervish, another ligne claire story set in an Arab country, where a boy tries to make the king smile. He also has the ability to shape-shift and turns himself into a rope, which secures prize animals his mother can sell. Until the “Dervish” (they are an actual tribe, you know XD) realises somebody is stealing his magic…

pho17

And as well as those, there’s been plenty of much shorter adventure stories of only one or two parts, including The Girl with the Amber Eyes, The Heart Tree and, of course, The One About Chickens That I Can’t Remember the Name Of. These short stories tend to have different art styles. I suppose, like 2000AD’s Future Shocks, they’re being used to ‘try out’ new writers and artists.

pho8pho24pho40

pho42pho26pho1

“Crybaby” wouldn’t look out of place in Japan’s “Kowai Paper” XD.

There’s a few other adventure stories I haven’t covered, like Nico Bravo (who works in the shop where legendary heroes, several from Ancient Greece again, get their supplies) and Haggis and Quail, who adventure around the world for, er, stuff. But I’ve either not read them, or they just don’t interest me. But they are there!

pho25

Onto the comedy stories now, and one of the most common ones (probably been in every issue, now that I think about it) is Bunny vs Monkey. It’s by Dandykiller Smart, which probably tells you all you need to know. Though he does seem to have upped his game for this one, compared to his DC Thomson work.

pho29

Anyway, it started off being about a monkey who thinks he has flown to another planet (he’s actually just been catapaulted over a hill) and wants to conquer it, so he fights Bunny, the “leader” (most intelligent) of the other animals. More characters have appeared over time, namely Skunky (who invents various huge machines to help Monkey) and Weenie (a very funny pig). The whole “conquering the planet” thing has kind of been forgotten now, and they just do stupid stuff. Another strip by the same artist, called Looshkin, has recently appeared. It’s like Simon’s Cat crossed with Maru on steroids.

My favourite comedy strip is Star Cat. This one also has characters made up of simple, brightly-coloured shapes. But instead of them going “I ate some PIE and then did a POO out of my BUM!”, it’s actually well-written and hilarious. It’s about Captain Spacington (a stupid hero), Plixx (a blob) and Robot_01 (just plain hilarious) attempting to do the simplest things, messing them up, then succeeding by pure luck XD. The Star Cat itself is piloted by a blue cat, who talks in random letters.

pho34

One of the funniest-ever scenes in The Phoenix

Another common comedy strip is Gary’s Garden, about insects (and sometimes other animals) who live in a guy’s garden. This also reminds me of Simon’s Cat a bit, only with no cats, and the characters talk! There’s a fairly regular series about “the mimicry club”, for animals who look like other things. The first one of these had a leaf bug and a butterfly with ‘eyes’ on it’s wings talking, while sitting on a stick insect XD.

pho38

More recent is Evil Emperor Penguin, about a penguin who wants to take over the world (he also ‘encourages’ people to subscribe on the back page, now and then). He is assisted by a posh octopus and many small furry minions. In one story he decides to impress people by becoming a hero instead, it doesn’t go well…

pho35

There’s also Kit and Clay. The characters in this look very simple too, but some of the backgrounds are well-drawn and detailed (look at this museum!). These range in length from 1-4 pages, and only appear infrequently.

pho18

Of course, one of the main selling points of The Phoenix for me (and only me, no doubt), is the fcact it contains text stories! Though they are usually only two page previews of children’s books. Occasionally an original story will be seralised. Both the previews and new stories are illustrated, though I doubt the illustrations appear in the books, when they come out.

pho9

A lot of the originals seem to be on a ghost or monster theme.

More recently, the “Tale Feathers” section has been taken over by Charlie Small, a boy who keeos getting into wierd situations and escaping them. These are original stories, perhaps being serialised for book publication? I’m not really a fan – give us some Edwardian detectives! “Tone down” and serialise some Holmes if you have to XD.

pho19

Several of the Charlie Small stories also come with cutaways of the machine featured in the story:

pho28

Which brings us neatly into the educational part of The Phoenix. Of course, I’d much prefer if the cutaways were of real things, especially modern things that were not cut-awayed in either Eagle – like the Javelin train, Airbus A380, iThings and so on. Mind you, Eagle did do some cutaways of things from Dan Dare, and The Phoenix has done the same with Troy Trailblazer’s ship:

pho37

One of the regular educational features of The Phoenix is Starborn. The first part of it was promoted as an epic adventure serial, but when it arrived it was just a one-part story about the first human to be born in space. She is found by advanced aliens to reveal “the secrets of the universe” to “the first starborn” of every intelligent species.

pho3

It then became a series of ‘posters’ about space – including current space technology and possibilities for the future. It also features sections about speculative other planets, and the life forms that might live on them. Readers were encouraged to think of what conditions might be like on a planet, and the adaptions a creature would need to survive there.

pho23

One of the more “grounded” ones.

The other main feature of the phoenix is the editorial, which also contains gag cartoons and short strips such as Planet of the Shapes. The editors themselves are characters, who occasionally show you around the “story labs”, and battle the villainous Barnaby Knowles, who wants to re-name the comic The Owl.

pho44

A common feature early on was Elsewhere…, which has several funny ideas. Not all of them involving elephants called Nellie…

pho15pho36

I’m glad The Phoenix has raced past the milestone set by it’s older brother, and I hope that it lives long into the future. It’s not exactly the British adventure comic I’d make, given the chance (I’d have Zara in every issue, for a start XD), but it’s pretty good. You can subscribe (well, try to!) on www.thephoenixcomic.co.uk, or else try your nearest Waitrose, you might be lucky!