The birth of decompression

All comic fans (or at least the ones with sense) lament the modern trend of “decompression”, also known as “ripping readers off and at the same time stretching out one good idea over loads of issues until everybody is bored of it” (they didn’t label me a “fence sitter” over at Comics UK for nothing!). Anyway, examples of this trend stretch back further than you might imagine, just look at this strip from a 1933 issue of The Gem! this gag could easily fit two panels but has been stretched to six, leaving the poor artist to draw virtually the exact same thing five times over!

potts the office boy

New Acquisition

Rick Random: Space Detective

A collected edition of 10 Rick Random stories from the pages of Super Detective Library (which also once featured a Sexton Blake story). It’s the same sort of thing as those big Commando books. The pages are reproduced from copies of the comic, like the War Picture Library books are, but the quality is astonishing! though some pages are better than others

rick random cover

rick random int01

rick random int02

‘Latest’ 2000AD, Meg and Commando

Well i was planning my second post to “come up to date” with the very latest issues of 2000AD, the Judge Dredd Megazine and Commando, however on the day i had no internet and since then have had no motivation, so this entry is actually being made more than a week later. Oh well, at least it’s not more than 118 years later!

Batch o comics for Wed 17th of September 2008

The comics. Judge Dredd Megazine, 2000AD, Snow/Tiger (JDM reprint supplement, and the closest thing here to US comic size), and the four Commandos.

2000AD is a weekly sci-fi themed comic which began life in 1977 on the back of the Star Wars boom (in fact, before Star Wars arrived in Britain, but after everybody knew it had been massive in the US) and has carried on ever since, in a way “growing up with” it’s readers and nowadays featuring more mature themes than it did when it started (at the time pitched at the 8-12 age group). It has had it’s ups and downs and i’m afraid to report this paticular issue (1604) is a “down”. 2000AD is of course Synonmous with Judge Dredd, and this issue features the start of a new story called Firestorm, in which the judge apprehends a criminal who has commited several murders in Mega-City 1 and then fled into space (whilst the earth is a radioactive, crime-ridden hellhole in the Dreddverse, humanity has also spread out amongst the stars and colonised new planets, which begs the question why anybody stays on earth. It would make an interesting story). The judge acts very out of character in this story i feel, stomping onto another planet (albiet one rife with crime and corruption) to catch his man and ignoring the consequences. The Justice Department ship he came on is captured so he has to get the criminal onto a departing luxury space liner, which then (would you beleive it?) comes under pirate attack.

Judge Dredd escapes the alien world

Other stories include The Red Seas, a pirate/occult story always drawn by the same artist in sparse-looking line-art. The crew have come to the recently founded country of America to investigate massacres of townsfolk by apparent vikings, who happen to be bulletproof. They encounter a tribe of Indians who in the past joined with Vikings and have a shared heritage, before spending most of this episode climbing a very large tree, from which they can even see Britain, and ending up at the door of Valhalla. Like you do.

Following that we have ABC warriors, a strip with beautiful and confusing art. In it the “west”, who’s flag looks like that of the USA but with the stars replaced by an eagle, are involved in a war over oil with the Volgans, who are very thinly disguised Soviets. The war is primarily fought by robots. This episode following one of the western robots called Steelhorn, who is designed to be a chivalrous robot knight. He is infected with a Volgan virus and turns on his own side. Eventually the virus is beaten but the shame never leaves him.

After that we have part 5 of Stalag 666, a rubbish prisoner of war story in which very little has happend. Finally something does happen when some kind of large burrowing insect that lives under the camp bites one of the alien guards and kills him instantly (rather than in a few hours as with humans). This gives the prisoners an idea to harvest the venom and use it as a weapon to allow thier escape. 2000AD has recently had a spate (well, 3) of stories in which an old character who has not been seen for a long time returns in a ‘twist’ ending to a seemingly unrelated story. If you ask me this is another one of those.

