Note: I wrote most of the text of this entry “in isolation” (on the bog at my old job, most likely), without referring to the photos I’d taken, so some of them don’t really match up to the passages. I also live in Japan, now, so I’m several thousand miles away from the book, and can’t take any more!


Like Boys, which I reviewed on this blog some time ago, Rovering was an also-ran, “upmarket” story paper, in the vein of the Boys’ Own or Chums. It was a weekly of 36 pages, and first appeared on the 22nd of March, 1924. It ran for just over a year, until it’s abrupt cancellation “owing to a drop in circulation over the summer months” in May 1925. In all, there were 60 issues.

There may also have been monthly, and hard-bound “annual”, editions, but the only ones I have appear to be a collection of privately-bound weeklies. The paper quality is suspiciously good, though (especially as it cost no more than the contemporary Union Jack, Magnet, etc). This may be a bound volume of monthly editions (though it has the weekly covers inside, but so did the monthly editions of The Boys’ Journal – as seen here). I have 29 issues, just under half the run. There’s a faint inscription on the inside front cover saying “2 volumes”. Looks like it was once sold as half of a complete set!

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But anyway, to the content itself. “Rover”, in earlier days, was another word for pirate, or at least a freelance “privateer”, on the high seas. Going into the 20th century, it appears to have become a word for “one who roams around”, on land or sea (and I don’t doubt there’s a story about air pirates called “The Sky-Rovers” out there somewhere!).


This was also the age when scouting was at it’s peak of popularity. An organisation called the Rover Scouts was created, for boys too old for the normal scouts (that is, the ones still under Lord Baden-Powell. It turns out all was / is not harmony in the world of scouting, and there’s all sorts of breakaway movements within scouting itself – to say nothing of the various political and religious alternatives). There was no such thing as a teenager in those days, and “boys” may have been as old as 18 or 19. There’s no longer Rover Scouts in the UK, but apparently they still exist in some other countries. The guidebook for the Rover Scouts was called Rovering to Success, and the title was the direct inspiration for this magazine. This isn’t just a hobby magazine, though (I don’t intend to cover those, though I do have an interesting Hobbies Annual from the 30’s knocking about), it has plenty of stories, too!


The first main serial is called A Sword of Nippon. Naturally I started reading that one! It’s set in 1600, and is about the son of an Englishman, who is kept a “favoured prisoner” (he saved a Spanish aristocrat’s life) on a South American island, where he rules over pearl-fishing slaves. He’s really a slave himself, though, and keeps his half-Spanish son a secret (he also married the aristocrat’s daughter, but she died in childbirth). In the opening part he dies, and, at almost the same time, a Japanese ship is wrecked on the shore. The survivors are all samurai, and are led by a Christian called Sanza. Both can speak a little Latin, so communicate until the main character, John Lake, learns Japanese (apparently in just three weeks! Though that only seems to be speaking, not writing. Unless the plot decides it convenient for him to be able to write). They soon capture the monthly pearl-collecting ship, and sail for Japan. Sanza is carrying a sacred Masamune blade, said to bring victory to it’s wielder, to his master, Tokugawa Ieyasu. He’s one of many military leaders of Japan, but there’s a large rebellion building against him. Many of the rebels are actually Christian, though most of them know nothing of the struggle between Protestantism and Catholicism, which was the source of unending strife in Europe at the time (including the father’s imprisonment. And the Anglican main character has to be wary of the Portuguese in Japan).


Once they arrive in Japan, they end up in rebel territory, but journey to the territory of Daifusama (as Ieyasu keeps being referred to), bringing him his sword. They also meet a blue-eyed woman called O Hasuko-san… which is funny, as both “O” and “-san” roughly mean “honourable”, and are said when mentioning somebody else’s name. They aren’t actually part of the name XD.


James and Sanza then travel to enemy territory, where they find O Hasuko San had been taken hostage (she had been left at a monastery). After a number of captures and escapes, James becomes involved in the Battle of Sekigahara (referred to in the story as “The Field of the Barrier”), in which Daifusama triumphed, and the other princes were crushed. In the story, James himself kills one of the rebel ringleaders, Prince Yukinaga after a long, exhausting fight, in which Sanza dies at the last.


After this, despite being offered the title of prince, and lands of his own, James says he’d rather be a beggar in the England his father had spoken of, than a great ruler in Nippon. He ends up coming back to his “native” Devon, and eventually being knighted by Elizabeth the first. Though he’s already experienced plenty of proper armour-and-swordsmanship knighthood in Japan.
And Daifusama? After having had so much help from a Christian foreigner? Er… he bans Christianity and closes Japan’s borders.


After this serial, another called Black Man’s Diamonds begins. This ends in issue 29, so a third serial must have rounded out the remaining issues of volume 1. Black Man’s Diamonds is described as “a tale of South Africa and the IDB”. Now, I was raised by British television of the 1990’s, so my primary knowledge of South Africa is “it was terrible, until the flawless, near-messianic pacifist Nelson Mandela took over and sorted everything out”. I therefore assumed “The IDB” was some sort of black liberation movement, but actually it means “Illicit Diamond Buying”. Basically unscrupulous White men would entice the Black labourers at the Kimberly diamond mines (oh yeah, it’s set in the 1880’s) to sell diamonds directly to them, for a lump sum greater than the wages paid by the mine owners, but still far below the actual value of the stones. One of these men, called Peter Levinsky is trying to get two workers from the Brannon mine, A Basuto and a Zulu, to sell him diamonds. Just as they agree, a master-criminal called Jack Kinch appears on the scene, and forces a division of the profits.


The Pole gets his diamonds in due course, then steals from Tom Brannion, the son of the family, the newly-found “Aurora Diamond”, worth thousands. The Pole tries to take all the diamonds for himself, but is caught and killed by Jack Kinch. A thousand-mile chase, headed by Captain Steele, the local policeman, and Henry Brannon, owner of the mine ensues.


They trek up through South Africa, what would one day be Rhodesia, and probably into what is now Botswana, finding savage bushmen, ancient lost cities and warfare between tribes of Barotsi, an agricultural people.


As well as the obligatory complete stories in every issue, there’s occasionally series stories, the first of these being The Exploits of Yakoob Mirza, a Middle Eastern story.

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A selection of the complete, or mini-series, stories

Later there’s a mini-serial called The Problems of Doctor Vasuki, about a “Eurasian” (he wears a turban, so we can assume he’s Anglo-Indian) private detective, who is described as quite feminine and awkward to get on with (and he gets through opium like nobody’s business), but who can spot the solution to baffling mysteries instantly. So far, so Holmesian… unfortunatey, I only have the one full story about him, but a second is advertised.


