Bunty in the 90’s

Remember this book?

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It was pretty good, wasn’t it? Mind you, it wasn’t as good as this one:

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Because that one REPRINTED THE STORIES. And of course we much prefer comic nostalgia books when they REPRINT THE STORIES, don’t we? So let’s hope DC Thomson or the various arms of IPC aren’t planning to do a book about, say, Sexton Blake in the style of those recent Copperplate and Frank Reid books from Yankland, which are just a bunch of cod-historical articles with photoshops that make out these “steampunk” (which Sexton Blake wasn’t, anyway) characters were real. Because of course we expect any new books about classic British comic characters to REPRINT THE STORIES, or they won’t really be worth buying.

Anyway, the Bunty book featured a reproduction of the first-ever Bunty cover:

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British first issues at that time rarely had impressive covers. Mind you, they were usually covered with stuck-on gifts.

And at the end of the final (and very short, they know exactly who they were aiming this book at!) chapter, The 80’s:

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It reproduces the last-ever cover, from 2001.

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Is that a text story I see being advertised?

Hang on, haven’t we missed something there? Well then, as I not-so-recently-now made a haul of about 100 Bunty’s from 1993 – 1995 for only a fiver, I may as well create that missing chapter myself!

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Some typical covers

By this time, the illustrated covers (the first 30 years or so of the comic featured Bunty, the mascot, in short comedy strips on the covers) had given way to magazine-style photos of girls, with lots of plain word-processed text advertising the features inside. A prototype of the horrible covers that graced The Dandy Extreme or the current Beano.

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Are these girls generic model photos from an agency archive, or did DC Thomson hoover up the pupils of a nearby school?

The paper was not glossy, though. It was the same kind that was being used for the Beano and Dandy at the time, though perhaps a little thicker, so photos would reproduce better.

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The main story in the comic was still The Four Marys, an old-fashioned story about a same-sex boarding school. It wasn’t set in the past, though, and the girls would wear fashionable 90’s clothes when going into the nearby town. Modern cars and tape players could also be seen. The Four Marys’ stories were arranged into serials with clear beginnings and endings, it appears that any character development that went on through the serials was slight, and that each one was basically a brand new story. Typical storylines would involve a new and/or naive girl being tricked into trouble by the bullies, or one of the Mary’s falling out with the others because of a misunderstanding.

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The Four Marys was inescapably old fashioned, though I’m not sure I agree with the statement a manga (you know, those comics full of magical ninjas and killer notebooks) fan once made about it being “irrelevant” to modern children. Why are British comics, especially school and war stories, held up to more exacting standards than other forms of media? It’s almost as if people are actively trying to find reasons to criticise and write them off.

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More up to date was the other main Bunty story, The Comp. This was also a school story, but it was set in Redvale Comprehensive, a modern secondary school with characters that appeared to be forever in about year 8 (ages 12-13). Unlike The Four Marys, this was more of a soap opera with a story that kept on running. Different characters would be involved in different events, the beginnings and endings of which would overlap.

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The attitudes of the girls atRedvale were also a bit more modern than The Four Marys. One Four Marys story involved them helping to clear a bully of a false charge that had been made against her. The girls of The Comp would probably just let her be expelled!

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Another regular story, though it was sometimes temporarily replaced, was the photo-strip Luv, Lisa. This was also a soap-like story, but was told from the point of view of one girl, writing in her diary. She has an annoying little brother who keeps getting involved in noisy hobbies. There’s also the usual crushes and bullies at school. Of course, it would have been better with illustrated artwork!

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Bunty herself was also still there, no longer on the covers, but shoved on an inside page above some adverts (though to be fair, the old stories on the covers had large panels, and so were not very long). The artwork was also not as good as the old, painted version. In fact it often seems to have been drawn in a hurry.

In addition to the regular stories, there was a selection of serials on different themes which came and went. These usually got the black and white pages, though would occasionally have the first or last page in colour. Some would even be full colour, but it was rare – the colour printing was reserved for the regulars!

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Haunted Hotel was about the daughter of a hotel owner who was the only one who could see the ghosts of the old owners (and guests!). The ghosts helped to foil criminals, warn the owners about how the guests felt and spark off romance. Typically bonkers British comic premise! This story appears in many of the issues I have, perhaps the characters had more than one “outing”.

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Oh Boy! is about a girl who dresses in boyish clothes, and who is picked to act a male part in a TV show after she moves to a new town. She has to hide her identity from the rest of the crew, for fear of being sacked. She also has to hide it from her parents, who wouldn’t like it if they found out she was “lying”. In the end she is found out – but the fact she’d been “acting” so well all along only helps her new career!

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Top of The Class is one of the ‘other’ photo stories that appeared from time to time. This one is the “choose your true friends” dilemma that was long used in girl’s school stories (and some boy’s ones too!) right back into the twenties.

