What laziness has wrought

You may remember that I was required to take my self-published comics The Red, White & Blue and The Trident off-sale, because it turned out the character of Sexton Blake was copyrighted after all. Well I’d hoped to have had them both re-launched by early September… some hope! I’d like to make some waffling excuse, but the actual fact is I’ve been far too lazy. The 3-page Speedway story in issue 4 of the old RWB took me almost 2 months, the time I’d set aside to do the entire issue in. Oh and each issue (once it gets underway) is intended to have 19 comic pages in! Plus a 10-15,000 word text story, a 2-3,000 word serial instalment, an editor’s page and illustrations for all of those… and still be bimonthly!

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WHAT COULD GO WRONG?

Oh well, the new date for the debut of issue 1 of both publications is January 2012. Even I ought to have finished them by then! From then on, hopefully, the RWB will be bi-monthly, and the Trident intermittent but ideally about 3 times a year.

BUT in addition to that, I also hope to be emigrating to Japan sometime next year. That means I’ll be (to begin with anyway. Perhaps things will change if certain circumstances go well) on a work visa which will restrict the type of things I can do for money. “Making comics to sell on the internet” won’t be one of those things, and so they won’t be on sale, just tantalisingly have their covers previewed on the website. Still at least for a while people won’t notice if the issues are not finished in time, so long as the covers are!

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This took me ages, as you can see.

Anyway In some other bad news, I have been working on a manga-style comic for a competition organised by the Japanese embassy. The closing date for the competition is November 1st, and I’m fully booked this weekend. So it looks like that won’t be finished in time. However I do have tomorrow off work, lets see just how fast I can draw eh?

If I don’t finish the comic in time I’ll instead finish it more gradually and upload it here in a rudimentary form (the screen toning will be more Gordon Livingstone than Takeshi Obata). At least then somebody will read it!

If I had been sensible I could have had the manga nearly finished by now, but “sensible” is not in my line. I decided my room needed a re-arrange, so that I could put my various books in some sort of order, free up some shelf space and most importantly put the bed closer to the heater. I thought that this re-arrange would take “maybe 2-3 hours” and started at 5:50 on Saturday. I finished at 7:00 today. Still it feels good to have a collection that looks like a collection!

This picture was actually taken after the furniture moving was mostly finished. The only book re-arranging that had been done was the fitting of the dark brown shelf and putting the books on it (which before were where the bed now is).

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No more than 2-3 hours work, this(!)

The arrangement of the rest of the books got, er, a little complicated…

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Still it’s no worse than the comic section in Smith’s…

Finally, though, some order started to emerge. All the Boys’ Friend, Chums, Union Jack, Chatterbox and Captain are together!

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 With a row of odds n’ ends in the middle.

Aand here we are, everything together with it’s companions. I even found room to put my volumes of Punch that I rashly bought on Ebay years ago and haven’t been able to shift since up there. Weirdly enough jokes about political scandals of 120+ years ago just aren’t funny today, especially if they are in French (which language Punch apparently expected it’s readers to know). Even the quality of the illustrations doesn’t save them!

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Finished!

Oh yeah as well as moving my desk I also freed up some space on it.

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What will I do with all this? well, draw comics on it hopefully.

Oh well, Just to show I haven’t been totally idle, the back page of the first issue of the new RWB is going to introduce the first “Felneyverse” characters to  make it into print. Here’s the rough artwork, which still needs processing, colouring, lettering and putting together.

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Erm, quite a bit of processing…

Here we have Norman Saxon, the Sexton Blake replacement (but set entirely in the early 20th century). Xin Zhou, Norman’s assistant who will also feature in a series of boarding school tales. Eugene Manx, the secret agent hunting down escaped Nazi criminals, and the Tigers of Punjab, fighting for justice during Indian partition!