The first story is pretty good, anyway – an impossible “haunting” in an old house leads to riches for the new owner, and the unmasking of a totally unexpected burglar.


As this is a Rover Scout paper, there’s naturally a lot of articles about camping. These fall into the usual categories of where to pitch tents, how to build a good fire, and so on. More scouting-specific are mentions of dividing the duties at camp – detailing people to find wood for the fire, buy food at the nearest farm, etc.


There’s also a number of articles on places to go camping, and modern ways of holidaying. A regular column is dedicated to bicycles and motor-cycles (I believe, at the time, that motor-cycles could be driven by anybody who could afford them – even children! If there was a “licence”, it was probably just something you bought at the post office, not something you took a test for), and taking tents and equipment on these for a holiday, stopping the night in fields en-route. Not something that’s really possible these days.


There’s also an article on holidaying by “motor caravan”, though it’s more like a modern camper van (not many people had cars or horses with which to tow the conventional kind, though horses could also be rented). There’s a picture of a then-modern model, the level of driver visibility looks terrifying! Though I suppose it didn’t go very fast, and there wasn’t much traffic outside the cities.


As well as these articles, there’s plenty of suggestions for places to visit. These contain plenty of local history and items of interest – and not just the “big” ones like cathedrals, either. Modest houses where some poet lived (or which are just architecturally interesting) are covered, and the ancient traditions and stories behind certain things found in towns are described in detail.


One town once had vivid red figures depicting various sports on the ends of rows of houses, no doubt all faded into nonexistence, or painted over, now. The people of Penzance as described as being “more swarthy”, and differently dressed, compared to the rest of England. Articles about countryside walks comment on interesting churches, and famous writers and artists buried in their grounds, plus how the surroundings inspired their works in life. All neglected, mossy and forgotten about today, haven’t we made so much progress?


There is, as well all of these sorts of publications, the general interest pages, and suggestions for what boys might want to do when they leave school.


Not always on the front cover!

What may be called the “editors page” is actually called On The Trail. It only rarely refers to Rovering itself, often concentrating more on what’s happening in the world of scouting. It seems that scouts were being exploited as free errand-boys and leaflet distributors, their eagerness to do a “good turn” every day giving unscrupulous business-owners a means of avoiding having to pay a “down-and-out” a handful of coppers to do the same job. The column also contains a number of literary and historical allusions. Maybe just the style of the writer, or maybe a way of adding in even more educational value?


A similar column was called For Scouters and Rovers. This one was dedicated more to Rovers who took on a senior role in Scout troops, or Scoutmasters themselves. It was about running a good troop – observing ceremonies, taking pride in your uniform, and so on. This column is about “The Court of Honour”, a ceremony where a scout troop has a meeting to discuss division of duties, upcoming events and other issues. I doubt even the “militaristic” Baden-Powell Scouts call it by such a victorian name, these days.

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Other regular columns included It’s Up to You, which dealt with good citizenship, clean living and the state of the world in a Christian context. Some of them make very interesting reading. Check out that middle one! We all know what the term “British Empire Exhibition” is going to stand for in 2024, and it isn’t quite what the writer imagined.

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Young Citizen Papers was a similar, but non-religious, column. It featured Plenty of exhortations about seeing both sides of a debate, voting for the greater good, and not simply following the crowd, etc. As well as these regular columns, there was occasionally “single” articles, or short series, on similar subjects. For instance What Makes a Gentleman, and The Gambling Problem.

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Another regular column is called Books and Bookmen. It’s really more of a general interest column, talking about a different subject each week, about which a book has been recently published. Subjects covered include science, engineering, travel and the post-WW1 “awakening” (though it started just before) of some non-white races, especially the Chinese and Japanese, to their own industrial revolutions and serious economic competition with Europe.

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Compare this page with the feature pages from Thunderbirds Are Go!

Broadcast radio was a brand-new technology in the 1920’s, but Rovering was ready to cater for boys interested in this new medium, running a regular wireless column with advice on buying (or building!) a set, tuning it, and erecting a suitable aerial.


Much like Boys, and other papers of this stripe, not an inch was wasted. The tiniest free space was filled with a poem (many submitted by readers), tidbit of information, joke or other item of interest. There was also a regular column dedicated to upcoming events, in Scouting or in general, and the occasional advertisement for jobs. Remember that Rovers were “teenagers” (though that demographic was invented by 1950’s marketing men) and compulsory schooling ended much earlier in those days! A lot of the jobs advertised are government ones, recruiting for the police, military or civil service around the Empire.

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Oh, and there’s the inevitable stamp collectors’ column… but I didn’t take a picture of it!

In addition to these, there were often articles about other youth organisations, how “scouting” in many forms is spreading (or is already in existence) throughout the world, or about upcoming jamborees and other major camps. The most prominent of which in the world (if not in the pages of Rovering, more on that later!) was undoubtedly the International Jamboree in Denmark, which is previewed with an article on Danish scouting in general, and followed-up with a write-up of the festivities some weeks later. The camp sounds like it was great fun for all involved, even if it did tip it down and flood part of the camp. The Danish contingent gave up on camping and went to their (relatively close) homes, leaving their tents for the use of the victims! The final passage of the article says it all…

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There was plenty else going on in the world of 1924, especially among the Scouts and their alternatives. Towards the end of this book, the Scout-like (but church-oriented) Boys’ Brigade get their own column, called B.B Notes. Interestingly it says they used to all keep, and drill with, rifles. No doubt that’s been long-since abolished, even in favour of inert mockups, lest somebody gets twiggered during a parade.

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They also get several mentions in editorial columns and articles before this, as do the Kibbo Kift, another society which glorified outdoor life, though with a greater emphasis on “oneness with nature”, ancient languages and clothing, and quasi-religious ceremonies. The Kibbo Kift would later turn into a fascist-inspired political movement called the Greenshirts (their armbands had a back-to-back KK on them), who wanted to bring in “Social Credit”, the system that the Green Party more recently pushed as “National Income”. The Public Order Act 1936, banning uniformed political rallies, effectively silenced the Greenshirts. I also forgot to take any pictures of pages mentioning them! But I do have a few other Scout-like youth organisations, some of around the same age as the Scouts, some of incalculable age…

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As well as these events, 1924 was an Olympic year, the games being held in Paris. It was nothing like the media circus it’s become now (not that I object to the idea of people bettering themselves, the pushing themselves to the limit in friendly competition, being shouted from the rooftops), and remarks are confined to the sports section. They also treat the various competing nations as equal, the writer as confidently predicting American victories in the pool as British ones in the ring.


