Eagle and Tiger – one of the last throws of the dice

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Ahh, Eagle and Tiger. What great names, standing astride British comics like a gold-plated colossus. Eagle gave us the greatest space strip of all time, Dan Dare…

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The Red Moon Mystery is unbelivably good. It’s a shame you can only read it for the first time once.

And Tiger was the birthplace of the greatest football strip of all time, Roy of the Rovers…

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It actually started in the fifties too

However in 1985 the world of the weekly adventure comic was far from rosy. Lots of titles were being merged or cancelled, and the decision was made to put these two illustrious names together. The result was… er… oh dear.

The Eagle in question was, of course, the 1980’s New Eagle. Possibly started with noble(ish) intentions, it was nevertheless very far removed from the ideals set out in the 1950’s original which was started by Reverend Marcus Morris. I wouldn’t like to think of his opinions on Eagle and Tiger, I doubt the language would be fitting for a man of god!

The original and new Eagle both had a “real” editor. However the merged Eagle and Tiger went with that British comic trope, the fictional editor. In this case a homicidal computer that was originally created for a horror comic called Scream!

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We then move on to the first story, Doomlord. This was one of the star attractions of the original Eagle, and was originally a photo story featuring a bloke in a dodgy mask. Fortunately I have the merger issue which explains the back-stories to all of these characters! It seems that the original Doomlord was sent to “test” the human race to see if they were worthy of being left alive. He decided they weren’t but another “rogue” Doomlord thought they were, and won. But now the original one, thought dead, is back!

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Well he’s back eventually anyway, apparently he broke himself down into “bacteria” and then makes whoever he infects transform into him!

Later on we get some 80’s style enviro-preaching. Apparently mankind has “exploited the oceans for centuries” when in fact it was only in the 20th century that dangerously intensive fishing started. Before that a bunch of small boats would sail out and make their catches independently, rather than two huge ones stringing a mile-long net between them. Oh and also we did deforestation and nuclear bombs.

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Gee, ain’t we stinkers?

Next story is possibly the second most famous football strip of all time (Roy of the Rovers had his very own comic by this time), Billy’s Boots!

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Later to be found in Roy of the Rovers… probably, every other footie strip ended up there!

The basic gist of this story is that Billy, who can’t play football, has a pair of boots once owned by the famous international “dead shot” Keen. When billy wears the boots he can play as well as Dead Shot! This strip ran for years in several different comics despite the pretty limited story possibilities – those boots got stolen by robbers/dogs or acidentally thrown out/donated to charity shops hundreds of times!

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Yes, you did just read that

The next story is the utterly bizarre Star Rider. A shape-shifting (often shifting back to his alien form at inopportune moments, naturally) alien journeys to earth to, erm, compete in BMX Racing. Because that’s what the kids were down with (or whatever they said in the 80’s) at the time. Oh he also has a ray in a watch/ring that can construct or demolish things at will. No doubt in other parts of the story (I only own four issues of this!) he uses this ability to foil crimes and that.

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Oh dear

Here’s where things go downhill. One of the limited and precious colour pages is used for a full-page advert. It’s not even a comic strip ad like Tommy Walls in the original Eagle! (or Cheese Strings in the 90’s Beano). The ad itself is for a crappy Transformers rip-off…

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Oh dear oh dear

 …which is also a story! And one using the limited and precious “black white and red” pages too. The famous comic Battle (later Battle Action) which gave us the seminal Charley’s War and Darkie’s Mob was utterly ruined when it became “Battle Action Force”, and little more than a toy catalogue with stories. It looks like they were dragging Eagle in the same direction. For a start kids can see through this “advertainment” nonsense in a flash, and also kids hate being “told how” to play with their toys. They want to make up their own adventures not be told who the goodies and baddies are and what their abilities are. No wonder Lego is so popular after all these years – it can be anything you want!

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Still a stamp collecting ad, though!

Here’s a reader’s page with “Super Dads” and “Glamorous Teachers”! The latter feature appears to be a chance for boys to send in pictures of the teacher they fancy! It only appears in one of the issues I have, and was another thing that Mr Morris would certainly not have been a fan of!

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Surely a North Sea Tunnel could be just about done with todays technology?

