Marvel(ous) Miracle!

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One of the most famous of Britain’s home-grown superheroes is Marvelman, who has a long and pretty complicated history. He came about when National Publications (later DC Comics) threatened to sue Fawcett Publications, the owner of Captain Marvel, because he was considered to be too similar to Superman (later, DC simply bought out Fawcett instead).

Captain Marvel was an ordinary boy, who was chosen by an ancient wizard to become a mighty hero (with the powers of various Greek gods) when he said the word “Shazam!”. Much later, the Captain Marvel comic was actually named Shazam!, due to legal threats from Marvel comics.

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In the UK, Captain Marvel had been a big seller, so Len Miller and Mick Anglo created their own version, called Marvelman. Marvelman was the alter-ego of Micky Moran, who transformed when he said “Kimota”, which is Atomic backwards. Marvelman also had a slightly more “scientific” basis, as opposed to Captain Marvel’s mythical basis. The character first appeared in “issue 25” of Marvelman, so numbered because there had been 24 issues of Captain Marvel before it. Mind you, it wasn’t unusual for the one-shot and short-run comics of the late 40’s and early 50’s to begin with high numbers, to make them look more “stable” and “regular” than they were.

The series came to an end in the 50’s, but was revived in the early 80’s in Warrior, written by Alan Moore. This carried on, but a battle over pay saw the series end abruptly 5 issues before Warrior itself ended. Then an American publisher called Eclipse Comics got hold of the character, and Neil Gaiman started to write an epic story, continuining on from the Warrior stories. But then Eclipse comics went bust before it could be finished.

After some back-and-forth legal battles, it was discovered Dez Skinn, who started Warrior, had never actually bought the rights to the character anyway, so Mick Anglo still owned them. Marvel Comics jumped in and bought the rights for themselves – so we can finally enjoy complete reprints of the stories, sold in large numbers from shops – without any worries of legal wrangles / bankruptcy causing the character to vanish again!

The first issue of the new Marvel title. which is still called Miracleman, as that’s the name American readers are more familiar with, came out in January, containing the first two parts from Warrior, three old stories, a (new?) introduction story, and some short articles and unadulterated art board scans.

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We start with the introduction story, a tale which leads into the first part of the Alan Moore version. With depressing inevitability, it’s been done in a “retro” style. The colouring is done in that ‘deliberately bad’ way, which can also be seen making Batman ’66 unreadable. What makes it even worse is the fact that, as we learn from the pages at the back of the very same issue, the original stories were not even in colour! The story is about the original Marvelman of the 50’s, who encounters time-travelling villains from the utopian future world of 1981. They invade “Cornwall” (which is full of American soldiers), and are able to fight our heroes using “magnetic gas” which is fired from “video rings”.

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After they are defeated, we jump into the Warrior story, which is set in 1982. But this time it’s the 1982 we remember (well, people who are old enough to XD), with lots of eco-warriors protesting against nuclear power stations. Now Micky Moran is a middle aged journalist, who is covering one of these protests when terrorists appear and herd everybody inside the power station’s canteen. Micky feels ill, and collapses, so they drag him out. On the way, he spots “Atomic” written on a glass door, but as he’s on the other side it reminds him of “Kimota”, the magic word from his recurring dreams about superpowers. He transforms into Marvelman, easily defeats the terrorists (they only bought AK47’s with them) and goes home. He starts to tell his wife all about his super-adventures, but she just thinks they sound stupid. Then “the big bad” turns up.

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After that, we get some short interviews and articles about the original Marvelman, and some reproductions of the very gaudy covers (with far superior colouring to the “retro”, “deliberately bad” colouring of the introduction story).

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Then we’re onto the good stuff – the 50’s stories! These short, wacky tales treat superheroes as the ridiculous concept they are, every one featuring some pantomime villains planning to steal this, or blow that up. One of the first things you’ll notice about these 50’s stories, though, is how they’re all talking about “malt shops”, “bucks” and “autos”. That’s right – THEY’RE SET IN AMERICA! The fact the “modern” version is set in Britain really highlights the spitting contempt in which our modern wannabe-yank creators and fans hold old British comics. They’d probably just guessed the old Marvelman stories were set in Britain, because those tweed-wearing, pipe-smoking chaps from the 50’s couldn’t possibly have written anything set in johnny foreigner land, eh? What good was the 50’s anyway? There was all racism, and it was illegal to be gay. There was even near-full employment, chances for promotion and ‘social mobilty’ for talented members of the working class, living wages for most workers and railway lines that went everywhere. They even built flood defences after a major storm surge, rather than just telling people they were going to be sacrificed. Thank god we live in more civilised times now, eh?