Finally prog 1604 is wrapped up by Lobster Random, who re-appeared in the ending to one of the above-mentioned twist stories. I don’t know anything about Lobster Random and if this story is anything to go on i don’t want to, it’s mind-numbing.

Moving onto the Judge Dredd Megazine, we have part 4 of Ratfink, a great Dredd story in which the son of Fink Angel (one of the Angel Gang, amongst the best ‘recurring’ villains in the saga, despite dying in thier first appearance). Ratfink is an expert at poisons and has been killing, looting and raping cursed earth travellers for years, but Dredd has finally caught up with him and after a tense chase the final confrontation begins!

Next there is an article on Crisis, a “politically aware” and “adult” offshoot of 2000AD from the late 1980’s. I’ve never read any of Crisis but what i’ve heard about it sounds frankly pathetic. A kind of preachy sci-fi tinged version of Viz’s “Modern Parents” told with a straight face. The article has examples of stickers given away with the first issue, which include slogans like “Mutate and Survive” with a nuclear symbol, “Global Pillage”, “Take back the future” and most hilariously “Caution: Fragile Earth”. Jesus christ… The cover designs weren’t all that either.

The Megazine used to run reprinted strips, but they have been “triumphantly” knocked on the head and replaced with a continuation of Tank Girl. This appeared in another one of the pretentious “adult comics” of the late 80’s, though one that doesn’t sound quite so horrible as Crisis. However Tank Girl is probably the least accurate representation of those comics, but has also become thier most enduring creation. There is some common sense in the world eh? The basic plotline involves her friend being injured in a skateboard accident, the operation she needs costs a gazillion dollars, which just happens to be the prize money for a crazed Deathrace 2000 – style blast across Australia, so our heroine enters, crashes (after using some old boxer shorts to tie her axles together) and is rescued by a lothario in a rather nicely rendered Ruf Porsche Le mans racer.

Tank Girl - Judge Dredd Megazine 276
After a short article on the state of British comics (much being made of recently launched subscription-only title The DFC) we get into a new Black Atlantic story, this follows a group of mutants and outcasts sailing the polluted seas between Mega City 1 and Brit-Cit as a kind of friendly pirates. Whilst salvaging some stuff from an island they find an old oil rig, and after boarding it are set upon by it’s crazed inhabitants. After this the Meg continues to vent it’s absolute worship of TV shows from America and disdain for anything else (Life On Mars only got an insultingly brief mention a year after it had finished) in an article titled “You Should Be Watching… Battlestar Galactica”. As in the new series with it’s terrible “documentary-style” filming. Jesus Christ…

After the usual woeful movie reviews (they are improving though, they used to be written in this agonisingly “matey” way) we reach the conclusion of a Judge Anderson story. She is a judge in the psychic-powered PSI Division, and is investigating a series of murders which take place in “Hyven”, a thinly-disguised parody of an advanced “Second Life” or “Myspace” of the future. Turns out the people who run it have smuggled criminals in now and again for money, but one of the criminals is a powerful psychic who is able to jump into other people’s minds and kill them. At the same time the central computer which controls the program has become sentient, and Anderson has to persuade it to help her rather than allow the killing to go on. There then follows the letters page made up of people praising everything i hate about the current Meg. Fortunately the comments on this blog don’t work or they’ll discover it and send me lengthy tirades.

As the Meg no longer features reprints (a feature i expect to last precisely as long as Tank Girl does), and now that the reprint-only 2000AD Extreme has been cancelled, reprints are bagged in a seperate comic that comes with the meg. The second one of these being Snow/Tiger.

This is, essentially, Eugene Manx, except replace the former Wehrmacht officer fighting neo-nazis in 1950 with two secret agents, a Brit who wants to go carefully and a Yank who wants to shoot everybody, in 2002. The Nazis in question have a genetically engineered version of the Ebola virus (remember 2002 was the year of the Athrax scares) which doesn’t kill white people. It features some cool action scenes like one where a woman remains rather non-blinded despite the fact a gun goes off centimetres from her face…


There’s also your typical mano-a-mano “throw the guns aside and grapple” ever so heterosexual scene on the rocket launch gantry. But i’ll spare you that. The book also features a future shock and a short Dredd story reviving the “anti robot Klans” idea which was first done in 1977!

