Valiant and TV21 – 31st March 1973

It’s that time again, lets grab a random single issue of a classic British comic and review it!

… last time I did this, I was pretty spoilt for choice, but this time, I really only had this one (or a bunch of recent Viz, Beano or Commando issues). I bought it from an antiques shop in Kyoto for ¥1000, though a comparable one bought in the UK would probably be no more than a quarter of that.

Anyway, Valiant is a well-known British comic, even amongst people who normally only like American ones. This is probably because most of it’s “serious” characters had powers, and these people can’t fathom the idea of a comic about ordinary people (unless it’s some small press pamphlet about a hipster’s life, which would have been better off as a blog entry).

TV21, on the other hand, ought to be a better-known British comic. It is, in conventional wisdom, the second best British comic, after the almighty Eagle. It contained stories of the various Gerry Anderson productions, the comic and television arms of Century 21 productions complementing each other perfectly, without the comic being some bland, hacked-out retread of the TV show with a bunch of clipart chucked all over it.


By 1973, and the merger, the stars of both comics had waned considerably, though as the senior partner, Valiant has retained a number of it’s classic characters. TV21’s only contribution is Star Trek, which occupies the coloured centre pages (but doesn’t really gain anything from the colour). Even before the merger, the latter day TV21 had long since relegated the Gerry Anderson material to black and white reprints, while the colour pages were occupied by strips based on imported TV shows (though at least they were hand-illustrated especially for that comic, even this would be a rare miracle in today’s Britain).

Anyway, in the style of a number of comics at the time, the cover is not taken up by some dramatic image from a story within, but with a “factual” page about a famous sports star. Valiant did a lot of this, and DC Thomson’s Victor ran “true war stories” for decades. A waste of the colour if you ask me, but it sold in numbers any publisher in the anglosphere would kill for, today!

The first story is Captain Hurricane, the long-running comedy war story in which a huge marine would go into a “ragin’ fury” and start punching tanks, calling the occupants “bratwurst-munching Brandenburg bootmakers” or “slant-eyed yellow weevils” every week. The people who sing Valiant’s praises as the “acceptable face” of retro British comics like to quietly pretend this story never existed. I, on the other hand, want a collected book of the funniest episodes. At least 300 pages, please!

Anyway, in this particular episode, Captain Hurricane’s batman, “Maggot” Malone, is writing his “memwars”, in which he calls himself a general, on the assumption he’ll have been promoted that far by the time the war ends. Some Germans assume he’s a secret agent writing a report, and try to capture him, one thing leads to another and soon the Squareheads are being shaken out of tanks like pepper.

The next story is Kid Pharoh, who is an ancient Egyptian who was cursed to “sleep while darkness reigns” by an evil wizard, then shut up in a tomb for thousands of years. Released by American archaeologists in modern times, he went to America and became a pro wrestler (that’s the first thing you’d do, right?). Anyway, the curse is still in effect, so he falls asleep the instant the lights go out, he’s also up against the descendants of the wizard, who are now his enemies in other ways (rival wrestling promoters, I’d imagine).

The next story is one of Valiant’s best-remembered ones, Janus Stark. He’s a famous escapologist from Victorian times, who is somehow never recognised by the various villains who keep trapping him in complicated ways and leaving him to a slow death. In this story he’s also clapped in irons by the well-meaning crew of a ship, but casts off the “mere trinkets” when he spots real saboteurs approaching. One thing leads to another, and he ends the episode tied up once again, this time watching the fuse on a barrel full of gunpowder burn down!

Yellowknife of the Yard follows. If we’ve had an ancient Egyptian wrestler, why not a Red Indian detective, still dressed in full regalia? Anyway, he’s captured by Count Terror (who looks like Count Dracula) and subjected to the “fear machine” which has already terrified several MI5 agents. Yellowknife, however, finds it “um heap big bore”, before rather conveniently escaping and lassooing the badmen.

Now it’s The Nutts, one of Valiant’s pure comedy strories, and only a single page long. It’s about a family living in a tiny house, the husband always has money-making (or saving) schemes that go wrong.

I don’t normally cover adverts, but here’s one for some other comics! Battle Picture Library was, at the time, putting out eight issues per month, but unlike today’s Commando, they released them all in one bunch on the third Monday. Like today’s Commando, I doubt that was eight NEW stories per month! The descriptions make the stories sound far more interesting than they probably were. The best war picture library was, well, War Picture Library, but only up to the mid 60’s! After that, Commando was running away with the title, and it’s certainly the only one to have reached 5000 issues!