A comparison

…of Japan’s best weekly adventure comic and Britain’s best (only!) weekly adventure comic.*

It’s no secret that I hold Japan up as an example of how the comic industries of all countries ought to function. Thick, cheap weekly anthologies with exciting serials, which are then collected into better-printed book form for fans to collect. I’m not suggesting that Britain ought to start copying the Japanese art style or stories, though. And our comics don’t need to be as thick either, if we’re going to stick with detailed Commando-type artwork. But they do need to exist!

With sales dropping or barely holding across the board (mind you The Beano did recently gain just over 1000, which is a step in the right direction.) some drastic gambles may have to be taken. And of course comic fans all need to do their bit to promote the art form to non-readers in everyday life.

But enough of that, on with the comparison!

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The Phoenix issue 8 and Shonen Jump issue 12 (for 2012)

Here are the covers, and I think The Phoenix easily wins out,  with a big bold image and minimal text, as opposed to the “bit of everything” Japanese clutter. Some otaku hold that Japanese writing** is “more artistic” and so cluttered covers work better in that language. Well actually in Japan it’s considered “artistic” to scatter odd English around designs (usually it makes no sense). Cluttered covers are just ugly whatever language they are in!

Of course, the ideal is to have a strip on the cover. But we just aren’t getting that these days.

But enough of the fronts, lets look at the sides…

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That’s about the size of it.

Yes, Shonen Jump is still a weekly! It can be such a huge size partly because of the style of manga art, with many panels featuring only talking characters with basic backgrounds. Also manga usually uses screen tone to add shading, rather than time-consuming cross hatching. Oh and of course (at least if Bakuman is anything to go on) artists and writers only work on one story at a time, for which they are paid a decent wage and also receive royalties from sales of the collected books. This means they can concentrate on “their” story entirely. Most if not all of them also have assistants doing the donkey-work of, say, drawing the windows on distant skyscrapers. It is in effect the famous “studio system” used on Dan Dare raised to a state of perfection.

This particular issue contains 21 stories in about 500 pages (most of them aren’t numbered). The Phoenix contains 11 stories in a mere 32 pages. Though of course the length, style and pacing of them is so completely different a direct comparison is meaningless. Also the Phoenix’s editorial content is a ‘story’ in itself!

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Like so

Starting off, we have the latest information on “Phoenix land”, with the ongoing case of the missing feathers. One of the fictional editors of the comic has been arrested on suspicion of stealing them, which has not gone down well with the rest of the team. And then we’re into the first story. The stories in The Phoenix are all full-colour and the paper quality certainly beats Shonen Jump hands down. Mind you I’m wrong in the head so I actually prefer thin newsprint, but I’m not going to start claiming it’s better!

The first story is Pirates of Pangaea, which is actually pretty close to the “sort of thing” you’d see in manga! A fantasy world of dinosaurs and crazy pirates. Mind you though Pirates of Pangaea doesn’t feature a mysterious child with an ancient power locked within him, or elaborate, wordy mind-games. No it features shooting at rampaging raptors with flintlocks and then running like mad!

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A blonde guy teamed up with a “dumb animal” that’s more intelligent than him, shades of Tintin eh?

The other ‘serious’ adventure story in The Phoenix is The Lost Boy. This one is actually drawn in a kind of combined British / Japanese style. And it also features a seafaring adventurer on a mysterious island!

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Sweet sugar lumps!

The other “flagship” adventure story is the more comedic Long Gone Don, created by The Etherington Brothers. This pair are for my money not just the most talented writer and artist working in British comics at the moment, but are among the best in the world! The complex and detailed art is a joy to behold, the dialogue is fantastic and the stories rattle along at a good pace. The one criticism I can perhaps offer is with art that deep and detailed they ought to go about including some “where’s wally?”-style mini visual gags. That’d make their work just about perfect, and would encourage people to stare at it for longer, too!

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Crazy invention time!

The Phoenix also contains some purely comedy stories, such as this one by Jamie Smart. To put it diplomatically Jamie is a “marmite” artist. A little like a modern version of Eric Parker, in fact, in that he sure can turn ’em out. He’s almost made The Dandy his own of late – which has bought about some highly polarised opinions. I’d better reserve my own judgement on the matter, lest accusations of jealousy start flying around.

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What would the Rev’d Marcus Morris have made of this?

One of my favourite parts of The Phoenix is the educational Corpse Talk. The basic premise is that the skeletal, rotted remains of famous historical figures are dug up and interviewed about their lives. Like ya do. This week it’s the Suffragette leader Emmeline Pankhurst, and previous bodies in the chair have been Marie Curie and Genghis Khan. I should think more than one kid has got better marks on their history homework as a result of this! Plus just look at how many panels have been crammed in, it’s like 1950’s Jonah!

