Yet another long Hiatus ends with some special content (a complete story, no less!) and some important news!
I recently bought several issues of “Boys Magazine” from 1933 on Ebay (not an entirely consecutive run, but they’d make a nicely sized book if i could perhaps find any of the intervening issues for sale anywhere…). The seller kindly chucked in two issues of a late 40’s story-paper called Scramble. Well actually he sent three but two were copies of issue 15. Still the cover of this particular issue immediatley caught my eye – a very Sexon Blake lookalike detective coupled with the name Rex Hardinge!
Rex Hardinge was born in 1904, in India, and later made expeditions in Africa. He came to England in 1929 to become a full-time writer for story-papers. And as the editor of “Sexton Blake Wins” puts it, he could “Hammer out fiction by the yard“. His contribution to that particular book (originally published in Detective Weekly issue 20) “The Man I Killed” is very memorable.
Over the years, many ‘imitators’ of Sexton Blake appeared, from virtually direct copies (Colwyn Dane, Victor Drago) to ones more significantly altered (Nelson Lee*), none of them reached the stellar status of Blake, though. Martin Speed, as seen here, is clearly another – joined by Sam Spry, the boyish cockney assistant, and removed from Blake by Susie Spry, sam’s sister. It would be another 9 years before Sexton Blake was joined by a female assistant “full time”.
Scramble itself appeared in 1947 and vanished in 1951, running for 57 issues, according to the Magazine Data File. This site also lists it as “weekly / monthly / irregular”. Paper shortages would still have been acute after the war, so it’s not hard to beleive. This particular issue, for instance, is listed as monthly but is a mere 16 pages long – the length of a weekly halfpenny paper in the 1890’s. For that, though, all the stories appear to be complete (or at least if they are serials there’s no recap sections i could see), and all the illustrations are in “colour”. If the format stayed the same up until this paper’s end, though, it is easy to see how it would have been blown to the winds by publications such as Eagle (launched 1950).
*-admittedly not the best example as Nelson Lee also began in the 1890’s, before Blake became hugely sucessful. However Lee eventually moved into a school and became a teacher, before then his adventures had been similar to Blake ones. It was perhaps felt a way of differentiating them was needed in case readers thought one was a copy of the other?
Two new books about comics have been published: Football’s Comic Book Heroes and When the Comics Went to War. The football title recieved an enthusisatic response on the Comics UK forums, so i went searching for it, instead i found the war book, despite reading that it wasn’t supposed to be out until October! (psst – the image of the cover may give a clue about where i bought it, and maybe even a special offer!)
All i can say about the book is it’s incredible – profusely illustrated, lots of descriptions of the STORIES, and not just statistics, dates, real-life stuff unrelated to comics and other boring non-comic guff. It even contains “the perfect war comic” at the back of the book with some reprinted stories to read.
Another thing it does – and something the “Comics Britannia” TV show shamefully didn’t – is acknowledge and celebrate the text-only story-papers alongside the later picture-strip comics. Indeed half the book is about story papers! All the names are there – Boys’ Own, Union Jack (the first one from the 1880’s), Halfpenny Marvel, Pluck and The Boys’ Friend. Later the DC Thomson “Big Five” get thier dues.
It also avoids the predictable PC “what were they filling kids head’s with?” rants entirely – an admirable attitude that must be encouraged.
I urge everybody to go and buy this book and it’s football companion, we have to let the publishers know we want this stuff! One of the authors popped into Comics UK and said that in the initial stages 7 books were planned, and that discussions about number 3 are “ongoing”. What will we see? A sci-fi one is a given. Perhaps one dedicated to Cricket and “field” sports, An Athletics one, A motor-racing one, A police/detective/private eye one, A historical one… if they live up to the high standard of When the Comics Went to War they will be most welcome.