But above all that, the event for Britons in 1924 was the British Empire Exhibition, at Wembley. Rovering was in on the act, securing a nearby field and setting up their own Rovering Camp, for readers of the paper. This was heavily advertised beforehand, and ran for six weeks, with visitors to the exhibition coming and going.


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The main part of the field was taken up with large, semi-permanent tents, which parties of rovers could stay in, though another area was available for people who bought their own. The farmer who owned the field supplied fresh produce, and stray branches from his trees were used as firewood.


A nearby firm of “motor owners” (we can presume a minibus-like “charabanc” was used) arranged excursions, while a nearby glass factory invited parties from the camp to look around. There was also a number of camp mascots (a goat being the subject of repeated annoyed references to items of food it stole), and a camp cartoonist.

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Of course, the Empire exhibition itself was the main attraction, and it’s opening was marked with an 8-page supplement, included in this volume. There’s a guide to the main pavilions (it seems every colony was represented, though the big ones like Canada, Australia and especially India, attracted most attention), and things on show within – examples of a nation’s culture, people, wildlife and industries.

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There was also a separate “palace of engineering” where the great trains, marine engines and factory machinery were displayed. The supplement also suggests sightseeing tours around London, for readers from further afield. I just wish I could have gone to the exhibition myself! But I’ll have to make do with the photos. Also, while Rovering ran it’s camp, nominally for Scouts, the exhibition also incorporated an Imperial Jubilee, for the Scouts of Britain and her empire. Presumably the lucky boys involved in this got to camp right on the grounds! (and, depending on how late the exhibition ran for, and proximity to the factories and docks, never slept!).


Rovering had a two-page photo spread in every issue (except for the first three, where it was a single page). During the Empire exhibition and Rovering camp, these featured heavily – though there was plenty of other stuff too, including pictures of other Scout groups “under canvas” around the world. Also appearing were scenery, life abroad, interesting buildings, sports teams and one of the first ever “cosplayers”… whom I also forgot to take a picture of. He was dressed as Felix the Cat.

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From issue 25, the paper got a new, more modern-looking cover design. But that’s modern looking for the 1920’s, when several story papers adopted a “clean, crisp” look. But to our modern eyes, those “clean, crisp” page designs look like they’ve been made in “super poster maker 2000”, running on Windows 98. Presumably this same cover design continued for the rest of the 60-issue run.


Oh, and the early issues contained some great poetry in box-outs.

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The only British thing in the Kyoto International Manga Museum


Which is very difficult to take a decent picture of

What do you suppose is the one, single mention of British comics in the Kyoto International Manga Museum? (well, to be fair, American-published British works like V for Vendetta and Watchmen are almost directly in front of you once you go through the ticket barrier). It must be one of the more famous ones, like The Dandy or The Beano, right? Nope! Well then, what about famous “modern” adventure comics like Action, or Battle Picture Weekly? No, it’s not them either… How about the well-known Eagle? Not even hinted at! And neither is Roy of the Rovers, the longest-running title devoted to our national game.

What else could there be? How about Newspaper strips? Now we’re on the right track… Modesty Blaise, perhaps? Nope! Garth? Nope! Not even Andy Capp… and even Homer Simpson reads Andy Capp! In fact, the only British comic to be mentioned in the Kyoto International Manga Museum is… THIS!


Well okay, that’s actually the annual based on the newspaper strip.

Pip, Squeak and Wilfred, as the main strip was known (in the 20’s, there was a separate Wilfred annual for younger readers) first appeared in the Daily Mirror in 1919, initially drawn by an artist called Austin Bowen Payne. The writer was Bertrand Lamb, or “Uncle Dick”, as he called himself in editorial segments. A.B. Payne left the strip sometime in 1939, and from then on it was drawn by uncredited artists. The strip finally ended in 1956, having run in the Mirror (presumably) daily, and also having produced two series of annuals – one pre-war, and one post-war. The first Pip & Squeak and Wilfred annuals appeared in 1922, cover-dated 1923, and it’s the first of these that I’ll be looking at to start with.

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As the annuals are aimed at younger readers (apparently the Wilfred annual was aimed at younger readers still, it was probably designed for parents to read to their children, whereas this one is for the children to read themselves), they have a lot of colour. Though this is 1922, so the full colour pages are limited to a few plates, but many of the others have red spot colour, or blue ink.


The book begins with a rather long introduction, in which Uncle Dick reminds readers that blackcurrant jam is not good for annuals, and that puppies are likely to think there’s a mouse hiding inside it. He also introduces the characters, and their origins, Pip was apparently a stray dog, Squeak was born on an arctic island near South Africa, and later came to London. Wilfred was found in a field, having wandered away from his burrow. Other characters included Angeline, who is Uncle Dick’s maid, and who looks after the animals, and Bendy, who is a half-fairy girl.

After the introduction, we go on to the first comic strip, which is in the “big caption” style of the time. As well as speech balloons, a written story underneath explains what is happening, though usually just repeats what you can already see!


They also meet Santa, who apparently has loads of toys stuck to the outside of his house

There’s also several text stories, though they’re still quite simple compared to those in “typical” annuals of the period (and the later ‘mixed age’ annuals like Feathers). There’s no battles against “savages” in this tale of shipwreck, the only real danger the characters (some boys and girls, not Pip, Squeak and Wilfred) face is their dog getting stuck in a hole. They also stumble upon an incredibly convenient Frigate Bird (apparently the South Sea Islands’ version of a Carrier Pigeon) which they use to send for help.


No “savages”, but the unfortunate racial attitudes of the time are still in evidence.

Then there’s this “story without words”, featuring Wilfred. Though you will quickly notice that it does have words! What’s going on there? Well the sounds like “Boo Hoo!”, “Nunc!” and “Gug!” that Wilfred made formed his entire vocabulary until the postwar period. “Nunc” was apparently his pronunciation of “Uncle”, which is what he considered Pip to be. “Gug” and “Nunc” later took on another meaning, but I’ll come to that further down!


There’s also a few puzzle and hobby pages. Apparently some later “Uncle Dick Annuals” had lots of puzzle pages you could solve, cut out and send in for prizes, though the ones in this annual (and almost every other in British comics history!) are just for fun.