After that, another staple of British comics, a football strip! This one’s called Raven on the Wing, and is about a gypsy boy, with amazing ability, who signs up for Highborough United, aka The Toffs. Here another of his tribe, Spider Mulford, is competing with the team’s back-from-injury goalie, Lionel Jeeps, for custodian duties at an upcoming championship match. Other members of the tribe have got into the crowd and are trying to put the regular keeper off during the first half, but Raven, naturally, doesn’t want to see any of that, preferring a fair contest.

No doubt there would be howls of derision at such a story today, making as it does the stereotyped suggestion that gypsies have strong family ties, even though it’s true. Mind you, family ties among a lot of regular brits are pretty strong too, these days. They side with their own kids against teachers and the police, undermining social order… filthy savages.

After that, we have The Swots and the Blots. Which is a bit like The Bash Street Kids if the class goody-goody, Cuthbert, was mob-handed. It’s resemblance to The Bash Street Kids is mainly due to the fact it has the same creator! Leo Baxendale left DC Thomson in the 1960’s, after a disagreement about the scale he did his artwork at, and went to Odhams, who were later swallowed up in the IPC Empire. Anyway, the strip is across the centre pages, with a huge title, and centres around cooking class. You can well imagine the chaos that ensues!

After that, we get the, erm, “colour” strip, on the centre pages, and it’s a contribution from the junior partner, TV21! As I said before, the days of TV21’s gravure-printed Gerry Anderson epics were behind it even before the merger, but here we have a Star Trek story coloured (badly) with the four-colour overlay method. This story is really Star Trek in name only, it’s more like a World War 2 spy caper given a Trek coat of paint, just replace the Germans with Klingons and the Italians with thier Morkolian allies.

After that, the letters page, with some illustrated jokes (when I was young, I always thought the senders provided the illustration, too, and got quite dispirited that people the same age as me already had skills equal to the pros!) and an interesting notice about the introduction of VAT.

Now for another stone-cold Valiant classic (and one due a Rebellion reprint?), The Claw! This is about Louis Crandell, who has a mechanical hand, and also the power to become invisible when he gets an electric shock (no chance of something like this appearing in a kids’ comic these days!). While not a cop or secret agent, he keeps coming up against flamboyant super-criminals, enemy spies and so on, and must use his powers to bring them to justice. Here a man pretending to be a ghost has nicked the takings from a funfair.

One classic follows another, as the rather spoiled reader now gets their weekly dose of Kelly’s Eye. In this story, Tim Kelly is a time-travelling adventurer who ends up in various times and places. As long as he holds the Eye of Zoltec, a magic stone, he cannot be harmed by anything but a weapon made of gold. Guess what material the villains of the stories always had a fondness for forging their custom knife, sword or bullets out of! When that gimmick had been used too often, he would simply lose the stone instead. I believe the story began with him simply fighting modern-day crimes, but here he is travelling through time in “Doctor Diamond”‘s time machine. Though it also appears able to travel vast distances and land on inhabited alien planets, too. I presume alien planets are used as a shorthand for “the future”. Anyway, if I remember a randomly-purchased annual from later in the 70’s correctly, he later started falling through time at random, by magical means.

Anyway, in this story he and Dr Diamond have joined a rebel movement on the planet Lyrius, which is ruled by intelligent apes (because why nick ideas from just one franchise?). They are in the sewer system, which can amplify a whisper in one place into a shout in another, which doesn’t seem like a very safe idea, to me. A workman burping in the wrong place could devastate a city with the resulting earthquake.

After that, there’s a half-page comedy strip called The Crows, pretty standard material.

I don’t usually cover adverts on my blog, because I’ll get braindead comments from people who are amazed that Matchbox cars used to cost “only” 16p (made you scroll up), as if inflation doesn’t exist and a new Ford Cortina wasn’t £1100 at the same time. But here’s an advert which is also a full-page strip. It appears to be the end of a serial, but that might just be to make it look “comic-ey”. It’s pretty fluffy, as these things are, but better than some generic clipart slapped on a page.

Brain Drayne is another comedy strip, in the Corporal Clott mould. He’s a tad more intelligent, though, coming up with half-baked “clever” ideas that cause more problems than they solve!