The feature content of The Phoenix includes the usual “letters and pictures from readers” section that has long been a staple of British comics (though of course the best letters sections appeared before 1930). I can’t see anything that looks similar in Shonen Jump. The Pheonix also contains a series of articles about creating your own comics, and encourages children to have a go themselves.

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 Mind you this one is about sound effects, which are overused, over dramatic and over here!

To my mind this is the most important part of the comic. It will hopefully instill in the readers not only the desire to try it for themselves (all kids draw, but if my own experience is anything to go on very few of them attempt to make comic strips. Though to my own young mind it seemed the logical thing to do.) but also an appreciation of the art form of comics and of the effort that goes into making decent ones. If The Phoenix can be sustained (apparently it’s secure for two years… are you doing your bit to make it run beyond?) and if those kids can inspire others at their schools to draw comics too we might see the long-wished-for comics “revolution” in Britain within the next 15 years!

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More Etheringtonism

The Phoenix also contains puzzles, including the ongoing series The Dangerous Adventures of Von Doogan. Some of these are harder than others and really require you to get yer brain in gear. This issue’s are a bit easy though. Readers are invited to “help” the adventurer by sending in the solutions to the puzzles, and if “chosen” by him receive prizes.

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Yep!

Finally one thing Shonen Jump definitely does not have is text stories! Text-filled story papers were the predecessors of British adventure comics, and even once the adventure strips started to appear in the late 30’s there was a long crossover period of mixed text and strip content. By contrast I’m not sure Japan ever had what could be considered an equivalent to story papers. But then most histories of manga begin in the late 1940’s and ignore everything that went before as being “too nationalistic”. Mind you certain ivory-tower preachers are attempting to act like British comics only began in 1976 and nothing that came before is worthy of note.

Possible candidates for Japanese story papers include books called ‘Yellow Covers’ that first started to appear in 1775 (the first British story paper was possibly The Young Gentlemen’s Magazine in 1777, but very little information is available on it). After these there was a genre of serialised stories called ‘Books for reading’. I’ve also seen an issue of a 1920’s “comic” (as described by my girlfriend of the time) called Boys’ Club. But I can’t find any information on it, and it was locked in a cabinet at a museum with all of the other information about it in Japanese.

Anyway, the Phoenix text stories are often extracts from children’s books, which means I don’t bother reading them as I won’t be buying the books. Occasionally however they run complete stories or mini-serials (including an adaption of The Minotaur). More of those, please!

The Phoenix is completely free of advertising, because it is funded by “anonymous backers” (why anonymous though, surely not ‘shame’ at being involved with ‘mere comics’? Stand up and be counted, true patriots!). By contrast Shonen Jump has quite a lot of adverts, even in the form of fold-out “colour plates”!

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 FURUKOOOOOOOOOOSU!

These adverts are generally for action figures, videogames or anime DVD’s. Almost all of which are based on the stories that have appeared in Shonen Jump! And yet in this country when a British comic character is adapted into another form (rather than a TV show being made into a ‘comic’ with hardly any comic) it’s generally either ignored or is met with a disgraceful shower of hate from hack journalists who have suddenly ‘discovered’ that the comics they read as a kid 30 years ago have changed since then. And this from supposedly ‘patriotic’ newspapers.

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Hand!

By contrast to The Pheonix, Shonen Jump contains only 3 pages of comic in colour. They are the first three pages of Haikyuu!!, a school and volleyball strip. It’s apparently a new strip, so this could be the very first part and the colour pages serve to introduce it. Of course in issues where a new story is not beginning it’s probable that a popular one is randomly chosen for the colour pages.

The Phoenix does not have any sport stories, but they were once a genre that ebbed and flowed through British comics. The Boys’ Realm became a sport-themed paper towards the end of it’s life, and even launched a smaller spinoff called The Boys’ Realm Sports Library, which I recently bought 6 months of. This issue of Shonen Jump has two, Hakyuu!! and Kuroko no Basuke (Kuroko’s Basketball).

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 Is a small tsu in Katakana also a ‘sound extender’ like a line is?

Of course the staples of shonen manga (boys’ comics) are the adventure stories. There’s some comedic ones such as Toriko, which is about a “gourmet hunter” who tours the world looking for ingredients to create “the ultimate meal”. If British TV companies want to save a few bob they could always combine I’m A Nonentity Get Me Back On Telly (are you sure that’s right? -ed) and Masterchef into one show in this way.