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All my character’s faces look the same so I cunningly part-concealed one in a space suit

And here is Steve Gunn, a soldier in World War 3 which happens from 2020 – 2023 (this is set in a very different alternate universe, which diverged from our own history in a major way in 1985, with the discovery of zombies!). Sarah Millman, the future cop who features in the first colour strip (her arm looks bizarre, oops). Robert “Rocket” Redferne who will take to the space-lanes from issue 5 onwards. Finally there’s Mary of Middleford, who has a 4-page intro story on the website and ought to “kick off” (ha ha haaaa) in issue 7 or 8.

Oh and also I’ve created a new logo for The Trident too. The new version will be A4 sized and will feature a complete story of 15-25,000 words and a short story of 5-10,000 words and/or a serial installment. Not quite decided yet! Oh it’ll also have illustrations, unlike the A5 sized old version.

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Hilgay Haul 2: The Haulening

On Sunday there was another Hilgay Book Sale. They are definitely more regular than annually, but they don’t always put up a sign for it on my route home from work, and Hilgay is rather far to go of a Sunday on the off chance! (Mind you the road up that way is nice. I’d love to do it in a Morgan 3-wheeler, early on a summer’s morn, with no coppers watching!).

Anyway this time I actually saw the posters talking about the prices of the books, 50p for Thin and 90p for Thick! XD. But there wasn’t as many that interested me so I only got a few.

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As well as a couple of Edge books (I’ve only ever read one but have about twenty, time to get crackin’?) I got a Sabre Boys’ Story Annual. This has alternating stories, some are very short (2-3 pages) while others are very long (20-30 pages). The story-paper size of the book makes me wonder if they are reprinted stories from somewhere. One of the stories is by Robert A Heinlein and is very American. It mentions things such as “Teamsters” (a trucker’s union in the US, or so I wiki’d) without further explanation – possibly a reprint from a Pulp?

The book is undated but appears to be from the late 50’s or very early 60’s. It clearly once had a dustjacket which may have contained the date. Oddly despite the probably-reprint nature of most/all of it’s contents all of the illustrations appear to be by the same artist, and so were probably commissioned for the book.

The other book is called Adventure Story Book for Boys. It’s apparently No. 17 in a “Bumper Book Series”. The Friardale website has mention of such a series and says that Number 17 (which it gives no other information about) was published in 1955. It certianly looks 50’s anyway. It’s all text stories which are on the usual lines of boyish adventures, secret agents, pirates, cowboys etc.

The final book is an account of the battle of Singapore – from the Japanese side! My own comic will one day play host to a “Commando”-ish story about a Japanese Navy pilot from 1910 to 1945, so this ought to be useful. It’s written by one of the commanding officers in that campaign who at one point bemoans the number of times he leaves cars parked “hidden” somewhere, only to come back later and find a lucky shell has scored a direct hit on them.

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We haven’t got this one…. yet.

Graffix – The “British Manga”

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I’ve written before about a prevailing attitude in British comics fandom that somehow “doing manga” will “save” British comics from extinction and/or transformation into dumbed-down toy catalogues. Well the people who weren’t convinced by that post may be interested to find that actually “British manga” has been done, twice, and they’ve probably never even heard of it! I was reminded myself when I was digging through some 90’s Beanos not long after making the original post.

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This one might be worth a bit some day eh?

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The actual ad

The books are called Graffix, and were published by A & C Black in the late 90’s, and then again in the late 00’s as “Colour Graffix”. They have a complete story in each book, on a variety of themes. All of the stories are well-written, tense and adventurous. There’s quite obviously “boys” and “girls” stories which can be chosen by simply looking at the covers, however the appeal should be universal as they are all good. In fact sometimes the boyish stories turn out to be romances while the girlish ones turn out to be scary sci-fi/horror adventures!

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Front covers of the respective series

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And the backs

These were sold as books, rather than as comics, so would have stayed on the shelves just like the “tankobon” manga format that we get in Britain. They’re a fairly comparable size too.

