New format for Commando

No, don’t worry, they haven’t added any colour to it! (Mind you, if Commando sales are increasing and if The Phoenix can establish a bridgehead, could a re-launch of The Victor, “The new colour weekly from the makers of Commando!” be an outside possibility?), instead they have improved the printing dramatically.

A while ago, DC Thomson closed down their in-house printing operation to save money (this also bought about the end of the Beano and Dandy libraries). The new outside printers seemed to have trouble with Commando, with issues becoming creased along the spine.

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An old “in house” issue, a new printer issue and one of the latest.

As you can see, the most recent change has made the issues much thicker, with a good, square spine and no creasing! In fact the 64-page Commando issues are now as thick as 96-page issues of The Boys’ Friend Library from the 20’s and 30’s!

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Alongside a BFL from 1937.

The paper the new printers had been using was also slightly “crinkly”, but they have now switched back to a more ‘pulp’, newsprint type that really allows the ink to stand out.

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An old issue, note the creasing up at the centre and shiny paper.

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Now, much better!

Commando is not included in the ABC sales figures (in these dark times for British comics, they are eagerly scruitnised and speculated over!), probably because it’s “four every two weeks” schedule is “weird”. But according to information from the Commando CO there has been an increase in sales recently – no doubt due to the reprint books, publicity surrounding the 50th anniversary and the National Army Museum exhibition. Commando pages also work perfectly on the screens of digital readers such as iPads, where it has also proved popular. Perhaps the profit from the digital version is being invested back in the paper editions? It’s an encouraging sign.

Also encouraging is the fact that, on a few recent occasions, I have complained about the “stupid” WH Smith staff only putting out three of the four issues. But when I went to buy the most recent batch I actually got the last issue of the (non reprinted) Falklands War story. They weren’t failing to put out certain issues – they were selling out! In fact on occasion, when I have gone into Smith’s on the ‘other week’ there has been only 2-3 comics left in the box! May be feel some cautious optimism?

Incidentally another batch of 3-in-1 reprint books has been released. But I appear to have accidentally deleted the picture I’d taken of them!

Penny plain, Tuppence coloured

I recently found a cool blog about Japanese comics (mainly!), Three Steps Over Japan:

http://threestepsoverjapan.blogspot.co.uk/

The writer likes to collect and make “papercraft” free gifts, which regularly come with comics over there. This got me thinking about the “penny plain, tuppence coloured” toy theatres that used to come with the Penny Dreadfuls, and which were the origin of the free (and not so free) gifts in British comics. Of course many people think that the trend of gifts has gone too far in British comics, often it’s more like you are paying for the toys and the comic is the “gift”! Still The Dandy included some cut-out cardboard papercraft items for Christmas a few years ago, which ought to be applauded, as at least it gave an artist a job!

Anyway just today I took delivery of 6 month’s worth of The Boys’ Friend from 1909. And what did that give away for Christmas that year? A model theatre and “actors”!

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The cover of that issue – a double number!

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The “theatre” itself. It’s on glossy(ish) paper and was difficult to photograph decently.

It also came with comprehensive instructions and a bit of extra background scenery. The story was in prose form, as that issue’s complete. Every issue of The Boys Friend contained at least one, of around 10,000 words in length.

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Complete scans of rare 1940’s British comics

The late forties was an interesting time for British comics. Much of the “old guard” had been swept away by Graveyard week in 1940 and the American “slicks” had become incredibly popular among kids lucky enough to get some from a friendly G.I. Any wheeler-dealing spiv who could get his hands on a load of paper would hastily set up a “publishing company” and produce a comic, it was the one thing guaranteed to sell out (sadly that’s far from the case today). The small print runs, irregular schedules and lack of respect for comics in Britain have all contributed to making these comics incredibly rare today.

But they are also one of the most important parts of British comic history, marking the point where adventure strips really started to take over from text stories. The process had been going on since Rob The Rover in 1920, but really got underway at the end of the war. Even DC Thomson began to put simple strips on the covers of Adventure. Many artists who would go on to become legends of the fifties and sixties got their first ‘break’ in these small comics too.

Because of the huge array of small, obscure companies producing these things, tracing copyrights is virtually impossible. This prevents them from being reprinted in large numbers. They were also all different sizes, making a comprehensive book a difficult thing to create.

BUT then the internet was invented. Working on the assumption that the owners of the copyright on these two comics either:

– No longer care about the comics

– No longer remember the comics

– Are no longer alive

I’m just going to post up full scans anyway. It’s possible that these are the only copies in the world, not even the British Library has a full collection of these short-runs and one-shots. I think it’s far more important to make these stories available for people around the world to read and remember, that to “protect the livelihood” of some anonymous person who is probably long dead.