After a quick “soccer roundup” page, which reports the usual facts about the early days of football that were in every other one of these comics (fans used to bring planks to stand on because the field was muddy, etc), we get to The Wild Wonders, a comedy adventure strip about two amazing boy athletes. Here they have been tricked into blasting off in an experimental rocket, and have now landed on an “alien planet”, but some things don’t seem quite right…

And last, and definitely not least, we have Billy Bunter, who has hardly changed at all from his debut back in 1908. Only the 1908 stories were text, and Billy was not usually the main character (more of a force of nature that drove the plot). He’s still coming up with “get stuffed quick” schemes to secure a supply of food with minimal effort!

The full-colour back page of the issue is just used for another model car advert, so I’m sure I don’t need to waste your bandwidth with that 😉

Tiger and Scorcher, 1st March 1975

It’s time to pick out a random issue of a comic and look at it again!


My flash doesn’t like coloured ink on newsprint

Tiger started in 1954, and was the second of three “big cat” comics. The other two were Lion and the short-lived Jag (which merged into Tiger). Those were both general adventure comics, but Tiger had a sports theme. in 1955 Tiger absorbed the sport themed story paper Champion, which had been running since the 20’s and was one of the few Amalgamated Press / IPC publications to come through the war.

Scorcher was a football comic which began in 1970, alongside Score ‘n Roar (a “two in one” football comic). These merged in 1971 to create Scorcher and Score, which unusually retained it’s merged title right up until 1974, when it merged with Tiger to become Tiger and Scorcher.


A kid who uses magic boots to play professional-quality football despite being talentless is in no place to talk about “sporting”!

Sport comics of the time often had a “splash” cover with one big picture, but it was still part of one of the stories inside, and was rotated. This issue it’s the turn of Billy’s Boots to take the cover. Billy Dane is a schoolboy who can’t play football, but discovers a pair of boots that once belonged to “dead-shot” Keen, a famous international. When he wears them he can play as well as “dead-shot” could, making him the best player at his school. Of course, the boots went missing on a regular basis. Here some bullies plot to steal them at half time.


Those were the days for F1!

Skid Solo is probably the most famous British motor racing comic, which isn’t saying much! He was a driver in top-level single-seat Grand Prix cars. Of course jealous rival teams regularly sabotaged them, or the teams other equipment. Here an arrogant Argentine driver wants to force the British one in his team out of their one remaining car.


Here’s a typical quiz page. How is your knowledge of 70’s sport?


You’d think the artist would have got better at drawing Mini’s over time

In full colour is Martin’s Marvellous Mini, a long-running story about a couple of guys travelling around and entering races for prize money, which they can use to fund their next trip. Here they are racing against other Minis, but in other stories you get to see some great 70’s cars like Ford Capris. One other issue features a “relay race” in which they buy a Hillman Imp to use as a second car.


More text on one of these pages than an entire Doctor Who Adventures!

Next is a special article for footballers, written by world cup legend Jack Charlton. Not every issue had an article like this, I’m surprised it wasn’t announced on the cover!


Look up “legendary British comics” and you’ll see this picture!

And speaking of football, here’s probably the most famous football strip of all time! Roy of the Rovers was already over 20 years old at this point, and wasn’t slowing down! The following year he would get a football-filled comic all to himself (Taking Billy’s Boots and Nipper with him). Even today, commentators describe amazing comebacks as “Roy of the Rovers stuff”.

And facing it, an advert for issue 1 of another legendary comic, Battle Picture Weekly (later Battle, then Battle Action… then Battle Action Force, but we don’t like to talk about that). This was IPC’s response to DC Thomson’s Warlord, which began the previous year. Battle would go on to host Charley’s War, Darkie’s Mob, Major Eazy, Johnny Red, The Bootneck Boy and many other famous strips.


Quick Wiki research shows they got to the FA Cup 3rd round, and 13th in the First Division

On the centre pages, a football team pin-up. These would also migrate to Roy of the Rovers before long. No doubt other issues of Tiger featured rugby or motor racing teams.


And I thought my own “A Sting in the Tail” was the first Speedway strip

Popular fiction has it that the first successful female character in a British boy’s comic was Halo Jones. The truth has it that Tallon of the Track, about Jo Tallon, manager of a speedway team, ran in Tiger for many years through the 70’s and 80’s. Of course she may have been written out of history because she managed a speedway team – all those horrible, polluting motor vehicles! Also in this story the team are on tour in the Soviet Union, though the politics are not really mentioned.


