Thunderbirds Are Go!

There’s a new Thunderbirds show on, and this time it’s done with CGI instead of puppets (a method Gerry Anderson referred to as “Hypermarionation”, though they’ve no doubt dropped that like a bag of hot sick, now that he’s out of the picture. He’s only the British Disney / Tezuka, why show respect for that, eh?). Anyway, to accompany it, there’s also a new comic!

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Er, my scanner appears to have turned the bright orange into pink. Didn’t even notice!

I bought it, hoping it would have reprinted Frank Bellamy strips from TV21 (perhaps referred to as “great rescues of the past” – the new Thunderbirds are the children of the old ones, right?), but it doesn’t. It IS mostly comic, though! There’s one long strip, broken up into three parts, and which is also “to be continued”!

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Unfortunately, it’s done with the same CGI as the TV show, rather than illustrated art. Now, I’m as innocent as a babe unborn, so on first glance, I thought “oh, cool, DC Thomson have been given access to the same models and software used in the show, so they can pose them in new ways, in original settings, to make up exciting new stories. That’s far better than just stitching a limited batch of pre-made production stills together”.

Silly me, eh?

I then noticed that the master villain from the old series, The Hood, is introduced in this first story’s cliffhanger. “Oh cool” I thought. “They’re bringing back an old character in the comic story, thus making big steps in the overall plot in both the comic and TV versions, rather than treating the comic as a bit of knocked-out merchandising. Still, it’s strange that they’re putting such a major character in the comic version, when, in the 60’s, he mainly showed up in the TV version, and…”

WAIT A MINUTE.

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Yes, the comic stories are just screencapped adaptions of the TV episodes, and therefore TOTALLY WORTHLESS AND POINTLESS. It’s like they’ve not even heard of video recorders, let alone anything else that’s been invented since then. The adaptions aren’t even any good, just look at this:

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Never mind, eh? It’s only for kids.

75% of the issue is taken up by these worthless “repeats”, and the intervening feature pages are, well, exactly what you’d expect from a current British comic.

ntb_05 – ntb_02

Never mind, eh? It’s only for kids.

Wow, a futuristic rocket plane in the, er, 2080’s (the original Thunderbirds was set 100 years in the future, in the 2060’s) has an auto pilot! And Brains (who is now Indian, because an Indian is always the scientist in these things. Well they can’t use a Japanese, Chinese or Korean, can they? That’d be a stereotype! Not that I’m being a critical theorist, I’ve seen a documentary where they went to an Indian secondary school, and the girls were all saying they wanted to be scientists or doctors.) has managed to invent a method that allows it to travel anywhere in the world… though I think the Wright Brothers got there a little ahead of him.

I wonder how much DC Thomson paid for the licence to use Thunderbirds? And then they crank out this rubbish. A couple of work experience lads could throw this together in an afternoon. They’ve even had the audacity to make it a monthly, no doubt to avoid the risk of running out of episodes to adapt before a new series starts. Imagine having to pay somebody to come up with a new plot! There is, I must grudgingly admit, some brand new, illustrated comic material in there. Here’s a whole third of it:

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One of the others had “Thunderbirds are glow!” as the punchline… just in case you think I picked out the worst one.

I would like to remind everybody that Britain is a G8 nation and the works of Gerry Anderson are popular all over the world. And THIS is what our comic “industry” (partly from apathy, and partly hamstrung by the WH Smith / Tesco “these ‘magazines’ must come with a toy” monopoly) is turning out. Look down a couple of entries. See that? See what NORTH KOREA is producing? Why are their comics better than ours? Where’s the bosses of DCT, Smith’s and Tesco? Would they like to explain why NORTH KOREA is producing better comics than a country with a GDP in the trillions?

 

Peeps at foreign comics – comics from North Korea

 

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You may be surprised to hear that North Korea has an active comics “scene”. But when you hear that it’s all state-run, it’s not so surprising. North Korean kids are pumped with carefully-constructed propaganda from birth, and comics are considerably easier to make than edutainment iApps, especially for a heavily-sanctioned regime. If only our own government would “nationalise”, then print at-cost paperbacks of, our greatest, copyright-hell-stuck, comic heroes, eh?

But how do people from the capitalist west (and east, for that matter) get hold of comics from this secretive, insulated regime? Well, there’s three options. The hardest is going to North Korea itself. Visits are possible, though they’re heavily stage-managed, a “guide” takes you everywhere, and the secret police are always breathing down your neck. Tourism is one of their major sources of income, too, so everything is overpriced. Well, what you can buy is! Apparently there’s department stores full of fancy stuff, but it’s all for show, and the staff merely acting.

Anyway, the next option is “West Korea” aka Yanbian, in China. In the old days, this was a propaganda-filled enclave for North Koreans visiting the People’s Republic. Just to make sure they would keep worshipping the correct cult of personality! China is a lot more open these days, and “West Korea” is swarming with southerners, as well as Chinese, faintly amused at a living “theme park” version of their own country, a generation or two ago.

The easiest way to get these anti-Japanese-propaganda laced books, then, is to… get them in Japan! (That’s what true freedom of speech does for you – when will Britain see a true anti-censorship party?). Yes, Thanks to a “quirk of history”, Japan has a large community of people who align themselves with North Korea (though do not seem in a great hurry to go back – their children and grandchildren becoming naturalised Japanese citizens in ever greater numbers). Japan directly ruled Korea from 1910 until 1945, and many Koreans moved / were moved (depending on who you ask, and the historical period in question) to Japan. After World War 2, they found themselves in a sort of limbo, many either didn’t know where their ancestors came from in Korea, or else they’d come from the north, but now couldn’t go back from American Japan to Soviet Korea. When the country offically seperated into two, they became effectively stateless, in any case. They became known as Zaichini, and, a bit later, many became part of a community called Chongryon, which is aligned with North Korea. For a while, after the war, the political ideology was equally repressive in both the north and south, but the north had a better economy, thanks to Russia (and, to begin with, China) pumping in loads of money. Kind of like how the west made a showpiece of West Germany by funneling in money to “prove capitalism works”.

Anyway, the Chonggryon have continued to exist in Japan, running “North Korean” schools, teaching the language and producing propaganda (they run several of “North Korea’s” websites). As there’s no official relationship between Japan and North Korea, the Chongryon HQ is actually a de-facto “embassy”.

But, more to the point of this blog, the Chongryon also run a book shop, called コリアブックセンター, or “Korea Book Centre”. Students of Japanese will note that, for some weird reason, the name is neither Japanese or Korean, but “English”, written with Japanese letters! This is where you can buy the comics, there’s also various other books (including a load of heavy, brown leather-bound volumes on who-knows-what), CD’s, DVD’s and even some videos. All in Korean, though.

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Anyway, the shop is in central Tokyo (that is, inside the Yamanote line, tokyo doesn’t “work” like most other cities, so it’s actually in quite a quiet, deserted area). The nearest station is Hakusan, come out, bear round to the left, and go down a small pedestrianised street (with a number of comic-heavy Japanese bookshops. One has thousands upstairs! But they’re all run by the same 2-3 people, so aren’t always open). At the end, there’s an unnesescarily-huge zebra crossing. Cross that, and “double back”, a little to the right. Then discover the Korea Book Centre is closed, because it has bizarre opening times. It took me 3 visits to finally catch it! (Edit that is not an edit: I kept going in the morning, but have since found out it opens at 1 in the afternoon!).

EVEN BIGGER EDIT THAT IS NOT AN EDIT: Apparently the shop has closed down for good. Close Skyscanner now!

(“manually” shopping around airlines’ own websites, but on somebody else’s computer, is usually better, anyway).

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kitakank_05 – kitakank_06

The shop is at the base of a big office / flat building, but is pretty small inside. When I went in a few regulars were popping in and out, all talking to the woman behind the counter in perfect, Tokyo-accented Japanese.

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There’s not much to distinguish the comics from various other thin propaganda books, and I nearly left disappointed (or grew a pair and attempted to ask where the “manga” was). But then I finally found them on the leftmost shelf, about halfway down the shop. Though that doesn’t mean there might not be others scattered around!

Anyway, the big handful I bought (altogether coming in at around the ¥5000 mark. I doubt a sen of that got back to the concentration campin’ regime, though. In fact, maintaining both their HQ, and this shop, in central Tokyo, probably costs them hundreds of thousands of yen a month.) includes a large number of what may be called the “old series”, and a couple of what may be called the “new series” of comics. Though the oldest one is still only from 2000. The old series encompasses the 2000’s:

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While the two new series ones are from the 2010’s. However the new series ones also have a Tokyo address in their copyright section. The older ones are pure Korean:

kitakank_10 – kitakank_11

The newer ones are on thick, glossy paper (which many non-me people would consider “better”). But they’re also drawn in a cod-“Japanese” style. In fact, they remind me of British small-press “manga”! Here’s a comparison:

kitakank_12 – kitakank_13

There’s actually some Brit ones that look even closer than this. But It’s the first one I grabbed from my box-o-small-press.

The old series ones are on thinner, matte paper, with lurid-looking covers and starkly black and white “Boys’ Own” type artwork in them (nb: except for some ones for young children, but I’ll get to that). If such an impoverished regime can still produce comics like that, why can’t we, eh? why can’t-

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Oh, alright then. To continue… I’m sure I read somewhere that North Korea “recently” (well, around 2010) bought some new printing machines, so it’s possible that the “new series” books are down to that. But then again, the Tokyo address, and Japanese-ish art style, makes me think they might even have been made in Japan by the Chongryon. I did briefly wonder if they were South Korean (they’re on historical themes, both sides of the border would teach their children about national mythology), but they have a 주체 (Juche) date, which is counted up from 1912, when Kim Il Sung was born (apparently on a mountain that borders China… but actually in Russia). The south wouldn’t put that on their books!

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I should state that several of the books (actually, the majority of the ones I have) are not true comics, but heavily-illustrated text stories. Some examples of both kinds have 그림책 (Geulimchaeg) written in the top right-hand corner of the cover. It means “Picture-Book”, and is Perhaps the North Korean word for comic. In South Korea, comics are called “Manhwa”, which is the Korean way of pronouncing the characters which say “Manga” in Japan. If the non-comic ones were aimed at very young children, I’d have called them “Picture books”, like the ones we have in Britain, but they seem to be aimed at an older / teen audience. Well, most of them.

They all appear to be one-off “graphic novels”, rather than ongoing publications, though one comic does appear to be part of a series. North Korea definitely has at least two regular story papers, though. Maybe some of these text-heavy stories originally appeared in one of those, as a serial, and is now available as a book. Or maybe they were all just written as books. We need a Korean-speaking comics enthusiast (with deep pockets – they overcharge tourists something rotten, I hear) to get over there and start asking their “guides” a few probing questions.