The Tornado in OH BOY! No. 5  – 1948/9 – Paget Publications

The main story in this comic is about The Tornado, a superhero who in his day-to-day life is journalist Steve Storm. He becomes The Tornado by “exerting his mighty will”. The story manages to pack in three fights against giant creatures in only 4 pages! Oh, it’s also drawn by somebody called Mick Anglo.

The second story is called Post Atom, and is about a man called Jungle Jim, who is a super-strong adventurer. It’s actually the first part of a serial, so if you own the other part and despaired of ever reading the first, this is your lucky day, eh?

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ohboy05-02.jpg –  ohboy05-03.jpg

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ohboy05-06.jpg –  ohboy05-07.jpg

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Secret Service Series No. 4 – The Forgers (A Headline Halliday Story) – 1948 – Hotspur Publishing

This comic is slightly smaller, and is also printed in blue and red (maybe there was an abundance of those inks around?). The seller on Ebay said that this was really number 1, though I have since found a website selling Secret Service Series No. 3. In addition the comics.org “grand comics database” lists three issues of this. Also the lead story begins with the heroes talking about a case they had solved before. The whole comic is drawn by Bob Wilkin, who might very well have been the writer and publisher too!

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sss4-02.jpg –  sss4-03.jpg

sss4-04.jpg –  sss4-05.jpg

sss4-06.jpg –  sss4-07.jpg

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As you can see, both comics were just 8 very thin pages. The use of red and blue an attempt to look more “colourful” and thus “American” than the black and white fare from DC Thomson and Amalgamated Press. Though full colour comics would not become the norm in Britain until the nineties. As an aside, here’s a size comparison against comics available in Britain today.

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Progress Report

After far too long, the “new” 1910 Press website was launched recently. It’s the third or fourth “revamp” it’s had which is not actually a revamp at all, just a few small alterations that took 6 months.

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And even then it’s not finished!

The URL is http://www.felney.co.uk/

It actually needs further edits, as I have decided to cancel The Small Press Digest and The Sentinel before they even began! As they are both “newspapers” my typical working speed meant that by the time they got printed the news in them would have been hilariously out of date. I’ll stick to the blog for that!

I originally intended for The Sentinel to join “The 22 Club” and merge with The Red, White & Blue at a later date. I may instead just add a one-page “The Sentinel Says” article to the RWB, containing news of small press cons and new British Comic releases.

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Marcus Morris wouldn’t have liked this

Speaking of The Red, White & Blue, it’s bi-monthly publishing schedule began at the start of 2012, meaning the first issue is dated Jan-Feb 2012. So where is it? Horribly delayed! Virtually all of the artwork is done, but the “Complete history of British adventure comics 1777-2012” article turned out to be rather long, for some reason. An early draft of the article, with huge numbers of spelling and grammar errors, and not a small amount of factual errors, can be read under the History tab. It is being slowly revised, the Norman Saxon story will also be re-read and corrected and the first issue will hopefully “go to press” on Friday, in time for it’s unofficial “launch party” on Saturday.

The party that the RWB will be “hijacking” is actually a premeeting for Camcon, the first Comic/Sci-fi/Anime/Cosplay/Roleplay/My Little Pony (all the cool kids are going mad for it, seriously) convention to be held in Cambridge!

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www.thecamcon.com 

I have decided to prepare the first two issues of the RWB in time for Camcon, in May, and put them both on sale there first. After that I’ll sort out an online shop, probably using the arts and crafts website Etsy.

The first issue of the RWB, including the overlong article, is going to be a “mammoth” 40 pages! From issue 2 it will be 32 pages and from issue 3 (after various ‘setting up’ articles and editorials are out of the way) will contain:

One colour comic strip (4 pages)

Three black and white strips (5 pages each)

One complete text story about Norman Saxon (7-8 pages)

One text serial instalment (3 pages)

Plus other short complete stories/strips, articles and filler.

Unless I can find somebody to help with artwork (and who in the UK small press cares about jingoistic boys’ own comics?) the page count will be drastically reduced in future. Probably shedding the colour strip, one black and white strip and the text serial. Of course I will try to keep the  “full size” comic going for as long as I can manage!

As for the release date of the first issue of The Trident… your guess is as good as mine! If I can manage to get ahead of myself on the Red, White & Blue I’ll take a week off work and pummel the keyboard until it’s finished! The story in Issue 1 is going to be the “actual” first Norman Saxon story, set in 1899. It will be a heavily-revised version of an old Sexton Blake story I wrote, which can be found here: http://www.felney.co.uk/web/blake/hong.html  (warning: long and terrible!).

 

And now, in light of the cancellation of The Sentinel, here is Black Widowe, the comic strip that was due to appear in it! I will continue this one day, I’m just not sure where or how!

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