Great artwork in this

The popularity of professional wrestling rises and falls like a yo-yo (or like the popularity of yo-yo’s). In the mid 70’s TV was full of British professional wrestling, with stars like Big Daddy and, erm, no, can’t think of any others. Of course, this also spilled over into comics in the form of Johnny Cougar, the redskin wrestler. This is another story that runs and runs through the issues I have. He seems to do a lot of touring around America, taking on various wrestlers and their crooked promoters. This is “legit” wrestling, rather than the pre-written “kayfabe” stuff!


And I thought the Phoenix Fanfare was disappointing for kids, they make their own 10 page epic and all that gets into the comic is the cropped, unreadbly-tiny first page! Here the whole editorial section is only half a page. The editor here talks about references to Roy of the Rovers in football commentary. Perhaps we ought to start ‘promoting’ modern British comics in a similar way… not that you see too many pirates riding on dinosaurs around.


 Nice Wolsely Hornet there

Hot-shot Hamish is a comedy Scottish footballer who remained with Tiger into the 80’s, when most of the others had defected to Roy of the Rovers. He plays for Princes Park, and usually shoots so hard the ball and the goalkeeper go tearing through the back of the net! Here his friend has won a bet, and they go to collect, the loser thinks they want to take his house, so starts firing at them with cannons. This whole scene wouldn’t have looked out of place in Captain Hurricane!


These sorts of caricatures always look awkward.

The usual factual strip, this one about the history and successes of Aston Villa.


Willy Wonty Superstar is the only ‘proper’ comedy strip in the comic. Readers would send in suggested storyline ideas, and the one used would receive £3. Here Willy and his “manager” have to try and score goals against each other.

Facing the strip is an advert for Look and Learn, a factual magazine featuring incredible paintings which are still being re-used in books today. This advert announces it’s merger with another magazine called World of Wonder. The most famous thing about Look and Learn (and the only reason kids bought it) was of course the “Roman”/sci-fi epic The Trigan Empire. This remains fondly remembered, and can be re-bought in hideously expensive hardback volumes. Rumours of a Hollywood film version continue to rumble on…


 Distinctive, gritty artwork for this one. It would have suited a horror story!

Nipper was yet another football strip, this time about a back street lad working his way into top-flight football. Here he has been selected for the England under-23 team against Italy, and can do nothing right in the eyes of a snob in the team – not even when he scores!


And the back cover sports star photo. This page also takes suggestions from readers, but only pays out £1 if theirs is used. I suspect the editors already had a list of pictures they were going to use, and awarded the prizes to anybody who was lucky enough to choose from the list. I doubt they specially ran around looking for the stars!

Proper British adventure comics are still around, if you know where to look – Part 4

You may recall I started this series of articles in the middle of last year, anticipating the release of what it was leading up to. However my anticipation was, in fact, 11 months out! But on the second of this month it finally arrived…

Strip Magazine

Meet the newest comrade in the battle against boring comics, and one that has shot straight into my “regular buys” pile:


(For some reason Cambridge Smith’s is only selling 3 Commando’s a time now)

Strip Magazine is an all-new monthly of 68 pages that costs a mere £2.99, which is amazing value considering what you get. It even “feels” longer than the Judge Dredd Megazine did in the good old days of 2004 when it was 100 pages long and cost £4.99! It’s also filled with newly-created characters that exist solely for the purpose of being comics – they aren’t just dumb toy adverts or TV show tie-ins.


We start off with a comedy superhero strip (no don’t run, it’s only a page and actually funny!), which is promisingly advertised as “The only superheroes you’ll see in Strip Magazine”. The introduction doesn’t beat about the bush either. The publisher, Bosnian Ivo Milicevic, grew up reading classic British adventure comics such as Action and Valiant. He later discovered, to his horror, that there was no equivalent comic being published in Britain today. It’s nice to know that foreigners care about this vast, vanished part of our culture – even if British people don’t!


Some of those parody heroes are a bit close to the bone! Lets hope Marvel/DC are able to laugh at themselves…

The first strip kicks off in fine style with a massive-explosion-to-page ratio of four in six…



It’s Black Ops Extreme, and features a team of mercenaries who have all been convicted of various crimes, and are now earning their freedom by tackling the dirtiest jobs in the world’s hotspots. In this first story blowing up a drug factory in the disputed Western Sahara region. It is, in fact, unintentionally similar to Commando’s “Convict Commandos” series. The characterisation in those stories is brilliant, but here it doesn’t really have a chance to get off the ground in only six pages. But we’ll see how things go on (oh if only this was a weekly!).

