Triumph – 17th February 1940

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


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

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


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


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


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


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


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

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


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

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


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

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


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


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


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


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


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


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

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


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

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


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

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

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


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

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

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


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


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


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


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


Well, War Picture Library, actually…


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


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

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


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

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

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

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


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

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


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


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


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


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

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


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


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

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

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


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


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

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

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

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


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


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


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


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

Thunderbirds Are Go!

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


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

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


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

Silly me, eh?

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



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

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Never mind, eh? It’s only for kids.

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

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Never mind, eh? It’s only for kids.

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

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


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

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


The Sexton Blake Library turns 100


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

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

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


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

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

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


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


This is the real stuff!

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


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

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

sb100_09 – sb100_10

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

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

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

sb100_11 – sb100_12

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


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


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

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

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


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


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


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


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


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


Better go and buy it, quick!

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

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

Peeps at foreign comics – comics from North Korea



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

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

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

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

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

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


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

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

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

kitakank_02 – kitakank_03 – kitakank_04

kitakank_05 – kitakank_06

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


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

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


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

kitakank_10 – kitakank_11

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

kitakank_12 – kitakank_13

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

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


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


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

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

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

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


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

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


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

1 – 오산의 전설 = Miscalculation of the Legend

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

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

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

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

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

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

107 – 다시 울린 종 = Bell Rang Again

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

kitakank_18 – kitakank_19

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

kitakank_20 – kitakank_20a

The next story is, erm, well…

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

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


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

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


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


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


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


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


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

kitakank_20h – kitakank_20i

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


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


kitakank_20k – kitakank_20l

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


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


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


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

kitakank_22 – kitakank_23

Oh, and the illustrations are done with green ink

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

kitakank_24 – kitakank_25 – kitakank_26


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


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


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

kitakank_30 – kitakank_31

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


I think I took too many pictures of this one

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

kitakank_34 – kitakank_35

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


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

kitakank_38 – kitakank_37

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


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

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


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

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


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

kitakank_43 – kitakank_44

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


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


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

kitakank_47 – kitakank_48

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


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


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


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


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


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


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

개구리바위 = Frog on a rock

보약먹은 그림자 = About eating shadow

은혜갚은 호랑이 = Grace Paid off Tiger

들쥐가 고른 사위 = Son-in-law Picked Vole


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

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


I think.

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


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


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


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


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

kitakank_062 – kitakank_063

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


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

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


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


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


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


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


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


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

kitakank_072 – kitakank_073

I didn’t spread out my picture taking particularly well

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

kitakank_075 – kitakank_076

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


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


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


You quickly learn the Korean sound for laughing

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


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


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


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


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

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


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


The lord’s palace

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


Is there nothing Tae Kwon Do can’t solve?

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


Which apparently involves massacring most of Korea’s wildlife

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


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

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


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


Clinical computer colouring

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


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


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


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


The siege

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


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


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



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


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


“And there’s no such thing as magic!”

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

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


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


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



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

The new Doctor Who Adventures

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


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


Oh, okay then.

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


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


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


Somebody’s just discovered the Wingdings font!

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


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


Yeah, look at those giant eyes.

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


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


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


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


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

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


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


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


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


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


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

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


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

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

dwac_19 – dwac_20

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

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

dwac_21 – dwac_22

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

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


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

The Boys’ Friend – March 20th, 1915

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


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

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


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

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

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


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

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

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


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


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


Fatherly, yet friendly, advice, and interesting information.

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


The very week the war ended, in fact.

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


The second issue after the return to twelve pages

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


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


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


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

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


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


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

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


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


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

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


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

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

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

A Soldier – And A Man, the Christmas Union Jack of 1914


The famous Christmas truce of 1914 has now gone down in legend. But what were the people of 1914 predicting for Christmas day before it had actually happened? Let’s find out, from the Union Jack’s 1914 Christmas issue!

…even though it’s cover, and presumably off-sale date, is the 19th of december! Amalgamated Press were producing so many story papers by that time, many of them due double-priced “double numbers” for Christmas, that they couldn’t bring out all of these double numbers at once without risking a loss in sales, so they seem to have been staggered. The Union Jack’s Christmas double number actually going on sale nearly a full week before the date! The one actually being sold on Christmas day was a normal, one-penny issue. Why no, they didn’t “take a break”, as many weeklies seem to do these days – it really did mean “every week”, a century ago.


As usual, the inside front cover is given over to the adverts, and the first proper page is a ‘second cover’, so people could take off the actual covers and bind them. Sadly, many did – I have the 1907 Christmas issue without it’s cover! As this issue has double the number of pages, they can afford to spend a whole one on a grand, decorated and theatre-like introduction to the story, complete with a “cast of characters”. This was a common device at the time, in serial re-caps as well as complete stories.