Onto Commando now, these small-sized war themed comics are the sole surviors of the “Picture Libraries” which used to cram spinning racks in newsagents and where produced on all sorts of subjects, though war was the dominant theme, 8 Commando’s are produced a month in batches of 4, on (supposedly) the first and last tuesday of each month. Currently they are 50% reprint and 50% new.

The two new ones are “The Fighting Storks”, about a very versatile Italian plane which could take off and land in very short distances, handy in a time before widespread use of Helicopters. The artist on this story is one of my Commando favourites – Jose Maria Jorge, who specialises in flying stories, though occasionally does submarine ones too. His style does not actually suit the small Commando books very well, but comes alive in those large collected editions (in shops now!).

jm jorge - fighting storks

The other new issue is “Hollywood Hero”, about a film star going to war and ending up trapped in the jungle surrounded by the Japanese on all sides.

The first of the reprints is “Front Line Fixer”, about a German working for the REME. Would a German really have just been allowed to walk into the British Army during the war? well it still makes for a tense story… the artist is Gordon Livingstone, who has a unique and distinctive style. Personally i don’t actually like it all that much but others do. He has now retired from Commando but has drawn hundreds, so will remain in reprints for a long time to come.

Gordon Livingstone - FLF

And finally we have Outcast! with art by Dennis McLoughlin, another excellent one with a real skill for moody light and shadow. This story follows a member of the French Foreign Legion from Germany who has to leave and join the German army when war is declared, ending up on the eastern front.
D McLoughlin - Outcast

Well there you have a look at more recent British Comics. For the next few entries i have some interesting bits from the Union Jack in 1894, and some stuff from W. Howard Baker reprints of 1920’s/30’s Gem’s and Magnets… so it’ll be back to the past. I’ll have to have a scout around Lincoln again and attempt to find some more recent material, maybe from the 60’s to 80’s, the real “golden age” of British comics!

The oldest item in my collection…

Is issue 11 of the Halfpenny Marvel, published on the 17th of Janurary 1894. Containing only the one story (later issues would also have articles and instalments of serial stories) called A Golden Ghost, or Tracked by A Phantom.

It is the third (of thousands!) published story of Sexton Blake. And is regarded, even by fans, as a “farrago of nonsense”. Written by the detective’s creator, Harry Blyth (using his real name here as opposed to Hal Meredith, as he did on occasion) the story is indeed rather messy, revolving around a gem stolen from a Malayan tribe called the Zeefri, which is hidden inside an iron cube. A rich financier (who funded the expedition to steal the gem) being blackmailed because he once used money intended to be given to a girl when she grew up to bail himself out. The girl in question being in love with the nephew of the adventurer who stole the gem. Told you it was confusing… such a complex plot might make for an exciting story in the hands of a good writer, but unfortunatley mr Blyth was far from that. This is a lot better than the first Sexton Blake story, mind.

That’s the underlying plot, as for the story itself, well it lurches from scene to scene with little regard for logic or sense. The colonel who captured the gem is lured into a trap by the “Golden ghost” of the title, which remains completley unexplained. He later escapes and turns up just in time to thwart the plans of the villains, casually explaining that the building in which he was being held prisoner collapsed for no reason. In another lengthy page-filling sequence (also providing several forced ‘action scenes’) the colonel’s nephew, Wallace Roy, travels to Malaya and is captured and then escapes from numerous bloodthirsty tribes and wild animals. eventually falling captive to pirates, but choosing an opportune moment to spring overboard and swim to a British man-o’-war. To fill up more space a bizarre sequence concerns the gem going missing, and the reason being Wallace was sleepwalking to the Captain’s cabin and hiding it in a secret drawer he had been shown during the night.