Now we come to the colour centre pages, and Eagle’s most famous creation, Dan Dare! The New Eagle initially featured stories about the grandson of the original Dan, but later bought the original back. This story is set in the 22nd century, so it must feature the grandson (the original Dan Dare stories of the 50’s were set around the 2000’s). However the original Dan’s batman, Digby, also makes an appearance:

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‘ad rather ‘ave a weeks worth o’ vitamin blocks

So who knows. The story doesn’t exactly look like it’s up to Hampsonite standards either, devolving into a galactic dogfight.

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The Mekon would never have been so vulgar

Also there’s another advert page showing another merger going on in the humour comics. Whoopee merging into the “two comics in one” Whizzer and Chips, creating an ungainly title.

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Does this mean that a “third party” “raided” both Whizz-Kid and Chipite camps?

We now come to yet another advertainment story – The Ultimate Warrior.  This one is a little better disguised, at least to begin with! It starts off with some ordinary boys, one of them wants to stay indoors and play computer games rather than play obesity-busting football. A sign of things to come!

Anyway the one staying to play video games has discovered “the secret code” that you can type into the computer (it’s “ULTIWAR” by the way) and it actually teleports you into the game! However he loses a game and is trapped in the computer (it’s just sitting there saying “YOU LOSE” on the screen). Thoughtfully he left his friend with instructions on what to do if this happens, and so the friend plunges into cyberspace to save him. Wonder what happens if there’s a power cut while they are in there??

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Wouldn’t happen today of course. Today the screen would say “EPIC FAIL”

Anyway, the third part of this story is probably one of the laziest comic strips I have seen in my life… and that includes the ones I have made! The kid sits in a basic “space invaders” type game shooting baddies… and then some more, and then some more. He needs to get 10,000 points, and is almost there when he shoots a friendly ship and loses 5000… and that’s the cliff hanger! “Join us next week for more of the same! bet you can’t wait!”

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Zap! Boom! Zap! Boom! etc

Next it’s Golden Boy. Another strip from the “sporty” Tiger, and quite a good one too! An orphan, befriended by a police sergeant, is persuaded to give up amateur athletics (despite having two Olympic gold medals) by an American millionaire in order to compete in a gameshow called “The Suicide Game”, which is like Takeshi’s Castle with spikes on. The American knows something about the fate of the boys’ parents but will only reveal the details a little at a time.

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Next we have an out-and-out horror story of the kind Eagle was originally started to suppress! It’s called Death Wish and is about a man who had a horrible accident, resulting in hideous deformities (and apparently plastic surgery was never invented). Because of this he wears a mask and constantly tries to commit suicide by doing dangerous stunts or testing new performance cars / aircraft. However his luck is amazing and he always survives the inevitable spectacular crashes, but his constant brushes with death make him somehow able to see and talk to ghosts!

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I think this first started in a member of “The 22 Club” called Speed.

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Telling the kids of 1985 that night-time nagging works!

Now we come to the strip that stars the comic’s “editor”, Max the computer! For years he has run Maxwell Tower, a block of flats that boasts “computer control”, making people’s tea for them when they wake up and so on. However Max doesn’t take kindly to burglars and vandals, and lures them to the 13th floor, a place of his own creation where they are subjected to all manner of horrors! The ones that survive are then hypnotised to lead a life of good. As this story (re-)starts the police are finally on to Max and he is shut down. Then he is transferred to a department store and re-programmed to run the store… and not kill people. However the new owner inadvertently activates the old programme!

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My 90’s and 2000’s-upbought brain can’t help but see tower blocks as vertical slums no matter how nice they might actually be, mind.

In the 80’s computer games were rapidly gaining popularity, and this is also reflected in the “Max’s Micro Vault” feature. In 1985 people still cared about technical computer terms such as “microcomputer”, so machines such as the Spectrum and BBC were referred to as “your micro”. This page is mainly short game reviews (well it was 1985, there was only about 6 games being continually rehashed and given new names!).

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Oh and also “Ernie the Eagle”, a product of the New Eagle, supposedly about the mascot on top of King’s Reach Tower (aka Tharg’s spaceship… did he build Max?)

Of more interest, though, is this reference to “micro communication”, computers talking to each other by modems! This was already being used to create “Bulletin Board Systems” or BBS’s (mainly in the USA) and would eventually give rise to the internet.

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You can now have a 0.02kbps modem for only £550, that’s not much more than a video recorder!

There’s also this forgotten product, why wasn’t this repeated for Live 8?

