Campfire Comics

These are not British comics but are in fact Indian comics. However they are far too good to go unmentioned and India used to be in the empire anyway, so hush.

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Three of the titles, all from the “Classics” range.

They are best described as being in between Classics Illustrated and Classical Comics. Like Classics Illustrated they are in a ‘typical comic sized’ format with a low page count, and like Classical Comics they are drawn in a modern “graphic novel” style rather than a proper comic art style with simple colouring. The price is middlin’ too – Classics Illustrated is £3.25, Classical Comics are £9.99 (assuming you can find them in a shop which you usually can’t, so add delivery on that) and Campfire Comics are £6.99.

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 Classical Comics on the left, Campfire in the middle, Classics Illustrated on the right

 Campfire comics are divided into four ranges – Classics, which are drawn from classic literature, Mythology, which are drawn from legends (Classics Illustrated also do this – for instance Robin Hood and Knights of the Round Table – which have no actual ‘author’). Biography, which tell the story of famous people (Winston Churchill forthcoming, i suppose! Would be nice to compare with The Happy Warrior) and Originals, which are new stories.

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The typical Campfire art style, in this case from Hound of the Baskervilles. There seems to be a “house style” enforced – but not too rigidly!

The comics make a big thing out of the long association with the camp fire and story-telling. An idea which i think is great! I just wish i had thought of it myself.

Of course, it would be best if they were printed in the form of a weekly comic called “The Campfire” with several stories running at once, chapter-by-chapter. But that sort of thing isn’t done anymore, so instead they are to be found in the graphic novel section of bookshops alongside the usual 100-page long punch ups. As they are pretty thin you’ll have to look carefully – but the reward is well worth it!

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A further size comparison.

If you can’t find them in shops, there’s always the website: http://www.campfire.co.in/ which contains the magic words “free delivery worldwide!”.  You can’t go wrong really!

Murder in Melchester!

Everybody remembers where they were when they heard Roy Race had been shot. For instance i distinctly remember not being born yet.

But who remembers the other high profile attempted murder case from that “large, old fashioned town” located “about sixty miles from London“? The attempted murder of the chemist Leonard Jardine by the town’s respected doctor Edward Sharlaw? This case, as it developed in 1928, caused no end of sensation in the newspapers of Amalgamated Press Land. After an investigation by the famous detective Sexton Blake the doctor was cleared of the charge, as the chemist had been injured by accident and confessed all after the doctor’s son, himself a spinal expert, saved his life.

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Despite the naming coincidence, i’d say it’s pretty unlikely that anybody involved in Roy of the Rovers, despite the fact it was published by IPC which was a descendant of AP, had ever read this story. It’s just one of those things… (also it seems fairly likely that the Melchester of Roy of the Rovers is supposed to be a lot further north).

Hilgay Haul

Today i went to a book fair at a village in Norfolk called Hilgay. The village is just off the A10 but the road leading to it is very narrow and bumpy. When i got into the village itself there seemed to be people out and about everywhere, not all just for the book sale but also for various sales of household stuff people had set up in thier front gardens… apparently this was an unrelated event to the book sale, what a community spirit!

Having winded my way down the long narrow road that ran through the village i found a small makeshift car park on a bit of muddy waste ground. Equally old fashioned and wonderful. The sale itself was in the village hall and packed with endless rows of books in plastic boxes on tables with very very narrow walkways between (made the UK Webcomix Thing – of which there will be no more, by the way 🙁 – look like Pyongyang!). It was also very well attended. A lot of the books i bought didn’t have prices on, but i’d taken £100 so wasn’t too worried. Here’s what i bought:

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The total for that little lot? £8!

The big red book is called Fifty Enthralling Stories of the Mysterious East which, I can now report thanks to a helpful comment, dates from 1937. The first story in it is by Sax Rohmer, famous for the Fu Manchu stories. The tales are mainly about Arabs or Chinese, with the odd Indian one (as India was controlled by Britain it was perhaps less ‘mysterious’!).