Despite all this page-filling, the story ends very abruptly. With everything straightened out and Wallace marrying his sweetheart, the colonel is sent a present of a wicker basket during the wedding. He opens it and is attacked by a boa constrictor. Saved in the nick of time by Sexton Blake, he then decides that the Zeefri, who have been desperate to kill him through most of the story, will never attack him again. Just like that. If you ask me the story was most likely written right up to the deadline and there was very little time for such fancy procedures as editing. But there you go!

Being Sexton Blake’s early days, the characters of Tinker, Pedro and the irrepressible landlady Mrs. Bardell are all absent. Instead Wallace Roy aids the detective in the case at some instances (as was the way in most early tales… meaning it always had to be a some strong young man commissioning the ‘tec). In others Blake merely talks to himself. Sexton Blake’s partner, Jules Gervaise, who was a feature of a few early tales and even had a couple of solo adventures (also written by Blyth) is notably absent, and not even mentioned. Presumably he is on a case of his own in France at the time.

The Halfpenny Marvel issue 11

Early issues used both orange and black ink, however this was later switched to single colours. Dark red for a time, and then dark blue for many years.

Halfpenny Marvel 11 - 01

The first page, with the large illustration used on Harmsworth/AP papers of this type. Almost being a secondary cover… which is handy as often papers where bound into volumes without covers, see my Union Jack Index blog for more of that! You can see the back of the cover here, with the ink showing through… even in 1894 publishing a 16-page storypaper for a halfpenny meant very cheap & cheerful printing quality, which also explains why so few have survived. Luckily this sturdy volume has preserved the books well. My UJ’s from the same year have not been so lucky, and are crumbling.

Halfpenny Marvel 11 - 02

Fancy illustrated lettering to open new chapters… this also vanished along with the two-colour covers. Presumably further cost-cutting… once the Halfpenny Marvel had become a sucess Harmsworth set about pumping out more storypapers, such as the Union Jack, Pluck and Illustrated Chips. And the money had to come from somewhere!

Halfpenny Marvel 11 - 03

The snake in the basket which is the Zeefri’s final attack on the Colonel. They decide to stop after this attack fails… why? well there was no pages left for a start…

Halfpenny Marvel 11 - 04

This is what Sexon Blake looked like in the 1890’s. This illustration was used in several stories, including “The Missing Millionaire”, the first story in issue 6 of the Marvel, and “Sexton Blake: Detective” in issue 2 of the Union Jack

Halfpenny Marvel 11 bcover

The back cover, showing all the previous issues and four cover illustrations. The two men in the hot air baloon basket (issue 7) was the second Sexton Blake story, and above can be seen the title of the first– The Missing Millionaire. I did once order issue 5 off Ebay, but the guy said i hadn’t paid when i had, and ignored my emails. So issue 11 remains the oldest item in the collection so far!

Other notes

New Accquisition: a volume of 1904 Union Jacks. No Sexton Blake stories amongst them, though. I’m going back to Lincoln for year 3 of university tomorrow, though. So they’ll arrive after i’m gone. But here’s the pictures from the ebay auction.

1904 Union Jacks 1

1904 Union Jacks 2

There’s plenty of secondhand/antique bookshops in Lincoln (the more suited to my needs, the higher you have to climb, though), so my collection will be expanded whilst i’m there, which will give me plenty more to write about!


This is my new Blog about British comics, storypapers and classic children’s books. Unlike my other blog, the Union Jack Index, this one will be heavy on images and rather shorter on text, concentrating (essentially) on showing off classic stories and artwork of a byegone era

My collection is rather small, compared to some, but varied. Posts are going to encompass everything from early issues of The Halfpenny Marvel from 1894 (well until i get something older for the collection) up to the very latest 2000AD, Commando or Viz.

I have rather a lot on my plate at the moment, though. Ranging from working on two self-published comics, going back to university for my final year, and some other misc. nonsense that crops up. That means updates may not happen very often for the forseeable future, but i’ll try to get a few up soon.