Oh, and as a quick warning: my Korean is about as good as my Welsh (oh, there’s another biiiig article incoming!), so I’ve just GUESSED what’s going on in all of these stories. Luckily, there’s plenty of pictures!

Anyway, let’s begin with the oldest book – dating all the way back to Juche (주체, the online translator says it’s “subject”, but it’s obviously “Self-Reliance”) 89, or 2000 to you and me. It’s one of the thickest ones too, weighing in at a “whopping” 124 pages (not including the covers).

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The title is 신기한 술법 (those scribbly covers are hard to read, fortunately the title is usually in clearer type on the “copyright” section), pronounced “Singihan Sulbeob”, and apparently meaning “Novelties Sulbeob”. There’s a few words that I couldn’t persuade Google to translate. North Korea uses a slightly different writing system to South Korea. The south uses Hangul, an indigenous Korean writing system, which is apparently the most logically-organised and easy to learn in the world. Mainly because it was actually created over just a few months, on the order of a liberalising ruler (does Korea have Kings or Emperors?), rather than evolving over centuries. Later rulers, either Korean monarchs, or the Japanese, realised that a literate populace could mean “dangerous” ideas being spread, and banned it in favour of Chinese-made-to-fit-Korean, or just Japanese. Modern South Korea uses mostly Hangul, with a FEW Chinese characters, though they are nowhere near as common as they are in Japan. North Korea uses pure Hangul, and the two countries also have a few different ways of spelling things (see the translation for Juche, above!). But, by and large, they can read each other’s writings without too much effort – though it’s illegal in both countries!

Anyway, this is possibly part of a series, being labelled “백두산녀장수절그림책 (5)” , which is apparently “Paektu lady longevity clause picture book 5”. I don’t think it translated properly. It’s published by “Literary Arts Publisher” (문학예술종합출판사). There seems to be several comic / childrens storybook publishing companies in North Korea, I’ve also seen “Venus Youth Publisher” and “Gold Star Children’s Press”. Though the identical art styles, paper, sizes and bindings hint at there really being only one publisher. The multiple names are just a blind, to give a faint illusion of a “free press”.

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To carry on with the review… this book contains multiple stories, some of them longer than others. One of them is even broken up into three chapters! Heres’s a quick translation of the contents page, though the names may not be particularly enlightening.

1 – 오산의 전설 = Miscalculation of the Legend

27 – 신기한 술법 = Novelties Sulbeop. In three chapters:

1) 류치장에 생게난 이야기 = Kenan (cainan) life on the type of story stucco (embellishment)

2) 공사장에서 구원된 칠성이 = Chilsung has been saved from the construction site

3) 상동마을의 “수호신” = “Guardian Deity” of the same village

63 – 사각장에 나타난 녀장수 = Ladies longevity appears in chapter square

87 – 마천령의 이상한 샘물 = Ma Chun-Ryung the court medic unusual spring water

107 – 다시 울린 종 = Bell Rang Again

I can’t tell anything at all about the first story. It appears to involve some sort of wise man, going around and talking about kings and things. There’s some nice scribbly-looking artwork of temples and houses. There’s also a turtle carrying a big slab on it’s back.

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He is possibly some sort of communist agitator. The story appears to be set in the past, maybe in 1917. As this was during the Japanese occupation, he’s probably talking about how great Korea used to be, and keeping their heritage alive.

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The next story is, erm, well…

Officially, North Korea has freedom of religion. Also officially, many people in North Korea willingly choose not to follow a religion, as they see it as a primitive superstition used to oppress the working class. Actually, the North Korean government have created their own religion, centered around worship of the “eternal president”, Kim Il Sung, who will one day return to life and lead the country to glory. Not that I’d object to a mass revival of Northern European Paganism in the UK, but with elements of Shinto ancestor worship bolted on, and even a deification of King Arthur. But anyway, when Christian missionaries first arrived in Korea, Pyongyang became a very Christian city, and this has not entirely gone away. The government of North Korea have neatly “snatched” Christian beliefs by, for instance, celebrating the birthday of Kim Il Sung’s mother on the 24th of December. As everybody will be “too busy” celebrating that, they’ll “forget all about” Christmas. Which is why you don’t see Christmas celebrations in the DPRK… it’s nothing to do with repression, honest!

Anyway. “Novelties Sulbeop” seems to borrow more than a little from the Book of Exodus, and parts of the Gospels, too! It starts off fairly ordinarily, though. A damn dirty jap is torturing an innocent Korean…

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“fairly ordinarily” for a North Korean comic, anyway…

He’s also seen intimidating people on the streets (apparently accusing an old man of being an arsonist, just because he happened to be carrying some matches). He then hears a voice ordering him to stand to attention, even though there’s nobody there. He doesn’t look too chuffed, but goes about his business of torture and intimidation regardless. Later he calls his officer to come and interrogate the old man, captured earlier. But when the opens the cell, it’s full of some sort of madness-inducing “gas”. Though that may just be representative of something that is invisible.

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The officer treats him in the usual manner of Japanese officers of the time. At least according to “more moderated” accounts of allied POW camps I’ve read.

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But the guy continues to go crazy, and wanders through the town, becoming a laughing stock.

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In the next chapter, a bunch of Korean prisoners are being forced to work on some big project (and you thought “construction site” was a mistranslation!). Their Japanese overseers stay in the huts, partying and drinking. One of the prisoners is looking up at the moon, when a magic bridge appears, leading over the fence, and to freedom! The prisoners all rush over it. The Japanese follow, but it vanishes when they’re halfway over.

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The escaped prisoners meet up with Kim-Il-Sung’s liberation army, having apparently been guided there by a myriad of sparkling stars. They see an apparently divine vision of a free, united Korea, covered in blooming flowers.

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They then meet a wise old man, who preaches to them under a tree. They are also given a lot of food – bread, and “something else”. They’re also next to a river at the time… hmm.

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After that, they go about carving messages (apparently also “divinely inspired”) on trees and rocks (people who have toured North Korea and Cuba have remarked on the natural scenery being blighted by carved slogans). These messages eventually being about the end of Japanese tyranny.

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There’s not much to the other three stories. “Ladies longevity appears in chapter square” is apparently about an oldish man standing around near some Japanese cavalry regiment. One of the horses escapes, and I think he volunteers to track it down, but doesn’t. Also one of the officers can’t sleep (or is maybe being haunted?). Apparently the horse running away inspired the guy to think of freedom. Or something.

 

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The next story is possibly an extension of the “biblical” one. The camping communist rebels have no water, but some “smoke” and sparkling “stars” lead a girl to a hidden well. She digs a little, then tells an old man about it. They go and dig further, finding a spring, so the rebels have their own, abundant, water supply.

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The last story is perhaps a ripoff of the American legend of the “liberty bell”, though not quite the same. It appears that a temple bell in a village must not be rung, the Japanese take a guy away for merely cleaning it. The man’s son and father are left there, but it rings on it’s own, for some reason, and everybody celebrates. Perhaps the spontaneous ringing was to symbolise the defeat of Japan?

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They appear to be ringing it with hammers, rather than a log on ropes, as in Japan. But maybe that’s the Korean way.

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This one is in a slightly smaller format to most of the others, and is called 살인자의 정체 (Sal-injuai Jeongche), or “The Identity of the Killer”. It’s published by “Literature and Arts Publisher” (문학예술출판사), a very similar name to the publisher of the previous book. The story is a thrilling, all-action tale of military… paperwork. It’s another of the “illustrated story” style books, and we catch all the action as our heroine bravely collates, files and, yes, indexes!

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Oh, and the illustrations are done with green ink

Well, okay, there’s a bit more to it than that. A one-eyed woman comes to the army / police, as she’s been attacked by somebody who looks like a ninja. He also kills another guy in a forest. It appears there’s been multiple murders, and we see some first rate pondering-over-ring-binders action.

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Our Lieutenant (an inconclusive Google image search shows that to apparently be her rank) wonders about the connection between various dead people (or at least, I assume that’s who they are). Then there’s a flashback to the Japanese occupation (oh yeah, this story is set in 1959). The one-eyed woman was then a servant to a cruel Korean couple, who were collaborating with the Japanese. Anyway, she didn’t serve them fast enough, so the husband poked out her eye with a big skewer (even the Japanese soldiers are shocked).

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The girl’s mum vows revenge, and it appears that the unseemly display scares the Japanese (and their money) off. The couple blame the mum and daughter, and they leave. It appears that the cruel wife is later beaten to death by other Japanese soldiers, or maybe the girl’s mother killed her, and the soldiers just found the body.

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Anyway, the girl grows up with one eye, and I think she falls in love with a guy, but the evil man has tracked them down, and pushes the guy off a cliff. Also a rioting mob attack his home, but somebody else gets him away in the bottom of a farm cart. I can’t even tell if this scene is set during the Japanese occupation, or the “present day”.

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The guy is still in hiding. The cop/soldier/both(?) returns to her office and selflessly goes through ledger after ledger. She also collaborates with a guy who specialises in box files, in the true spirit of socialist cooperation.

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I think I took too many pictures of this one

They somehow turn up a photo of the evil guy, and show the one-eyed woman. He is now running a collective farm, and pretending to be a good socialist leader, a mere advisor to his workers, with whom he is on equal terms, otherwise.

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Then… well, actually, he is rather undramatically arrested. The one-eyed woman finds a big knife, used by the “ninja” who attacked her before. Clearly the guy was trying to do away with all the witnesses to his previous collaboration. The cops also arrest some other guy (the one who helped him escape the mob?).

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The guy then tells his own tale, under interrogation. As I only have the pictures to go on, I can’t make this one out too well. I think he got another guy to help him with threats (the big knife is a bayonet off a Japanese army rifle), then hoarded loads of money, without the other guy knowing (but he found out, by spying though the not-quite-closed door).

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Then the glorious army of the DPRK, under the wise guidance of Kim Il Sung, single-handedly hurled the Japanese out and set up a socialist paradise, in which money has no purpose. The guy then started running a farm, and “doing in” everybody who knew about his past life. Beats me why he didn’t escape to the south during the Korean war, but I guess North Korea is so incredibly wonderful that he couldn’t drag himself away, even with multiple murder charges hanging over him.

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Yet more Japan-hate. I remind you which country I bought these in!