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The Newcomers is an amusing story in the vein of Third Rock from the Sun (was that on in 1993?). It’s about an alien family who come to study Earth, and need to try to blend in with human culture, with amusing results. In another part of the story they go on holiday, thinking the train is the hotel. They like the idea of a hotel that moves, so you always have a different view, but are quite put out to find you have to share it with a load of strangers!

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In Pippa’s Place is about two cousins of the same age, who were adopted by sisters. The sister who adopted Pippa becomes rich and successful, and the other girl, Penny, is jealous, because it could have been her adopted into a rich family. She starts to get Pippa into trouble by starting nasty rumours. As an aside, look at that hideously cheesy dialogue in the first panel! It’s no wonder kids of that era were put off traditional comics, with characters speaking wooden lines that look more like they belong in a Viz parody.

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The Price of Success is about Geraldine Price (cwatdeydidthar?), a girl who envies her friends with rich, successful parents. But then her own start a fashion business, which takes off in a big way. While her parents can now spend a lot of money on her, they’re also busy all the time. In one episode she’s assigned a homework project about recent history, but never has time to ask her parents about it, instead just getting a set of encylopaedias dumped on her. This is one of the ‘other’ serials which has every page in colour. In Pippa’s Place and The Newcomers have black and white pages too.

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Miss Popularity is about a girl who lands a dream job as a model in advertising, but everything she does is sabotaged by somebody, and she needs to work out who. A spoiled, jealous girl at her school is the prime suspect… but it probably turns out it was actually somebody else, a minor character only seen at the start of the story. Because it always is!

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 My Secret Sister is about girls who hate each other when they first meet, only for them to discover they are estranged twins! The ‘lost’ sister has had a rough life, shunted through children’s homes and foster families, and so has a rather different outlook on life.

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Forbidden Island is a mystery story that would not have been out of place in the 1940’s, a girl is adopted by her Aunt and Uncle, who live in a big house with large grounds and an island, on which she spots mysterious lights. Of course, she’s banned from going there so can’t just row over and investigate. This story has some fantastic artwork, with some lovely countryside scenes.

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“Achtung, vere are die Heinkels? I haff been signalling to zem for 50 years!”

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A New Life for Lily is a Victorian orphan story, rendered with appropriate grime and squalor. Polly Bond is left to take care of her little sister Lily on her own, so decides to dump her on the doorstep of a well-off family. Four years later, she ends up working as a servant to that same family, and discovers a life of wealth has not improved her sister any.

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Rock School is about some girls who start a rock band at their local school. Just like the Japanese anime K-On!, which began as a 4-panel joke strip, but was later adapted into a successful animated series (so successful that an impromptu ‘shrine’ to the series has been set up in the ex-school (now a library) that was used as art reference!). There was also a feature-length version of K-On! where the band goes to perform in London. I wonder if Rock School ends in the same way? At least it’s not as far to go for these girls!

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Mum Knows Best! is about a girl whose sister died as a baby, so her parents are over-protective. No doubt many girls in Bunty’s apparent target age of 11-14 saw a reflection of themselves in the story.

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Colouring seems a bit rushed on this one. Black and white story ‘upgraded’ at short notice?

Lessons from Lindy is about a quiet and shy girl who decides she wants to get noticed, so teams up with the worst rebel in the school. She becomes torn between her put-on rebellious attitude and her better nature. Interestingly, Lindy, the name of the rebel, is quite a rare and unusual name. But it was also the name of a short-lived IPC comic from 1974!

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THERE WERE THIS FING CAM AP!

My School Chum Mum is about a girl’s mum who gets reverted to her daughter’s age, and has to pretend to be her cousin until the effects of the miracle anti-ageing cream wears off. Their nosy neighbor is always snooping around and making trouble, too.

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Heartbreak House is a general haunted house story. A scary version of Haunted Hotel! Of course, as this is a British girl’s comic, the ghost and her activities are only known to the main character, her parents think it’s her causing all the trouble.

As well as the comic strips, there was a few feature pages. By this time most of the other girl’s comics had either ended, or had become magazines that were almost all feature pages and very little, or no, comic strips. Bunty’s letter’s page was called Girl Talk, and tied in with a range of clothes, toys and stationary. I can remember seeing that logo EVERYWHERE when I was at primary school. I bet most of the girls didn’t read Bunty, though.

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This also had it’s own short gag strips called “Girls Talking”.

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Another feature was “Design A Fashion”, where readers would design clothes and send them in, to be drawn by “The Bunty Artist”.

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If some company had actually produced these, would you have worn them?

 “The Bunty Artist”, that phrase sums up everything that went wrong with British comics, doesn’t it? The individual artists were reduced the status of one anonymous cipher, their hard work made to look worthless and without meaning. Imagine if the artists who drew this page every week were both named and rotated. Imagine if the girls sending their designs in were even able to choose their favourite artist to illustrate them. Imagine if the issues hyped this up, with “next week, our fashion page will be drawn by XY, artist of The Four Mary’s”. Not only would these anonymous toilers get the respect they deserved, it may even have helped to keep readers aboard, knowing that there was somebody out there whose job depended on their 45p.

