Space Watch reprinted!

It’s actually probably close to going off-sale now, but the science fiction Commando comic “Space Watch”, reviewed by me right back at the start of this blog, has been reprinted!

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Mildly-changed cover. The fading of the original printing is most likely due to age and not older printing techniques!

However if you remember my review I was actually pretty disappointed with it. But of course you are regularly buying Commando anyway in order to support the very last Boys’ Own comic, right?

On one forum I go to people speculated if it was a  “rejected” issue of Starblazer. It isn’t, it was originally part of a series of stories, all (except this one) with “Challenge” in their name and most set in simulations of past conflicts.

Early Science Fiction – part 1

A new series of posts looking at the early days of science fiction stories, as seen in story papers and comics. I’m going to roughly aim for pre-1950 stories as, of course, that was the year that Dan Dare bought futuristic space-travel right to the front pages!

Anyway, lets kick off with a tale from 1929, called…

The Doom of the Martians – John Hunter

This story appears in a book called “The World’s Best Boys’ Annual”, a bold and unfounded claim. The annual isn’t dated, but my copy has an inscription from 1931. However this story mentions 1929 so I presume the annual originally appeared in Septemberish 1928.

As the name of the story implies it’s about battles in space, but before all that you get what is, for my money, the best opening passage I have ever read. Just look at it! I still get chills…

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This, gentlemen, is how you open a story!

After that epic opening, the story… erm, actually goes off the boil and becomes a lukewarm stew. I can’t help but see it in my head as one of those film montages where you are expected to follow the plot by vague clips alone… like the scenes of progress in “Things To Come”. Or the battle scenes of numerous modern war films where they spend millions on huge recreations of battles and then run through them with a handycam so you can’t even see anything.

Anyway, the story says that it was humans who first forged out into space and bought technology to other beings… probably a natural attitude for Britons to take in the days of empire. It also mentions intelligent life being found on the moon (with which earth forges “the first great space alliance”) and Saturn… both of which we now know to be impossible for varying reasons. But of course it is Mars that the story is mainly concerned with. Oddly the Martian “canals”, a scientific fact of the day, are not mentioned.

A Human scientist called Brunwold shows his friend Zatun, the king of Mars, a new “radio wave of terrible power”, which can be fired as either a narrow beam or a wide wave, and cause terrible destruction. The Martian wants to learn the secret of this ray so he can use it to conquer the universe. As this is a story from 1929 “radio waves” are the cutting-edge of technology, as as well as being used as weapons they are also mentioned as being the power source of spaceships. This isn’t entirely unlike the “Impulse Field” of Dan Dare, or indeed the proposed spaceships that are “pushed” into space by lasers on earth.

Brunwold refuses to build the ray, and is imprisoned in Zatun’s palace. Luckily his cell has transparent walls and he is able to use his glasses to flash a Morse code message to a passing earth ship. Zatun catches him in the act, tortures his secret out of him and then kills him.  The pilot of the earth ship, Dick Trevor, received the message and turns back for earth, chased all the way by a Martian cruiser. It is finally destroyed over India by Earth ships.

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Television back then was newer than “future technologies” such as hydrogen fuel cells are now!

The actual mechanics of space flight and space battles are kept deliberately vague. At one point in the chase Dick feels an “electric ray” trying to “disrupt his drive mechanism”. The Martian ship is destroyed by “something leaping aloft at such gigantic speed that it seemed to simply draw a steel line across the blue of the heavens”. I should also point out that in this story outer space is described as “the blue” rather than black. Well, as nobody had actually been there at the time…

 Whilst politicians from all of the other planets hold a great meeting (once again using “radio”, which this time produces holograms so it appears they are all in one room together). Dick can’t wait for that so calls on his friend Captain Hunsen, a Norwegian, who takes off in a space cruiser with Laroche, a Frenchman and Varney, an American. The story also briefly predicts night vision as “television rays” that reveal everything to watching eyes in the darkness.

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That’s either the biggest building in the universe, or the artist has seriously underestimated the size of Mars!

Once the two ships arrive at Mars, four Martain fighters come up to attack them. Dick is somehow able to break the beam that connects them to their power stations on the ground. For some reason breaking the beam “earths” the power station and blows it up. See what I mean about vagueness? The Martains aren’t helpless as they also have rocket engines, but they are destroyed before they can recommence the attack.

They then spot a Saturnian scout ship racing away, and break it’s beam too. For some reason this damages the ship, and the pilot flings up his “speed hood” and struggles with his oxygen supply, which has stopped working. Varney climbs out of the cruiser and rescues him. This scene is given a coloured plate…

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Every spaceship needs headlights and a leather bench seat!