The Chatterbox annual, still with a similar covers to the first official Chatterbox annuals from the 1870’s (the paper started in 1866) is from 1921 and must have looked very dated by then. The content is pretty Victorian in tone too, with the usual mixture of a long serial story running through the whole volume (and thus a whole year when the papers were published weekly) as well as shorter stories in 1-3 instalments, pictures (no comedy cartoons), informative articles and poems. Chatterbox was aimed at younger readers than the ‘similar’ paper Chums was… and lasted (though by the end only in yearly annual form) right through until 1955! So they must have been doing something right.

There’s also Our Own Schoolboys Annual which is fairly predictable fifties stuff of adventure stories revolving around detectives, sport, boys on scouting trips falling into adventures and mild sci-fi. It’s mainly text stories with lots of line drawings but there’s also a comic strip.

The other thing relevant to the blog is Stories for Boys which dates from 1961 (the first edition anyway, i have a fifth edition from 1967). The inside of the dust jacket promises stories set all over the world from “the stirring days when Englishmen and Spaniards battled for supremacy on the high seas” to “the sky lanes of the future“. (I’ve been to the sky lanes of the future and they’re pretty boring really… and the food is horrible). The back cover promises “many exciting sketches” but there’s really only a few full-page illustrations which aren’t all that good.

The other stuff i got includes a few Edge novels by George G Gilman, these addictive and fun westerns are shot through with black-as-night humour and extreme violence. Apparently there was comics based on them made in Italy… if the “fan subbers” can tear themselves away from Japanese stuff for a minute i’d love to read one of those! Gilman also created a character called Adam Steele but i only got one of those… one thing at a time! There was also at least two Edge Steele books in which the pair teamed up to dispense lead-flavoured justice.

The final item is pretty interesting, it’s a nuclear conspiracy thriller with elements of small boat sailing… a 1990’s Riddle of the Sands? I was reading the foreword which, setting the scene for the story, implied that the striking coal miners, anti nuclear environmental protesters and Middle Eastern oil pipeline saboteurs were all one organised body in the pay of the Soviet Union… i like this guy’s style! (especially as the Mark Trant stories in my own comics will work on a similar idea, though in those the organisers will be British-based socialists).

RIP Peter O Donnell

This week saw the death of Peter O Donnell, creator of one of the finest newspaper adventure strips ever – Modesty Blaise, at the age of 90.

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Typical Modesty action. The pair often avoided deadly violence except where necessary.

The Modesty Blaise comic strip ran in the London Evening Standard from 1963 until 2000. She and her sidekick Willie Garvin were former expert criminals who ran a large organisation known only as “The Network”, however before the stories begin she dismantles this and comes to live in London (where Willie was born) where she “goes legit” and helps to bring down crime syndicates or uncover enemy spies. Sometimes working for the government but other times falling into adventure by accident or in order to help out innocent people caught up in trying circumstances.

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One of the more bizarre and flamboyant villains – a man who attempts to recreate the “glory days” of Viking raids!

The back-story of Modesty was never revealed in any great detail, only that her origin is largely unknown and that she grew up in a brutal refugee camp which gave her an iron drive and determination to survive and succeed – first turned to crime and later to serving the forces of good. Her and Willie were, in the grand tradition of proper adventure stories, not lovers but merely worked together.

Alongside the comic strips a series of novels was produced with longer stories. These tales were often more violent than the comics (at least with regards to fatalities) and could ‘show’, by not showing, more sexual material. The first story is so far the only one i have read, but it’s a cracker – featuring a remote island stronghold and a madman with a private army.

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In addition, there was two Modesty Blaise films produced – the first appeared in the 1960’s and was of similar “quality” to the recent Sexton Blake radio serial and the 1960’s Casino Royale “Bond” film. And thus can be ignored. The second was made in 2003 and was a much more serious attempt – based on her early life before The Network. I haven’t seen either but believe the latter one to be set in the modern day – reviews i have seen of it suggest it was largely a missed opportunity. If there was any justice in the world there would, of course, be a big budget adaption with vast sets, a mad villain and it would, of course, be set in the 1960’s.

Happily, Modesty Blaise stories are pretty easy to obtain. The novels are in print and Titan books are reprinting the newspaper strips in large and lavish (if a little ‘scratchy looking’) volumes with additional story information and interviews. If you haven’t got any already start today, and get a look at the trunk of Buffy the Vampire Slayer’s family tree!