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Also it has Mexican wrestlers

Another comedy adventure tale is the famous One Piece, which is about a crew of pirates captained by “Luffy”, who has some sort of superpower. In this issue we have the 657th (O_O) chapter…

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 With some English

…and you thought Varney The Vampyre ran for a long time! Like the early-mid 19th century Penny Dreadfuls, a successful manga will be extended and extended to make more money rather than allowed to end at the point the writers probably hoped it would. This of course usually leads to people beginning to describe long-running stories as “annoying” or “crazy” as the writers just stick in whatever they think up first, probably having long since given up caring.

Of course in Britain from about the 1860’s – 70’s onwards stories had a set length and finished when they finished. It didn’t do our industry any harm for the next hundred years! And of course a story ending doesn’t mean that the same characters can’t come back in a new tale later, but it does free up the creators to think of something totally different if they want.

The main stock in trade of the shonen story is, of course, giant monsters, giant lasers or, er, both.

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Oroboros? It always makes me think of Red Dwarf!

Some stories actually have quite a lot of detail despite still being 20-30 pages a chapter. There must be quite a crew of assistants working on Nurarihyon no Mago.

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Fields of swords!

And of course there’s the epic battles with magic energy beams. I wonder how people don’t get tired of this stuff… but then again somebody who can’t read English would probably consider every Commando comic to have the same story XD.

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 DOGOOOOOO. Mind you if the Treens were watching this they’d know not to mess.

Shonen Jump also contains a few examples of other genres, including one which was once very popular in Britain… up to World War 1 anyway, the “work” story. The Boys’ Friend used to be crammed with tales about boys who worked in mines, factories or shipyards. And the immortal Sexton Blake used to regularly go undercover in all sorts of industries. In today’s Shonen Jump we have Bakuman, a story of kids working their way into the manga industry. The old work stories in Britain were usually detective stories at their heart, with the hero overhearing some villainous plot and working to foil it.

Bakuman is instead basically a romantic story at it’s heart (well there’s not much scope for villainy in the manga industry, a serial pencil thief is not that threatening). Moritaka Mashiro dreams of being a manga artist, he loves Miho Azuki who wants to be a voice actress. They promise that when Moritaka has made a successful manga that is animated, Miho will play the woman in it, and then they can be married. But apart from that it also contains many other amusing characters and offers many insights into how the manga industry in Japan works (which is how I’m even able to write posts like this!). The Japanese books are currently up to 16, the English have just reached 9. This chapter will probably be part of book 17.

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“Everybody Listen!”

Other styles of stories include the purely humorous story, as we’d see in The Beano. Just longer, black and white and probably serialised to a degree (and later made into an animation without mouth-foaming, traitorous ravings in the papers).

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Teacups for heads? It’s PC gone mad!

One of the longest running comedy comics in Shonen Jump is called, and breathe in here: This is the police station in front of Kameari Park in Katsushika Ward. It’s been running continuously since 1976, and in fact the artwork still looks more like 70’s manga than the modern kind.

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“I’m gonna try and do 3 rotations!” “Aagh stop rotating!” …or something like that .

The story is probably more like Only Fools and Horses (or maybe Stop The Pigeon) as the characters try to use the latest fads or wierd inventions to either get rich quick, or catch criminals more easily. Of course these always go wrong. Also like the stories of Billy Bunter or Sexton Blake the main characters never age even though the world is changing around them. But actually in this story a few characters do age. A baby born in an early story is now a teenager, but his parents are still the same age.

This particular story appears to involve a pushy journalist constantly interfering with police work by trying to interview everybody. However he then helps them arrest an armed robber by popping up at the resturant he is holed up in and trying to interview him. While he is still wondering what’s going on he gets arrested!

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Myootsukee.

There’s also a school story apparently told from the perspective of the teacher. The only British example of that I can think of (except for maybe “Singled out: Teacher” Bash Street Kids episodes in The Beano from the 2000’s) was in The Captain in 1899!

You will probably have noticed that most of the print quality in Shonen Jump is not fantastic. That’s because these weekly anthologies are seen as ‘throwaway’, in fact the trains and stations in Tokyo usually have discarded copies laying on the seats. Of course in Britain for most of history comics were also seen as “throwaway” and were used to, say, light the fire once the kids were done with them. This has found it’s ultimate expression in the replacement of the printed US Shonen Jump (which was monthly and had half the page count… somehow) with “Shonen Jump Alpha”, which is at least weekly but ‘expires’ and deletes itself. Of course any comic that goes purely digital from print ceases to exist as far as I’m concerned. But having them ‘expire’ really is a step too far. I haven’t bought a videogame since 2009 because of the Orwellian excesses of that industry. It cannot be allowed to creep into comics too!

Of course, it’s okay to dispose of the weekly anthology copies in Japan because the stories that the readers like will come out in better-printed book form. Virtually every story will be printed in this way, whether they sell or not! It is of course these collected books that we get in foreign countries.