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Finally, there’s some poems, with wonderful illustrations, and nice calligraphy on the writing, too. It may even have been drawn onto the original artwork, rather than printed later.


Of course, the main Pip, Squeak and Wilfred strip was appearing in the Daily Mirror. From 1921 to 1924 it was given it’s own Saturday supplement, initially of four pages (though I should think the other three pages contained the Mirror’s other strips!), but this was later reduced to three pages, then two. In the 50’s, the Mirror had spread it’s comic strips across almost every page of the paper, though more recently they have all been crammed together, next to the horoscopes.

The strip had a tremendous cultural impact during the interwar period, more than any British made comic strip could hope for today. It even became the nickname for the three medals the “old contemptibles” and Kitchener’s volunteers received for surviving the whole First World War. In addition, three RAF training aircraft of the interwar period were named Pip, Squeak and Wilfred, as were some armoured cars in service in Iraq. Handley-Page also named their HP39 aircraft “Gugnunc” in Wilfred’s honour, and a small operation to mine the Norwegian coast in 1940 was codenamed “Operation Wilfred”.


Also showing how Pip, Squeak and Wilfred occupied a whole page of the paper in 1928!

More importantly, and recorded on a double-page spread in the Gravett & Stanbury Great British Comics book, was the establishment of a huge fanclub called the Wilfredian League of Gugnuncs, or W.L.O.G. This was organised into “Burrows” and “Warrens”, and at one pointed counted thousands of members throughout the Empire and wider world. The W.L.O.G. had special badges, and a number of rules encouraging “Gugnuncliness”. These included being kind to animals, protecting younger children, and never eating rabbit! There was even a blue-and-gold enamel badge for club members to wear.


Swiped from an Ebay auction (I later bought it XD)

The W.L.O.G. reached it’s height on the 14th of April 1928, when eight thousand members of the club flocked to the Albert Hall for a mass celebration, an “appearance” by the characters and even a live performance of the club’s song, The Gugnunc Chortle, on BBC Radio. This can also be found in the book, and goes:

Gug! Gug! Nunc! Nunc!
Gugnuncs Merry are we!
We sing this song, for we all belong
To the W.L.O.G.

Stand By – Friends all-
Members merry and free!
For hand-in-hand goes the gugly band
Of the W.L.O.G.

Nunc! Nunc! Wilf! Wilf!
To Wilf we bend the knee,
To Wilf we sing, to the gugly king
Of the W.L.O.G.

Gug! Gug! Nunc! Nunc!
To Friends of all degree!
Give gugly hugs to the nuncly gugs
of the W.L.O.G.

Apparently this was recorded and sold on a gramophone record, as were other Gugnunc songs, though they are extremely rare today… so somebody decided to re-record one from sheet music!


In addition to those records, and the annuals, a few other books appeared (including a compilation of the first newspaper strips, published in 1921) as well as jigsaw puzzles, games, toys etc. At the height of the strip’s fame, a huge model of Pip, Squeak and Wilfred’s house, Mirror Grange, went on tour around the country, and featured walls that could be opened, to reveal the rooms inside. I found an old Independent article which seems to indicate the model was still in existence in 1995, though there doesn’t appear to be any more recent information on it, nor Google Images pictures (though apparently it had a book to itself in the twenties!).


Though Pip, Squeak and Wilfred once had a huge cultural influence (apparently dwindling in the post-war period, with Wilfred now speaking properly, and a young penguin called Stanley, previously only occasionally seen, becoming a full-time member of the cast), they’re largely forgotten today. Except among British humour comic fans, and antique toy / militaria collectors, anyway.

So why are they featured in the Kyoto International Manga Museum? Well they only appear as part of a display in what might be called the “centre” of the museum, which focuses on the evolution of manga. The middle of the room has examples of how it developed, along with examples of the influences of western-style humour magazines (a reproduced cover of Japan Punch, inspired by Britain’s Punch, is shown), while the outer shelves have year-by-year shelves going from 1947 onwards, with books you can take down and read (all in Japanese, of course… and the older ones are more modern reprints, not actual 1947 volumes!). It is in this room that Pip, Squeak and Wilfred appear, alongside a similar Japanese “funny animal” newspaper strip, showing how the comics of all nations have influenced one another down the years (though die-hard manga fans in the west will insist it’s “unique” and “different” and somehow sprang into fully-formed existence at some point in 1947).

The other area that contains foreign comics is the lobby, which has a quite disjointed collection of “manga from around the world”. The USA being a load of Marvel / DC (and the odd “indie”) graphic novels, France being Tintin, Asterix etc albums (if I remember rightly, in a rather random assortment of languages, though mostly Japanese). Oddly the sections for other Asian countries just feature their own versions of Japanese comics, translated into Chinese, Thai, Vietnamese etc. Further along there’s a separate “English Manga” section, with the American-translated volumes we get in the UK. There’s no section for British comics at all.

Or at least there wasn’t in late summer 2012! I suggested a long list of titles they could collect and feature on one of the feedback forms (though should probably have added ‘or if you can’t be bothered to collect and bind all them, at least fill a shelf with Titan and DFC Library books). I’m going back to Kyoto next month, so I’ll see if the situation has improved…

Peeps at foreign comics 4: Frisette

Hands up who thought these were all going to be Japanese, then? *puts hand up*


Frisette was a French story paper published in 1925 by J. Ferenczi et Fils. This was a company run by Joseph Ferenczi, who came to France from Hungary and published a lot of adventure, sci-fi and detective stories between the wars and into the 1950’s… at least according to an auto-translation from the French Wikipedia, anyway!


A typical issue – not sympathetically trimmed!

Frisette, and perhaps his other publications, is in a series of ‘penny part’ style publications, which dominated British comics for much of the 19th century – primarily as horror-and-crime focused Penny Dreadfuls. These “penny” (or 30 centime) parts have an illustrated cover, and text inside. But unlike Story Papers, they only serialise one story, with no other articles, stories or adverts. This style of publication had probably long since vanished from British shops by the mid-twenties. I own Frisette as a book, containing all of the penny parts – presumably some readers bound their own, but this appears to be an official binding, with an artistic cover, name on the spine, and other volumes advertised on the back (all of which look more interesting than this one).


Inscription I can’t read, from the inside front cover.