The next book is one of many that I have from “Venus Youth Publisher” (금성청년출펀사). It’s name is 성난 메아리섬, or “Angry Echo Isles”. It’s also the thickest one, at almost 200 pages! There’s actually two stories. “Angry Echo Isles” is “half and half” illustrated text and pictures (IE – Half of a page is text, and half is a picture). Part of it is printed in reddish-brown ink, and part in green ink. The change just occurs abruptly, in the middle of chapter 6 (though, as will be seen on my Things Japanese blog, North Korea isn’t the only country to do such things!). The other half of the book is taken up by a true comic strip, called 해돌소년, or “Haedol Boy”. They are possibly both about the same characters, though.

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Anyway, the text story appears to be set around 1598, when Japan briefly occupied Korea “on the way” to attack China. The king of Korea fled to China, and rallied an army, which counterattacked through Korea, all the way to Seoul, where the Japanese made a stand (Seoul is not far from the current border between North and South Korea, coincidentally). Then the Shogun of Japan died, and the council of five rulers, who temporarily replaced him, decided to give up.

But that’s got nothing to do with the story, which appears to be about Korean traitors collaborating with the Japanese, and a boy and girl going on adventures. The boy seems to be a young teen, and the girl is still little. They live in a village, and out hunting one day, meanwhile Japanese warriors apparently sack the village (or just kill the headman, who may be their dad).

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They also know Tae-Kwon-Do, and meet some guy who seems to be a high-ranking Korean (they had “cowboy” hats in those days, apparently). The boy is taught swordsmanship and, being hunters, they’re both handy with a bow. They then go on a long adventure, over hills, through swamps, and so on. Also they get a lift on a carriage, and later meet a “merchant”. The girl realises he’s the guy who attacked the village. They capture him, take him to another village and smear something sweet on his face, so wasps swarm around him and sting his face into a swollen mass.

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He is then beaten with poles by the villagers, and put in prison. The headman of the village (another guy with a “cowboy hat”, or maybe the same one) makes friends with the girl, but then is apparently turned, or maybe imprisoned, by some Korean traitors, or just Japanese guys in disguise. They let the prisoner out, and he becomes the new headman of the village. He’s also opened the village treasure chest, and is throwing the money in the air XD.

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But the girl has got away, takes a raft out to a ship, where the boy is fishing, and tells the crew. There may be a long-haired young guy, or another girl, on the crew. From this point, it’s kinda hard to tell how many Koreans are involved XD. Anyway, the village is occupied by samurai, but the crew start throwing rocks and arrows down on them, from a cliff. One of the boys / crew fights them with a sword, while the others sneak round behind, and stick them up with bows.

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Then the Jap-no, wait, it appears that, actually, it’s the village full of Koreans who get into boats and sail into the sunset. Dunno what’s going on there.

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The next story, Haedol Boy, may be about the same characters, though they are younger. Or it may be different, as the boy seems to be the same age as the girl. Anyway, they have an idyllic village existence, when the Japanese invade and kill most of the adult men. Some old woman also hates the boy, she might be Japanese, or maybe just a Korean collaborator. There’s also a man who is a collaborator.

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The boy swears to get revenge, and there’s some various scenes of adventure around the countryside, gathering men and weapons. Somebody else (his mother?) is caught in, or near, a Japanese guy’s house, and is attacked. Samurai chase her, and the only way to escape is to jump off a cliff. She is badly injured, and dies. He gets an axe from a nearby farm, planning to kill the Japanese official, but is talked out of it by a wise old man. He goes into some longwinded explanation (no doubt a propaganda-heavy overview of the occupation).

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Later, the boy and girl head into a seaside cave, and find a skeleton, scary daubings, and creepy echoes.

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They get out, and the boy, “through” the Korean collaborator, tricks the Japanese official, the collaborator, and some other people, into the cave. The scary daubings and echoes terrify them, the boy apparently keeps them talking about something, until the tide comes in, and they all drown. The Samurai outside spot the floating bodies, and run away.

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The sister is sad, but the old man gives her some speech, apparently about how this shows the Japanese can be “beaten” (even if somebody had to commit suicide to do it). Then there’s a montage of battle scenes, and a load of text over a peaceful countryside scene – no doubt showing how the sacrifice inspired the Koreans (with Chinese help… in real life, anyway) to fight back, and drive the Japanese out.

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This is one of the books which IS a young childrens’ picture book. But I may as well review all of the ones I have! It’s called 보약먹은 그림자 (boyagmeog-eun geulimja), which is apparently, erm, “Restorative Ate Shadow”. I think there’s probably words in there that are “supposed” to be Chinese characters, in South Korean! The book is part 5 of the far-more-clearly-translating “Korean Folk Tale Picture Book” (조선민화그림책) series, so these stories may also be available in South Korean versions. Bet the art isn’t as good, though. The illustrations in this book are a mixture of grey and red washes, and the text beneath is usually only 3-5 lines.

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It begins with some sort of introduction, dunno what that’s about. Then we have the nice-looking contents page. It contains four stories, of variable length, which are:

개구리바위 = Frog on a rock

보약먹은 그림자 = About eating shadow

은혜갚은 호랑이 = Grace Paid off Tiger

들쥐가 고른 사위 = Son-in-law Picked Vole

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Well it would be “nice looking” if I’d not cropped most of it, oops.

The first story, “Frog on a Rock”, is kind of hard to follow. It’s about a frog, who is a teacher, and a bird. The bird carries the frog around, while the frog pupils give advice to the bird (who appears to be trying to fish). The bird also gives the frogs a talking-to. The bird later carries the frog teacher up a mountain, where she can see a waterfall (perhaps the source of the river she lives in). Then she appears to sing / teach a ladybird, and, erm, the bird leaves her there.

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I think.

The next story is super short, only 7 pages (and a title). I think a man has lost something, and accuses a boy of stealing it. But actually the boy had found it, and was giving it back, so then man gives him money for food.

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The next story, “Grace Paid off Tiger” is about a boy who finds a man in the snow, when he’s out hunting. He carries the man to safety, and gets a coin as a reward. His mum is happy, and sends him out to buy something (I assume). On the way, a tiger leaps down in front of him, but it has a thorn in it’s paw. He takes it out, and the tiger runs away.

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Later, the boy becomes a rebel / soldier, and fights against some army (maybe Japan, or maybe some other war, between different kingdoms in Korea). He gets captured, and put in a cangue, a punishment which used to be used in the Far East. It’s similar to the Stocks, only a big wooden board is locked around somebody’s neck, and he has to carry it about / sit in a cell with it on. It makes laying down, or sitting against a wall, very uncomfortable. In China, people had to wear it out and about on the streets, often with their offence written on it. But in this story, the boy is locked up. He’s allowed to write letters, though!

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Anyway, it seems the leader of the bad guys intercepts his letter, and decides to execute him. He’s taken to the edge of a cliff, where it seems inept guards argue about who is going to prod him over. Then the tiger shows up and attacks them. The boy is set free, and spots the scar in the tiger’s foot, where the thorn used to be. The story ends with the boy once again going into battle… riding the tiger!

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The next story is also pretty short. It appears to be about a vole in love. He talks to other animals to gain confidence, then gets the girl. Erm, hooray.

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As this is book 5 in a series, the back cover contains something that is very daring for an official North Korean publication – advertising! Well, promoting other books in the series, anyway.

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Surely a reproduction of the cover of one the reader doesn’t have would be better?

Following on, a year later, another book in the same series, this time number 10. This one only has 64 internal pages, as opposed to 128, in book 5.  It’s also all one comic strip, printed with blue ink, rather than multiple text stories with wash illustrations. It’s called 해와달 (Haewadal), which is “The Sun and the Moon”.

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Anyway, this one’s about a sometimes-fighting, sometimes-friendly cat and dog, who are following a wandering trader around. A magical old man descends from the heavens (like ya do) and gives him a marble, which he puts in a jar. Later some guy steals the marble, and puts it in a jar at his house. The cat and dog steal it back, the dog tries to eat it, but spits it out, into a river. Presumably that was an accident, as they then start fighting.

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The magical old man later finds a boy, and lectures him on something. The boy, erm, goes for a long walk in the rain, and ends up very tired and muddy, then gets another lecture. Must be some sort of morality tale, probably with a heavily socialist tone about selfless work. The art style in this bit sometimes reminds me of early Tezuka!

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The third chapter, taking up half the book, is about an evil tiger menacing a family. He can also talk, and use tools. He’s looking for something, which they have presumably hidden. The boy and girl escape, and climb up a tree. The tiger spots them, and tries to climb up, but can’t do it. He pours something on the tree (oil?), and slips off even more easily. After a failed attempt at chopping the tree down, a rope appears. He tries to climb the rope, but it snaps, and he falls into sharp, chopped-down stumps.

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This book gives a subtle clue that all is not well in North Korea, the intensity of the ink varies through the pages, the middle pages are clear and dark, but those at each end are really faint – like they’re running the machine right down, before topping it up. You see that on some old British comics, too, but not quite as obvious (then again, most of the mass-printed ones were under 40 pages…. often well under), and not this side of 1960!

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Also from 2006 is one of the cooler-looking ones. It has a really “gritty” art style, which reminds me of one of the also-ran “Commando-like” war comics of the 1960’s (or, should that be “War Picture Story-like”?). It’s set in 1905, during the Russo-Japanese war, which was used as an excuse by Japan to further occupy Korea (at the time, coming more under Japanese, rather than Chinese, influence, though there was other foreign powers at play too, mainly Russia). While most land battles of the war were fought in Russia (several of the battlefields are now in China, it seems that the border was not entirely clear in those days, and the whole region was remote from both countries’ centres of government), the first one was at the Yalu River, the traditional border between China and Korea (today a terrifying moat, helping to imprison would-be defectors).

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The story is, again, about a boy and a girl, and, again, they’re Tae-Kwon-Do experts. At the start, they seem to be friendly with a Japanese naval officer, who takes them sailing, and talks about the war. The artist does not appear to have had much access to reference materials (which would probably have been published in Japan, so no wonder!). The naval officer’s uniform looks very ostentatious, with acres of gold braid – even Togo, admiral of the fleet, had a plainer one! Also, an image of the naval battles show a Japanese paddle steamer being hit. Paddle steamers were no doubt still in use, then, but every modern naval power would have long since dispensed with them as front-line vessels.

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I didn’t spread out my picture taking particularly well

Interestingly, the Japanese captain’s own yacht looks like a Junk, with the slatted sails, and the anchor at the rear. I don’t think Japan ever had ships like that – they always either bought, or copied, European designs. Anyway, the comic shows various scenes of Japanese atrocities, like executing injured soldiers, dressing as “anonymous thugs” and beating people up, or brutally suppressing peasant uprisings. The children meet an old Korean man, who witnesses one of these atrocities with them, and shames them into becoming Korean patriots. They go to pray at a temple, but hear a commotion behind them, after leaving. They go back, and find all the monks massacred. One of the victims tells them the Japanese did it, and there’s a huge fight. One of the Japanese guys is armed with a huge morning star, but the boy throws a big rock at it, and tangles the chain up.