Of course, attitudes to artist credits were far more enlightened 100 years previously, as I’ll talk about in the next entry!

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I live in a huge building site!

Starring YOU! is a page where readers send in information about themselves, and one is chosen to be featured. This is an interesting one, a girl who lives in Dubai. I should think a lot of British people had never heard of that city at the time!

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Wonder if any of these girls, now grown up, will stumble upon this blog? XD

Pick a Pen Pal is a page where readers can exchange letters (using reference codes to begin with, they didn’t go revealing the addresses of random children in that day and age… they left that sort of behavior to 1913!). Of course, if Bunty was still around today it would probably have it’s own heavily-moderated Facebook-like social network instead.

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There was the occasional feature where a girl gets to experience the world of work for a day, this one working as a volunteer in an Oxfam shop. Wish I could go back in time to that shop, I bet it had loads of adventure comic annuals from the 70’s and 80’s for less than a pound! In another of these features a girl got to work at a Burger King for a day, and helped a younger kid join the Kids Club, which I vaguely remember. Apparently it had it’s own comic… where’d it all go wrong, eh?

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“Eco Friendliness” comes and goes like a fad. People were mad on it in the early 90’s, so Bunty started a “Green Scene” page, a mixture of puzzles, “eco” stuff like recycling and using CFC-free aerosols, and information about biology and botany. Look at that “Pet Protectors” logo, how 90’s is that?

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For one year they got to fill two pages of every fourth issue with a calendar.  This one is interesting for featuring Will Smith as the star of a ‘mere’ sitcom, not the household-name Hollywood A-lister he would become only a few years later! More interestingly, from the point of view of this blog, is an ad The Beano Videostars, the second (of two) straight-to-video animated Beano cartoons. Later in the 90’s we’d get the brilliant Dennis The Menace series, still far and away the best attempt at bringing The Beano to the screen!

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The back covers of most issues have star pictures, most of the ones in my collection have been doodled on, like Take That at the top left XD. Here’s a few names that you may still actually remember… though at the time, when I heard people talking about “Betty Boo”, I thought they meant the 40’s cartoon character! The eyes of this one are way more enchanting.

And finally, how’s this for an Atlantic-spanning comic “crossover”?

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More Wight Smiles

Unlike the previous post, this is not a foreign comic. It is from “overseas”, though!

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They’re trying to say “left”

More Wight Smiles is a collection of cartoons by Rupert Besley, which originally appeared in the local papers on the Isle of Wight. As the name implies, this is the second collection. I didn’t buy the first collection when I was there because it was rarer, thicker, more expensive and the satire in it was “ancient”, being 4-5 years old. Except now the satire in this one is 12-14 years old, so yeah.

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All predictions that proved eerily accurate

Being from 1998 – 2000 there’s plenty of references to the issues of the day, especially the Millennium, the Dome, Metric Martyrs and, of course, those phones!

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This book is what might be called “medium press”, you aren’t likely to find it on sale outside the Isle of Wight, but it could be found being sold in normal shops there (well, the gift shops at tourist attractions anyway). Despite being apparently aimed at tourists, it is a compilation of cartoons from the local paper, so there’s plenty of IoW (you pick up the lingo)-centric gags.

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There’s also several related to TV12, apparently an attempt at creating a TV station for the island, which had terrible reception problems – despite being aimed at the residents of an island only 23 miles wide.

Still, as it’s a seperate book, showcasing the artist’s skills, there’s several additional cartoons. Both in the same style as the newspaper ones, or larger, free form pictures.

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Obviously!

Of course, coming from the local paper, there’s also plenty of references to local news stories that even the people who lived through them can’t remember today. Several have short, explanatory text – though annoyingly this just makes you wish you could have read the original articles!

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Another one has “bowls hooligans”, invading the pitch and drinking tea without raising their pinkies.

I wish my local area had compiled cartoon books like this, but my local paper doesn’t actually have any cartoons! Well there is “Funny Business” on the money page, but that’s not funny, and so generic that it’s probably produced in a factory somewhere and sold all over the country. This book was an inspiration to me when I first got it, because I was creating my ultra left-wing, satirical webcomic Felney at the time. Later unsucessfully revived as another webcomic with an “actual” “plot”.

Hmm, maybe I ought to revive it again, and try and sell it to the local paper!

Graffix – The “British Manga”

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I’ve written before about a prevailing attitude in British comics fandom that somehow “doing manga” will “save” British comics from extinction and/or transformation into dumbed-down toy catalogues. Well the people who weren’t convinced by that post may be interested to find that actually “British manga” has been done, twice, and they’ve probably never even heard of it! I was reminded myself when I was digging through some 90’s Beanos not long after making the original post.

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This one might be worth a bit some day eh?