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Interestingly, given the story about rubbish Transformers rip-offs, a full-page colour ad for the real thing appears! Well actually it’s a promotion for a watch you could send off for. Mind you I’m glad the Americanism “clip” as opposed to “cut out” has vanished from Britain. Still I think I’d rather have that than Labour supporters chanting “Four more years” in American accents. Well yeah as we aren’t in your beloved America it could actually be five or three years.

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Do kids ever actually wear these fancy (and heavy) watches for more than a couple of days?

Three of the four issues I have are from the merger in April 1985. The other is from later on, in October. Now the issue numbering (carried over from the new Eagle) has discreetly re-appeared. Plus Dan Dare is now all-colour (in the previous issues only the first two pages in the centre spread were colour).

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Ghostbusters on video! Watch it twice in one day… or three times if you want!

The Computer Warrior story has now dropped all pretence of being an adventure strip and is just an extended advert. It’s also still boring, I pity the writers who had to try and get an interesting story out of the gameplay of 1985 computer games! This time it’s a car race that no doubt involved keeping a dot in between two lines, avoiding other dots and occasionally avoiding touching a wobbling-about “police car”.

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Notice how the title of the story has shrunk and the title of the featured game has taken precedence.

And at the end of the story, a promotion for the game! You can win it, but if you don’t it’s on sale at all computer shops now! (which is no doubt a dingy family run shop with it’s sign painted in a “digital” or “data” font).

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The Activision company didn’t do so badly out of the deal, evidently.

Most of the stories in the earlier issues are still going, but there is one new one – following a New York police dog called Shadow. I never really liked stories that star animals, in fact the only one I do like is about squirrels and is in a 70’s Beezer Annual.

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Woof

We also have the end of the Golden Boy story. The boy in question wins the Suicide Game in America, but gives all his prize money away to the second-placed contestant, who needed it to help his crippled mother. In the end the boy returns to England and goes to live alone on the moors somewhere, shunning all comforts of civilisation. I wonder if he met a certain man in black out there?

The demise of the British adventure weekly has been blamed on a lot of things, mainly videogames and TV. But I think that’s only part of the story – adventure comics, and comics in general, are still popular in several other countries that don’t have any less TV or videogames. Looking at comics like these you can see that an atmosphere of apathy and laziness seems to have seeped into the editorial office. Writing stories based on toys (instant characters) or videogames (instant action scenes) is pointless –  the kids want to make up their own adventures with the toys, and they’ll play the videogames themselves rather than just read about them!

Comics should play the the advantages of the comics medium – trying to tell a comic story based on what happens in 1985 space war or motor racing videogames results in very boring stories! Dogfights against alien ships ought to borrow more from World War 2 dogfights, with ace pilots, the burden of command and so on. And motor racing stories are allowed to have such things as “corners” that the game apparently didn’t! The other stories (bar the robots) are a lot better because they don’t have this to burden them – but somehow they just don’t strike me as being as interesting as their equivalents from the 50’s or 60’s.

Life imitates art… again!

I saw this story in the paper a week ago:

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Which is refusing to post in clickable thumbnail mode

For anybody who can’t be bothered to scroll around the image, it is an article about a runner called John Tarrant who throughout the 50’s became infamous as “The Ghost Runner”. He had been banned from competing in athletics tournaments in Britain due to having once been paid for sport – as a boxer when he was young and desperate. Despite this he would pop up at major events anyway, leaping the barriers to join a race just as it was starting. It sounds just like a story from a comic… In fact it sounds just like two stories from a comic! Possibly the most famous athletics stories ever written. Just look at this:

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Does that remind you of anybody?

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From The Hornet via the Great British Comics book… phew

The one and only Wilson! This great character first appeared in The Wizard in July 1943. It chronicled the story of this mysterious athlete who became known when he leapt into a race, until then a foregone conclusion, and trounced the opposition. From then onwards he would crop up at different events up and down the country, not so much breaking records as tearing the book to pieces!

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As you may notice the story is called “The Truth About Wilson”, and what was this truth? It was the fact he was born in 1795 and had lived all those years thanks to a simple life living on the moors, sleeping in a cave and eating various herbal recipes that were actually the elixir of life! At many points throughout the story, chronicled by the journalist W.S.K. Webb, supposedly during the year before World War 2, Wilson would refer to old records from the early 19th century thought to only be legends. He would then set out to break these “impossible” records, which were far in advance of the accepted modern ones – and usually manage it! Of course later it is revealed that he was actually alive when all these supposedly legendary records were set up, without the aid of stopwatches!