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The boy and girl jump off a cliff, swim away, and intimidate somebody else, who spots them coming out of the water elsewhere. The scene then changes, apparently to several months later. Now the two are waging a successful guerrilla war against Japan, but the Japanese commanders have a description of them. They make and distribute “wanted” posters, and the story ends with two merchants in some town spotting the pair, and comparing them with the poster. Presumably it’s a to-be-continued… but I don’t have part 2!

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The next comic is another small one. I can’t make much sense out of it, but it appears to be a comedy. One blog I once read, about somebody’s trip in North Korea, said that you almost never hear laughter there, and comedy acts seem to be rare to nonexistent, even though they theatre, musicals and synchronised dancing. Well, here is some North Korean comedy… or, at least, people laugh in it an awful lot. It’s called 성천량반의 망신, or “Last Cheonryang Half Disgrace”, and is yet another one from Venus Youth Publisher.

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It has four chapters, or short stories… but I’ve been writing this post in bits and pieces for months now, so can’t be bothered to translate them (XD). Anyway, the chapters appear to be separate (and end with everybody laughing), but characters and locations carry over. The main character (who, I can’t help but think, looks like a Mexican bandit) appears to be some sort of wandering trader, going from place to place.

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You quickly learn the Korean sound for laughing

Having only the images to go on, I can’t be sure, but there seems to be a bunch of moral instructions in the stories, like “don’t gossip” and “don’t overload pack animals”. But they don’t seem to be dwelled upon.

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Towards the end, some other character shows up, but he has a bigger nose and more-slanted eyes. Three guesses as to his nationality. Anyway, he’s really arrogant, and eats loads of food… so they, erm, give him loads more, until he feels ill. Then laugh.

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I believe an old Vice article about a North Korean-sponsored theme park, in China, said it was “what only a nation of prisoners could confuse with fun”.

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Well, that’s the comedy over with. Time for more high adventure! This is yet another historical, called 명장의 장검 (myeongjang-ui jang-geom), or “Sword of the Masters”. Well, actually, Google translate called it “Sword of Scenes”, but 명장의, when on it’s own, becomes “The Masters”, and that seems like a far more likely title. Once again, it’s from Venus Youth Publisher, the blue box at the top of the cover says 조선력사인물이야기 그림책, which translates to “Korean history tale figures picture”. Perhaps about a real-life historical person? Unfortunately, I can’t see any obvious dates in the text, so I can’t go wiki-ing.

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The boy, the girl, the other boy (a smuggler?), the wise old man, and the evil king.

The book opens with the usual contents page, this time with pictures giving the names of the cast. The story opens with the boy and girl practicing with swords, under the guidance of a bearded master. They leave, but spot some sneaking figures, who turn out to be ninjas! In the following fight, somebody stabs the girl in the back. The boy vows revenge, but he doesn’t know the evil “king” (I think, anyway, same facial hair!) was the one who stabbed her.

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Anyway, the king/lord/whatever guy goes back to the palace, while the boy bothers the trainer (presumably for more training, so he can carry on fighting the Japanese). The trainer goes for a walk, and catches the king unloading treasure from a boat, with somebody else. Bribes from the Japanese, maybe? After some more mucking about, the trainer is injured at his day job (in a quarry), and laid up.

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The lord’s palace

While he is in bed, his wife hears something, so he goes out and confronts two ninjas, stealing from the village treasure house. He fights them, but also gets stabbed in the back. The boy comes along, and the dying trainer gives him some advice. The boy then apparently moves away to hide, but keeps training, to become a great warrior. Also, one day, he meets a woman and saves her from a tiger.

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Is there nothing Tae Kwon Do can’t solve?

The boy lives in some tiny village / farm, with an old lady, and some other guys, who seem to be archers. He’s later walking in the forest when he’s forced to fight another tiger. Some old hermit spots him, and takes him in, giving him even more training in the art of war.

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Which apparently involves massacring most of Korea’s wildlife

The boy later becomes a knight. He’s at a jousting contest one day, and impresses the “queen” who has organised it. The woman he saved before is the princess of this kingdom, and he later marries her. The other evil king is apparently oppressing his people, or else has risen against the overall rulers of Korea. The boy is now a prince, and a commander of the army sent to fight him. Some of their soldiers bathe in a deep lake, but all tread water, so it looks shallow. The enemy soldiers charge them, fall into the deep water, and get stuck. Then the rest of the prince’s army sweeps down from the nearby hills, and an epic battle scene ensues.

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This was North Korean culture’s Helm’s Deep.

 Anyway, after the villain is vanquished, the hero (who now looks very similar to his old trainer), is celebrated, and no doubt lived happily ever after.

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Onto the shiny-covered new series now. The previous one was from 2006, but this one is a jump ahead, to 2010. It’s also the first of the ones with a Tokyo address in the copyright section.

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Clinical computer colouring

The title is 성기, which apparently means “Genitalia”, though Google Translate also suggests “Consecrated Vessel” or “Wedding Day”. It also asks if I meant to say something else, with a very obscene translation! Anyway, none of the suggested translations seems to really correspond to what happens inside, so lets just carry on.

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It begins with a messy photoshop, and an introduction which suggests it takes place in 108-109 BC. The Roman Empire was still a big power in Europe then! Though, in the east, China was in control, and Europe was all but irrelevant. Anyway, it seems to be another boy-and-girl-in-a-war story, though with fewer notable incidents I can really pick out. The first part, going purely on the pictures, is just a bunch of talking and battles. Without being able to read the text, it’s hard to tell which character is which!

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Anyway, eventually some rhyme-and-reason emerges out of it. A bunch of soldiers are fighting bandits / another army in a forest, when they are saved by a hail of arrows fired by a load of “ninjas” (though they’re probably meant to be Korean; Japan-Korea rivalry was nonexistent in that remote era, and even North Korean propaganda can’t pretend it was!). The leader of the ninjas is a woman, and the main guy falls in love with her. There appears to be some recap, where she almost commits suicide, but he talks her out of it.

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After that, there’s something about rebels laying siege to a castle, and political intrigue on the inside ending with the assassination of the king. This may be a flashback to explain why the girl is an exiled outlaw. Or it might be that her and the guy are in a rebel movement against the current king. Also, another woman gets killed in a battle, and apparently has a baby.

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The siege

Anyway, the rebels apparently capture the castle, but the leaders of the government flee, and are defeated in a bunch of smaller battles. The queen, or princess, gets an arrow in the eye, but still tries to take on her spear-armed attackers with a knife. Another guy finds her body, and rallies the remaining soldiers in a last battle against the rebels. The rebels win, and the girl holds up her baby (or, maybe the baby of the other woman, who was killed earlier) to the sun, no doubt to symbolise the world of peace and hope he can grow up in.

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Before the final battles. Note the Chinese character in the background.

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Last one! This one is from 2012, and looks a little less “wannabe Japanese” than the previous one. The characters do all have big, shining eyes, though. Some of the background scenery – rocks, trees, grass etc, is very well drawn. It’s called 봉선화 (Bongseonhwa), which apparently means “Touch-me-not”. That name does kinda make sense, when you look at the story!

 

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Anyway, the actual story is a bit Snow White-ish, only with some differences. The main character is this girl, who is being treated as a slave by some people. Maybe her parents, or maybe she’s adopted. Anyway, they keep punishing her for not working hard enough. She goes to a secluded place near a waterfall, and dreams about comforting a crying angel. Then wakes up, and finds a shining comb in the lake. She takes it to various people nearby, but it doesn’t belong to any of them.

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Meanwhile, her-slave driving owners continue to beat her…

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“And there’s no such thing as magic!”

She goes back to the cove, and meets the angel from her dreams. The comb belongs to the angel, but she tells her about her harsh life, and the angel lets her keep it. She combs her hair with it, and becomes beautiful. She goes about her work with a smile, which makes her mistress suspicious. Somehow she works out the girl has something valuable, and steals the comb while she sleeps – replacing it with a different one.

The next day, the woman accuses her of theft, using the other comb as “evidence”, she’s badly beaten, right in front of everybody, and left crying against some big pots. The woman then tries to use the golden comb, but it makes her more ugly, instead.

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Later on, some guy is leading the girl away with a rope (to stand trial for theft, somewhere?). She decides to commit suicide instead, so breaks free, and jumps off a cliff. Another guy rescues her, but she dies from her injuries shortly afterwards. I also think her real mother finally discovers her, just as she’s dying.

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Anyway, the people who saw her die make a big burial mound, and plant a flower in it, which grows tall and blooms. Then later an old man is telling some children the story, next to the flower. The book ends with a “moral of the story” summing-up page.

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Profound.

And that brings us to the end of my North Korean comic collection. This entry took ages to do, I’d better bung out some shorter ones, just to keep the blog going! As the Korea Book Centre has closed down, I don’t know if I’ll ever get any more, but I’ll have a scout around when I’m next around Hakusan, or Tokyo in general. Chongryon people are bound to have sold their books to second-hand shops at some point, right? (I did, also, ask the guy from whose blog I learned about the Korea Book Centre if he’d “rescued” any comics, when it closed down. But never got a reply. Annoyingly, it closed down on the day I was supposed to arrive in Japan, but my flight was delayed, so I was actually in Rome that day. Not that I went there on my first day!)

The new Doctor Who Adventures

Doctor Who Adventures (and it’s incredibly short-lived stablemate, Robin Hood Adventures) summed up everything that was wrong with modern British comics – characters imported from another medium, pages of filler pictures, terrible jokes and insultingly easy “puzzles”. Let’s not even mention the astronomical price, inflated by a bunch of cheaply-made toys stuck on the front. You’ll also notice I’ve left any mention of the comic strips until last – well that’s exactly how they were treated! A bit of penny-pinching filler, only shoved in so the publication can be branded a “comic”. They were no more than four pages, often just an extended joke, and ended with some terrible pun. Mind you, I once saw a website which listed every non-fanfic Doctor Who story, and apparently they did experiment with two-parters during the Ten/Rose era, but I never saw any of those.

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But NOOOWWW… There’s a new one! It’s been taken over by Panini, who also handle the reprinting of the Doctor Who Magazine comic strips. They also produce the UK editions of Marvel comics, which collect three American issues, about 3-4 months late, but for the price of 1.25 imported US comics. The new Doctor Who adventures is a big improvement in the most important area, it now has 9 pages of comic strip! Okay, they’re still a fairly fluffy story with a joke ending, but it’s a step in the right direction. At last, the UK has another ‘proper’ adventure comic which comes out every wee-er, wait a minute…

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Oh, okay then.