The subtitle for the series is “Aventures d’un petit filles”, which is “Adventures for little girls”. The story is about a girl called Frisette (and possibly her friends / sisters) who are apparently at either a boarding school (Lychee, as they were called in France), or possibly at some kindly old auntie’s house. They then go on a journey around the world, visiting various places and travelling by ship and car.




Don’t know where that is


On a ship

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New York




“La Place Du Ferrari”, somewhere else in Italy?

There’s also a section involving  adventures in mountains, and German-speaking people. A journey to Switzerland or Austria? Interestingly, each issue has it’s illustrations crammed together in this comic-like spread on the middle two pages. The rest of the pages are just text. The back cover is apparently an advert for the next issue, and information on what the story is about.


From early in the story

There’s also plenty of poems, or songs. I don’t know if they are ones that were well-known in France at the time (like our own Vitae Lampada), or if they were written for the story. I’ve just finished a 30’s school story for girls with one character who makes up poems about every event. Some of them are quite short, whilst others occupy almost as much page space as the story itself!

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Bound British story papers and penny parts, whether officially or privately bound, usually didn’t include the covers. I’m glad they were included in this volume though, they have great artwork and quality printing – by the standards of a mass-produced, working-class publication of the day, anyway. They also allow you to see the price, which was interestingly written as “0F30Cent”. It’d be like Union Jack saying it’s price is “£0,0s,2d” XD. The first issue of Frisette enticed new readers in with an “Exceptionnellement” price of 5 centimes:


This was increased to 15 centimes for the second issue, and to 30 from the third onwards.


Also with a look at the back cover information.

Armistice Union Jacks

For nearly a decade after the end of the First World War it was hardly mentioned in British comics. Any war stories were either set further back in time (for instance the Afghan wars), or else were about fictional conflicts set in the near future. Often against made-up countries presumed to be in some part of the dismembered Austro-Hungarian empire.

However by the second half of the twenties stories and articles about the war gradually crept back in. The Union Jack in November 1926 was one of the leaders of this trend with a series of three plates celebrating the armistice.


I only have two of the issues though!

Normally I don’t care about gifts with comics. I buy them for the art and stories alone, in fact I prefer comics without their gifts because they are usually far cheaper! I got the first issue of the re-launched Wizard from 1970 for a tenner that way. But I made an exception when I saw the first of these pictures on sale…


Wonder if this has been reproduced anywhere else?

The plates are accompanied by brief articles about them. These also contain plenty of reminders that no other paper has ever made such an amazing offer at the price, that demand is high and that a regular order should be placed. You’d think The Dandy would try this in these days of ‘pester power’ eh?


They also contain previews of the next plate


And remember that regular order!

The three issues are bumper numbers in other ways too. They feature the start of the serial The Three Just Men by Edgar Wallace. This was considered so important that the first two parts (and maybe more) take precedence over Sexton Blake and appear right at the front!


I doubt that happened with many other serials.

The Three Just Men is the sequel to 1905’s The Four Just Men (yes the Four came before the Three, for reasons that will be obvious if you’ve read the first one XD). It features a group of highly skilled gentlemen who publicly sentence people to death and then carry out the promised assassination by some clever trick. Just like The Deathless Men and V would be doing in later decades. The Four Just Men was actually one of the first ‘really old’ stories I read. It was fairly hard going for me at the time but now I breeze through stories from 10-20 years earlier. Maybe I ought to re-read it.


The copy I own is actually from the 50’s mind.

Sexton Blake is also on top form. The story concerns the return of one of his greatest enemies (and he wasn’t short of those in the twenties!) Leon Kestrel, the “master mummer”. A mummer was a kind of ‘quick change’ artist who with clever, quickly-applied makeup, could appear to be many different people on stage. Kestrel on the other hand could do this in real life, with disguises that couldn’t be detected even at close quarters by friends of the person being imitated. This of course led to fantastic stories where you never quite know who is who, especially if Sexton Blake also steps into one of his famous disguises.


Kestrel also had a love of the theatrical. He would threaten to carry out seemingly impossible crimes – in this case stealing gemstones one at a time from a necklace (“pinching it by installments!” declares Tinker) despite the fact it’s inside a locked case and guarded round the clock. He would also steal valuable art treasures that it would be impossible to sell on simply for the fun of it. Not that he wasn’t also above swindling honest people out of large sums of money. Oh and of course his skills at deception, burglary and quick changes of appearance help him with an endless series of amazing prison escapes when he is finally captured!


Oh and his wife/accomplice Fifette who is just as skilled as he is!

I don’t have the third issue of these armistice numbers, but the editorial further up mentions that it is the first issue to feature Dr Satira. I don’t think I’ve ever read one of his stories, but it says he has a personal army of ape-men so I expect it can’t be half bad!

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…


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.


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.


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…


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.



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”.

Some Christmas covers

I did this before, right back at the start of the blog. My collection has expanded quite a bit since then, so it’s time for another gallery of Christmas covers!


Ho Ho… ho?

Starting off right back in 1874 with Chatterbox. That’s not actually the fourth issue, the numbers were restarted for every volume. As you can see the cover is not particularly ‘festive’, but the 1870’s were puritannical times and perhaps a bird dying in the cold was supposed to remind readers to be miserable. The cover refers to a long poem taking up the first two inside pages of the issue within.

Chatterbox was one of the first story papers, starting in 1866. I distinguish these from the penny dreadfuls that were most popular from the 1830’s to 1890’s by the fact that story papers were not horror-focused, and often had more than one story in them (the penny dreadfuls were just a chapter of one long story – of course it was not only ‘dreadful’ stories that were published in this way, the work of Dickens was originally too!). Of course most, but not all, of the early story papers were Christian focused, or else they had only the loosest credibility by being published by the same people who were churning out the penny dreadfuls!

Chatterbox was a bit different, it had more high-minded, ‘straight’ adventure stories without ghosts or ghouls. It also had informative articles and shorter stories about naughty children repenting. It was started by a reverend – J. Erskine Clarke, M.A. so in a way anticipated the Boys’ Own Paper of 1879 and The Eagle of 1950. This 1874-5 volume is of course loaded down with Jesus, but later volumes became more secular, reflecting the attitudes of their age. The first really old book I bought was the 1908 volume of Chatterbox which is a great deal less pious. Chatterbox actually ran all the way up until 1955, though by the end it was just a series of adventure story annuals, and virtually indistinguishable from any of the other “Grand Book for Boys” publications.


By Jingo!