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But a little bigger

Of course this can help with Japanese study… an aspect of comics that must also be promoted by fans to the unbelievers, and a reason why it is essential that more countries begin to produce a wide range of varied stories in the manner of Japan, and export them!

Imagine the proliferation of enthusiasm for learning other languages and the cultures that go with them if all nations produced interesting-looking picture stories that people wanted to understand. Comics have advantages over plain books in that the pictures help to explain what’s going on, and the dialogue and descriptions are “broken apart” clearly.

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The English words actually seem to fit some of those bubbles better!

Of course book form reprints of stories from British comics are starting to proliferate now. But only haphazardly and occasionally in “best of” type books rather than full reprints. They’re also usually hardbacks with thick glossy art paper… even if the original artwork has been lost and the reproduction would have been just as good in lower-quality paperback. Of course this drive for quality of printing and binding drives the prices up to prohibitive levels, especially in a recession, and people stay away. Then series are left incomplete because of “poor sales”. Still if everybody reading this made up their mind to buy just one of the British comic reprint books this week…

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Serving suggestion

Of course it’s far more important that the risk is taken and that ‘vanished’ stories are once again reproduced thousands of times and distributed to the ends of the country, so that they may survive into future decades in an easily accessible form. But as usual those who “know the cost of everything and the value of nothing” win the day. Mind you unsympathetic shopkeepers don’t help. Classics From The Comics was just really getting into it’s stride, switching from purely reprinting 1/2 page humour strips to a little bit of everything from DC Thomson’s extensive back catalogue, even reaching back into the twenties! But bad distribution killed it off in it’s prime. It was probably the closest thing we have had to Shonen Jump, actually. Though only 100 pages and entirely reprints.

One other book Britain has had which was a bit like Shonen Jump was this one from 1989

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Intended as an annual, mind you.

It was a paperback reprint of a random selection of IPC / Amalgamated Press adventure comics from the 50’s and 60’s. It even had Jump-like print ‘quality’!

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A highwayman story probably originally from The Thriller Library

Even in 1989 this apparently didn’t sell well enough to be reprinted. But really it ought to point the way forwards, if the quality of the reprints is not going to be very good because of missing/deteriorated original artwork, cheapen the paper to match and knock it out for as low a price as possible! And of course all of us will then have to let other people know it’s out there!

It’s one thing to wish that we had regular big wedges of comic like Shonen Jump (not that thinner wedges of full colour like The Phoenix are a bad thing, we ought to be able to do both, really). But if we want it, all comic fans and creators have to stand together and do their bit!

*- Actually Doctor Who adventures is also weekly, and Doctor Who is an “acceptable” licensed character. But it only has 4-5 actual pages of comic strip per issue, the rest is dumbed-down articles with big pictures and “ooh scary!” captions.

** – The ‘fancier’ characters are actually almost all Chinese, though!

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.

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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(!)

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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.

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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.

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

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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.

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

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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.

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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!

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“The curse of inflation, Roy!”

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

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

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

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

Eagle and Tiger – one of the last throws of the dice

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Ahh, Eagle and Tiger. What great names, standing astride British comics like a gold-plated colossus. Eagle gave us the greatest space strip of all time, Dan Dare…

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The Red Moon Mystery is unbelivably good. It’s a shame you can only read it for the first time once.

And Tiger was the birthplace of the greatest football strip of all time, Roy of the Rovers…

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It actually started in the fifties too

However in 1985 the world of the weekly adventure comic was far from rosy. Lots of titles were being merged or cancelled, and the decision was made to put these two illustrious names together. The result was… er… oh dear.

The Eagle in question was, of course, the 1980’s New Eagle. Possibly started with noble(ish) intentions, it was nevertheless very far removed from the ideals set out in the 1950’s original which was started by Reverend Marcus Morris. I wouldn’t like to think of his opinions on Eagle and Tiger, I doubt the language would be fitting for a man of god!

The original and new Eagle both had a “real” editor. However the merged Eagle and Tiger went with that British comic trope, the fictional editor. In this case a homicidal computer that was originally created for a horror comic called Scream!

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We then move on to the first story, Doomlord. This was one of the star attractions of the original Eagle, and was originally a photo story featuring a bloke in a dodgy mask. Fortunately I have the merger issue which explains the back-stories to all of these characters! It seems that the original Doomlord was sent to “test” the human race to see if they were worthy of being left alive. He decided they weren’t but another “rogue” Doomlord thought they were, and won. But now the original one, thought dead, is back!

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Well he’s back eventually anyway, apparently he broke himself down into “bacteria” and then makes whoever he infects transform into him!