Oh, alright, they’ve gone and made it monthly. Still, comics. It also still comes in a bag, with a load of miscellaneous bits and pieces. This time round it’s a bunch of stickers, and what appears to be a notebook, with a 3D Cyberman on the front, plus some glasses. Surprisingly, they’re solid plastic ones, not the cardboard ones they used to give out when we had 3D nights on the telly (doubt there will be any more of those, though. Too many channels, not to mention that “wobbling” 3D thing).

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The issue opens with the depressingly-inevitable contents page. There ought to be a law against anything with fewer than 50 pages being allowed one. There’s also an introduction from the Doctor – promisingly, he actually uses words like “Disquiet”! I once read a blog, where some guy said he fed passages from The Magnet and The Gem into an “analyse your reading level” website, and it came back as “Master’s Degree”. Surely the twenties and thirties were not that long ago? Still, looks like his rantings were not entirely in vain!

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There’s also the first of a few puzzle pages, in the form of a message from UNIT. One of the puzzles is a “find the Cybermats” trail around the rest of the comic, as well as a series of “secret codes”, left by invasion-planning aliens.

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Somebody’s just discovered the Wingdings font!

Then, we’re on to the comic! It’s split into two parts (both in the same issue), and is set in modern-day India. It’s a more “serious” story than other DWA (or “Official Annual”, which I presume to be in a similar style. The 50th anniversary annual was pathetic – it should have been the size of a 30’s Chums volume, and had at least one novel-length text story) strips I have seen. The ending is still a bit coppey-outey, though. But I’ll carry on getting this for a few months, and see what else they do. Go on, do a proper serial, you know you want to!

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Oh, also, it features the current Doctor and Clara, as you’d expect. No flashbacks here! Clara also appears to have grown giant eyes XD. No doubt somebody’s describing it as “manga style”, as we speak.

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Yeah, look at those giant eyes.

The bulk of the issue is still filled with features and puzzles. Back in the day, Doctor Who Weekly (which is now Doctor Who Magazine) had features, too. But they were mainly intelligent text pieces about how the show is made – make-up techniques, how special effects are done, and so on. The DWA material is considerably more lightweight (though, come to think of it, if it gets more in-depth, behind the scenes, text-heavy articles, after having gone monthly, it will basically just be DWM 2!). There’s one section about the show’s current main characters, with mini-profiles.

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And also, a UNIT guide to monsters. This particular one’s home planet is so unknown, they had to tell us twice! It also has “advanced high tech” weapons – don’t miss anything, them UNIT guys! (Never mind, eh, it’s only for kids, after all. They probably won’t even notice, right?).

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Wait a minute – who is that, at the head of the school governors?

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There’s also a science page – with the old batteries-from-nails-and-lemons experiment. Nails, you say? But they’re sharp! And it asks the readers to cut the lemons! With a knife! There’s not even a “get an adult to help you!” warning, taking up a full quarter of one of the pages! That’s a big risk to take, in 2015. Shame we don’t have the judiciary the public clearly want, who will throw money-grabbing no-win, no-fee claimants out on their ears, eh?

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Where are you expected to get wire and an LED these days, though? The days of Tandy, and repairing electrical appliances rather than just buying a new one, are long gone!

There’s more puzzles, too. As well as more Zygon codes, there’s this one, harking back to the days of old DWM. Von Doogan it aint!

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Slightly better is this map reference hunt. In the old days, the black and white map would have had a colour picture of the TARDIS stuck on it, rendering the directions-following “puzzle” totally pointless. (A bit like “Where’s Dennis?” in the Beano a few years back. his vector face was photoshopped on to an old bitmap scan, and clearly stood out).

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After that, there’s something very unexpected, and very cool – a text story!! Sadly, it stars that Victorian trio who keep popping up on telly, but you can’t have everything. It’s three pages, but has very large illustrations, so is really more like one page. The illustration across the second two pages looks cool, but I can’t take a photo of that, it’d give away most of the story!

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There’s not much more to tell. There’s a “Who News” section, where the Doctor put in an appearance at the Doctor Who Experience in Cardiff, while three school parties just happened to be there (why, it’s almost as if they planned it that way). This page also promises a letters section, to begin in the next issue. Sadly, I expect it will be a two-page letters section, in a very large font, and the text stories will be obliterated. But I may be wrong – the next issue is actually out by now, so I could just go and check XD.

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The content is rounded out by a poster, which can be unstapled from the middle. It’s of the 12th Doctor and “Missy”, the Master “shockingly” regenerated into female form, which ceased to become shocking and became totally ordinary in the very next episode – no doubt to “soften the blow” for the upcoming female Doctor.

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Never mind eh? Sci-fi fans need no longer be the shows audience. In fact, the identity of “sci-fi fan” is dead.

This new comic now sits alongside a totally different, monthly Doctor Who comic which is also seperate from the “canonical” strips in Doctor Who Magazine. This one is published by Titan, who produce the UK editions of DC Comics such as Batman and Superman, as well as UK editions of IDW comics such as Star Wars (which I was buying for a short time, a few years ago). Titan’s comic is the UK edition of the American IDW Doctor Who strips and, as usual, is 3 issues worth (several months late) for £3.99. The individual US comics, bought in the UK, are about £2.99, so the new Titan version is better value… if you wait! Oh, also the pages are bigger.

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Also, it’s got the world’s most obvious name

This one has three US-length strips. One for each of the most recent Doctors (though a Ninth Doctor series is starting, across the pond!). The Twelfth Doctor is once again in India, this time in the 1830’s and 2310’s. There’s also hints at an (unseen?) Fourth Doctor adventure in the same country!

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I wonder how a scene of Britain in 2314 with an all-white family and two white cops would go down?

The Eleventh Doctor is in Britain, taking his new assistant to her favourite singer’s first-ever gig, only to find him a bit, well, disappointing. Then there’s a trip to 1930’s America, and Bessie gets a bit of an upgrade. Some alien has been “stealing people’s souls” in return for stage presence XD.

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The Tenth Doctor is in New York / an alien world full of invisible creatures who feed on positive or negative emotions. It’s getting near to some Hispanic version of Halloween, and everybody’s starting to feel depressed, as the negative emotion aliens are becoming more dominant… or something. I’ve not actually read this one yet. Better get to it! (also, I snapped two random pages, may be spoilers!)

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There’s also an additional photo-strip, made with toys. In which the Doctor jokes about a Cyberman made of wood, and thereby “triggers” an artist. Todays Doctor Who fans won’t like that!

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Of the two, I greatly prefer Doctor Who Comic, it’s all comic! But Doctor Who Adventures is better for really young readers. It’s not as dumbed-down as it used to be, so will help them to “read up” to the level of the Titan comic more quickly.

Midwife Maudie

Launched in January 2012, the show Call The Midwife has gone on to be a huge success in Britain, and is building up a good reputation abroad too. But, have any of you watched it and thought that it would be better if it also contained murder mysteries, and was set in a small village on the border of Wales, a decade further back in time? Well DC Thomson have you covered!

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I never actually noticed the cover photo changes until I get them all out to photograph XD.

This series of stories is published in the My Weekly Pocket Novel library, a small story-paper which comes out twice a month. For most of it’s life, it was “Commando” digest-sized, but, more recently (probably around April 2012-time, when Commando changed) became “paperback sized” (though still as thick as a Commando). More recently still, the series went ‘large print’, and became roughly the same size as “golden age” paperbacks from the 60’s to 80’s. The large print upgrade was probably necessary, as their intended audience is “mature”,  to put it politely.

The libraries are always about genteel, “innocent” romance, and are often set in the past. It seems like most of the stories are complete, too, though Maudie is probably not the only recurring character. When things like murder mysteries and quests for hidden treasure (well, flowers, as in the only non-Maudie one I have read) feature, it’s always as a secondary plot. I’m sometimes tempted to write one myself… though I doubt they will be interested in a romantic story between a white guy and a half-Chinese guy, who are being pestered by insane otaku girls in a university anime society. Oh well, I’ll do it as a “manga” instead!

But back to the Maudie stories, I actually bought the first one just as something to read while I waited for a job interview that I’d arrived an hour and a half early for (then sat in the car, wearing a suit, in blazing June heat. I still didn’t get it!). I’d also been listening to a lot of Much-Binding-In-The-Marsh (a late 4o’s radio series hosted by Kenneth Horne, who would later star in the legendary Round The Horne), so the late 40’s setting resonated with me. The four stories in the “first batch” take the reader up to the end of the 40’s, and Maudie’s marriage to the local policeman, Dick Bryant. The “second batch” is now underway, and these books take the stories into the “never had it so good” decade of the 1950’s. Though, in the early part of that decade, quite a lot of things were still on the ration. Book number 7 is going to be a Christmas Special. Snow on the logo is not expected!

 

The Midwife and the Murder

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Issue 1823 – June 2013

This opening story is set in 1947, a time when rationing was still in full force, new clothes, shoes and other items were virtually unobtainable (and if you did see them in the shops, they were labelled “For Export Only”, in the hope rich tourists would take them home!). Maudie is the Llandyfan midwife, but through the war has also been working as the local nurse, too. In an early part of the story she checks up on a boy with chicken pox, as well as looking in on a new mother, whose father wants the baby to be kept quiet at night, and accuses her of “sitting at home all day with nothing to do”!

The story opens with Maudie finding a murder victim on an isolated hill path, after having seen to a patient on a farm. She calls in Constable Dick Bryant, but has been reading a lot of Miss Marple, and wonders if she could have a hand in solving the case herself. At the same time, a little girl called Polly Willis goes missing, but turns up again – but, for some reason, she is too frightened to speak to anybody. There’s also a travelling salesman in the area – during the war, a young man who travelled around the country a lot, and was not in the army, was looked on with suspicion… but surely that’s all over, now?

 

Blood Lines

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Issue 1828 – Aug 2013

This one starts off with a woman who thinks she can remember a load of past lives, dating back centuries. There’s also a teen couple who have “got in trouble” and try to elope to Gretna Green in an old Austin Seven. Only to crash the car and cause the baby to be born prematurely. There’s also a spate of shoplifting, which is eventually traced to some young “Asylum Seekers”(or DP’s, as they were called at the time) living in a disused railway carriage. Also, a family who have been taking care of a war orphan for years have suddenly found out the girl has family in Australia, and will probably be sent away.