It’s 1897 now, and this is the Christmas edition of The Marvel (which began in 1893 as The Halfpenny Marvel and gave us Sexton Blake). Where the older story papers were content to just be an alternative to the penny dreadfuls, Alfred Harmsworth’s halfpenny story papers were a clear shot across the bows of these gruesome horror stories. By 1900 the penny dreadfuls were holed below the waterline. Though in the early days of the Harmsworh papers the stories were not all that brilliant, and one wag wrote them off as “Halfpenny dreadfullers”.

Another way that Harmsworh’s story papers differed from the older story papers was their jingoism. By the 1890’s church had been replaced by state in the affections of the people and the empire had become something to be widely celebrated. Harmsworth’s papers captured the mood of this age, and  how better to show it but than with this cover? Santa does not introduce us to presents, or a dickensian scene, but to a host of British troops on the march, “Jack Tar” to the fore and surrounding Britannia on a white charger. We’ll not see the likes of this again until… well until i do a Christmas issue of one of my comics.


Oops, no cover

Into the twentieth century now, with the 1901 Christmas issue of The Boys’ Friend – except the cover is missing! The Boys’ Friend only had black and white printing most of the time, but relatively frequent “double numbers” (the Christmas and Spring ones being regular fixtures) would have a beautiful colour cover, and double the page count (pst, and also double the price!). Double numbers were also chosen to introduce new serial stories.

The serial was the stock-in-trade of the tabloid-sized Boys’ Friend which started as a halfpenny paper in 1895. The serial stories, large size and cheap paper make collecting The Boys’ Friend very difficult today, may I add! Each issue also had a long complete story of 10,000 words, though, and many of these are great reads. The large size of the paper and tiny type used allowed for very long stories to be told, and also for large and lavish illustrations. To my mind this is one of the greatest of all British comics!


How, um traffic was a nightmare

Now it’s 1913 and time for another lavish Boys’ Friend double number. This one with it’s wonderful cover intact. The content inside was much the same, a long complete story, ongoing serials, new serials with extra-long opening instalments, and the Editor’s page. I ought to say something for the editor’s page of the Boys’ Friend (and very-similar Boys Herald and Boys’ Realm, which started in the 1900’s and were cancelled in the 20’s), the editor would give well-meaning, and well-researched advice to his readers. He would also give long and friendly replies to readers, try to help them with problems (usually this help involved the purchasing of other Amalgamated press publications or books, ahem) and regularly advise on the dangers of smoking, drinking, gambling, rash emigration to the colonies and going to sea “for an adventure” without thinking it through – all pitfalls that it was all to easy for children to fall into in those days!

Compare this for a second to the letter’s pages of the comics i was growing up with in the 90’s – that is The Beano, The Dandy, Sonic the Comic and a bit later the Judge Dredd Megazine – in those readers were lucky if the reply to their letter was more than a single line. And that single line usually just contained some terrible pun. The Boys’ Friend – Best British comic ever.


Anyone for footer?

Followed closely by this one! The Union Jack started in 1894 as a virtually-identical story paper to The Halfpenny Marvel. In 1904 it became “Sexton Blake’s own paper” and that detective featured in every issue from then on. Now 10 years later Europe is in the grip of a huge war that many people predicted would be over by Christmas. It wasn’t, as this issue shows! The story revolves around a gentleman falling into disgrace and joining up as an ordinary soldier to seek his own death.

This paper gives the lie to the oft-repeated notion that “popular magazines” during the World War 1 would portray the trenches as a grand life of camping, cricket and then short, easy battles where you would get to “account for” scores of the beastly Hun. This was only the case for the first month or so of the conflict, as it drew on writers became a lot more realistic. The stories in this issue certainly don’t make life in the trenches sound desirable – if anything they exaggerate the horrors! One passage talks of soldiers “fighting for hours waist-deep in freezing water”, which they couldn’t have really done, it’s biologically impossible! Unless you want your legs sawn off afterwards. It’s not exactly discouraging either though. There was after all the need to actually win the thing, so the story emphasises that whilst you may not like your duty, every patriotic Briton must do his best to discharge it.


For the glory of the School Soviet, comrades!

Now it’s 1921, and the Nelson Lee Library. This was an odd one – a size roughly equivalent to the modern(ish) A5 and with quite a high page count, it carried complete stories about Nelson Lee in each issue. Nelson Lee was a detective who first appeared in the 1890’s, and was not greatly different to Sexton Blake at the time. However by the 1920’s things have rather changed a bit! Nelson Lee is now working as a schoolmaster at St Frank’s boarding school. He isn’t undercover – everybody knows he is a detective, and his boy assistant, Nipper, is a pupil at the school.

This unique setup allowed for the stories to waver between “Billy Bunter”-esque dorm feeds and practical jokes, to serious stories of solving murders and foiling gangs, with ease. Often these two elements would coexist in the same story, and the various boys of the school (not quite the fantastic characterisations of Charles Hamilton, but very close) would often take a hand in the solving of the mystery. Another remarkable aspect of the Nelson Lee library was that it was one huge serial – for decades the main story (it also carried more conventional serials – often 2 or 3 at a time!), while complete in each issue, followed on from the previous one and anticipated the next. Of course these were split into ‘series’ too (in the same way as some, but not all, Sexton Blake stories in the Union Jack were in the 20’s and 30’s) but even then a minor plot element in one series would become a major focus in another.

Oh, yeah, this particular issue is part of one of the more famous series in the Nelson Lee’s history – the “Schoolboy Soviet” series, in which a few boys, inspired by the revolution in Russia, turn the school into a communist state! Of course this descends into tyranny and starvation and they eventually welcome their rightful ‘rulers’, the teachers, back. Unfortunatley I don’t own the whole of this series, so i can’t read it, yet! Anybody got the issues that came directly after the one that was actually named “The Schoolboy Soviet”?


The flash and old ink is only partly responsible – the cover really is that gloomy!

Now it’s 1925 and we’re back with the Nelson Lee Library. “Snow on the logo” is a long-standing British Comic tradition but in some of these old publications it looked like the wrong kind of snow – not the  soft white stuff you can look out at from your warm room on Christmas day, but the freezing, slippery stuff that your car skids on as you slowly crawl to work on a gloomy November’s morning.

The story in this issue is rather more lighthearted (well from the quick flick I had when i took it out to photograph it, anyway). Several of the boys from St Frank’s end up at an uninhabited stately home for Christmas, with only one butler and no food! But they suspect the castle is haunted – especially when a huge feast seemingly appears by a miracle on the dining table that was completely bare only half an hour before. I doubt it’s worth betting that the ‘ghost’ turns out to be Nelson Lee playing a Christmas prank and that a jolly holiday of crackling fires and gigantic cakes ends the tale.