This scene dates the story pretty badly, as you can see! Apart from the fact the spaceships have open cockpits (well, except for in all the other illustrations) and space is blue the ship is on fire(!) and producing smoke(!) and the big cruiser has rotor blades(!!). Oh well, I suppose at least they didn’t do anything silly like put this picture on the cover of the book.

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Oh.

Now the Martian Air Navy flies up in full force to meet them. One of the ships “crosses the path” of Hunsen, though I don’t know if this means it somehow cuts off his power or actually collides, but either way Hunsen’s ship bursts into flames and dives down towards Mars, with a large store of explosives on board. Dick’s ship is hit by an electric ray but the insulation “asserts itself” and he only recieves a minor shock. Eh? Insulation doesn’t “assert itself”, it either works or it doesn’t!

Hunsen transmits his control code to Dick, who begins to direct the cruiser by remote control. Luckily the Martians don’t understand the Earth’s codes. But at one point a Martian crosses the radio control beam and Dick realises if they “guess the length” of it (eh??) they can take over the cruiser themselves. But in the end they are too late, and Hunsen’s machine obliterates the palace and Zatun with it. Dick turns for home, and so do the Martains, seeing the rest of Earth’s navy coming up “out of the blue”.

In the end there is no war with mars, or any more wars in the known universe, the people look at the “blackened and awful crater” and the warlike spirit died out of them. It’s a shame the “blackened and awful craters” of London, Coventry, Dresden, Tokyo, Hiroshima &c didn’t have the same effect!

On the summit of Mount Everest (still unclimbed in 1929, remember!) a large statue of the three men on the cruiser has been built, with the simple inscription “they saved the world”.

London SP Expo 2011

The UK Web & Mini-comix Thing is gone, but the London SP Expo is here to replace it! It’s run by the same people who started the Bristol SP Expo, which is a few years old and now runs over two days.

Anyway, the first one was held yesterday and I went to sell my comics. I didn’t get issue 4 of the Red, White & Blue finished in time. Even though my new year’s resolution was to take it bi-monthly, and the cover still actually says “Jan-Feb 2011” it’s still not done! I’d like to blame a cold I had late last month, but really I was just too lazy. I did have one new production, in the shape of issue 1 of The Trident. I finished this last year and it’s an unofficial continuation of the Sexton Blake Library and Boys’ Friend Library, ie one long text story. The first is about Sexton Blake in World War 1, I sold an amazing two copies! XD

But before setting out to the convention I had to make a “colours nailed to the mast” T-shirt to wear. Using rubbish print-yourself iron-on transfers, it didn’t go well. But then again it only had to last a day.

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First print a mirror image… (my dad inevitably had to point out that it was “wrong” in case I “hadn’t noticed”)

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Get yer amazing Tesco value t-shirt, and a mum with an iron

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One not-burned-down house later… The E was the corner I peeled the paper off first, and some of the red went with it. Also the far corner wasn’t stuck down.

 I’d been intending to stay up for “as long as it took” to finish issue 4, but it had got to 9 at night and I’d still not finished the (20,500 words so far!) Sexton Blake story, and not even started on the 5 pages of Tigers of Punjab (the three of issue 4’s short Speedway story took all of January). Anything produced that quickly wasn’t going to be any good, so I decided to not produce it at all and leave issue 4 out. The Sexton Blake story could do with some big tweaks too, if it’d printed it as-is it would have been very rambling and bland. So instead I packed what I had, printed the strips for issue 4 that did get finished, and went to sleep at a decent time.

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Stuff packed. I have some display stands this year!

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The finished material in a display book. I need to take my printer’s colour management in hand… things that are supposed to be darkish grey are almost-black purple! It will be sorted out for when the actual comics are printed.

As it NOT traditional for my comic convention trips, the transportation ran perfectly smoothly. Nobody had dropped a match at a station or anything. (Actually the fire that closed Cambridge station last year really was huge and could be seen over most of the city, plus a tall former mill was in danger of collapsing onto the station. But at the time I didn’t know that XD).

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Had to use the “London Overground”, I didn’t even know there was such a thing. I just thought it was a funny nickname for the parts of the Underground that aren’t actually underground (which is a surprising amount of it, actually). But the Overground is actually a seperate train with it’s own lines.

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Packed with convention-goers, as you can see.

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Is that some blue I see?