Meanwhile, there’s a village fete in the offing… and then the fortune-teller gets stabbed! The fortune-teller is also the sister of Mrs Blythe, the “reincarnated” woman. She immediately starts to think the murderer will come for her next, having been “nearly pushed into the river” recently (though it was more likely she slipped). It doesn’t help that the fortune-teller looks very much like her sister, and has been in America with a man involved in some sort of shady deals. Before long, the killer shows his hand again. But Maudie’s policeman friend, Dick Bryant, catches him in the act!

Maudie has problems of her own. The elderly doctor, who had come out of retirement in the war, is going back into retirement. A new man is coming into the district, and will take over Maudie’s “nursing” duties, though he also expects to be able to move into her cottage (which is actually council property), and acts as if everything’s already decided. Luckily another new doctor comes along, and decides he can turn his rich aunt’s old mansion gatehouse into a proper surgery. Oh, and, incedentally, Dick Bryant proposes…

 

Blood Money

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Issue 1834 – November 2013

The story begins with a conversation about the new doctor’s surgery. Apparently it has a “butler”, called Brian “Bingo” Munroe, who hasn’t been able to find a job since he left the army at the end of the war. As well as the snooty Dr Dean, there’s a Dr Lennox, and his “jilted fiancee”. Except they’d never been engaged in the first place, she’s stalking him and lying! Maudie is busy with wedding planning, when Dick suddenly reveals that he’s been selected to go on a special exchange course in Canada. If they get married quickly, she can go with him – but does she want to rush the wedding, and does she really want to go and live in a strange land (they have decimal currency!)?

Maudie and Dick postpone the wedding, and he sails off to Canada alone. When she gets back, she finds Dr Lennox’s non-fiancee has been lured to an isolated shack and bludgeoned to death! Obviously, everybody suspects the doctor, especially once the village gossips hear about the stalking. To make matters more confusing, a “suicide note” from the victim is posted to the local paper, though how she managed to hit herself on the back of the head is anyone’s guess. Later, Dr Lennox’s rich aunt makes an obviously-false confession, trying to protect her nephew. Of course, this just makes the police more certain he did it!

Eventually, Maudie stumbles on the real murderer, almost by accident. He traps her and an old lady in a house, but fortunately a man whose wife has gone into labour shows up and scares the killer off. He tries to get away in a car, but crashes it and dies.

 

A Face From the Past

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Issue 1838 – Jan 2014

This one’s a bit different, there’s not actually a murder in it! Dick is back from Canada, but has now been invited away to train to be a detective, though he could also be promoted to uniformed sergeant. Looks like the wedding is being put off again!

A new doctor comes to the area (after Dr Lennox left, due to the scandal around the murder in the previous book). This time his name is Julian Ransome – and he used to be Maudie’s boyfriend! He blew her off after she suggested marriage, then went off to North Africa during the war. Now he’s back, and practicing in Llandyfan. She is very nervous about meeting him – but he doesn’t seem to want to talk about the past at all, in fact, he looks right through her. She soon gets suspicious – is he even the same man?

 

Unholy Ground

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Issue 1849 – June 2014

This one opens with the wedding of Maudie Stevens to Dick Bryant, so she is now called Maudie Bryant. There was none of this intentional double-barreling in 1950,  though I doubt one of these books set in 2014 would feature characters doing it either. They’re escapism all right!

Anyway, the mystery in this book is more of a “cold case”. A young mother called Sheila Ramsay, driven to distraction by her crying baby and unhelpful husband, abandons her baby in somebody else’s pram, then walks home with her own empty pram. Was she so tired she wasn’t thinking properly? Or did she really mean to abandon the child? Maudie and Dick arrange for her mother to come and help with the baby, to the husband’s horror. He’s the bank manager, and claims to “be a personal friend of the chief constable!”. Though it’s more likely the chief constable is a customer at the bank, and the manager knows who to toady to.

Later on, a farmer ploughs up the skeleton of a dead baby in a field, surely Shiela Ramsay has not gone too far? Fortunately, it turns out the dead baby is 100 years old. Maudie decides to do some investigating, meeting the great grandmother of a baby she delivers, who talks about “the war we just had”. Except this turns out to be the Boer War, fought from 1899 to 1902! However, she then goes on to hint at the “poor baby” whose “bones were found after all”. Maudie does some more research and uncovers an account of babies born out of wedlock and being swapped, back in the early Victorian era.

There’s also a side plot about the council putting Maudie’s house up for sale. It comes with her job, and in those days a woman was expected to give up her job, once she was married. Maudie is still part time, but she and dick can’t scrape enough together to buy their own house – until a local woman discovers that her family have a power to veto the sale of certain cottages, given to them in celebration of Victoria’s diamond jubilee, in 1897. The removal of the stress related to moving house is pretty handy, as Maudie has been feeling tired and sick in the mornings. Considering her profession, it takes an embarrassingly long time to realise what that means!

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Fire in the Valley

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Issue 1858 – Oct 2014

Though this one is called “Fire in the Valley”, and the blurb says that a “mystery fire-raiser is causing havoc!”, the arson plot is actually kind of in the background, until right at the end of the story. The story begins with Maudie staying at home, because she’s pregnant, when an RSPCA flag seller comes to the door, he was taking a short cut across a bit of common land in the village, when he found a body! A dog alerted him to it, then followed him. The dog ends up living in Maudie’s house!

The victim turns out to be the milkman, who has been “courting” a similarly-aged woman in the village, who is actually his sister! Apparently there were three children, all separated at birth. The third one is still missing, maybe in Canada. The milkman had also apparently recognised somebody in a pub in the nearby town recently. A tale of a young man stringing a girl along, and vanishing with her money, during the war eventually comes out. All this happened over in Wales, so Dick is sent over there to make inquiries, and might as well take Maudie with him. They discover the identity of the swindler, but nobody knows where he is now.

After they get back, Maudie is doing something else and once again stumbles across the murderer, coming within an ace of getting killed. Luckily somebody sneaks up behind him with a frying pan! With that all straightened out, Maudie goes into a special maternity hospital to have her baby. She’s looking out of the window one night, and spots somebody sneaking around near the church outside – it’s the arsonist! He accidentally sets himself on fire when the police arrive, but they quickly put him out. The shock sends Maudie into labour, and by the time Dick gets back the next day, he has a son!

The next story is due out in early December, and is going to be a Christmas one, probably Christmas 1951 – still a time of rationing and austerity. I doubt the paper will have snow on the logo, though!

The Sexton Blake Library is back!

Normally, when you hear about a British comic being “back”, it’s either a point-missing American revival in which the main character is a psychopathic cannibal, a book of reprints, a one-off “funny” newspaper strip, or (in a depressingly-increasing number of cases) digital-only. Maybe even digital-only reprints, which are basically free to make and still sold for the thick end of a fiver. And people who are oh-so “aware” of “what’s going on in the world” lap it up. While, no doubt, sharing pictures on Facebook about how they don’t fall for “corporate propaganda”.

But when I say The Sexton Blake Library is back, I mean it’s BACK! New stories, printed on paper! Now, when the revival was first announced, I was hoping it would be this sort of size:

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And this sort of price:

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Was the announcement really that long ago?

And not this sort of size:

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And this sort of price:

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Well in size, it’s actually a hardback, of about these dimensions…

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And as for price…

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JESUS, IT’S TWENTY QUID!*

I was also hoping it was going to be sold in newsagents, perhaps near the My Weekly and People’s Friend story libraries, rather than in bookshops. But I haven’t seen it in either, it looks like it’s online ordering only, though it might turn up in bigger Waterstoneses. I’ll check when I go to London next… I just hope it’s in the Crime section, and not the Steampunk section.

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But anyway, on to the content! As I said, often, when we hear about a comic or character being “back”, it often turns out to be reprints. But the new SBL is really NEW, and begins with a story by Mark Hodder, who is already well-known in steampunk circles (as well as, erm, running the biggest Sexton Blake website!). Resisting the temptation to “update” the character, with, say, an alsatian and a black Tinker (Though I had a plan to do that myself, many years ago!), the new story reads exactly like an issue of the SBL would have eighty-something years ago. It even has an “introducing” blurb before the story – common in both the Sexton Blake Library and the weekly Union Jack.

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The story packs in all the usual Sexton Blake tropes – fiendish, untrustworthy master villains, disguises, escapes, sleight-of-hand trickery, betrayals and James Bond (or Captain Justice!)-esque “gadgets”, far in advance of the technology of the day. If that isn’t enough, the discovery of a priceless, bible-referenced treasure is slotted in as a mere scene-setter. There’s even an upper-class imperialist offering an actually-quite-convincing explanation of why the Middle East is always such a trouble spot! Remember, once upon a time, you could buy at least eight stories of this quality every month!

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The first story ends with a quick explanation of the origin of the main villains (also returning from old stories, though one of thier associates, “The Gentleman”, is a new character). We are then treated to a reprint of their very first story, originally published in The Union Jack, in 1922. It’s by G.H. Teed, regarded by many as the best Sexton Blake writer (he was quite the “character” himself. A biography would be very difficult to piece together, but would make interesting reading). To Mark Hodder’s, and the new Library’s, credit, the style and pacing of the story are almost indistinguishable from the brand-new one that preceded it!

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It retains the introductory blurb, and the sometimes-spoiler-tastic chapter titles. Unfortunately the illustrations are not reproduced. Shame, as they were almost certainly by Eric Parker, regarded by many as the best Sexton Blake artist! He’s certainly the one who gave him a defined image, anyway. It’s interesting to see the “origin story” of the three villains who we have just seen foiled in the main story, and it’s a great thriller in itself, though the ending is a little rushed. The Union Jack didn’t have a great deal of space, though!

The new SBL may be £20, but it is quarterly (for now…?), so you have time to save up. If every issue is of the same quality, it ought to do well! I do hope there’s stories set in several different time periods, though. In fact, I seem to remember hints that a story about “Silent Thunder” was going to explain how Sexton Blake, Tinker and Mrs Bardell lived right through from the 1890’s to 1960’s (and, unofficially, far beyond!) without ageing.  That story was going to alternate between the early 20th and 21st centuries. The one in this volume, though, is set sometime around 1928, and is more “straightforward”. As straightforward as you get with Sexton Blake, anyway!

* – Also, I’d ignore that “one left in stock” message. The much older Zenith Lives! book, from the same publisher, says the same, even though I bought “the last one” ages ago. Hasn’t stopped somebody trying to re-sell their “rare” copy for £3000, though!

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?

100th post, 100th Phoenix!

This week (well, actually issue 101 is on sale tomorrow), the best (only!) British weekly adventure comic reached it’s 100th issue! So, for the 100th ‘proper’ post on my blog (though there’s many other hidden ones which I keep half-written stories in XD) I thought I’d take a look back over it, and talk about what I have liked so far.

