How licensed annuals ought to be done

The “modern” form of comic annuals began in the 1940’s, though of course the history of annuals filled with fictional stories, some taking the names of weekly and monthly comics, goes back far further. Running alongside these, throughout their history, have been “standalone” annuals with strips and stories (particularly the output of Dean), annuals named after celebrities, based on radio shows, films and later TV shows. As time has gone on these have declined in quality. Today they are mostly worthless, dumbed down fare of as little as 64 pages, sometimes with a whole page occupied by a generic publicity photo or single, unfunny joke.

Of course, in better days an annual based on a TV show would be filled with exciting text stories and comics. For instance, the 1966 Z Cars annual!

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 Presumed to be “the 1966 annual” because the copyright date inside is 1965

From cover to cover it contains nothing but action-packed detective stories (plenty of punch ups, just like the show! …or at least the clips I’ve seen) and a few comic strips. There’s hardly a publicity shot in sight, except on the endpapers, and to spice up the contents page.

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It was called Z Cars because the cars they were driving were Ford Zephyrs. That estate one would fetch a pretty penny today!

The show was always in black and white, but the illustrations in this annual are all in full colour! It might have been exciting for the kids of the time to see their heroes looking closer to real life. I say might have been, because the colouring is, er, well…

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All is forgiven, modern Classics Illustrated!

I believe this is called “the four colour method”, where the art has blobs of colour printed on it one after the other, which can be combined, or used as screentone, to produce other colours. Old US comics used it to great effect, producing the colourful spandex superhero costumes that endure to this day. This annual, though, appears to have slapped them down largely at random. Some of the resulting images are just plain bizarre:

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All aboard the clown boat!

This weird colouring is also used in the strips, though on those it is slightly better. Can’t help but feel some grey screentone used to ‘suggest’ colours would have worked better, though.

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This annual is a good read, and doesn’t have a single jokes page or article. Mind you, if it did have a jokes page there would have been a good number of jokes, which would have been illustrated with newly-created art, for which an artist would have been paid. And if there had been articles, they would no doubt have been of a decent length and actually contained interesting information on police work. Mind you, though, the annual does cost a whopping 9/6! Apparently kids of the day felt like they could “buy the world” with a 10-bob note, so that must have been quite a bit.

For 2 shillings less, their parents could have got them a “proper” annual for Christmas. For instance, the first Hotspur annual!

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There’s also an article about surfing on the inside, it comes and goes, like yo-yo’s

The Hotspur annual, reflecting the changes made to it’s parent weekly in 1959, is mostly strips. They’re much better drawn than the Z Cars ones too, though are not “full colour”. Instead they have blocks and tones in only one colour, but they are used far more intelligently, working with the black and white work, not burying it!

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Hotspur was mainly an adventure comic, though the annual (and, I’m assuming, the weekly) also contains a few gag strips and text stories. As the comic was an anthology, the stories are not all on the same theme, covering World War 2, the wild west, Victorian firemen, football and sailing. There’s also fictionalised accounts of real adventures, for instance the journeys of Earnest Shackleton.

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Most of the stories in the annual appear to be one-offs (though I don’t own any weekly Hotspurs from 1965). One of them, though, is about the long-running DC Thomson character The Wolf of Kabul. He’s a British secret agent on the North-west frontier, forever “just before the First World War” (the war begins in this story, I suspect it’s not the only one where that happens!). The real star of the story is his native (though it’s not clear if he is an Indian or an Arab) assistant Chung, who wades into battle with a worn-out old cricket bat called “Clicky-Ba”.

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Pulp Detective

I spent the past couple of weeks in Japan, and while I was there I swept up great armfuls of comics ancient (well, 30’s) and modern. Japan probably has the biggest comics industry in the world, in terms of the output of actual comics (the US industry makes most of it’s money from films, videogames and pyjamas). Among the many publications I picked up was this one:

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Which is a ¥760 monthly (this is a second hand copy, which is why it has a ¥100 sticker) called Lynx Novel. I was quite surprised to discover that it actually only contains a minority of comic strips – most of it is three column illustrated text stories! No doubt British fans of Japanese comics would call it a “Light novel serialization anthology”*, or some such guff. Of course we all know the correct term – it’s a STORY PAPER!