Christmas in space

Now it’s the 1950’s and we’ve never had it so good – Photogravure printing of art and writing that well deserves it, a genius artist firing on all cylinders and a minutely-researched science-fiction tale where British pluck, and not technobabble, reversed polarities and sonic screwdrivers wins the day! This is the first Christmas issue of The Eagle – a title that hardly needs introduction. It was created by a Reverend and intended to kill off the popular horror comics of the time. Sound familiar?

Of course I don’t own the actual issue, this is just a reproduced cover in a book about the comic’s most famous character – Dan Dare! They really pulled out all the stops on ‘decorating’ this cover, with holly between the panels!


Ahh the festive tradition of poisonous gas – bring back the dying Robin!

Now it’s 1952 and Dan Dare still adorns the cover of The Eagle, which is still at the top of it’s game. It hit the ground running and barely faltered for 10 years! This issue isn’t quite so christmas-ey, no holly between the panels. Mind you the snow on the logo is now present and correct.

 Dan Dare and The Eagle copyrighted, trademarked and sole property of The Dan Dare Corporation PLC LTD KGB NKVD 1950-perpetuity. No infringement, expungement or disengagement of the copyright solely owned by the Dan Dare Corporation is hereby expressed, implied or implicated. Use of photographs of covers of The Eagle, copyright of the Dan Dare Corporation 1950-perpetuity, complies with the fair use law regarding critcism and/or review.

And I managed to make a whole post that didn’t involve Chums!

Murder in Melchester!

Everybody remembers where they were when they heard Roy Race had been shot. For instance i distinctly remember not being born yet.

But who remembers the other high profile attempted murder case from that “large, old fashioned town” located “about sixty miles from London“? The attempted murder of the chemist Leonard Jardine by the town’s respected doctor Edward Sharlaw? This case, as it developed in 1928, caused no end of sensation in the newspapers of Amalgamated Press Land. After an investigation by the famous detective Sexton Blake the doctor was cleared of the charge, as the chemist had been injured by accident and confessed all after the doctor’s son, himself a spinal expert, saved his life.


Despite the naming coincidence, i’d say it’s pretty unlikely that anybody involved in Roy of the Rovers, despite the fact it was published by IPC which was a descendant of AP, had ever read this story. It’s just one of those things… (also it seems fairly likely that the Melchester of Roy of the Rovers is supposed to be a lot further north).

Hilgay Haul

Today i went to a book fair at a village in Norfolk called Hilgay. The village is just off the A10 but the road leading to it is very narrow and bumpy. When i got into the village itself there seemed to be people out and about everywhere, not all just for the book sale but also for various sales of household stuff people had set up in thier front gardens… apparently this was an unrelated event to the book sale, what a community spirit!

Having winded my way down the long narrow road that ran through the village i found a small makeshift car park on a bit of muddy waste ground. Equally old fashioned and wonderful. The sale itself was in the village hall and packed with endless rows of books in plastic boxes on tables with very very narrow walkways between (made the UK Webcomix Thing – of which there will be no more, by the way 🙁 – look like Pyongyang!). It was also very well attended. A lot of the books i bought didn’t have prices on, but i’d taken £100 so wasn’t too worried. Here’s what i bought:

hilgay book salw may2010hbjh

The total for that little lot? £8!

The big red book is called Fifty Enthralling Stories of the Mysterious East which, I can now report thanks to a helpful comment, dates from 1937. The first story in it is by Sax Rohmer, famous for the Fu Manchu stories. The tales are mainly about Arabs or Chinese, with the odd Indian one (as India was controlled by Britain it was perhaps less ‘mysterious’!).

The Chatterbox annual, still with a similar covers to the first official Chatterbox annuals from the 1870’s (the paper started in 1866) is from 1921 and must have looked very dated by then. The content is pretty Victorian in tone too, with the usual mixture of a long serial story running through the whole volume (and thus a whole year when the papers were published weekly) as well as shorter stories in 1-3 instalments, pictures (no comedy cartoons), informative articles and poems. Chatterbox was aimed at younger readers than the ‘similar’ paper Chums was… and lasted (though by the end only in yearly annual form) right through until 1955! So they must have been doing something right.

There’s also Our Own Schoolboys Annual which is fairly predictable fifties stuff of adventure stories revolving around detectives, sport, boys on scouting trips falling into adventures and mild sci-fi. It’s mainly text stories with lots of line drawings but there’s also a comic strip.

The other thing relevant to the blog is Stories for Boys which dates from 1961 (the first edition anyway, i have a fifth edition from 1967). The inside of the dust jacket promises stories set all over the world from “the stirring days when Englishmen and Spaniards battled for supremacy on the high seas” to “the sky lanes of the future“. (I’ve been to the sky lanes of the future and they’re pretty boring really… and the food is horrible). The back cover promises “many exciting sketches” but there’s really only a few full-page illustrations which aren’t all that good.

The other stuff i got includes a few Edge novels by George G Gilman, these addictive and fun westerns are shot through with black-as-night humour and extreme violence. Apparently there was comics based on them made in Italy… if the “fan subbers” can tear themselves away from Japanese stuff for a minute i’d love to read one of those! Gilman also created a character called Adam Steele but i only got one of those… one thing at a time! There was also at least two Edge Steele books in which the pair teamed up to dispense lead-flavoured justice.

The final item is pretty interesting, it’s a nuclear conspiracy thriller with elements of small boat sailing… a 1990’s Riddle of the Sands? I was reading the foreword which, setting the scene for the story, implied that the striking coal miners, anti nuclear environmental protesters and Middle Eastern oil pipeline saboteurs were all one organised body in the pay of the Soviet Union… i like this guy’s style! (especially as the Mark Trant stories in my own comics will work on a similar idea, though in those the organisers will be British-based socialists).