I’ll remain pessimistically optimistic that this story isn’t going to end up with them discovering that actually “western capitalism” is “the real enemy” and fighting against Britain / America. But we’ll see… elsewhere in the issue it is implied that they will at some point be off to Afghanistan, a current conflict that Commando has only slightly touched on so far.


The comic also contains adverts for other Print Media publications, including this upcoming collection of a Croation comic called Herlock Sholmes. It sounds amusing, but there’s been some more unintentional sameness… for that was the name given to a comedy detective in Tom Merry’s Own annual from 1950!


Which coincidentally had the same title as the first Sexton Blake story from 1893!

But I suppose the name is pretty obvious. As is “Sherlock Homeless”, who has been spotted in Viz but also as a comic created by Mashiro Moritaka in Bakuman when he was a child!

Next we have an article on Action, the infamous comic from 1976 that featured endless violence and gallons of blood. It was dubbed “The Sevenpenny Nightmare” by The Sun, Condemned by the Football Association for encouraging hooligans and even debated in parliament!


Using, I notice, a picture from the newly-recoloured Hook Jaw and not the original…

For all it’s horror Action did pave the way for the long-running 2000AD. Horrific violence apparently isn’t so bad when it’s happening 130 years in the future, or to robots and aliens. The article does make the highly-dubious claim that Blackjack in Action was “the first British strip to feature a black lead character”. Even ignoring offensive stereotypes like Policeman Pete (“he takes care of the nigs”!) from Tiger Tim’s Weekly, I’m sure that can’t be right. Could this be a brief flash of Megazine Syndrome – IE completely writing off anything that came before Comrade Mills as worthless?

Promisingly this article is named “Classic British Comics” – could it be one of a series? If it is I expect we will be seeing features on non-Eagle, pre-Mills titles that are not also awash with “hurr hurr Danny’s Tranny they wouldn’t get away with that today!” ‘hilarity’.

Anyway the reason Action has been featured in this first issue is to introduce the newly-recoloured reprint of an infamous seventies classic – Hook Jaw!



Written off on a certain forum I go to as “dated” (erm, yeah?), it’s actually one of the best strips in the comic! The new colouring is pretty sympathetic to the old artwork, but It seems to me that the gore has actually been toned down(!). I’m sure pictures I’ve seen of the colour Hook Jaw pages from the original printing in Action had far more blood. But of course only some of the pages were originally coloured, here they all are.


The next strip is a prequel to The Iron Moon, which I shamefully don’t own yet! It’s done in the same delicate watercolour/pencil style, which looks wonderful. The main character is Charlotte Corday, a secret agent in some kind of mystic investigation department. She also showed up in London Calling, which I talked about here. The Iron Moon is actually set in a different universe to that story, but one that is no less bonkers! It’s set in the 1890’s, but Queen Victoria is both still alive, and apparently came to the throne in the 1690’s! Also the British Empire extends all the way to mars, plus France has been conquered too.


The next story is Recovery Inc. What can I say about this one? Well it features a woman in a tight black leather suit narrating the story as she creeps around stealing stuff. It’s like they threw a bunch of recentish thriller DVD’s at the writer and said “make this”. It also features swear words “disguised” by random symbols. Except those random symbols are actually text speak for the actual letters of the word. This is possibly even worse than fake “futuristic” swear words like “Frell” and they’d better pray nobody at the Mail/Express has their reading glasses on. It smacks of being written into a corner, if Eastenders (or Action!) can manage without swearing so can you!


Incedentally if it wasn’t for the explanation of what Recovery Inc is on the contents page I wouldn’t have had the faintest idea what this was even about.


Next there’s an article about PJ Holden, the artist on Black Ops Extreme, which also goes over his work for Rebellion, Warhammer and some other small(ish) press stuff.


The next strip is Warpaint, which smacks of the mystik faery spyrit type of stories that made me finally give up on 2000AD. It also features one of these narrating the intro, complaining about how “us people” “like stories that start at the beginning”. Actually from what I’ve seen of a lot of modern British/US comics they very rarely start at the beginning these days. Luckily the Japanese (and Commando and Spaceship Away) are there to put things right!

