Return of The Deatless Men?

I should think every reader of this blog is already familiar with one of the greatest stories ever published in a British comic.

It is a tale of a ruthless fascist regime under which the downtrodden people long for freedom. It is the tale of a rebellion against this regime by faceless killers, clad in anonymous masks and with a seemingly supernatural ability to cheat death and be in many places at once. Above all it is the tale of the police of this regime desperately trying to catch the man responsible for the endless string of outrages that threatens their rule. It is the tale of their chilling discovery that those responsible for the attacks on their leading officers ought to be dead – having been incarcerated in their sinister death camps. And it is the tale of betrayal at the highest levels as we learn that all the time the rebellion has deep inside knowledge of the regime’s hunt for them, and can always remain one step ahead.

This tale is of course V for Venegance, first published in The Wizard in 1951!

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The first series of which was reprinted in 1959, of which I own in a bound volume.

Anyway, today I was looking at the titles of the next Commando comics to come out and noticed this:

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Number 4322 is going to be called “V is for Vengeance!”

Could this possibly be DCT digging into their past to bring us an abridged/complete story of The Deathless Men? Sadly probably not, I don’t believe any of the recurring  characters from their other adventure comics (not even during a time when those comics were still running alongside Commando) have ever made the leap into the title. Though somebody did once on one website mention that “The Wolf of Kabul” a character from text stories who later appeared in a picture-story in The New Hotspur or Victor had re-appeared in Commando, it was actually a different character entirely (though with a similar setting in the middle east).

Actually the main character of those “wolf” stories was not a man but a book, passed down through many generations of a family from before WW1 up to the Gulf war of 1991. And not a comedy sidekick with a cricket bat in sight!

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:

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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”).

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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 sextonblake.co.uk 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…

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…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.

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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.

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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.

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Just another picture i had kicking around for size comparison

The School Friend annual 1957

Discovered in Oxfam’s “please read me one more time” box for a mere 50p (i wish the Bury branch would do the same thing!) this is a proper gem of a late 50’s comic/storypaper annual, with the strips and text stories alternating. I’m not too sure of the history of the School Friend, but i’m pretty sure it originated alongside the Gem and Magnet, so by the time the 1960’s where coming knocking it probably looked well out of date, even with strip content. The stories themselves are mostly the typical “Girls’ Own” fare that revisionists (some of them even self-professed “fans”!) would have you beleive entirely made up the girl’s comics of the time, however there are a few surprises. Another surprise is the prescence of not one but TWO colour strips! There is also a painted “coloured plate” on different paper in the front of the book, but the coloured strips are on the same thick pulp paper as the black and white pages, just with “dotty” colouring added. I actually like the look, and find myself wondering if it can be replicated for my own comics in photoshop.

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The cover, with one or two “improvements”. Probably added by Susan White, it’s evident second owner (the name is in biro) after Judith Fox, who’s name is on the title page in rather ornate handwriting. I beleive “The Millers” are a football team.

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“The Silent Three” appear to be the most famous characters of the School Friend’s comic strips (they are in that British Comics book with Korky on the cover, dontcha know). I think that in it’s earlier days the paper also contained Charles Hamilton stories, but there’s none of that in this book. The Silent Three themselves belonged to a secret society in their boarding school who put on robes and masks and fought against injustice (Kind of like a genteel version of V for Vengeance?)  Here they are on their summer holidays, but another school is still in session and Betty’s cousin, captain of the fourth, is upset at her form being framed for a series of pranks. The pranks turn out to be the work of a corrupt prefect who has found a clue to a treasure hidden within the school and wants to keep it for herself. Whilst this may not be by Charles Hamilton it isn’t straying too far from his territory! (Nb. British girl’s comics, and probably storypapers before them, where almost entirely written by men)

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This story is about Princess Anita. The young apparent monarch (presumably the actual King or Queen is “away” for extended periods) of “Sylvanberg”, a kind of idealised swiss/bavarian type country. She dresses up in peasant garb and goes amongst her people in order to discover their problems and then solve them using her powers as monarch. Here she is coincidentally saved by a “no good” man that a “well to do” woman wants to marry (against the wishes of her father). One awarding of a Legion d’honneur-style medal later and the lovers can live happily ever after.

school friend 1957-04

One of the colour strips, Jill Crusoe. In this her and her native friend M’lani live on “Paradise Island” in the 1890’s. A hot-air balloon accidentally descends onto a nearby island where cannibals keep the idol of their fire god. As the girls move to rescue him they use the exploding gas in the balloon to convince the savages that the fire god is angry with their plan to sacrifice the “sky demon”. Later on the airman is rescued by a passing ship but Jill and M’lani decide to stay on the island. How they avoid being eaten by cannibals is not adequately explained.

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A more tomboy-ish character, with a strange Irish accent. Her name is Paddy McNaught and she assists the detective Terry Brent. Here, believing crooks to be after him, he sends her out in his car with a waxwork model of him which happens to be laying around the office to throw them off the scent. She then realises they want to “settle for him”, but later finds out they knew the waxwork was a model all along. However a quick switch of the waxwork left sitting on a log with the real thing see’s the crims rounded up. It turns out some recently stolen

The birth of decompression

All comic fans (or at least the ones with sense) lament the modern trend of “decompression”, also known as “ripping readers off and at the same time stretching out one good idea over loads of issues until everybody is bored of it” (they didn’t label me a “fence sitter” over at Comics UK for nothing!). Anyway, examples of this trend stretch back further than you might imagine, just look at this strip from a 1933 issue of The Gem! this gag could easily fit two panels but has been stretched to six, leaving the poor artist to draw virtually the exact same thing five times over!

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New Acquisition

Rick Random: Space Detective

A collected edition of 10 Rick Random stories from the pages of Super Detective Library (which also once featured a Sexton Blake story). It’s the same sort of thing as those big Commando books. The pages are reproduced from copies of the comic, like the War Picture Library books are, but the quality is astonishing! though some pages are better than others

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