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The actual ad

The books are called Graffix, and were published by A & C Black in the late 90’s, and then again in the late 00’s as “Colour Graffix”. They have a complete story in each book, on a variety of themes. All of the stories are well-written, tense and adventurous. There’s quite obviously “boys” and “girls” stories which can be chosen by simply looking at the covers, however the appeal should be universal as they are all good. In fact sometimes the boyish stories turn out to be romances while the girlish ones turn out to be scary sci-fi/horror adventures!

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Front covers of the respective series

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And the backs

These were sold as books, rather than as comics, so would have stayed on the shelves just like the “tankobon” manga format that we get in Britain. They’re a fairly comparable size too.

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A Colour Graffix, ordinary Graffix, old hardback edition, a “Western edition” manga and a Japanese tankobon

Despite all of this, and the insistence that “the kids” “love that chunky format” and that comics should “go in the direction of manga” it is apparent that Graffix did not sell very well at all. In fact almost all the copies I have (gotten secondhand, mainly off Amazon resellers) are ex-library.

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I can recall those adverts appearing fairly regularly from around 1997-8 onwards until I stopped getting the Beano at some point in 1999. It seems like Graffix were hit with the problem that troubles the modern Dandy and ended the DCT Fun-Sizes – distribution! I don’t ever recall seeing them in bookshops (mind you at the time I would have been mainly looking for Star Wars novels in the Sci-Fi section) and only once in Ely Library (in about spring 2001 when I was “too old for comics” and also “into serious stuff like politics”).

The eagle-eyed will have noticed that one of the books in the advert features the distinctive style of Janek Matysiak (why yes I did spell it wrong and have had to come back!) who also works for Commando. He’s provided the cover and interior artwork for this particular story (which features “Han Solo” and “C-3PO” (in ‘stripped down’ form years before Star Wars Episode II!) taking a job from “Jabba the Hutt” who looks more like Ming The Merciless!). Not all of the stories were such blatant ripoffs, may I hasten to add. It’s good fun anyway.

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The adverts also show off the Graffix tagline of “it’s a book! It’s a comic!”. But what does this actually mean? Well basically it means that parts of the story are explained by type, in some books it’s “on the page” like in a book with the comic strip panels as “illustrations”. In other books the story is explained in boxes at the top of the panels. Either way it’s additional points of the story being explained by captions. This may be considered “unusual” in American or Japanese comics, but as every reader of this blog ought to know, it’s actually standard practice in proper British adventure comics! Here’s one of the wordier Graffix tales, Biker:

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Compare that a few examples from other titles such as Commando, Tiger and Radio Fun

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Another thing that Graffix have in common with the best of the traditional British adventure comics is the fact that the artists have all used their own style and not been forced into a particular “house” style (like in War Picture Library) or “type” of artwork (like most manga). Interestingly the copyright page in each book states that the ownership of the story, art and cover art all belongs to the respective creators! An incredibly enlightened attitude by the standards of properly published British comics even today. Though one that might possibly cause problems later, with the copyrights being ‘split up’.

One of the more distinctive art styles is that of Lucy Su, who actually uses two totally different styles in two different stories. The first is in Girl Gang.

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These bratty teenage girls have a much better ‘secret society’ than the ‘secret society’ me and my friends had between the ages of 8 – 12.

In this a girl called Alice does a couple of favours for a popular girl at school, and ends up being persuaded to join the girl’s gang, who do things like track down the houses of rude bus conductors and smash up their greenhouses.  Alice is assigned a mission to steal a “snobby” girl’s diary, but makes friends with this girl and instead ‘steals’ a fake, non-embarrassing diary. I must add that the story shows that the gang only writes off the girl as a snob because she is rich, but it turns out good and bad people exist independently of how much wealth they have. This is a good anti-socialist idea to be putting in children’s heads. I wonder what my bratty anarchist self of 2001 would have made of it?

Lucy Su uses a different style for the much-different The Headless Ghost. In this story a deaf boy is able to lip-read a ghost’s warning about a buried wartime bomb in a cemetery. The art style here is in contrasting pencils that creates a creepy atmosphere.

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Wooo

The much more conventional Guard Dog is drawn in a much more conventional style by Dave Burroughs. This is a logical follow-on from all those stories in annuals from the 90’s – 50’s about boys who discover smugglers / coiners operating in their neighborhood. This time the crime is video piracy, and the crooks are forcing the boy’s dad off their patch at the market, while at the same time making sure another carpentry stall owner gets the blame.

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Laser Quest is a wierd one. The art here is very gloomy and shadowy (though the story does mainly take place in a dark room). Bits of it actually remind me of Jose Maria Jorge, though there’s not a flying machine in sight! The story is about a girl who has to help her dad manage her younger brother’s birthday party at a Laser Quest game. Except the computers have been infected with a strange virus called ZUC. This later manifests itself as a rag-smothered player in the actual game itself, with a laser that can melt bricks! See what I mean about the “girls stories” being unexpectedly scary?