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The Phoenix was, of course, the successor to the DFC, which was cancelled after 43 issues. The DFC worked on a subscription-only formula, but The Phoenix is also (theoretically!) available in Waitrose shops. When that was first announced, I thought it was great, as I’d be able to go into Ely once a week on my way home and get it. Around about the time issue 3 was supposed to have been released, I’d not seen a single physical copy anywhere. Other people around the internet reported similar problems, with many staff (up to shop managers) not having the faintest clue what it was.

The problem has now been mostly solved, and the Little Waitrose in the centre of Cambridge now has it fairly reliably (they ‘only’ miss about one issue in every five, when I go in on Saturdays anyway. They probably have it out on other days). Ely Waitrose still rarely has it at all, then randomly puts out a few assorted old issues (still, I did get one I’d missed when my subscription ended there, by pure LUCK).

Subscribers also encountered problems. When I found myself unable to buy it, I subscribed “from issue 1” (as a lot of people did). Only to recieve issue 2 and onwards instead. I later phoned up and specifically ordered issue 1, but never recieved it (Waitrose eventually put the first 3 issues on the shelves at once, so I was able to get it that way). Still, my yearly subscription did come with a nice binder and 52 issues for £99. As the individual issues are £2.99, that’s not too shabby. Still, when I tried to renew my subscription in January 2013 it didn’t work at all, the money never left my account. I decided to keep buying it in Cambridge, as it would encourage the shop to keep stocking it, and then other people might find it too!

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The two binder designs

But on to the subject of the stories. One of my favourite items in The Phoenix is Corpse Talk, partly because it’s a short, one-off story (so I can read it in the qeue at Waitrose) and partly because it has loads of tiny panels packed onto the page but quite a few funny details, just like classic Jonah! In early issues it was one page, though it averages two now.

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However, the hilarious epic of Henry VIII’s wives was a whole four! Mind you, It rarely, if ever, gives specific dates for things, it’s also not entirely clear about what country the events are taking place in, either. Today I know that Rasputin and Catherine the Great were Russians, but when I was a kid anywhere between Germany and China might as well have been one huge country. (Oh wait, it was!). For some reason the characters all talk like modern Americans, too. Perhaps we’re supposed to see it as a sort of Jerry Springer show? (The Henry VIII’s wives episode even had security guards holding them apart XD).

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“I married my dead husband’s brother!”

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Pirates of Pangaea

The first “lead” story in The Phoenix was Pirates of Pangaea. This takes the advice of the “How to draw AWESOME comics” section and features pirates… riding on dinosaurs! Some of them ‘sail’ ships mounted on the back of big four-legged Diplodicus-like herbivores, whilst others ride velociraptors as if they were horses. Some have even mounted flying pteradactyl-type beasts!

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The story is set in 1717, and the main character is Sophie, a 12-13 year old girl who inadvertently tames a Tyrannosaur! She and Kelsey, a young cabin boy (who helped her escape from the first batch of pirates she encountered) are adventuring around the ‘sea of green’, the grasslands that cover much of the giant island of Pangaea. Sophie is supposedly trying to get back to her father, the British governor of the island, but they don’t seem to be in any great hurry XD. They run into several different pirate crews (many of whom end up being eaten) and go on quests for valuable treasure.

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At one point a blue-skinned native tribe think Sophie is a god, and give her pet tyrannosaur (named Cornflower… obviously) some golden armour!

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Another of the launch stories was Long Gone Don, by the Etherington Brothers. If you ask me, these guys are some of the best working in comics today, the writing and characterisation are great, with plenty of quick-fire gags and funny details. The art, though, is out of this world, there’s so much detail, and they love to cram loads of characters into sprawling top-down scenes.

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I beleive a lot of this is done with enhanced computer models these days, though in thier old self-published work, Malcolm Magic, they produced scenes that were just as good, but fully drawn. Don has so far had two series, where he’s stuck in the insane world of Broilerdoom amongst giant worms, insane dictators, stupid soldiers, genius squid(s) and many green people. The first story revolved around a rebellion against General Spode, which was so cool I even made a “VOTE SPODE” T-shirt to wear at the first Camcon in 2012!

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You can just about see it here XD (photo credit: Alan Baptiste aka Temphuibis)

Another of the recurring adventure stories centres around Zara and her friends. They are also children of around 12, only they live in modern-day, realistic London. In both of the stories that have so far been printed (Zara’s Crown and Zara’s Masterpiece), criminals force them to steal important works of art, in order to show up the government and cause political instability. MI5 are on the case, and believe that Zara and her friends are “infiltration specialists”. As nobody will suspect children of pulling off these amazing robberies, they have the perfect cover! This strip is by John and Patrice Aggs (husband and wife, or brother and sister, team?), and the artwork is in a very interesting style. At first glance it seems “unfinished”, with black lines missing and blocks of colour to ‘suggest’ detail, but the more you read it, the more used to it you get. It’s amazing how they can conjure up a crowded, detailed scene with only a few lines and blobs, a bit like Eric Parker, in a way!

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The same team do the on-and-off series called What Will Happen Next? Which is best described as a sort of “Where’s Wally Comic”, each one is a detailed scene with lots of stuff happening, but the same scene is repeated over several weeks showing how events unfold (one sequence in the first one was actually running backwards in time! Something a certain Doctor ought to look at).

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Interestingly, the first Phoenix folders (available alongside issue 1) featured a What Will Happen Next? series called something like “Crazy cook-off”, which has not yet appeared in the comic!

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Another regular adventure strip is Troy Trailblazer, a sci-fi strip. Dan Dare this ain’t! The artwork is pretty good (it would no doubt be described as “manga style”, by people whose sole experience of “manga” has been a quick flick in a book shop seven or eight years ago), but the first stories were a bit naff. Troy, who is none too clever, flies around in space with Barrus (a big cat-like creature who grunts, but is still smarter than Troy) and Blip (an intelligent robot who tries to talk them out of crazy schemes). They are usually trying to find some lost treasure or artifact, such a sword that is hidden in a temple built on the surface of a star (even the robot couldn’t work that one out). The early stories were also pretty anti-climactic. Later on, a big evil empire called The Scourge appeared, along with Troy’s ex-girlfriend. After this the stories got a lot better, at one point they even help a princess escape from bounty hunters XD.

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A common strip in early issues was Cogg and Sprokit, about a boy and a cynical hippo who search for hidden treasure. The first stories were quite short, but later some longer ones appeared. One of the first long serial ones incorporated a puzzle page too, readers had to work out the password to an underground temple themselves! The artwork in this is pretty good, but for some reason I don’t like it all that much. The villains (usually tattooed wolves with razor-sharp fangs and custom motorbikes) are much cooler than the heroes XD.

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Another one I can’t seem to get into is Useleus, which is based on an idiot in Ancient Greece trying to have adventures like the legendary heroes. He meets loads of characters who are from those ancient legends, though I’m not particularly interested in them, I only barely remember them from primary school (are they taught at all in state schools these days?).

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Also the stories are scribbilily “narrated” by his minotaur friend.

There’s also Sky Drifters, which is just plain wierd. It’s about a bunch of puffins who live on top of the clouds. The main character gets to the “cloud giving ceremony” late, and the only one left is a soggy rain cloud. He then sets off for various adventures, mainly short one-parters, though there was also a serial. This strip seems to be aimed at a younger age than some of the other Phoenix stories, but as the comic market in Britain has all but collapsed, they have to try and cater for a wider range all in the one.

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Simon Swift is yer usual epic fantasy adventure strip. I wonder if it’s intended to be The Phoenix’s equivalent of Mirabilis? It’s even broken up into “books”, which will presumably come out as hardback annual-size publications at some point. (speaking of which, surely Christmas 2014 will see the first Phoenix Annual?). It’s about yer usual party of adventurers trekking across a fantasy land, all of them bought together by some wierd symbol tattooed on their bodies. I’ve missed several issues, and then bought them much later from the website, so I’ve not really read much of this #o_o#. But it kind of reminds me of Naruto… though I only read the first book of that rubbish before giving up on it. Maybe it just reminds me of Naruto because they both have a ‘fiesty’ pink-haired girl? Simon also has a voice in his head which advises him in battles, a bit like Nikolai Dante’s crest. Perhaps it will turn out that actually the story is a board game and the voice is the player using Simon’s character… wait, was that Naruto or Bleach? This shonen battle stuff is all the same!

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In addition to these, there’s been a few “one-off” serial adventure strips. The first, and longest, of them was The Lost Boy, which began in issue 1. I didn’t think much of it, a boy who can’t remember who he is strolls around on an island with a ferret-like thing and finds pieces of a map. There’s also some shadow monster things. In the end he gets brainwashed, wakes up on a beach and starts again o_O. Also he talks stupidly.

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When my brother used to talk like this I used to slowly form a fist then punch him if he hadn’t shut up in time.

Much better than that was Cora’s Breakfast, about a girl who finds an alien cereal which gives her superpowers (a different one each time, like flight and gigantism). It also gives her dog the power of speech. She later meets the alien who lost it.

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Returning from the DFC, 1940’s canine cops Good Dog, Bad Dog have to solve a mystery in Hollywood (or Hollywoof?) surrounding the feuding Weiner Brothers. This story is full of great scenes and funny dog-related puns. Interestingly, in these days of other comics not putting a packet of sugar-free Haribo’s on the cover, lest they be accused of “promoting obesity”, Good Dog, Bad Dog features characters smoking and gambling!

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Though for biscuits, not money XD

My favourite of the short serials so far has been Secret of the Samurai. Apparently the main character, Julius Chancer, has been in a book before now. Anyway, it’s a ligne claire (aka “The Tintin style”, but fans of it don’t like it being called that) mystery story set in the interwar period. A woman hires Julius Chancer and his boss to track down a secret of ancient samurai armour which was once sold to Dutch traders and is beleived to have found it’s way to Britain. They think they have found it, but various items on it appear  to actually be insulting, or challenging, them to track down the real suit. The artwork on this story is great, with plenty of detail on the fancy buildings of pre-war London, and on the armour of samurai in flashbacks. There’s also an amusing sequence in an army barracks with a shouty sergeant-major XD.

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Set in the Victoria and Albert Museum, which ‘recently’ had a display of Eagle and related comics in one of the stairways.

There was also The Bald Boy and the Dervish, another ligne claire story set in an Arab country, where a boy tries to make the king smile. He also has the ability to shape-shift and turns himself into a rope, which secures prize animals his mother can sell. Until the “Dervish” (they are an actual tribe, you know XD) realises somebody is stealing his magic…

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And as well as those, there’s been plenty of much shorter adventure stories of only one or two parts, including The Girl with the Amber Eyes, The Heart Tree and, of course, The One About Chickens That I Can’t Remember the Name Of. These short stories tend to have different art styles. I suppose, like 2000AD’s Future Shocks, they’re being used to ‘try out’ new writers and artists.