There’s also a map, showing where the “U.J.” is regularly read. As well as the British Empire, dominions, Japan and parts of South America (where Britain had large cattle and railway interests, if not actual governmental control), the U.J. also appears to be read in a large part of “enemy territory”!


Any bit of intelligence helps?

After that, we get right into the main story – a very long one, taking up almost all the issue. If there was a serial running at the time, it appears to have been suspended for this Sexton Blake epic. The illustrations accompanying the main story are also given whole pages to themselves, whereas in the normal run of things they’d be in among the text (though, instead, some unrelated ones are – see later!). There’s also holly decorations at the tops and bottoms of the pages.


The story opens with a lengthy prologue – not always possible in the typical UJ, but common in issues of the soon-to-start Sexton Blake Library (I wonder if there will be a 100th anniversary special issue?). Robert Fenmore was a wealthy and respected man-about-town, who is seized by the gambling bug and quickly runs through his money. He then marries a wealthy orphan called Marion, who has a fortune of £100,000. He swiftly reduces this to £30,000, and, as the story opens, takes another £5000 from her. Of course, he expects he will soon have his “big win”, which will solve all his problems.

Fenmore has also been seeing rather too much of a popular music-hall star called Marion Paul. Little does he know, she’s a “plant”, designed to encourage him to carry on gambling. And she was planted by his cousin, Harold Craig, who also loved Marion Fenmore (the story doesn’t mention her maiden name). He goes to his club, where three other men discuss the scandal he is causing. One of them, apparently known only as Graves, is the uncle of Mademoiselle Yvonne, an international adventuress who appears in many Sexton Blake stories. Sometimes as a friend, sometimes a rival! Anyway, Yvonne is a friend of Marion Fenmore, and gets the story of the unhappy marriage from her uncle. She decides to “get to the bottom of” the mystery… and as the female Sexton Blake (or near enough!), might just do it!


Yvonne goes to the gambling-den, called Frileti’s, which is a high-stakes place with some strict rules, including one that all women, and any men who wish to, must come masked. This helps Yvonne watch the games unnoticed, though! She plays a little, winning and losing evenly. Finally Bob Fenmore turns up, passing straight into a mysterious back room, where high-stakes games are played. Yvonne has a lot of money on her, so follows Bob and his chorus-girl companion in, noticing that Bob, and a “dark skinned foreigner” are both losing heavily, whilst thier attractive female companions rarely wager, lose little, and win a bit on occasion. Yvonne starts to make exactly the opposite bets to the men, and begins to win – the game is crooked, and the good-looking women are there to lure in rich men!

Yvonne quickly works this out, and that the music-hall star, Marion Paul, has her claws into Bob Fenmore. She also knows the dealer. Once Bob is cleaned out, the evening breaks up. Yvonne, roping a cab driver into her black ops game, follows the dealer from the high-stakes room home, discovering him to be Harold Craig! The next day, she calls on a solicitor friend who can, by his own methods, find out anything about anyone. She quickly runs Harold Craig to earth and applies a little blackmail – threatening to go to the police if he doesn’t sell her his gambling operation for £10,000 – far less than it’s worth, and a large part of that 10,000 was won from “the house” the previous night! Craig compromises – he’ll take Yvonne into partnership, and let her do the dealing in the high-stakes room. She’ll still rip people off, but will keep half the money. This, of course, includes all the money from Bob Fenmore, and a bit over. Yvonne cleans him out entirely – but holds on to all the money, planning to deliver it back to his unfortunate wife.


Bob Fenmore goes home, his cousin with him. Harold tries to give him a loan – to bring him under complete control – but then the butler comes in with momentous news – war has been declared on Germany! Bob decides to write his wife a letter, admitting that he is bankrupt, and that he is “going away” – to enlist in the army under a false name – and will probably be killed (in “the greatest slaughter in history”, hardly the grand boy scout adventure we’re told papers of this kind described it!). His life insurance, and the diamond-encrusted Fenmore Necklace, will then provide for her. As soon as Bob has gone, leaving Harold with the necklace, the latter decides to, instead, give it to Marion Paul (“thank fortune their names are the same!”). Bob’s apparent “mistress” appearing in polite society wearing the famous necklace is bound to cause a scandal, further blacken the Fenmore name, and make Marion Fenmore totally dependent on Harold Craig!