After arriving at New Cross station, apparently near Millwall stadium (they weren’t at home, I doubt supporters of a club with a reputation for hooliganism and long-haired comic con goers would mix!) I predictably got lost. At least the Thing was on a straight road from it’s station, even I can’t get lost on a straight road XD. I found the venue pretty much at 10 o clock when the event was opening to the public, though for the first hour it was pretty much just the exhibitors, still. Several wandering around and chatting to people they knew.

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What I could see. Opposite me were several DFC contributors. To my shame I never got that comic, but will certianly be getting The Pheonix, it’s “replacement”. Even if I hope to have emigrated by then I still will!

I just took lots of pictures… all of the architecture!

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Wanna see a huge organ?

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 All ceilings should look like this

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Balconies

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The top, sadly the windows are obscured by this horrible modern lighting rig. They ought to use ornate chandeliers. I’d love to be in this room alone when it’s raining heavily.

I also set up my table. The new stands make it look a lot better, but I really need an A5 one for The Trident (and, when it’s done, The Dragonfly). Also I’d hoped to have the A6 sized penny comics in a seperate box all jumbled up (the different stories will be different colours), but I’d only got one finished (-_- and that was a reprint) so into the stand they went as well.

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I later made a seperate notice pointing out the price of the penny dreadfuls which got a bit more attention XD

After that I took a quick run around the hall to look for the stuff I wanted to buy especially, but as I was in a hurry I actually didn’t see any of them. I did see  Yuri Kore but she didn’t have any new books out. But if you haven’t got the two she had released then buy ’em! One of them won a competition organised by the Japanese embassy!

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How do they work?

At 11 I phoned up my girlfriend, who is Japanese. I’d not had any contact with her since the earthquake but she said she was fine, just that she had to walk home from work which took 10 hours O_O. I also found a yen in my change bucket and gave it to some anime fans behind me. From about 11 on people actually started arriving and browsing. Though I didn’t make any sales til gone 12 I did give out a few hastily-made (they always are) free flyers.

There was also no less than three film crews wandering about at one point! Well this is in a university, I suppose the media studies students wanted to get their “interviewing” badge. “for some strange reason” they didn’t interview me. Oh well, I only would have said that a story paper that ended in the mid-1920’s was the best comic ever.

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“You’re sure that’s not a Tribble”?

As the day went on I handed out a few more free flyers, though oddly enough still had a few left. People won’t take shoddily-produced rubbish with silly puns in it even if it is free! No less than three people who came to see me had actually heard of Sexton Blake! The story paper revolution gains momentum, comrades! Around 1 I went off for food and then a longer wander around the hall. I found all the stuff on my shopping list, including (finally) some issues of FuturequakeOmnivistascope (both near-professional quality publications inspired by 2000AD’s heyday) and some Starscape productions, including the Starscape Storypaper! It’s A6 sized but what can ya do. It’ll while away some time at work. “For some strange reason” the guy at the Starscape stall thought I’d be older. Well I do mainly collect comics from before World War 2.

I also got the first two issues of Non-repro (a seperate post about this will be made eventually!). This came about when somebody posted on the forums of Sweatdrop Studios (a seperate post about them will be made eventually!) saying “Why isn’t there a regular UK manga anthology?”. The people who came to produce Non-repro said “Why isn’t there a regular UK manga anthology?” and made it!

Aand I also got “The Comix Reader” – 24 tabloid-sized pages on newsprint for a pound! There’s all sorts in it and some is not for children. Encouragingly it says “Issue 1” so unlike the similarly-formatted Gothic there will hopefully be many more!

I got heaps of other stuff too, and ought to blog about some of it eventually. I want to treat all British comics the same, whether they be million-sellers or photocopied pamphlets!

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Free advertising! Where’s me discount?

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Buys

Eventually the day came to a close. I’d spent a good 50-odd quid all in coins and sold about 10 comics, so my case was considerably heavier on the way out! One of the rules of this con, unlike the Thing, was that we had to help put away the tables and chairs too. I was half expecting a load of whinging and moaning and sudden development of bad backs, but actually everybody was making themselves useful and actually doing it. Then again contrary to expectations the majority of people at the con seemed to be working class, when you’d think a bunch of “creative types” would be airy fairy and middle class. Oh well, comics were always too good to be wasted on the likes of them!

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My real name is tarquin wetherby but I used my cleaner’s name to blend in.

Then it was time for the journey home, which was similarly uneventful. I’d used cheap Tesco deodorant which didn’t last the distance, luckily the trains weren’t crowded and stereotypes about comic con goers remained unproven to the public at large XD. Wierdly when I arrived at Ely station it was soaked and smelled like heavy rain, but the train had not passed through any rain, and my dad said our village hadn’t had any either. Very narrow band!