Later on we get some 80’s style enviro-preaching. Apparently mankind has “exploited the oceans for centuries” when in fact it was only in the 20th century that dangerously intensive fishing started. Before that a bunch of small boats would sail out and make their catches independently, rather than two huge ones stringing a mile-long net between them. Oh and also we did deforestation and nuclear bombs.

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Gee, ain’t we stinkers?

Next story is possibly the second most famous football strip of all time (Roy of the Rovers had his very own comic by this time), Billy’s Boots!

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Later to be found in Roy of the Rovers… probably, every other footie strip ended up there!

The basic gist of this story is that Billy, who can’t play football, has a pair of boots once owned by the famous international “dead shot” Keen. When billy wears the boots he can play as well as Dead Shot! This strip ran for years in several different comics despite the pretty limited story possibilities – those boots got stolen by robbers/dogs or acidentally thrown out/donated to charity shops hundreds of times!

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Yes, you did just read that

The next story is the utterly bizarre Star Rider. A shape-shifting (often shifting back to his alien form at inopportune moments, naturally) alien journeys to earth to, erm, compete in BMX Racing. Because that’s what the kids were down with (or whatever they said in the 80’s) at the time. Oh he also has a ray in a watch/ring that can construct or demolish things at will. No doubt in other parts of the story (I only own four issues of this!) he uses this ability to foil crimes and that.

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Oh dear

Here’s where things go downhill. One of the limited and precious colour pages is used for a full-page advert. It’s not even a comic strip ad like Tommy Walls in the original Eagle! (or Cheese Strings in the 90’s Beano). The ad itself is for a crappy Transformers rip-off…

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Oh dear oh dear

 …which is also a story! And one using the limited and precious “black white and red” pages too. The famous comic Battle (later Battle Action) which gave us the seminal Charley’s War and Darkie’s Mob was utterly ruined when it became “Battle Action Force”, and little more than a toy catalogue with stories. It looks like they were dragging Eagle in the same direction. For a start kids can see through this “advertainment” nonsense in a flash, and also kids hate being “told how” to play with their toys. They want to make up their own adventures not be told who the goodies and baddies are and what their abilities are. No wonder Lego is so popular after all these years – it can be anything you want!

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Still a stamp collecting ad, though!

Here’s a reader’s page with “Super Dads” and “Glamorous Teachers”! The latter feature appears to be a chance for boys to send in pictures of the teacher they fancy! It only appears in one of the issues I have, and was another thing that Mr Morris would certainly not have been a fan of!

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Surely a North Sea Tunnel could be just about done with todays technology?

Now we come to the colour centre pages, and Eagle’s most famous creation, Dan Dare! The New Eagle initially featured stories about the grandson of the original Dan, but later bought the original back. This story is set in the 22nd century, so it must feature the grandson (the original Dan Dare stories of the 50’s were set around the 2000’s). However the original Dan’s batman, Digby, also makes an appearance:

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‘ad rather ‘ave a weeks worth o’ vitamin blocks

So who knows. The story doesn’t exactly look like it’s up to Hampsonite standards either, devolving into a galactic dogfight.

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The Mekon would never have been so vulgar

Also there’s another advert page showing another merger going on in the humour comics. Whoopee merging into the “two comics in one” Whizzer and Chips, creating an ungainly title.

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Does this mean that a “third party” “raided” both Whizz-Kid and Chipite camps?

We now come to yet another advertainment story – The Ultimate Warrior.  This one is a little better disguised, at least to begin with! It starts off with some ordinary boys, one of them wants to stay indoors and play computer games rather than play obesity-busting football. A sign of things to come!

Anyway the one staying to play video games has discovered “the secret code” that you can type into the computer (it’s “ULTIWAR” by the way) and it actually teleports you into the game! However he loses a game and is trapped in the computer (it’s just sitting there saying “YOU LOSE” on the screen). Thoughtfully he left his friend with instructions on what to do if this happens, and so the friend plunges into cyberspace to save him. Wonder what happens if there’s a power cut while they are in there??

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Wouldn’t happen today of course. Today the screen would say “EPIC FAIL”

Anyway, the third part of this story is probably one of the laziest comic strips I have seen in my life… and that includes the ones I have made! The kid sits in a basic “space invaders” type game shooting baddies… and then some more, and then some more. He needs to get 10,000 points, and is almost there when he shoots a friendly ship and loses 5000… and that’s the cliff hanger! “Join us next week for more of the same! bet you can’t wait!”