The war drags on, the battle of Mons is fought to a standstill, and the lines of trenches begin to solidify across Europe. Bob Fenmore has vanished, and Marion Fenmore has moved into a small flat. But she has dismissed Harold Craig from her life entirely, and has a mysterious source of money that is keeping her head above water. Nobody but her and Yvonne know that she received an anonymous letter containing £40,000 – her own money, really, stolen from her husband! Harold Craig is seeing much more of Marion Paul, who scandalised society by wearing the necklace, as planned. Then, one night, Harold is seen entering her flat, while she is performing. She comes back later, with a group of friends, and they find Harold in the flat – poisoned! There has obviously been a huge fight, Harold the loser – but nothing has been stolen. Nothing, except the Fenmore Necklace!

Inspector Thomas, one of the lesser-known police friends of Sexton Blake (After the awkwardly-talking Spearing, and before the well-known Coutts), says that he is investigating the crime, and that Marion Paul thinks Bob Fenmore has been sending nasty letters, and that he stole the necklace. Thomas then visits Marion Fenmore, who is apparently too ill to see him, but, while the maid is out of the room, he spots the necklace on her sitting-room table! It looks like the vanished Bob Fenmore is responsible – but can Sexton Blake find him?

Blake and Thomas travel to the crime scene, where Blake quickly notices that the “signs of a struggle” appear to be faked. Lots of frail ornaments have fallen on the floor, but haven’t been broken. Also some flowers from a vase were not just thrown away, but burned! At this point Maron Paul arrives, and isn’t happy at Sexton Blake’s insistence that he takes the letter, which accompanied the necklace, with him. He then investigates footprints outside, and compares fingerprints with those of Marion and her servants – finding no unusual ones, whoever stole the necklace was an expert safe-cracker. Sexton Blake quickly spots that the necklace was intended for Marion Fenmore, not Paul. He then finds a single petal from the burned flowers, which he’d accidentally put in his pocket with something else. He takes the petal to his laboratory, to analyse some curious blue spots on it – but collapses halfway!

The scene then changes to the Western Front. Now, only a month ago, I showed you what The Boys’ Journal was writing about the war – the trenches becoming huge fist-fights, the Germans running away at the first sign of a counterattack, and so on. Certian “other” places, when writing about the British comics of this era (never mind the fact they have never read any), will tell you that those sorts of attitudes persisted throughout the entire First World War, brainwashing working-class teens into signing up for some easy “sport”. But is it actually true? Well, lets look at how the trench battles were being described in Union Jack by december 1914…


Hardly sounds glamorous, does it? Men with agonising wounds, vomiting into the freezing sewer which, to them, represented a narrow strip of safety in a land stripped of all life. And yet tens of thousands were still willingly volunteering – they went because they saw it as their duty, as a service to something bigger than themselves. Look at Britain today – the majority of people are begging the government for more censorship, for more police surveillance. This nation is awash with cowards, willing to surrender any freedom if “even one child” is saved, “even one bomb” prevented. A sickening insult to the sacrifices of our greatest generations.

To continue, Bob Fenmore, under the false name of Robert Fraser, rescues his sergeant from no-man’s land, receiving several severe wounds in the process. He is taken to hospital, raving to himself, and is not expected to survive. But even as he hovers between life and death, his commanding officer is recommending him for the Victoria Cross. Back in London, Tinker discovers his master collapsed on the floor, and calls a doctor. They eventually revive him (the doctor saying “we are losing enough good men in the trenches”), and he explains that some sort of poison was on the rose petal, even that small amount nearly enough to kill! Clearly, the murder of Harold Craig, instead of being a disturbed burglary, was in fact carefully planned. The wrecked room just a blind.

100cuj07 – 100cuj08

Sexton Blake is wondering about the case, when Yvonne visits, she also wants Bob Fenmore to be found. Blake also gets her to confess that she broke into Marion Paul’s flat and stole the necklace, sending it to Marion Fenmore. She mentions that the room was wrecked when she arrived, and the roses were on the floor. She also noticed a strange smell, and felt slightly giddy – the poison had already been placed! They then, quite easily, work out where Fenmore has hidden himself – ruined, wanting to die, and with a war starting, he obviously went into the army.

While they’re working that out, Tinker is out looking for Marion Paul, who clearly knows more about the crime that she’s letting on. He tricks his way into the flat, which is a spacious one, and is able to spy on her and a “servant”, who she speaks to as an equal. Unfortunately Tinker can’t hear what they are saying. Marion leaves, visits a bookshop, and returns, followed by Tinker the whole way. She didn’t buy anything in the shop, though – why go directly there and back for no reason? Tinker gets on the roof, and is able to spy on the maid and her mistress – though, again, they talk to each other as equals – through a skylight. He still can’t hear what they’re saying, though! After a while, the maid cleans up in the kitchen and leaves. Tinker breaks in, and gets into a room opposite to the one where they are all sitting – Marion, her two servants, and a man with “a Teutonic cast of features”(!). The two doors are left open, and Tinker can hear them talking – they are worried about Sexton Blake “discovering the truth about the murder”. The other three are also called Johann, Max and Zela, not very British names! They are talking about the stolen necklace – they haven’t worked out who has taken it, yet, and plan to put a notice in the newspapers, hoping to draw out the thief. They then talk about how to “deal with” Sexton Blake, Tinker can’t quite hear and leans forwards – only to be spotted by a dog, which he hadn’t noticed before. The animal raises the alarm, and he is captured.

