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.

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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…

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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).

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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!

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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.

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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!

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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.

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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.

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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?).

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

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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?

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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!

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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).

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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!

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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!

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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.

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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!

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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.

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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”?

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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:

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 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!

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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!

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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:

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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!

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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!)

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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.

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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!

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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!

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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.

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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.

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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:
http://www.collectingbooksandmagazines.com/boysfriend.html

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

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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.

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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”!

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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.

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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!

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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.

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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…

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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.

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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?

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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).

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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.

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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!

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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!

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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!

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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!

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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!).

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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!

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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.

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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”!

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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.

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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!

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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.

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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!

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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!

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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!

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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!

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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!

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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!

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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

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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

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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

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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

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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

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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!

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Fire in the Valley

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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!

The Sexton Blake Library is back!

Normally, when you hear about a British comic being “back”, it’s either a point-missing American revival in which the main character is a psychopathic cannibal, a book of reprints, a one-off “funny” newspaper strip, or (in a depressingly-increasing number of cases) digital-only. Maybe even digital-only reprints, which are basically free to make and still sold for the thick end of a fiver. And people who are oh-so “aware” of “what’s going on in the world” lap it up. While, no doubt, sharing pictures on Facebook about how they don’t fall for “corporate propaganda”.

But when I say The Sexton Blake Library is back, I mean it’s BACK! New stories, printed on paper! Now, when the revival was first announced, I was hoping it would be this sort of size:

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And this sort of price:

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Was the announcement really that long ago?

And not this sort of size:

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And this sort of price:

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Well in size, it’s actually a hardback, of about these dimensions…

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And as for price…

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JESUS, IT’S TWENTY QUID!*

I was also hoping it was going to be sold in newsagents, perhaps near the My Weekly and People’s Friend story libraries, rather than in bookshops. But I haven’t seen it in either, it looks like it’s online ordering only, though it might turn up in bigger Waterstoneses. I’ll check when I go to London next… I just hope it’s in the Crime section, and not the Steampunk section.

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But anyway, on to the content! As I said, often, when we hear about a comic or character being “back”, it often turns out to be reprints. But the new SBL is really NEW, and begins with a story by Mark Hodder, who is already well-known in steampunk circles (as well as, erm, running the biggest Sexton Blake website!). Resisting the temptation to “update” the character, with, say, an alsatian and a black Tinker (Though I had a plan to do that myself, many years ago!), the new story reads exactly like an issue of the SBL would have eighty-something years ago. It even has an “introducing” blurb before the story – common in both the Sexton Blake Library and the weekly Union Jack.

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The story packs in all the usual Sexton Blake tropes – fiendish, untrustworthy master villains, disguises, escapes, sleight-of-hand trickery, betrayals and James Bond (or Captain Justice!)-esque “gadgets”, far in advance of the technology of the day. If that isn’t enough, the discovery of a priceless, bible-referenced treasure is slotted in as a mere scene-setter. There’s even an upper-class imperialist offering an actually-quite-convincing explanation of why the Middle East is always such a trouble spot! Remember, once upon a time, you could buy at least eight stories of this quality every month!

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The first story ends with a quick explanation of the origin of the main villains (also returning from old stories, though one of thier associates, “The Gentleman”, is a new character). We are then treated to a reprint of their very first story, originally published in The Union Jack, in 1922. It’s by G.H. Teed, regarded by many as the best Sexton Blake writer (he was quite the “character” himself. A biography would be very difficult to piece together, but would make interesting reading). To Mark Hodder’s, and the new Library’s, credit, the style and pacing of the story are almost indistinguishable from the brand-new one that preceded it!

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It retains the introductory blurb, and the sometimes-spoiler-tastic chapter titles. Unfortunately the illustrations are not reproduced. Shame, as they were almost certainly by Eric Parker, regarded by many as the best Sexton Blake artist! He’s certainly the one who gave him a defined image, anyway. It’s interesting to see the “origin story” of the three villains who we have just seen foiled in the main story, and it’s a great thriller in itself, though the ending is a little rushed. The Union Jack didn’t have a great deal of space, though!

The new SBL may be £20, but it is quarterly (for now…?), so you have time to save up. If every issue is of the same quality, it ought to do well! I do hope there’s stories set in several different time periods, though. In fact, I seem to remember hints that a story about “Silent Thunder” was going to explain how Sexton Blake, Tinker and Mrs Bardell lived right through from the 1890’s to 1960’s (and, unofficially, far beyond!) without ageing.  That story was going to alternate between the early 20th and 21st centuries. The one in this volume, though, is set sometime around 1928, and is more “straightforward”. As straightforward as you get with Sexton Blake, anyway!

* – Also, I’d ignore that “one left in stock” message. The much older Zenith Lives! book, from the same publisher, says the same, even though I bought “the last one” ages ago. Hasn’t stopped somebody trying to re-sell their “rare” copy for £3000, though!

British comics herald the start of World War 1

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

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

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

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

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

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Though the title could suggest mysterious spy capers

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

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Stay, thy Norman churls!

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Some nice illustrations, too.

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

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

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

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

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

The only British thing in the Kyoto International Manga Museum

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Which is very difficult to take a decent picture of

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Peeps at foreign comics 4: Frisette

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

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

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A typical issue – not sympathetically trimmed!

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

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

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

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China

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Don’t know where that is

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On a ship

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New York

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Milan

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

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

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From early in the story

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

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

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

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Also with a look at the back cover information.

Marvel(ous) Miracle!

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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