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And then there’s the boys story that turns out to be romantic. Though it does involve horses so I ought to have seen it coming. The art in this one is by Bob Moulder, and puts me in mind of another book I’ve seen, though I can’t seem to lay my hands on it at the moment. This book was definitely from the 50’s or 60’s though!

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Respect, illustrated by Kim Harley, is the Action to Guard Dog’s Splendid Book for Boys. It’s about a boy who’s teacher dad has been locked up for a crime that anybody but a teacher would just be fined for. He kicks out at the system by becoming a graffiti artist, trying to get in a local gang. If one artist sprays over another’s work it’s considered an insult and they attack him, the gang try and trick him into spraying over their own tag just to give them an excuse. In the end he realises that trying to “fight back” by making a mess everywhere is actually the easy way out rather than actually dealing with your problems. Admirable attitudes again, though not “right on” ones.

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Another story illustrated by Janek Matysiak is Bodyparts. This is set in the near future and features scientists experimenting on lab-grown organs, stem cells and other futuristic medical advances. But somebody is out to sabotage the experiments.

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This actually mirrors the real “near future”, ie our present, though the sabotage is political and orchestrated by people so pig-ignorant you don’t even know where to start on their “views”. In a century’s time the breakthroughs of the next 20 years or so will be viewed as one of the “big steps” in medical science. On the lines of Hippocrates, Vesalius, Jenner, Snow and Fleming. How they will laugh at people who think that “you might be eating DNA!” is an acceptable argument against genetic modification.

Finally a look at the more modern Colour Graffix. From the titles on A&C Black’s website they all appear to be reprints of the original books, but with colour! However as other experiments have shown adding colour to artwork not originally intended for it doesn’t tend to look very good. I get the impression the creation of Colour Graffix was more of a “because we can!” exercise thought up in a boardroom. Would have been much better to have reprinted the black and white ones and spent the extra printing money on new stories!

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If there’s one criticism I can give Graffix it’s that they’re far too short! Many of the stories just seem to halt abruptly. Here’s a side by side comparison with manga…

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As you can see Graffix is less than half the thickness. The other problem is that there’s not really many of them, there seems to have been only 32 books, released at the rate of around 4 a year through the late 90’s and up to 2001. The fact that Colour Graffix are just running through the same stories again doesn’t bode well either. They ought to produce a “Graffix deluxe” that are 2-3 times the length, in black and white, but keep the British-style storylines and artwork. Oh and cheapen the paper and cover quality just a tad to keep the price down. Market ’em well enough (maybe get them in with the manga section!) and they’ll fly off the shelves, I guarantee it! Plus bring back Roy Kane: TV Detective and Captain Hawk, those guys are crying out for recurring stories. Plus lets catch up with one of the many footballers of Graffix 10 years on, now that he’s playing for a professional team that’s on the up!

Oh and if you are reading this, A&C Black, get the Folio Society on a lavish reprint of this:

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Mine’s falling to bits but the paintings are beautiful. Need a tightly-bound slipcased edition!

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!

Space Watch reprinted!

It’s actually probably close to going off-sale now, but the science fiction Commando comic “Space Watch”, reviewed by me right back at the start of this blog, has been reprinted!

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Mildly-changed cover. The fading of the original printing is most likely due to age and not older printing techniques!

However if you remember my review I was actually pretty disappointed with it. But of course you are regularly buying Commando anyway in order to support the very last Boys’ Own comic, right?

On one forum I go to people speculated if it was a  “rejected” issue of Starblazer. It isn’t, it was originally part of a series of stories, all (except this one) with “Challenge” in their name and most set in simulations of past conflicts.

BICS bits

A few years ago i went to the Bristol comic convention two years on the trot. On both occasions i only decided to go the day before and thus was extremely tired and spend hundreds of pounds on train tickets and last-minute hotel bookings. Mind you the first year i went the hotel i got was actually closer to the convention than the official hotel.

Anyway, i decided to revive that tradition by deciding to go to the Birmingham International Comic Show less than 24 hours before the doors opened! Though i sensibly left out the hotel booking and just went for the Saturday… Birmingham doesn’t take the whole day to get to, after all. I also wore a black armband in tribute to Jose Maria Jorge.

In another tradition of me going to comic events i took NO pictures whilst there, so instead i’ll take a look at some of the comics i bought.

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Selected bits and pieces. I actually left out another one i bought there that i have been slowly collecting for a few years called Vampire Freestyle. It’s good so read it.

 Realms

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Fantastic cover, whoever designed this knew what they were doing.

A strange one this, a group who were selling some superhero type comic were giving it away for free. It dates from 1998, when self publishing was still just about in the photocopying and mail-order era, and when internet-capable computers were still not quite within the reach of everyone. To reinforce this fact it actually has no email address or website on it. The authors have actually put in a postal address to send comments and feedback to!

Oh, i suppose that isn’t “strange” after all, if they didn’t have a computer! Right, then, what about the stories – those are strange!

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My normal camera, itself from 2002, has given up the ghost at last so i have to use a more modern but far inferior one. The blurriness really doesn’t bring out the quality of this artwork.