Christmas Comic Covers

As everybody else is doing it, here are some assorted covers of christmas issues from my collection. Most of the suff i had to hand is in bound volumes, so these are photos. Though i suppose i could properly scan the Victor’s at a later date (when/if i have that strange thing called “free time”).

uj chrimble cover 06

The Union Jack Christmas Double Number 1906. This is actually the first page, as when this volume was bound the covers were removed, seemingly a common practice with these old papers. The story is, as ever, a Sexton Blake tale, seemingly revolving around a VC-winning soldier now being literally “left out in the cold” and appealing to an old officer for help. I intend to read this one on Christmas Day this year, and a review will eventually appear in the UJ Index blog.

uj chrimble timble 1925

1925 now, and Sexton Blake is still going strong in his golden era. The UJ by this time had colour covers, and was entirely crime-and-punishment related (the 1906 issue also contained a serial story set in the Zulu wars), containing a “detective supplement” with real-world crime information. The serial stories and “Tinker’s Notebook” feature were also firmly rooted in the world of detection. Nirvana was, if i remember the site correctly, a friend of Tinker’s whom he had known before he became Sexton Blake’s assistant.

Chums chrimble timble fimble 1906

Back to 1906 now, this is an issue of Chums, a storypaper published by Cassel & Co. A company which also published the New Penny Magazine (a 1901 “volume” of which i recently bought, and which contains many fascinating articles). This paper is a curious size, being slightly under the tabloid size used in the Boy’s Friend, but still bigger than the “average” (if the huge variety of sizes in use at that time allows for such a word to be used!) comic. Aside from christmas wishes along the top, and a message in the editorial section within, there’s not a great deal to distinguish this issue. Unlike some publications which featured the traditional snow on the logo…

adventure christ1948bcv

…like this! This is the Christmas issue of Adventure for 1948. Adventure was the first of DC Thomson’s “Big Five” adventure story papers. In the early years it looked like any other story paper, but with the coming of comics it began to adapt, with these “full colour” strips on the covers. The interiors were still entirely taken up by text stories however. Wartime paper shortages continued into the late 40’s, so the paper was only published on alternating weeks (i beleive by this time it was moving back towards a weekly, though). The paper is very thin too, it’s no wonder so few wartime and 40’s issues of these papers have survived. A shame as many of the stories are excellent… the DCT papers had a way of always having serial stories, but each instalment was a good enough story on it’s own. Re-caps were often expertly fitted into the text where they would provide enough information for a new reader, but not irritate regulars. Getting the stories for these papers ‘just right’ must have been a supremely difficult task, which makes the complete lack of credits all the worse.


10 years later, and Adventure now features much more detailed comic strips on the cover, with better art and bigger captions to describe the action (speech bubbles and sound effects did not exist in this paper!). The issues were a lot thicker too, and frequently boasted of “four extra pages this issue!”. Additionally a further comic strip, in the same style but using red spot-colours rather than full colour, could be found on the centre pages. The stories kept thier brisk and exciting style, but the days of the story-paper where coming to an end as the comics took over. The Adventure name, merged with Rover, would continue into 1963, when the merged paper reverted to being called The Rover once again.


The Victor was another DCT publication, a comic this time (though i beleive early issues in the 1960’s featured a single text story). DCT liked to re-use characters who originally appeared in text form as comics, and Alf Tupper was one such character who made the transition. In typical British Comic style he never appeared to age but at the same time his “past caught up with him”. Some of these issues feature a story called “The Boyhood of Alf Tupper”, which appears to be set in the 1970’s. However in The Rover, where he first appeared, he was 18 in 1949! I originally found this selection of issues (in amazing condition) in a charity shop in Lincoln. However as most of them are Christmas issues i decided to wait until i was making a post such as this before posting them. They have colour covers and black and white interior work, the artwork of a lot of which appears to be (whisper it) a bit rushed. Then again the artists probably wanted to get finished in time for christmas! Some of the art styles are actually recognisable from my 1958 issues of Adventure, though in that they only had to provide one or two illustrations per story, so could take a lot longer over it. Victor was the last remaining of the “boy’s own”-type of weekly adventure comic, an attempted revamp with a lot more colour stories in the early 90’s failed to lift the slumping sales and it vanished from the shelves. The next generation along (of which i was a part) had to resort to creating thier own adventure/war comics (i even remember trying to start my own text-only storypaper! before i even knew what such a thing was), or else become superhero addicts. Thanks a lot, late 70’s/early 80’s-born people.


Just another picture i had kicking around for size comparison

The Boys’ Friend Library

boys friend library next to a commando

Pocket Libraries, despite the claims of War Picture Library being “the first” on the back of “Unleash Hell”, have been around since the early 20th century. Of course, the first comic strip ones in the “Commando” style most likely appeared post-war in the 1950’s, the earlier ones where text stories. These usually came in the form of reprinted (and edited or shortened) serials from the weekly papers.

boysgdfd who reads these anyway?

By far the most common size for these books was 64 interior pages, on black and white newsprint with colour covers and features/adverts on the inside covers. This format is continued today in Commando. However other libraries where reduced in pages during times of war and shortages. Others came in larger sizes – i beleive some “Holiday Special” editions of the Fleetway libraries such as Air Ace ran to 225 pages! (but those may have been in another format)

More pocket libraries than you might think survive today. But they can still be counted on one hand – Commando, The People’s Friend library**, My Weekly library, Fun-size Beano and Fun-size Dandy. Crossword/wordsearch/sudoku books of roughly the same size exist also.
This example is a Boys’ Friend library, which ran from 1906 to 1925*, reprinting either original stories or serials from the weekly Boys’ Friend. The book is in remarkable condition for it’s age (due to some ebay wrangling, a US collector was supposed to get ‘my’ good one. But never complained about the knackered example that was meant for me, so the seller sent me the good one). Also despite a general disintrest in / ignorance of storypapers in this day and age issues of the BFL which show up on Ebay always attract bids, often very quickly too. I’d hardly say there was a price war going on though, they show up for 99p – £2.00 and get bids. And as i’m not especially interested i normally let the ones with bids already on them “escape”. (If i ever see “The Black Squadron” i’ll chase it though).


I havent actually read the issue in question yet, but it appears to be about some film-makers going into the jungle and finding some lost civilisation and “more than they bargained for”. The book is un-dated, but the cover illustration has a 1920 date, it also doesn’t say if the story is a reprint of a serial or one written for the library

One of the most desirable issues of the Boys’ Friend Library must surely be that containing “Sexton Blake in the Congo”, an important story in the history of that character which originally ran over several issues of the weekly Boys’ Friend in 1908.


**- Incedentally The People’s Friend must surely be the last surviving storypaper which has remained in regular publication right since Victorian times. Though today of course it is “the best-selling (only) story magazine” and also contains articles on holidays, cooking and many ads for ‘silver’ cruises and life insurance. I suppose i had better cobble up an entry before all of it’s readership pass away.