The Wilson stories were initially “explained away” by the fact that they all took place before World War 2, and so Wilson’s amazing records were “forgotten” because of the war. But DC Thomson had created a juggernaut and couldn’t just stop at one series. So Wilson, supposedly “last seen” in a burning spitfire over the Channel, returned to “seek champions” in the late 1940’s for Britian’s olympic efforts. After this he discovered a lost Ancient Greek civilisation in Africa and competed in their olympics, before going elsewhere in Africa to compete in a Zulu warlord’s “black olympics”. Still later he made the transition from text stories to comic strips in The Hornet, moving eventually to The Victor. Also in DC Thomson’s more “hard hitting” 80’s comic Spike, he was bought back as the mysterious “man in black”. Readers were going to be let in to his identity and background story only at the end of the serial – however their dads, remembering Wilson from the old days, spoiled it for them after episode 1!

However, Wilson is not the only comic strip hero to defy the authorities and take to the track on his own terms. Over in The Rover a story called The Tough of the Track began in 1949. This featured Alf Tupper, a much more down to earth character who worked as a welder and ate cod n’ chips!

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This could be Alf Tupper! (Except he did reach the Olympics eventually)

Alf, too, was thrown out of professional athletics. But his fault was to catch out an upper-class cheat, and then to be too quick with his fists.

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 Again from the later comic strip. Alf Tupper also first appeared in text stories.

And he also decided to join in a race uninvited, and “ran ’em” all!

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Alf also had a long life. He started in 1949, but I have issues of The Victor from the late 80’s where he’s still going strong – and there’s also stories of his apparent childhood which is clearly set in the 70’s! The ageing patterns only comic characters (and James Bond) can manage! The final Alf Tupper story didn’t appear in a comic, but in a newspaper. It was 1992 and the Victor’s days were already numbered, the paper featured a short serialised strip showing how Alf made it to the Barcelona Olympics and “ran” the best athletes in the world to win gold!

Sadly Victor Tarrant didn’t have such a long life, dying at only 42 of stomach cancer. Like the comic strip stars he perhaps unknowingly emulated (mind you he was a working class lad in the 40’s, could he perhaps have had Wilson tucked away in his subconscious when he decided on his “pitch invasions”? We’ll never know) he was forgotten until a researcher stumbled upon his memoirs. They have finally been published as “The Ghost Runner” by Bill Jones. It is right and proper that such an unstoppable and eccentric character should be remembered. But what of the comic and story-paper versions? These tales entertained generations of readers for decades yet ask the average convention goer at Bristol and they won’t have a clue who you are on about. We have, in the words of Show of Hands, “lost more than we’ll ever know”.

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Oi DCT, reprint this!

The Beano “Gnashional Trust” special

In keeping with my timely updates on current comics, this one is actually going off sale tomorrow, but oh well. DC Thomson have teamed up with the National Trust to bring a Beano with several stories featuring the characters visiting famous locations around Britain.

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Once again I’ve been taking photos of the glossy pages with the flash rather than scanning them -_-

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I must remember it’s okay to scan modern comics it’s only crumbling 100 year old ones you have to be careful with!

 This has given the artists a chance to show off their skills with renditions of these grand stately piles…

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While we’re here I may as well mention that the Beano has recently been running a two-page “Retro Beano” spread with classic reprints. After the shock demise of Classics From the Comics this was a welcome addition. Also the stories are presented with their original colour.

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89-90 eh? I just missed these! Started getting it in 1991

There is also other reprints in the issue as Roger The Dodger and Minnie The Minx are reprints from the 80’s too at the moment, but those are “disguised” reprints with new colouring and occasionally updated dialogue (what is clearly a tape player becomes a “ipod” for instance!).

There’s also been a series of activity pages called “Where’s Dennis?”, reprinted from a big book from 1999. Unfortunately they have decided to “update” these too, by pasting on the face of the modern “TV Dennis” (who is seemingly not going to be with us much longer anyway, things are moving towards the old one being bought back). However the pasted-on artwork is at a higher resolution and sticks out a mile.

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Also he’s near the middle of the picture where people will look first anyway.

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Harrumph! Grrrumph! I bet it’s all PC these days anyway. Back in my day they’d give away free bows and arrows with the comic, you wouldn’t get that these days…

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Oh.