Anyway this story features a girl called Mia, the same name as the main character of Recovery Inc! Her and a friend are stealing pipes from an old building to sell for scrap, when the security guard catches them. He is then eaten by the pipes and Mia is eaten by a coyote spirit… and no doubt will emerge with superpowers and fight against the evil forces that are working to tear Gaia apart at her ley lines by brainwashing earth’s chyldryen into driving cars, eating meat and wearing clothes. Or something.


I’d say “Manga influenced” here… but I won’t because I’ve done more than idly flick through a few books in a shop!

Fortunately the next strip is far better! It’s the first winner of the Strip Challenge (don’t google that with safe search off). It’s self contained in six pages and so hits the ground running. Basically a secret agent in the future called Agent Syber rescues a kidnapped scientist from the baddies, and that’s it. Oh well, only six pages after all! I was actually pleasantly surprised to see a black and white strip. It shows that this comic is produced by people who love comics, not men in suits droning on that a lack of colour won’t appeal to the TV and Videogame generation.


I want to draw a colour strip set in Britain’s countryside now!

The final adventure strip is Age of Heroes. It has utterly beautiful artwork, and features a wandering blind storyteller who, erm, tells stories. It’s set on another planet, and so features references to several made up heroes. One of whom is called Drake, who was a blind swordsman – like Japan’s Zatoichi! Anyway, the storyteller begins to tell his tale of an adventuring monk called Wex, who walks along a bit, and then decides to rest but gets a knife thrown at him. Erm, and then we have to wait for part 2. Again, if only this was a weekly!


Finally on the back cover (on the cover! Told you this was a proper British comic!)  we have the other humour strip. This a comedy story about a faceless spy who looks very similar to the brilliant I.Spy of Sparky! Except this time he is up against evil intelligent apes. One of the hench-apes decides to change sides and help him (there’s no prospects for promotion in evil organisations), then they beat up the baddies. Well it is only a page!

Hilgay Haul 2: The Haulening

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

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


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

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

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

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


We haven’t got this one…. yet.

Roy Race gets tough on hooligans

With the “recent” (well recent by the standards of how often I update this thing) riots in Britain I thought this might be timely, I was going through a big pile of comics I got the other week and discovered an issue of Roy of the Rovers from 1980 dealing with “the British disease” of football hooligans. The days of mass brawls on the terraces (in fact, the days of terraces full stop!) are so long gone it’s kind of hard to believe they ever existed… showing things can improve! But when this comic came out hooliganism was at it’s height and people must have wondered if things were ever going to get better.


Roy race, as well as being the star of the main story in the comic, was also it’s “editor”.

A full page has been given over to an editorial “by” Roy Race, who for the purposes of the comic “really” existed! He even mentions how his own club, Melchester Rovers, is tackling the hooligan problem. Many of the measures mentioned were being adopted by real teams, and the FA in general – for instance creating all-seater grounds (at the time only one existed in Britain), encouraging the whole family to come and watch the game and banning people convicted of violence. There’s also several harsher suggestions including locking hooligans in their own fenced-off section, and even concentration camps(!)


Boers, Hooligans… same thing!

Another feature of the comic in those days was Roy’s Talk In. There was a phone number that readers could ring and “actually” talk to Roy Race! (or at least a bewildered temp at IPC who has been thrust into a room with a phone and the odd back issue of the comic). Here it’s given a two-page spread with various suggestions recieved from people.


But wait, what’s that down the bottom?

Down the bottom of the page is a picture of a stadium that was to become one of the most infamous names in British football – Hillsborough. Various anti-hooligan measures such as fencing-in the crowds resulted in a fatal crush in 1989 when Liverpool fans crammed into one area of the stadium, and several suffocated. This disaster was also initially blamed on hooligans, with one ambulance driver being told “They’re still fighting” when he tried to drive in. It was this disaster that was the final nail in the coffin for the terraces.


 Several of the suggestions made on this pages did end up being put in place over the years.


The fences didn’t work but the “identity cards” did, in that various ways are in place to keep convicted hooligans out of future matches.


Five years later English clubs were in fact banned from European competitions because of hooliganism. They were not allowed back until 1990!


Unfortunately Sheffield Wednesday didn’t keep the standing areas closed off. It’s a difficult balancing act between people kicking off outside because they can’t get in and risking violence inside. The balance has thankfully been achieved with a tough “no ticket – no entry, so don’t bother coming!” policy.