Sexton Blake is still at home, testing the poison on the petal. He gets a phone call from the secret service, they want him to take some documents to France, and can’t trust a normal courier. War work must always come first, and he is soon off on, it turns out, Yvonne’s yacht, which she has turned over to military work. The crew are the same, and know Blake well. He reaches France and stays the night in a hotel, where he will meet another secret agent. Meanwhile a German spy tries to kill him, but is soon knocked out and tied up. All in a day’s work! Blake meets the British agent, who asks him to use the yacht to take back a tired-out volunteer nurse, who is only named as “The Hon. Edwina”. Sexton Blake has met her previously, at a dance (I expect she was briefly referred to in an earlier story, by a different writer, and this writer didn’t want to step on the other’s toes by coming up with a full name for her!).  She talks about a wounded, raving man she had to treat, who kept calling himself Robert Fenmore!

Back at Baker Street, Yvonne is waiting for Sexton Blake or Tinker to show up. She hears noises in the laboratory, and hides herself in a cupboard. A man comes from the lab, and into Sexton Blake’s bedroom. When he comes out again, she surprises him. He doesn’t think she’s a threat, so she shoots him in the shoulder. Pedro holds him down while she ties him up and dumps him back in the bedroom. She looks out the window, and spots a taxi waiting. She gets into it with Pedro, says the previous fare is not coming back, and asks to be driven to where he was picked up from. She gets taken back to the flats where Tinker is being held. Climbing on the roof, she spots the villains about to kill him with the same poison they put on the flowers. But, at the last moment, they decide they’d better have a taxi ready for an instant getaway. Yvonne quickly gets into the room, pours the poison away, and replaces it with water. The crooks come back – they have a cab driver working for them – and drive out into the countryside, dumping Tinker in a ditch. Yvonne picks him up and carries on after the villains, but they realise they are being followed and try to get away – right into the path of  a train! The maid, butler and driver are all killed. Tinker and Yvonne go back to Baker Street, where they find the prisoner dead, too. He had saturated Sexton Blake’s room with the same poison – which kills by inhalation – and Yvonne had left him laying on the floor!

Only Marion Paul is left out of the gang, and she says that the leader, Max, had forced her to marry him in Vienna, where they bled rich men dry. They did the same in Berlin and Paris before coming to London. Marion was completely helpless, her servants were really the spies of her husband, and he would punish her if she ever went to the police, or warned one of his victims. She has many letters and papers that prove this, and Yvonne quickly arranges matters to hide her involvement in any wrong-doing from the police. Sexton Blake gets back, and she tells him about all this. He later goes back to France and finds Bob Fenm0re – who has now “come to his senses”, and can hardly continue to fight, with his wounds.

Bob Fenmore is bought back to England, and taken to his wife’s new flat. She forgives everything, and he, in turn, forgives Marion Paul. We also discover the reason for Marion Fenmore being confined indoors – not just depression, but the fact Bob Fenmore now has the greatest gift of all – a son!

There’s little else, apart from the story. There’s an article on the Fall of Antwerp, in a similar style to the one about the Belgian forts from the Boys’ Journal issue I looked at in the previous post. Except here, half the article is missing! However, there doesn’t seem to be a page missing from my copy (I have the corresponding one, with the start of the Sexton Blake story on it, and the page seems to ‘bend down’ at the spine). Maybe it was a printing error?


Continuing with the warlike theme, the issue contains two illustrations of The London Scottish in action. The regiment’s name is pretty self-explanatory, and they still exist today, though as a company in a larger London Regiment. Apparently they existed before World War 1, but were re-raised as part of Kitchener’s new army, and distinguished themselves in their first battle. Today, however, the Wikipedia entry for them just has a blank space for World War 1.

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There’s also an extremely grainy picture of “pay day in the navy!”, photographic reproduction in mass-market, cheap publications was a hit-and-miss affair in those days (though Chums, and other “upmarket” publications, did it better, despite their weekly issues also costing a penny).


As well as the incomplete Fall of Antwerp article, there’s an also-grainily-reproduced wash illustration of the German army under bombardment from offshore “Monitor ships”, which were warships with a shallow draught, allowing them to come up close to the muddy, indistinct coast around river estuaries and fire at enemies on shore.