The stories are very eerie horror tales, most of them have almost no dialogue and bizarre endings. The artwork is fantastic – very dark with acres and acres of hatching rather than solid black areas. It’s also very big and bold, this is an A4 sized comic yet has at most about 4 panels to a page.

Comics Forum

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A cover that would not disgrace a traditional British adventure annual!

The Comics Creators Guild is a sort of trade union of comic creators large and small (though mainly small!). They produce this book yearly. It’s not a half tabloid sized hardback like “proper” annuals, but you can’t have everything. It’s a real mashing together of disparate styles and genres within. Some familiar small press names like Space Babe 113 pop up regularly. These books are always worth buying!

 Alison’s Room

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Wooooo

I recently joined the forums of Sweatdrop Studios, a Cambridge-based comic creating group that i had somehow not had any contact with all these years (and who i ought to do an article about!). I bumped an old thread saying i was going to BICS and was anybody going – i got a reply from Yuri Kore. So i went to talk to her and bought this!

It’s an eerie horror story about a girl who believes that a monster lives in her wardrobe, and that if she doesn’t play with her dolls it will come out and get her. Her father is also dead and people blame her mother for the death. Various other characters pile on the pressure, scheming and backstabbing – all the while the monster in the wardrobe grows stronger and stronger. You can tell this won’t end well!

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Fantastic artwork once again. Also the book is tightly bound so i used the very professional journalistic device of “my hand holding the page open”. Come to think of it why didn’t i scan this? It’s not like it’s going to be damaged by being put in the scanner unlike the 100 year old bound volumes i’m normally delving in to.

London Calling

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A familiar look? If not, why not!

A new comic with art by Keith Page – who also works for Commando and recently completed The Iron Moon, a story about the British Space Empire of 1897! I actually went to BICS to get The Iron Moon (and some sushi), but the printers hadn’t come through in time (and i had a devil of a time finding the sushi restaurant too). Instead i got this, published by Time Bomb Comics who state that they specialise in “one shot” books.

The story in this is actually a little confusing, as it uses a character called Charlotte Corday who first appeared in a webcomic that i haven’t read. So searching that out first is recommended. The story revolves around Charlotte going on a secret mission in London, whilst trying to maintain psychic contact with her superiors in France. Also her enemies are vampires. And the police are after her with some odd listening equipment. And another police deparment want to fight the vampires… phew.

The story is also framed by a section set in a flooded modern London with Charlotte “making up” the story with her children. The actual story appears to be set in the late 1940’s – which means lots of lovely cars!

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Oh and did i mention her commander is a skeleton?

The back of the book says it’s for “all ages”, though really i think a “12” rating would be better. Mind you there’s no end of cultural references in it that will fly over the head of anybody not between the ages of about 40 and 60. Or else people like me who just live in an idealised version of the past.

Anyway, here’s the first page of that webcomic i haven’t read yet: http://dennisthedonkey.blogspot.com/2009/10/story-begins.html

Poot!

The image uploader has decided not to work for the picture of Poot… hurrah. Anyway it was one of the multitude of Viz ripoffs of the late 1980’s that died out within a few months (except for one called Smut that somehow lasted up until 2007, though i have no idea how, not even Borders stocked every issue… and it wasn’t funny). However now Poot is back!

Compared to Viz, Poot is more… silly. That might seem a bit strange since Viz has a bit of a silly reputation itself… but Viz also does some pretty vicious satire (like The Modern Parents) that i couldn’t see appearing in Poot. Mind you they do ridicule Macs and iGadgets a lot… which is a good thing.

I had a bit of a chat with them, but if i may i’ll hand over to Kevf off the Comics UK forum:

Another very positive stand was Poot! comic. I was pretty sure I’d not seen Poot! since I was was working for the comics that shared a shelf with it in the early 90s (the Viz-alike titles Gas, Brain Damage, Zit, UT, remember them?). And I was right. The guys had run Poot as kids, folded it when the bubble burst in 1991, got proper jobs as accountants and the like and, last year, revived the comic for fun. And now, after a dozen issues, they have a distribution deal with Seymour, they’ve been accepted by WH Smith’s travel outlets, and are currently selling 16,000 copies a month. On newsstands. I don’t know about you, but I find that one of the most heartening stories in comics I’ve heard this year. An independent publisher is selling a comics magazine, printed on paper, in good old fashioned newsagents, and people are buying it.

Their starting point was simply looking at the shelves, seeing that Viz was the only funny comic there, identifying a hole in the market, and filling it. They’re not making a fortune, but they are paying their contributors, breaking even, and enjoying themselves creating and publishing comic strips. If others could replicate this success I’d be delighted, and I get the feeling it’s possible.

Of course Titan ought to be trying to replicate that success by publishing Roy of the Rovers Volume 1.

I bought the latest issue, and also the “pilot issue”, which has much of the content of issue 1 (of the new version, not the one from the 80’s!) but a few different strips and layouts… might be worth a few bob one day!