Apart from the all-seater stadiums, better crowd control, ticket allocations and CCTV, one of other main reasons that hooliganism died out was that it was made unfashionable. Once hooligans were treated with a “boys will be boys” attitude, but nowadays anybody boasting about starting a fight among decent football fans will find themselves in Coventry pretty quickly! I bet “Roy” didn’t see that coming despite jokingly suggesting it.


One place hooligans aren’t mentioned in this issue is the Roy of the Rover strip itself! That features Roy trying to get hold of a new goalkeeper. However the manager of the other team wants a whole two million for his best custodian, which is way too much!


“The curse of inflation, Roy!”

Hooligans had featured in the strip before though, in 1977…


Almost doubled in price in 3 years! Now that is inflation.


“Sixty thousand people didn’t pay to watch you lot running around the pitch!”


“Some day Titan will reprint my first year in the team as a collected book. Get that down in writing, officer!”

Life imitates art… again!

I saw this story in the paper a week ago:


Which is refusing to post in clickable thumbnail mode

For anybody who can’t be bothered to scroll around the image, it is an article about a runner called John Tarrant who throughout the 50’s became infamous as “The Ghost Runner”. He had been banned from competing in athletics tournaments in Britain due to having once been paid for sport – as a boxer when he was young and desperate. Despite this he would pop up at major events anyway, leaping the barriers to join a race just as it was starting. It sounds just like a story from a comic… In fact it sounds just like two stories from a comic! Possibly the most famous athletics stories ever written. Just look at this:


Does that remind you of anybody?


From The Hornet via the Great British Comics book… phew

The one and only Wilson! This great character first appeared in The Wizard in July 1943. It chronicled the story of this mysterious athlete who became known when he leapt into a race, until then a foregone conclusion, and trounced the opposition. From then onwards he would crop up at different events up and down the country, not so much breaking records as tearing the book to pieces!


As you may notice the story is called “The Truth About Wilson”, and what was this truth? It was the fact he was born in 1795 and had lived all those years thanks to a simple life living on the moors, sleeping in a cave and eating various herbal recipes that were actually the elixir of life! At many points throughout the story, chronicled by the journalist W.S.K. Webb, supposedly during the year before World War 2, Wilson would refer to old records from the early 19th century thought to only be legends. He would then set out to break these “impossible” records, which were far in advance of the accepted modern ones – and usually manage it! Of course later it is revealed that he was actually alive when all these supposedly legendary records were set up, without the aid of stopwatches!

The Wilson stories were initially “explained away” by the fact that they all took place before World War 2, and so Wilson’s amazing records were “forgotten” because of the war. But DC Thomson had created a juggernaut and couldn’t just stop at one series. So Wilson, supposedly “last seen” in a burning spitfire over the Channel, returned to “seek champions” in the late 1940’s for Britian’s olympic efforts. After this he discovered a lost Ancient Greek civilisation in Africa and competed in their olympics, before going elsewhere in Africa to compete in a Zulu warlord’s “black olympics”. Still later he made the transition from text stories to comic strips in The Hornet, moving eventually to The Victor. Also in DC Thomson’s more “hard hitting” 80’s comic Spike, he was bought back as the mysterious “man in black”. Readers were going to be let in to his identity and background story only at the end of the serial – however their dads, remembering Wilson from the old days, spoiled it for them after episode 1!

However, Wilson is not the only comic strip hero to defy the authorities and take to the track on his own terms. Over in The Rover a story called The Tough of the Track began in 1949. This featured Alf Tupper, a much more down to earth character who worked as a welder and ate cod n’ chips!


This could be Alf Tupper! (Except he did reach the Olympics eventually)

Alf, too, was thrown out of professional athletics. But his fault was to catch out an upper-class cheat, and then to be too quick with his fists.


 Again from the later comic strip. Alf Tupper also first appeared in text stories.

And he also decided to join in a race uninvited, and “ran ’em” all!


Alf also had a long life. He started in 1949, but I have issues of The Victor from the late 80’s where he’s still going strong – and there’s also stories of his apparent childhood which is clearly set in the 70’s! The ageing patterns only comic characters (and James Bond) can manage! The final Alf Tupper story didn’t appear in a comic, but in a newspaper. It was 1992 and the Victor’s days were already numbered, the paper featured a short serialised strip showing how Alf made it to the Barcelona Olympics and “ran” the best athletes in the world to win gold!