I try to avoid mentioning the adverts in the old comics I look at – the stories are more important! But Amalgamated Press liked to advertise their papers in one another. Here’s adverts for the Christmas special of the Boys’ Journal, as well as the next, regular-sized issue. That Zeppelin cover looks great! Was it an all-over wash illustration, in the style of the Boys’ Friend Library?

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For decades, people have been going on about Christmas being “too commercialised”. Well it was the same back before living memory, too! What’s the best way to have a truly happy Christmas? Buying the Weekly Friend, of course!


And finally, an advert for an electronic gadget that will keep the boys happy. A light! Not sure about that “burns for hours” claim, though some of the bulbs of those days were only a single watt. “A battery that lasts for years” needs some explaining to modern readers, too: They meant you’d need to “re-charge” the battery, by literally refilling it with chemicals when the power ran out! Children who wanted to dabble with electricity in those days had to put quite a bit of effort in just to get electricity!


The Boys’ Journal vol. 3 No. 60 – November 1914

Earlier in the year, I looked at a Boys’ Journal serial which began exactly 100 years (going by the cover date, anyway) prior to the post. I promised another “100 years later” post, and promptly forgot about. Oh well, 100 years and a week and a bit, then!


Of course, the cover date could have been when it went off sale.

Modern historians like to talk about how the “popular magazines” (because the very term “story paper” has been erased from the cultural consciousness. Even though it’s possible that, in 2014, Britain is one of the countries with the most story papers in current publication – all four of them!) of World War 1 talked up trench warfare as “a grand life” of camping, cricket and the occasional battle, in which the “huns” would quickly surrender or run away. For most of the war, that wasn’t true – plenty of the soldiers at the front, especially junior officers, were able to make it back home on  a week’s leave and describe their experiences. It became clear, very quickly, that what was going on was not “glamorous”. Most of the story papers quickly switched to escapism: spy chases, behind-the-lines adventures, or stories about other, much older European wars. An early Sexton Blake library urges to pray that a such a war “will never be seen again”, and the Christmas 1914 Union Jack (to be reviewed when the time comes) hardly paints a pleasant picture of the trenches.

But, before all that, for a few glorious months, AP papers were exactly what those historians talk about! They make fascinating reading now, the hysterical anti-German hatred and ludicrous battle scenes need to be seen to be beleived. Apparently The Boys’ Friend was one of the “best” papers, for this sort of thing. Though I have some some pretty silly Dreadnought covers, too. Unfortunately, I only own one of these hate-crazed papers, this issue of The Boys’ Journal!


The inner pages, note “second” cover, so the real cover can be removed, if somebody wants to bind it in a book.

The lead serial is called “War to the Death! Or, When Britain Fought for Right”. The title ought to give you some idea of what to expect – two territorials are called to war, but not before discovering that a German spy is trying to diddle one of them out of his inheritance (a very common theme in AP story papers, right up into the early twenties!).


I came into this serial at just the right point for a major battle scene. The evil, cowardly Germans are, of course, advancing while disguised as Belgians. Though apparently the illustrator forgot this, showing them in their usual spiked helmets. The advancing teutonic horde is given a good pasting by artillery and, as they get into range, rifle fire. Tragically, this was probably the part that seemed most “unbelievable” to soon-to-be-eligible teenage boys reading it. But was, of course, pretty much the standard attacking procedure until towards the end of 1917.

Once the enemy are close enough to get to grips, the soldiers all jump out of their trenches, and the scene starts to look more like an overgrown pub brawl. Just have a read of this!


The accompanying illustration looks similar to those in stories about Victorian-era wars, where the red-coated Brits swarmed amongst sword-armed Arabs and Africans. Two of the Germans even appear to be bayonetting one of their own comrades XD.


Note they’re still wearing cloth caps here, rather than the steel helmets.

Both of our heroes are wounded in the battle (though continue fighting until they drop from exhaustion, naturally). Sidney ending up in hospital, where he finds his girlfriend has enlisted as an amateur nurse. Just as they’re being reunited, German aeroplanes (all with specific “names”, and talked about as if they are ships) start bombing the town. The villain of the tale is piloting one of these, and has somehow worked out that his enemy will be in the hospital, so he orders his observer to bomb it. The observer, to his credit, doesn’t want to – but “he knew what it meant to disobey an officer”!


The next story is a complete one, called The Ghost Lugger. This one doesn’t mention the war, it’s a straightforward smuggling tale (the smuggler’s aren’t even bringing over German spies, or taking stolen arms to the enemy!). The “ghost lugger” in question being part of a ship with several removable sections, which can be used to hide contraband in.