Crikey!

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Ten pounds worth… but ‘worth’ a lot more!

Excitement abounded on Comics UK when it was revealed that a new magazine about British comics was to be released. Many people, including me, took out subscriptions… but were a little disappointed by the presence of several mistakes and also waffle-filled articles in the early issues. I allowed my subscription to lapse and largely forgot about the magazine (despite joining it’s forum and talking about Doctor Who on there, ahem). Until it was suddenly announced that issue 16 would be the final one!

Anyway, as a penance i bought several issues from the Crikey stall, and they certainly show a lot of improvement over the early ones! There’s also a nice article about Spaceship Away in one, and several ones that focus on some slightly more obscure comics that had my ebay bid finger itching.

I still feel like i ought to do more, mind you. Like start my own magazine about comics! Mind you it’d probably just regurgitate posts from this blog, come out once every decade, and only be available on one day of the year.

In all, a decent convention. Next up (maybe) is the London MCM Expo, the last weekend in October. This time i’ll try and remember to take some photos!

Hilgay Haul

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

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

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The total for that little lot? £8!

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

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

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

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

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

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

Bad news from Classics Illustrated! + new stuff.

After my last post, suggesting that perhaps Classics Illustrated were going to start using a more sensible colour scheme in Macbeth, i couldn’t wait to get the comic – well i did yesterday, and it appears that i was premature with my praise. The preview picture on the back of the issue had evidently been taken from an old issue, as they hadn’t finished ruining “modernising” the artwork for publication. Here is what the previewed page actually looks like:

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As you can see the bright primary colours have returned with a vengeance! Just look at this page from elsewhere in the issue:

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Pink and yellow fields? Purple mountains? Green and yellow castle walls? Based on the preview image on the back of this one, the next issue, The Invisible Man, is going to be back to abnormal too.

New items!I’ve actually bought a great deal of new stuff since my  last post, which will hopefully be described in future posts. But here are some of the more recent and interesting items:

Sexton Blake: A Celebration

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This is a book from 1994, published by “Museum Press”, which details the history of Sexton Blake in exhaustive detail (though not as exhaustive as the recent radio documentary… but that also made a few mistakes / deliberatley twisted details to ‘fit in’ with the awful “comedy” series / read out period adverts in a ridiculous voice). I paid £25 for it and i haven’t seen it before, which suggests it’s pretty rare. Perhaps “self published” in a small print run? The end of the book mentions a planned TV series, which ended up never being made.

A TV series could be well-done today if producers put thier minds to it – taking Doctor Who for inspiration they could jump around Blake’s extraordinary lifespan, setting one episode in the 1890’s and the next in the 1950’s, for instance. Mind you i wouldn’t trust many people in the ‘meedja’ to do such a series correctly… they’d probably turn it into unfunny trash just like with the radio series. (And apparently the 1978 TV series was pretty bad too)

James Bond Omnibus

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This is a beautifully-reproduced collection of several of the James Bond newspaper comic strips which existed before the films. They are products of their time rather than being, well, products of their time like the films are. This means that Bond thunders around in a pre-war “blower” Bentley rather than an Aston with loads of comedy gadgets. I certainly know which one i’d prefer! The collection is enticingly numbered 001 – are they aiming for a ‘complete run’ of all the strips eventually?

The Gem issues 1-15

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Wha-a-a-a-a-t?, as Quelchy himself might say. These aren’t the originals, but facsimilies, seemingly sold individually just like the real issues were (only on much thicker, better paper) and bound privately by a collector, as opposed to the W Howard Baker preprint books which collected ‘runs’ of issues as a book.I didn’t know there had been individual facimilies issued… perhaps they were sold through the now-defunct “Old Boys’ Book Club”? (well, i beleive it continues as a Charles Hamilton focused Yahoo group… but i was summarily thrown out after, i suspect, they looked at the other groups i was a member of – gay/swinging ones – and got rid of me) Either way there was several of these being sold on Ebay, the Gem in blue covers and the Magnet in red covers, all beautifully bound and certian to last down the generations, it’s a shame the collection was being broken up really, but i couldn’t have afforded them all! Still it’s a shame i didn’t buy more as several would have looked great on the shelf together:

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Oh, and like Batman, the most famous character from this comic didn’t actually appear in the first issue! Here he is appearing in the third:

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Tom Merry & Co certianly took over in The Gem a lot more quickly than Sexton Blake did in the Union Jack. In issue 11 he moved from his initial Clavering school to St Jim’s, where he would remain for almost 40 years (erm, best not think about it, it just works!) and from then on the main story in each Gem was about this school and the boys and masters in it. Once the Magnet had been launched and established crossovers between the schools and characters of the two papers (and later other schools from The Boys’ Friend, and girls schools from papers such as School Friend) became commonplace. Other AP characters including Sexton Blake also made appearances from time to time.