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A Colour Graffix, ordinary Graffix, old hardback edition, a “Western edition” manga and a Japanese tankobon

Despite all of this, and the insistence that “the kids” “love that chunky format” and that comics should “go in the direction of manga” it is apparent that Graffix did not sell very well at all. In fact almost all the copies I have (gotten secondhand, mainly off Amazon resellers) are ex-library.

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I can recall those adverts appearing fairly regularly from around 1997-8 onwards until I stopped getting the Beano at some point in 1999. It seems like Graffix were hit with the problem that troubles the modern Dandy and ended the DCT Fun-Sizes – distribution! I don’t ever recall seeing them in bookshops (mind you at the time I would have been mainly looking for Star Wars novels in the Sci-Fi section) and only once in Ely Library (in about spring 2001 when I was “too old for comics” and also “into serious stuff like politics”).

The eagle-eyed will have noticed that one of the books in the advert features the distinctive style of Janek Matysiak (why yes I did spell it wrong and have had to come back!) who also works for Commando. He’s provided the cover and interior artwork for this particular story (which features “Han Solo” and “C-3PO” (in ‘stripped down’ form years before Star Wars Episode II!) taking a job from “Jabba the Hutt” who looks more like Ming The Merciless!). Not all of the stories were such blatant ripoffs, may I hasten to add. It’s good fun anyway.

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The adverts also show off the Graffix tagline of “it’s a book! It’s a comic!”. But what does this actually mean? Well basically it means that parts of the story are explained by type, in some books it’s “on the page” like in a book with the comic strip panels as “illustrations”. In other books the story is explained in boxes at the top of the panels. Either way it’s additional points of the story being explained by captions. This may be considered “unusual” in American or Japanese comics, but as every reader of this blog ought to know, it’s actually standard practice in proper British adventure comics! Here’s one of the wordier Graffix tales, Biker:

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Compare that a few examples from other titles such as Commando, Tiger and Radio Fun

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Another thing that Graffix have in common with the best of the traditional British adventure comics is the fact that the artists have all used their own style and not been forced into a particular “house” style (like in War Picture Library) or “type” of artwork (like most manga). Interestingly the copyright page in each book states that the ownership of the story, art and cover art all belongs to the respective creators! An incredibly enlightened attitude by the standards of properly published British comics even today. Though one that might possibly cause problems later, with the copyrights being ‘split up’.

One of the more distinctive art styles is that of Lucy Su, who actually uses two totally different styles in two different stories. The first is in Girl Gang.

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These bratty teenage girls have a much better ‘secret society’ than the ‘secret society’ me and my friends had between the ages of 8 – 12.

In this a girl called Alice does a couple of favours for a popular girl at school, and ends up being persuaded to join the girl’s gang, who do things like track down the houses of rude bus conductors and smash up their greenhouses.  Alice is assigned a mission to steal a “snobby” girl’s diary, but makes friends with this girl and instead ‘steals’ a fake, non-embarrassing diary. I must add that the story shows that the gang only writes off the girl as a snob because she is rich, but it turns out good and bad people exist independently of how much wealth they have. This is a good anti-socialist idea to be putting in children’s heads. I wonder what my bratty anarchist self of 2001 would have made of it?

Lucy Su uses a different style for the much-different The Headless Ghost. In this story a deaf boy is able to lip-read a ghost’s warning about a buried wartime bomb in a cemetery. The art style here is in contrasting pencils that creates a creepy atmosphere.

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Wooo

The much more conventional Guard Dog is drawn in a much more conventional style by Dave Burroughs. This is a logical follow-on from all those stories in annuals from the 90’s – 50’s about boys who discover smugglers / coiners operating in their neighborhood. This time the crime is video piracy, and the crooks are forcing the boy’s dad off their patch at the market, while at the same time making sure another carpentry stall owner gets the blame.