After that, there’s the inevitable stamp section. This about the stamps of Alsace-Lorraine, a part of France that had been seized by Germany in the earlier Franco-Prussian war. The writer, confident of an allied victory, predicts that “one of the most certain results of the present war will be the return of these provinces to France”. No illustrations of the stamps in question, though!


This is followed by The Great Tunnel Tragedy, another non-war-related story about a policeman who solves a mystery. It has no illustrations at all, though the title has a flag, which is an exact copy of one from the “The End” block on the previous story! There is a photo of a naval gunner, though.


As this issue is from early November, the old customs can’t be cast aside just because of a bit of a ruckus on the continent. There’s an article about how to make a “fire balloon”, what we’d now call a Chinese Lantern. Unlike todays modern dolphin-choking plastic models, this is all biodegradable paper!


After this, on the centre spread, there’s a strange “factual” story about the fall of Liege, an early battle in the war. It’s “framed” by two British boys, who were on holiday when the war broke out, and have only just made it back to England. They “heard something of the battle”, and ask their father about it. He was fortunate enough to have actually been…. in England, and read about it in the papers. He gives an account which contains passages about the Germans being like “flies around a cube of sugar”. The gallant Belgians kill thousands of Germans from their safe trenches and forts, but are still beaten by the ever-increasing field-grey horde. Also the dastardly huns capture a bridge by parking a van full of wounded Belgians in the middle of it. The story ends with the two boys edging towards the door. “Where are you going?” asks the father. “To enlist!” they reply. “Bravo!” he whispers, in awed envy!


The dots are pencil, added by a previous owner.

After that, we have a photo of one of Britain’s warships – HMS Monarch. Probably built only a few years after the still-surviving Mikasa, in Japan, but with a much more squat, narrow, “all big gun” profile. Oh if only one of these dreadnought-era ships had been saved!


The next story is another serial (which also reaches chapter 15 in this issue!). The Mystery at Craghurst is a school story, with a mystery of missing persons, criminals prowling the district, and distractions in the form of “Football” (Rugby!) matches. The match in this issue being between a team of “peat cutters” and the schoolboys. Except the dastardly local landowner has swapped out the peat cutters for big, tough miners. The crowd of locals is looking like trouble, too – a teacher advises members of the schools cadet corps to be ready to rush for their (blank-loaded!) rifles if there’s any trouble. I suspect the unscrupulous landowner goes face-first into a peat bog at least once in this story!


After that, a Sexton Blake serial! This one is an adaption of a Sexton Blake film, which was then being shown. With rather more dialogue, I suppose – considering the film would have been silent! Up into the twenties and thirties, written adaptions of films were pretty common. There was even some story papers dedicated to them – Boys’ and Girl’s Cinema, for instance. A cinema ticket was probably roughly equivalent in price to one of these papers, so you could see one popular film and read about the others. Later on, paperback adaptions of films had to “make do” until video players came along in the 1980’s, and bought “on demand” replays into the average home.


This is followed by the script for a “crosstalk”, a type of stand-up comedy with a straight man and a comedian interrupting him. That lasted well into the twentieth century, too – no doubt you’ll be able to catch some Morecambe and Wise over Christmas! Being from late 1914, this one tells of a heroic wartime exploit (shooting down a Zeppelin, capturing it, and flying over the heads of a besieging enemy to fetch reinforcements). Naturally, the characters decide to join the army at the end.


There’s some more factual content on the back covers, too. Remember that some binding readers would have thrown them away. On the inside cover is a “poster”, showing British army and navy officer ranks. Some readers no doubt put it up on their walls.


The back cover is a short article about Krupp’s, the famous German armaments manufacturer. “Krupp Steel” was a byword for strength in those days, and the power of their naval guns was well-respected. At the time, the firm was run by a woman – Bertha Krupp, eldest daughter of the previous manager. German surface raiders certainly did plenty of damage, but it was the submarines that really caused Britain trouble!


Midwife Maudie

Launched in January 2012, the show Call The Midwife has gone on to be a huge success in Britain, and is building up a good reputation abroad too. But, have any of you watched it and thought that it would be better if it also contained murder mysteries, and was set in a small village on the border of Wales, a decade further back in time? Well DC Thomson have you covered!


I never actually noticed the cover photo changes until I get them all out to photograph XD.

This series of stories is published in the My Weekly Pocket Novel library, a small story-paper which comes out twice a month. For most of it’s life, it was “Commando” digest-sized, but, more recently (probably around April 2012-time, when Commando changed) became “paperback sized” (though still as thick as a Commando). More recently still, the series went ‘large print’, and became roughly the same size as “golden age” paperbacks from the 60’s to 80’s. The large print upgrade was probably necessary, as their intended audience is “mature”,  to put it politely.