Sadly Victor Tarrant didn’t have such a long life, dying at only 42 of stomach cancer. Like the comic strip stars he perhaps unknowingly emulated (mind you he was a working class lad in the 40’s, could he perhaps have had Wilson tucked away in his subconscious when he decided on his “pitch invasions”? We’ll never know) he was forgotten until a researcher stumbled upon his memoirs. They have finally been published as “The Ghost Runner” by Bill Jones. It is right and proper that such an unstoppable and eccentric character should be remembered. But what of the comic and story-paper versions? These tales entertained generations of readers for decades yet ask the average convention goer at Bristol and they won’t have a clue who you are on about. We have, in the words of Show of Hands, “lost more than we’ll ever know”.


Oi DCT, reprint this!

An unusual book…

I was doing a general search for “Boys Illustrated” or something on Ebay when I came across a strange-looking book. It is primarily full of text stories illustrated in line:


Is the sea supposed to be covered in trees and racing towards us?

Though it does also have one comic strip, which is in the “picture story paper” style of images with large captions underneath:


It’s not all sailing stories the pictures just ended up that way XD

Ah so it’s clearly one of those generic Dean annuals from the 30’s – 50’s, then? Well you’re half right!


One of those fonts looks more like it’s from the 1830-50’s!

Eagle-eyed readers will notice that it features a Ford Anglia and a Mini Clubman being banger raced… because this book is actually from 1973! It doesn’t appear to be reprints, either, as stories of jungle adventures are about people writing a book rather than people building an empire. Also a story involving an Austin 7 describes it as “40 years old”. Still it’s strange to think that kids who may have got this for Christmas were reading Action only 3 years later!

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

Two new items…

I finally got around to going book/comic shopping in Lincoln after i came back, it’s a real gold mine for antique/second hand bookshops (though apparently there was a brillaint place for comics that closed down 10 years ago!). My wallet was decidedly light, though, but i still found a couple of interesting things…

Look-In, Best of the Seventies

Look-in best of the seventies

Bought from The Works, a bargain bookshop which has sprung up in ‘recent’ years. Some of the books it has has alternate “cheaper” (though usually barely any difference in quality) designs. This being one example (the normal version was yellow and actually said “Best of the Seventies” on it), the Commando books being others. Still they where evidently fed up of tripping over these (and had a huge amount of new stock in, sat all over the shop still in it’s boxes) so have reduced it to the “you can’t say no” price of £1.99!

Look in best of the 70’s - 01

The book reproduces both features (which where (I)TV and pop music related) and comic strips. Obviously the comics are what i care about, but here is a look at a feature, about the saturday morning shows, namely Tiswas, hosted by one Chris Tarrant (shown here, with hair, pouring some tea), who later became famous for hosting “Who Wants to be a Millionaire?”. In those days “Regional TV” really was regional, and a guide right at the back of the book (or ‘from 8 years later’ as this covers a whole decade) only shows Tiswas being available in certain areas. One region didn’t get any programmes on a Sunday!

Look in best of the 70’s - 02

Several comic serials are reproduced in the book, mercifully with a full storyline intact. This one is Black Beauty, with gorgeous artwork. It remains uncredited but resembles the art used on The Trigan Empire (by Don Lawrence). However it also puts me in mind of Frank Bellamy, who worked on Thunderbirds for an older TV related comic called TV21. Both are amongst the finest comic artists that ever held a pencil.

Look in best of the 70’s - 03

Look-In was, due to rights issues, restricted to talking about ITV shows in the main. But this extended to foreign shows which appeared in ITV, such as this Bionic Woman strip. 

Look in best of the 70’s - 04

There where shorter 1-2 page humour strips based on comedy shows of the day too. On the Buses was hardly intended as a kid’s show, but kids watched it and this is reflected in the comic. However the bawdy humour of the show is replaced by lighter slapstick here.

splendid book for boys -01

I also found this for a mere £4. It’s an un-dated adventure story book, but the stories about foiling Nazi spies suggests it is from the 1940’s. A previous owner has decided to draw mustaches on every single person in the illustrations which probably helped to reduce the price. The stories are typical boy’s own fare about spies, secret passages, motor racing and boarding schools.

splendid book for boys -02

The book has just over 150 pages which are on rather thick paper, there is also a single coloured plate and several full-page line illustrations.Birn Brothers” is the only publishing information given. “Dean & Sons”, who took over Chatterbox annuals in the mid 30’s, where similarly enigmatic with regard to dating thier books.