Two interesting Commando’s…

Commando comics almost entirely concentrate on World War 2, and with good reason, as there’s such a huge range of stories and scenario’s that can be derived from such a large conflict. However at over 4100 issues (with a lot of reprints, mind) diversification becomes increasingly nessescary. This usually results in stories set in World War 1, Korea or small civil wars set in made-up countries. Science Fiction and Westerns are two much rarer Genre’s, the former last being seen in “War Games” from 2007 (and that was a reprint, and the story was ‘framed’ by WW2) and the latter in “Devil Canyon”, also from last year, which featured some ex-Yankee soldiers looking for lost gold.

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In the current batch of issues is another Western, issue 4139, titled “Rebel Army”. This time following an ex-Confederate (the politics of the confederation are completley left out, naturally. Though i suspect for the average trooper on the ground they meant little anyway… slaves still cost money that the poor people didn’t have!) officer called Samuel Watts and his former sergeant and business partner Nate Bridges. The story takes them to Argentina after a double-cross by another passenger. Searching that passenger’s cargo they discover he is a gun-runner and decide to sell the weapons to the Argentian government. Told the army already have enough weapons, the two are sent inland to link up with a militia that is suppressing Indian revolts. However after another betrayal and witnessing several acts of brutality, switch sides and defeat the militia. Finally collecting the money they are owed, they ride into the sunset, unable to decide between owning a farm or saloon.

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The “slight wrap around” cover is normal for Commando. The area the other side of the knife used to be black, but in recent times has had a photograph or other art used to liven it up. Ian Kennedy drew the cover, and is far and away the most prolific Commando cover artist. 

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The background to the story told in four quick frames. The way comics should be done! “Garijo”, one of Commando’s stable of Spanish/South American artists (i’m presmuming) has done the interior art. There’s a lot of detail packed in.

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Sam and Nate are enticed into the Militia, by being asked to deliver thier weapons in person 

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But they later switch sides, demonstrating the deadly power of one of the main weapons they found in the gun-runner’s stash, a four-barreled Nordenfeld machine-gun.

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…and battle commences! 

Meanwhile, an interesting science fiction Commando from 1994, which i have wanted to read for a long time since seeing it on http://britishcomics.20m.com (currently down) is issue 2774 – “Space Watch”. Today i was wandering Lincoln and decided to look at a book stall on the indoor market which sells Picture Library comics on and off for 40p. Imagine my delight when i discovered this issue! However, it became a proper “Never meet your heroes” moment when i discovered that the story was, in fact, terrible. I’ll let the scans do the talking here…

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Nice cover, Commando has only recently (within the last year) started to include credits (though for a time before that allowed the interior arists to sign the first or last frame). As this is well before the crediting era at DC Thomson i have no idea who did this, but other people can probably make identifications. 

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A nice wrap-around cover and a rather brief and confusing description of the story in question. This issue is from a ‘short’ period when the barcode was located on the front of issues rather than the back.

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The story is set in “the twenty-first century”. Japan wants to bring back whaling, and sometimes ‘pirates’ kill whales anyway. In order to get thier own way, Japan decides to go to war with the “World Environmental Council”. Except wars in the future are fought on computers in virtual reality between small teams of experts. So far so never-going-to-happen. The story reeks of early 90’s which will presumably put paid to it’s chances of being reprinted, when the reprint cycle reaches 1994. You won’t be missing much.

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The virtual reality war is set even further in the future, in 2442 to be precise. Once in the VR world the characters (the WEC team are made up of British, American, French and Russian men… to fight against Japan. So far so WW2) take on the personality of characters in the world. Note the commander of the Zakrun battle fleet (Japan) claiming his fictional space navy on a fictional planet have “never lost a war”. Also they have a huge starship which “is not finished yet”. This only adds more unessescary complexity to the story, if you ask me they should have done away with the VR, Whale-saving guff and just made it a straightfoward story actually set in 2442.

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Weather the participants in the space battle (which is so confusing and messy it’s not worth describing, though it is fought much like WW2 air battles) can actually die in real life if they die in Virtual Reality is none too clear. The Russian doesn’t and the American isn’t mentioned. Neither are any of the Japanese. The Frenchman is killed for real though, but that is because of attacks by hackers who are trying to murder the British man (who is the last remaining ‘real’ player in the game by the end).

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The hackers, paid by some kind of Arabic Mafia boss, ‘complete’ and send in the massive space battleship, Satori, against the sole surviving Earth ships, the Pennsylvania and a single space frigate. Satori‘s powerful laser cannons narrowly miss the escape pod from the other large Earth ship, Ark Royal, and it is the shock of these near misses which kills the frenchman in real life as well as the VR world. But still the Earth fleet manage to outwit Satori and win the game, keeping Whaling illegal.

At the end of the story we re-join the pirate whaling ship in time to see the crew arrested. The Mafia boss is also unimpressed with the hackers and has them killed. What a dissapointment after wanting to read this story for so long. I wonder what Starblazer is like…