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Zap! Boom! Zap! Boom! etc

Next it’s Golden Boy. Another strip from the “sporty” Tiger, and quite a good one too! An orphan, befriended by a police sergeant, is persuaded to give up amateur athletics (despite having two Olympic gold medals) by an American millionaire in order to compete in a gameshow called “The Suicide Game”, which is like Takeshi’s Castle with spikes on. The American knows something about the fate of the boys’ parents but will only reveal the details a little at a time.

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Next we have an out-and-out horror story of the kind Eagle was originally started to suppress! It’s called Death Wish and is about a man who had a horrible accident, resulting in hideous deformities (and apparently plastic surgery was never invented). Because of this he wears a mask and constantly tries to commit suicide by doing dangerous stunts or testing new performance cars / aircraft. However his luck is amazing and he always survives the inevitable spectacular crashes, but his constant brushes with death make him somehow able to see and talk to ghosts!

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I think this first started in a member of “The 22 Club” called Speed.

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Telling the kids of 1985 that night-time nagging works!

Now we come to the strip that stars the comic’s “editor”, Max the computer! For years he has run Maxwell Tower, a block of flats that boasts “computer control”, making people’s tea for them when they wake up and so on. However Max doesn’t take kindly to burglars and vandals, and lures them to the 13th floor, a place of his own creation where they are subjected to all manner of horrors! The ones that survive are then hypnotised to lead a life of good. As this story (re-)starts the police are finally on to Max and he is shut down. Then he is transferred to a department store and re-programmed to run the store… and not kill people. However the new owner inadvertently activates the old programme!

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My 90’s and 2000’s-upbought brain can’t help but see tower blocks as vertical slums no matter how nice they might actually be, mind.

In the 80’s computer games were rapidly gaining popularity, and this is also reflected in the “Max’s Micro Vault” feature. In 1985 people still cared about technical computer terms such as “microcomputer”, so machines such as the Spectrum and BBC were referred to as “your micro”. This page is mainly short game reviews (well it was 1985, there was only about 6 games being continually rehashed and given new names!).

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Oh and also “Ernie the Eagle”, a product of the New Eagle, supposedly about the mascot on top of King’s Reach Tower (aka Tharg’s spaceship… did he build Max?)

Of more interest, though, is this reference to “micro communication”, computers talking to each other by modems! This was already being used to create “Bulletin Board Systems” or BBS’s (mainly in the USA) and would eventually give rise to the internet.

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You can now have a 0.02kbps modem for only £550, that’s not much more than a video recorder!

There’s also this forgotten product, why wasn’t this repeated for Live 8?

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Interestingly, given the story about rubbish Transformers rip-offs, a full-page colour ad for the real thing appears! Well actually it’s a promotion for a watch you could send off for. Mind you I’m glad the Americanism “clip” as opposed to “cut out” has vanished from Britain. Still I think I’d rather have that than Labour supporters chanting “Four more years” in American accents. Well yeah as we aren’t in your beloved America it could actually be five or three years.

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Do kids ever actually wear these fancy (and heavy) watches for more than a couple of days?

Three of the four issues I have are from the merger in April 1985. The other is from later on, in October. Now the issue numbering (carried over from the new Eagle) has discreetly re-appeared. Plus Dan Dare is now all-colour (in the previous issues only the first two pages in the centre spread were colour).

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Ghostbusters on video! Watch it twice in one day… or three times if you want!

The Computer Warrior story has now dropped all pretence of being an adventure strip and is just an extended advert. It’s also still boring, I pity the writers who had to try and get an interesting story out of the gameplay of 1985 computer games! This time it’s a car race that no doubt involved keeping a dot in between two lines, avoiding other dots and occasionally avoiding touching a wobbling-about “police car”.

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Notice how the title of the story has shrunk and the title of the featured game has taken precedence.

And at the end of the story, a promotion for the game! You can win it, but if you don’t it’s on sale at all computer shops now! (which is no doubt a dingy family run shop with it’s sign painted in a “digital” or “data” font).

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The Activision company didn’t do so badly out of the deal, evidently.

Most of the stories in the earlier issues are still going, but there is one new one – following a New York police dog called Shadow. I never really liked stories that star animals, in fact the only one I do like is about squirrels and is in a 70’s Beezer Annual.

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Woof

We also have the end of the Golden Boy story. The boy in question wins the Suicide Game in America, but gives all his prize money away to the second-placed contestant, who needed it to help his crippled mother. In the end the boy returns to England and goes to live alone on the moors somewhere, shunning all comforts of civilisation. I wonder if he met a certain man in black out there?

The demise of the British adventure weekly has been blamed on a lot of things, mainly videogames and TV. But I think that’s only part of the story – adventure comics, and comics in general, are still popular in several other countries that don’t have any less TV or videogames. Looking at comics like these you can see that an atmosphere of apathy and laziness seems to have seeped into the editorial office. Writing stories based on toys (instant characters) or videogames (instant action scenes) is pointless –  the kids want to make up their own adventures with the toys, and they’ll play the videogames themselves rather than just read about them!