The libraries are always about genteel, “innocent” romance, and are often set in the past. It seems like most of the stories are complete, too, though Maudie is probably not the only recurring character. When things like murder mysteries and quests for hidden treasure (well, flowers, as in the only non-Maudie one I have read) feature, it’s always as a secondary plot. I’m sometimes tempted to write one myself… though I doubt they will be interested in a romantic story between a white guy and a half-Chinese guy, who are being pestered by insane otaku girls in a university anime society. Oh well, I’ll do it as a “manga” instead!

But back to the Maudie stories, I actually bought the first one just as something to read while I waited for a job interview that I’d arrived an hour and a half early for (then sat in the car, wearing a suit, in blazing June heat. I still didn’t get it!). I’d also been listening to a lot of Much-Binding-In-The-Marsh (a late 4o’s radio series hosted by Kenneth Horne, who would later star in the legendary Round The Horne), so the late 40’s setting resonated with me. The four stories in the “first batch” take the reader up to the end of the 40’s, and Maudie’s marriage to the local policeman, Dick Bryant. The “second batch” is now underway, and these books take the stories into the “never had it so good” decade of the 1950’s. Though, in the early part of that decade, quite a lot of things were still on the ration. Book number 7 is going to be a Christmas Special. Snow on the logo is not expected!


The Midwife and the Murder


Issue 1823 – June 2013

This opening story is set in 1947, a time when rationing was still in full force, new clothes, shoes and other items were virtually unobtainable (and if you did see them in the shops, they were labelled “For Export Only”, in the hope rich tourists would take them home!). Maudie is the Llandyfan midwife, but through the war has also been working as the local nurse, too. In an early part of the story she checks up on a boy with chicken pox, as well as looking in on a new mother, whose father wants the baby to be kept quiet at night, and accuses her of “sitting at home all day with nothing to do”!

The story opens with Maudie finding a murder victim on an isolated hill path, after having seen to a patient on a farm. She calls in Constable Dick Bryant, but has been reading a lot of Miss Marple, and wonders if she could have a hand in solving the case herself. At the same time, a little girl called Polly Willis goes missing, but turns up again – but, for some reason, she is too frightened to speak to anybody. There’s also a travelling salesman in the area – during the war, a young man who travelled around the country a lot, and was not in the army, was looked on with suspicion… but surely that’s all over, now?


Blood Lines


Issue 1828 – Aug 2013

This one starts off with a woman who thinks she can remember a load of past lives, dating back centuries. There’s also a teen couple who have “got in trouble” and try to elope to Gretna Green in an old Austin Seven. Only to crash the car and cause the baby to be born prematurely. There’s also a spate of shoplifting, which is eventually traced to some young “Asylum Seekers”(or DP’s, as they were called at the time) living in a disused railway carriage. Also, a family who have been taking care of a war orphan for years have suddenly found out the girl has family in Australia, and will probably be sent away.

Meanwhile, there’s a village fete in the offing… and then the fortune-teller gets stabbed! The fortune-teller is also the sister of Mrs Blythe, the “reincarnated” woman. She immediately starts to think the murderer will come for her next, having been “nearly pushed into the river” recently (though it was more likely she slipped). It doesn’t help that the fortune-teller looks very much like her sister, and has been in America with a man involved in some sort of shady deals. Before long, the killer shows his hand again. But Maudie’s policeman friend, Dick Bryant, catches him in the act!

Maudie has problems of her own. The elderly doctor, who had come out of retirement in the war, is going back into retirement. A new man is coming into the district, and will take over Maudie’s “nursing” duties, though he also expects to be able to move into her cottage (which is actually council property), and acts as if everything’s already decided. Luckily another new doctor comes along, and decides he can turn his rich aunt’s old mansion gatehouse into a proper surgery. Oh, and, incedentally, Dick Bryant proposes…


Blood Money


Issue 1834 – November 2013

The story begins with a conversation about the new doctor’s surgery. Apparently it has a “butler”, called Brian “Bingo” Munroe, who hasn’t been able to find a job since he left the army at the end of the war. As well as the snooty Dr Dean, there’s a Dr Lennox, and his “jilted fiancee”. Except they’d never been engaged in the first place, she’s stalking him and lying! Maudie is busy with wedding planning, when Dick suddenly reveals that he’s been selected to go on a special exchange course in Canada. If they get married quickly, she can go with him – but does she want to rush the wedding, and does she really want to go and live in a strange land (they have decimal currency!)?