Anyway, I planned to do an article on this comic, angrily asking why we can’t have such things here. Unfortunately I can’t do that article yet, because I was buying far too much stuff and had to ship some of it home by surface mail, this among it. Of course, there’s no rush to create such an article is there? I mean, what’s going to happen? It’s not like somebody’s going to launch a new story paper in Britain while my back is turned, is it?

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…shut up.

Yes, that is precisely what has happened! And it’s a themed story paper too. Lynx Novel is about gay romance, but Pulp Detective is about prohibition-era gangsters. I know which one I prefer to read… in text form, anyway. On first impressions some things about Pulp Detective look a bit off, namely the illustrations look far too colourful and cartoony for the hard-boiled action they depict. Also all of the stories are set in the same time and place, when I was hoping for trips to Victorian London or modern America. But these things will grow on you, honestly!

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A map of Bay City, where the stories all take place.

With the stories all set in the same place, there’s plenty of potential for crossovers and characters meeting each other, or one story being pushed along by events in another. I don’t see anything like that in the first issue (and rightly so – it’s got to find it’s feet first!), but the possibility is there, and I’ll be surprised if it doesn’t happen.

 

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Typical spread

It’s a good thick publication too, with about 130 pages (Lynx Novel has 4-500, but that’s Japanese comics for you) that will take a decent amount of time to read. A perfect train station / airport buy for those long trips, I’d have thought. As you can see above, the illustrations look almost like Franco-Belgian comics, and for some reason they have speech and thought bubbles (something the Starscape Storypaper also did, which I found a bit weird). A lot of them are decently atmospheric, for all that, and the exaggerated, cartoony features do at least allow characters to stand out clearly. The style of the illustrations appears to be the first thing a lot of people coming to this comic notice – but don’t let them put you off, really!

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Different illustrators are used for each story

The first story features the main character, police detective John Munro, in the first part of what promises to be a long-running serial (each part of the serial is very long, though, a mini-novel in itself) as he takes down the mob piece by piece. The second story is told in the first person, by private detective Henry Reed. While the first story moves around the city, the second really focuses on one man’s experience of it. There’s plenty of fairly authentic 30’s American slang too, though a mini-glossary is provided.

 

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Taken pictures with the camera again, it’s not too good XD

The third story in this issue follows another private detective (and has illustrations that are much better suited to this sort of tale… also the cars in it look a lot more like they’re from the early 30’s rather than the mid 40’s!). This story is complete, and in each issue the complete story will follow a different character, showing yet more aspects of both the high and low life in Bay City.

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Comparisons of the cars

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Most of the third story’s illustrations are like this.

Pulp Detective issue 1 is on sale now from most branches of Smith’s (even, amazingly, Ely – who don’t always bother with 2000AD or Commando). It’s also apparently being sold in several smaller newsagents, though I have seen at least two reports of them saying they sent it back to the distributors saying it “wouldn’t sell”, or even that it “wasn’t selling”, only 2 days after they’d received issue 1!

YOU TRAITORS!

Have an ask around your the newsagents in your own area (or at least those that, according to the official website’s store finder, are supposed to be selling it), and refuse to do business with any that say the same, eh?

Issue 1 costs £3.25, which is cheap compared to ¥760! I really hope this comic is here to stay, it’s easily overtaken The Phoenix (“yet another magical fantasy” is getting old… I say, as Zara’s Crown is getting underway) and is up there among Commando and Spaceship Away as my favourite British comic.

Also, knowing what side their bread is buttered on, the publishers don’t want to have this comic running in “isolation”, like DC Thomson’s output, and are advertising the MCM Expo on the back cover!

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I hope they will have a table there too. My promotion of it will be vocal!

In fact, I may even cosplay as a 30’s gangster…

Visit the Pulp Detective website here: www.pulpdetective.com

 

* – American spellings and all