Comics should play the the advantages of the comics medium – trying to tell a comic story based on what happens in 1985 space war or motor racing videogames results in very boring stories! Dogfights against alien ships ought to borrow more from World War 2 dogfights, with ace pilots, the burden of command and so on. And motor racing stories are allowed to have such things as “corners” that the game apparently didn’t! The other stories (bar the robots) are a lot better because they don’t have this to burden them – but somehow they just don’t strike me as being as interesting as their equivalents from the 50’s or 60’s.

Life imitates art… again!

I saw this story in the paper a week ago:

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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:

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Does that remind you of anybody?

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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!

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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!

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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.

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 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!

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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”.

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Oi DCT, reprint this!

Another weird ‘un…

My ebay wanderings turned up another oddity a while ago. The Boys Adventure Annual 1984!

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 Fantastic painting, the back cover is the same picture

The cover promises the usual fare of the British boys’ adventure comic, cowboys, World War 2 air battles and hard-boiled cops. The annual is actually pretty thin:

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I don’t imagine the 1984 Beano Book was much differently sized!

It’s published by “Opal Quill Limited”, who seem (from a cursory Google search) to have published a batch of annuals in the mid 80’s and then disappeared.

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Anyway, the art. The title page is promising, suggesting an action-packed story of Commando’s fighting across occupied Europe after a sample of a lethal new poison that the Germans have invented which could alter the course of the war…

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Pictured: What you were going to do when you grew up, at age 8.

 …so it’s a shame that story doesn’t actually appear in the book! What we do get is a mystery story about a boxer. All of the strips in this annual are in colour. Though to paraphrase Animal Farm “some are in more colour than others”!

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Pictured: The comics you drew about what you wanted to do when you grew up. At age 8 and a half, when you’d lost half the felt tips you got for your birthday so made so with what you had.

When I first clocked the bars across the top of the page (on other pages they alternate between the top and bottom) I immediatley thought “US Reprints”. But I’m not so sure, surely by the 70’s, in which this story is set, US comics were rather more “sophisticated” and didn’t just have plain rows of square panels like that? Also they would have been in colour already so wouldn’t need re-doing!

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Spoilers!

To add to the confusion other strips do fit on the page! Some things about them, especially the sound effects, put me in mind of the Franco-Belgian “European style”. However the detail of the faces looks more like “British adventure” style. But as a great deal of the “British adventure” style comics were actually drawn in Spain or South America, it’s possible these are reprints from Spanish comics.

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A great western story

As you can see here they’ve gone for the “Modern ‘British’ Classics Illustrated” style of colouring, where contrasting different objects is more important than giving them realistic or sensible colours!

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Credits!

One of the strips is credited, as shown above. And the names sound a bit Spanish. The others aren’t which suggest they have been collected from several sources and put together.

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Welcome to 1980’s Britain!

The final strip is the weirdest of all. It’s presented in a grid of 12 small panels to a page, it was possibly originally printed bigger. It carries no indication of it’s location or setting so we can assume it’s set in Britain in the 80’s, however it looks like a weird amalgamation of Britain and America. The hero breaks out of a very US-style prison and is followed by the heroine in her big 50’s Chevy. The steering wheels of cars seem to be on whatever side the artist found convenient at the time!

In addition the policemen have British uniforms but some of the distant backgrounds look like New York, however others look like grotty market towns. Still the story is pretty cool, secret agents have broken out a man who has been framed in the expectation that he will track down and expose the big crime lord who framed him.

The book also contains several articles and puzzles, almost all of which are about World War 2

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The polish unit in question now has an emblem featuring a bear carrying a shell!

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I do actually know most of those too!

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Fact not included here: The first ever sea-launched air raids against a land target were from the Japanese “seaplane tender” Agaki in 1915. The planes were French designs and bombed a German colony in China, they also fought the colony’s one fighter.

Whenever Commando is mentioned in the media they dredge up a comment from a German diplomat (the comment itself is probably many years/decades old and the diplomat herself has probably retired) saying Britian is “obsessed with” World War 2. Let’s hope she never saw this!

There is also an article about horses in war, which of course came to an end in the mire of World War 1. And after the western strip there’s also a nice article about American Indians, illustrated with photos.

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In all this is a pretty interesting book and the stories are good enough. Any more information about their origin would be appreciated! The same company seems to have produced, among other things, two “Mighty Heroes” annuals for 1984 and 1985. I’ll keep an eye out and see what they turn up!

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.

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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