Maudie and Dick postpone the wedding, and he sails off to Canada alone. When she gets back, she finds Dr Lennox’s non-fiancee has been lured to an isolated shack and bludgeoned to death! Obviously, everybody suspects the doctor, especially once the village gossips hear about the stalking. To make matters more confusing, a “suicide note” from the victim is posted to the local paper, though how she managed to hit herself on the back of the head is anyone’s guess. Later, Dr Lennox’s rich aunt makes an obviously-false confession, trying to protect her nephew. Of course, this just makes the police more certain he did it!

Eventually, Maudie stumbles on the real murderer, almost by accident. He traps her and an old lady in a house, but fortunately a man whose wife has gone into labour shows up and scares the killer off. He tries to get away in a car, but crashes it and dies.


A Face From the Past


Issue 1838 – Jan 2014

This one’s a bit different, there’s not actually a murder in it! Dick is back from Canada, but has now been invited away to train to be a detective, though he could also be promoted to uniformed sergeant. Looks like the wedding is being put off again!

A new doctor comes to the area (after Dr Lennox left, due to the scandal around the murder in the previous book). This time his name is Julian Ransome – and he used to be Maudie’s boyfriend! He blew her off after she suggested marriage, then went off to North Africa during the war. Now he’s back, and practicing in Llandyfan. She is very nervous about meeting him – but he doesn’t seem to want to talk about the past at all, in fact, he looks right through her. She soon gets suspicious – is he even the same man?


Unholy Ground


Issue 1849 – June 2014

This one opens with the wedding of Maudie Stevens to Dick Bryant, so she is now called Maudie Bryant. There was none of this intentional double-barreling in 1950,  though I doubt one of these books set in 2014 would feature characters doing it either. They’re escapism all right!

Anyway, the mystery in this book is more of a “cold case”. A young mother called Sheila Ramsay, driven to distraction by her crying baby and unhelpful husband, abandons her baby in somebody else’s pram, then walks home with her own empty pram. Was she so tired she wasn’t thinking properly? Or did she really mean to abandon the child? Maudie and Dick arrange for her mother to come and help with the baby, to the husband’s horror. He’s the bank manager, and claims to “be a personal friend of the chief constable!”. Though it’s more likely the chief constable is a customer at the bank, and the manager knows who to toady to.

Later on, a farmer ploughs up the skeleton of a dead baby in a field, surely Shiela Ramsay has not gone too far? Fortunately, it turns out the dead baby is 100 years old. Maudie decides to do some investigating, meeting the great grandmother of a baby she delivers, who talks about “the war we just had”. Except this turns out to be the Boer War, fought from 1899 to 1902! However, she then goes on to hint at the “poor baby” whose “bones were found after all”. Maudie does some more research and uncovers an account of babies born out of wedlock and being swapped, back in the early Victorian era.

There’s also a side plot about the council putting Maudie’s house up for sale. It comes with her job, and in those days a woman was expected to give up her job, once she was married. Maudie is still part time, but she and dick can’t scrape enough together to buy their own house – until a local woman discovers that her family have a power to veto the sale of certain cottages, given to them in celebration of Victoria’s diamond jubilee, in 1897. The removal of the stress related to moving house is pretty handy, as Maudie has been feeling tired and sick in the mornings. Considering her profession, it takes an embarrassingly long time to realise what that means!



Fire in the Valley


Issue 1858 – Oct 2014

Though this one is called “Fire in the Valley”, and the blurb says that a “mystery fire-raiser is causing havoc!”, the arson plot is actually kind of in the background, until right at the end of the story. The story begins with Maudie staying at home, because she’s pregnant, when an RSPCA flag seller comes to the door, he was taking a short cut across a bit of common land in the village, when he found a body! A dog alerted him to it, then followed him. The dog ends up living in Maudie’s house!

The victim turns out to be the milkman, who has been “courting” a similarly-aged woman in the village, who is actually his sister! Apparently there were three children, all separated at birth. The third one is still missing, maybe in Canada. The milkman had also apparently recognised somebody in a pub in the nearby town recently. A tale of a young man stringing a girl along, and vanishing with her money, during the war eventually comes out. All this happened over in Wales, so Dick is sent over there to make inquiries, and might as well take Maudie with him. They discover the identity of the swindler, but nobody knows where he is now.

After they get back, Maudie is doing something else and once again stumbles across the murderer, coming within an ace of getting killed. Luckily somebody sneaks up behind him with a frying pan! With that all straightened out, Maudie goes into a special maternity hospital to have her baby. She’s looking out of the window one night, and spots somebody sneaking around near the church outside – it’s the arsonist! He accidentally sets himself on fire when the police arrive, but they quickly put him out. The shock sends Maudie into labour, and by the time Dick gets back the next day, he has a son!

The next story is due out in early December, and is going to be a Christmas one, probably Christmas 1951 – still a time of rationing and austerity. I doubt the paper will have snow on the logo, though!