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Laser Quest is a wierd one. The art here is very gloomy and shadowy (though the story does mainly take place in a dark room). Bits of it actually remind me of Jose Maria Jorge, though there’s not a flying machine in sight! The story is about a girl who has to help her dad manage her younger brother’s birthday party at a Laser Quest game. Except the computers have been infected with a strange virus called ZUC. This later manifests itself as a rag-smothered player in the actual game itself, with a laser that can melt bricks! See what I mean about the “girls stories” being unexpectedly scary?

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And then there’s the boys story that turns out to be romantic. Though it does involve horses so I ought to have seen it coming. The art in this one is by Bob Moulder, and puts me in mind of another book I’ve seen, though I can’t seem to lay my hands on it at the moment. This book was definitely from the 50’s or 60’s though!

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Respect, illustrated by Kim Harley, is the Action to Guard Dog’s Splendid Book for Boys. It’s about a boy who’s teacher dad has been locked up for a crime that anybody but a teacher would just be fined for. He kicks out at the system by becoming a graffiti artist, trying to get in a local gang. If one artist sprays over another’s work it’s considered an insult and they attack him, the gang try and trick him into spraying over their own tag just to give them an excuse. In the end he realises that trying to “fight back” by making a mess everywhere is actually the easy way out rather than actually dealing with your problems. Admirable attitudes again, though not “right on” ones.

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Another story illustrated by Janek Matysiak is Bodyparts. This is set in the near future and features scientists experimenting on lab-grown organs, stem cells and other futuristic medical advances. But somebody is out to sabotage the experiments.

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This actually mirrors the real “near future”, ie our present, though the sabotage is political and orchestrated by people so pig-ignorant you don’t even know where to start on their “views”. In a century’s time the breakthroughs of the next 20 years or so will be viewed as one of the “big steps” in medical science. On the lines of Hippocrates, Vesalius, Jenner, Snow and Fleming. How they will laugh at people who think that “you might be eating DNA!” is an acceptable argument against genetic modification.

Finally a look at the more modern Colour Graffix. From the titles on A&C Black’s website they all appear to be reprints of the original books, but with colour! However as other experiments have shown adding colour to artwork not originally intended for it doesn’t tend to look very good. I get the impression the creation of Colour Graffix was more of a “because we can!” exercise thought up in a boardroom. Would have been much better to have reprinted the black and white ones and spent the extra printing money on new stories!

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If there’s one criticism I can give Graffix it’s that they’re far too short! Many of the stories just seem to halt abruptly. Here’s a side by side comparison with manga…

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As you can see Graffix is less than half the thickness. The other problem is that there’s not really many of them, there seems to have been only 32 books, released at the rate of around 4 a year through the late 90’s and up to 2001. The fact that Colour Graffix are just running through the same stories again doesn’t bode well either. They ought to produce a “Graffix deluxe” that are 2-3 times the length, in black and white, but keep the British-style storylines and artwork. Oh and cheapen the paper and cover quality just a tad to keep the price down. Market ’em well enough (maybe get them in with the manga section!) and they’ll fly off the shelves, I guarantee it! Plus bring back Roy Kane: TV Detective and Captain Hawk, those guys are crying out for recurring stories. Plus lets catch up with one of the many footballers of Graffix 10 years on, now that he’s playing for a professional team that’s on the up!

Oh and if you are reading this, A&C Black, get the Folio Society on a lavish reprint of this:

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Mine’s falling to bits but the paintings are beautiful. Need a tightly-bound slipcased edition!

Comic Football – Suspended!

Bad news from newcomer Comic Football, it has been sent for an early bath after a stellar performance.

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It was a game of three halves… erm

Despite giving 110% out on the pitch, at the end of the day that old injury to football comics told and it looks like the kid will be out for the forseeable future. The manager does, however, hint at a return in the future for the plucky upstart. We can only hope we haven’t seen the last of this promising talent.

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Well I’m not gonna tell any old person my address XD

In transfer news the first subscription issue of The Dandy got transferred to my house. Remember, it now has under 8,000 people on the terraces but if you buy online the tickets are only £1! Get them now and secure your place right behind the goal.

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