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“Crybaby” wouldn’t look out of place in Japan’s “Kowai Paper” XD.

There’s a few other adventure stories I haven’t covered, like Nico Bravo (who works in the shop where legendary heroes, several from Ancient Greece again, get their supplies) and Haggis and Quail, who adventure around the world for, er, stuff. But I’ve either not read them, or they just don’t interest me. But they are there!

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Onto the comedy stories now, and one of the most common ones (probably been in every issue, now that I think about it) is Bunny vs Monkey. It’s by Dandykiller Smart, which probably tells you all you need to know. Though he does seem to have upped his game for this one, compared to his DC Thomson work.

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Anyway, it started off being about a monkey who thinks he has flown to another planet (he’s actually just been catapaulted over a hill) and wants to conquer it, so he fights Bunny, the “leader” (most intelligent) of the other animals. More characters have appeared over time, namely Skunky (who invents various huge machines to help Monkey) and Weenie (a very funny pig). The whole “conquering the planet” thing has kind of been forgotten now, and they just do stupid stuff. Another strip by the same artist, called Looshkin, has recently appeared. It’s like Simon’s Cat crossed with Maru on steroids.

My favourite comedy strip is Star Cat. This one also has characters made up of simple, brightly-coloured shapes. But instead of them going “I ate some PIE and then did a POO out of my BUM!”, it’s actually well-written and hilarious. It’s about Captain Spacington (a stupid hero), Plixx (a blob) and Robot_01 (just plain hilarious) attempting to do the simplest things, messing them up, then succeeding by pure luck XD. The Star Cat itself is piloted by a blue cat, who talks in random letters.

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One of the funniest-ever scenes in The Phoenix

Another common comedy strip is Gary’s Garden, about insects (and sometimes other animals) who live in a guy’s garden. This also reminds me of Simon’s Cat a bit, only with no cats, and the characters talk! There’s a fairly regular series about “the mimicry club”, for animals who look like other things. The first one of these had a leaf bug and a butterfly with ‘eyes’ on it’s wings talking, while sitting on a stick insect XD.

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More recent is Evil Emperor Penguin, about a penguin who wants to take over the world (he also ‘encourages’ people to subscribe on the back page, now and then). He is assisted by a posh octopus and many small furry minions. In one story he decides to impress people by becoming a hero instead, it doesn’t go well…

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There’s also Kit and Clay. The characters in this look very simple too, but some of the backgrounds are well-drawn and detailed (look at this museum!). These range in length from 1-4 pages, and only appear infrequently.

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Of course, one of the main selling points of The Phoenix for me (and only me, no doubt), is the fcact it contains text stories! Though they are usually only two page previews of children’s books. Occasionally an original story will be seralised. Both the previews and new stories are illustrated, though I doubt the illustrations appear in the books, when they come out.

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A lot of the originals seem to be on a ghost or monster theme.

More recently, the “Tale Feathers” section has been taken over by Charlie Small, a boy who keeos getting into wierd situations and escaping them. These are original stories, perhaps being serialised for book publication? I’m not really a fan – give us some Edwardian detectives! “Tone down” and serialise some Holmes if you have to XD.

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Several of the Charlie Small stories also come with cutaways of the machine featured in the story:

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Which brings us neatly into the educational part of The Phoenix. Of course, I’d much prefer if the cutaways were of real things, especially modern things that were not cut-awayed in either Eagle – like the Javelin train, Airbus A380, iThings and so on. Mind you, Eagle did do some cutaways of things from Dan Dare, and The Phoenix has done the same with Troy Trailblazer’s ship:

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One of the regular educational features of The Phoenix is Starborn. The first part of it was promoted as an epic adventure serial, but when it arrived it was just a one-part story about the first human to be born in space. She is found by advanced aliens to reveal “the secrets of the universe” to “the first starborn” of every intelligent species.

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It then became a series of ‘posters’ about space – including current space technology and possibilities for the future. It also features sections about speculative other planets, and the life forms that might live on them. Readers were encouraged to think of what conditions might be like on a planet, and the adaptions a creature would need to survive there.

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One of the more “grounded” ones.

The other main feature of the phoenix is the editorial, which also contains gag cartoons and short strips such as Planet of the Shapes. The editors themselves are characters, who occasionally show you around the “story labs”, and battle the villainous Barnaby Knowles, who wants to re-name the comic The Owl.

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A common feature early on was Elsewhere…, which has several funny ideas. Not all of them involving elephants called Nellie…

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I’m glad The Phoenix has raced past the milestone set by it’s older brother, and I hope that it lives long into the future. It’s not exactly the British adventure comic I’d make, given the chance (I’d have Zara in every issue, for a start XD), but it’s pretty good. You can subscribe (well, try to!) on www.thephoenixcomic.co.uk, or else try your nearest Waitrose, you might be lucky!

The Sexton Blake Library is coming back!

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I love Sexton Blake. An article about him in issue 232 of the Judge Dredd Megazine (May 2005, back when it was £4.50 for 100 pages of varied and interesting reading – it’s golden era) was what started me off on the path of collecting old British comics and story papers. A path which led to this blog, and to the creation of my own Boys’ Own comic (before that I’d been doing serial killer horror stories). In fact, my old comic blog, the Union Jack Index, was an over-ambitious project to catalogue and write-up every issue of the comic he made his own. Though I only actually managed to do about 5 issues!

Though Union Jack was his first permanent home, from 1915 onwards long, novel-length stories were also appearing in the Sexton Blake Library. This went through five distinct “series” from 1915 to 1969, though 1964 was an empty year, and the final books in the late 60’s were no longer explicitly part of the Library.

But now, there’s going to be a much-delayed sixth series! A company called Obverse Books have purchased the copyright from IPC, and plan to launch a new library! Presumably sometime this year, though the current press release carries little in the way of solid information:

http://obversebooks.co.uk/pr-sexton-blake-library/

Of course, we have heard of things like this before. For now, I’ll remain cautiously pessimistic. Though I am hoping we’ll be getting something like this:

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Which will cost in the region of this:

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And not something like this:

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Which will cost in the region of this:

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And I also hope that it will come out at least once a month (the number increasing if successful) and not 2-3 times a year. In the magazine section alongside 2000AD (or Commando!), and not with the books in the Crime section (or, worse, the Sci-fi and Fantasy section… or, worse still, the Steampunk section). And before anybody says the days of regular text-only pocket story papers are long past, well, here’s one I bought today, in Tesco of all places:

sbl-bk06£1.99 to prove a point… not sure I’ll bother reading it, mind you!

Still, despite my expectations of disappointment, I’ll try to keep an open mind. I might even try submitting a certain story idea myself! I think it’s “just supernatural enough” for the Sexton Blake series (why no, n00b, those Scooby Doo-esque Valiant strips are not representative of  of the Blake saga, in fact they’re amongst the worst stories it ever produced. That picture on Deviantart where he’s being menaced by a mummy has massively missed the point too), and would also tie in with the old Captain Justice stories. If there’s any chance of it, I’d love to become a member of the ‘slightly raffish’ club… Though I have “published” Sexton Blake stories before, it won’t really count until they are printed by a proper printer’s, not my laserjet… and are bought by somebody who isn’t my mum!

Strip Magazine is BACK!

After a difficult birth and an even more difficult “childhood”, with waits of many months between some issues (and the entire consignment of one issue, which ended up being ‘combined’ with another, going missing in Italy. Anybody who finds those ought to hang on to them, might be worth a bit in years to come!), Strip Magazine has now finally reached UK Newsagents!

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The occasion is marked with a new first issue, which has an entirely new look and several new stories, though others are being reprinted for the benefit of new readers.

nstrip02The issue opens with the customary Cosmic Patrol strip. This is one that has not been seen before. I don’t know if they’re reprinted from somewhere else, but the artistic style suggests franco-belgian to me, as do the “strange” sound effects.

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In the same manner as 2000AD and The Phoenix, they have gone for a fictional editor to introduce the comic. In this case, an educated ape! (I wonder if it’s one of the apes from that Not-I-Spy-Honest strip in the original version? XD).

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The new “lead” strip is a re-creation of DC Thomson’s hero King Cobra! They kept this under their hats, I remember it being announced not too far in advance of the release date. I was worried they’d do the usual hatchet job, turning him into a “Patriotism as She is Spoke”, over emotional character who would be dropping to his knees and screaming “NNNOOOOO!” all the time. I voiced these concerns on a forum and got the usual response of “the character needs to be modernised”. For modernised, read americanised.

BUT, so far anyway, they have actually done a decent job (though he does shout “No!” in a speech bubble with a red outline). The new Cobra is the usual martial arts expert loaded with gadgets, such as wrist-mounted arrow firers and limited invisibility. He is also in contact with a woman “in the background”, monitoring CCTV images and police radios, which at least means he isn’t talking to himself XD.

Several references are made to “the old Cobra”, and the introduction blurb states that the original Cobra disappeared in 1982 (the year Hotspur was merged into Victor XD). The villain of the strip (costumed dictator of his own nuclear-armed country, no less!) recognises him too. There’s an interesting backstory here, and I for one can’t wait to read it!

One quirk of the original King Cobra was that his “human form” was really clumsy. I expect this aspect will be “modernised” (removed entirely), but Strip often gives me pleasant surprises. Mind you, the clumsiness wasn’t seen in all the old King Cobra stories. I didn’t know about it until I saw a reprint of one of the weekly strips in Classics From the Comics. It’s not mentioned at all in some annuals!

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KTHOOOM again

Black Ops Extreme also returns, in a brand new story! I think this is actually the best one so far (though the Embassy Siege one was good too). Though this “continues” from the old Strip Magazine, the stories are all more or less complete in themselves. The overall plot (disgraced former special forces soldiers have to undertake suicide missions for pardons) is pretty easy to grasp. No doubt it will slowly work towards them all being betrayed, almost killed, then escaping and going on the run XD.

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To reiterate – A BOSNIAN CARES MORE ABOUT BRITISH COMICS THAN BRITISH PEOPLE.

Next up is the Comic Cuts article, with news about what’s happening in the British comics ‘scene’. Of course, the biggest news at the moment is Strip Magazine itself! They talk about the origins of the UK version, the titles Print Media already publish in Bosnia (including Strip Magazin) and the endless troubles the test issues faced with customs. Hopefully things are smoothed over and the new version will reach shops in a timely manner, though as I write there have been some problems with subscriptions.

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Next is the fantasy story Crucible. This is quite confusing to begin with, lots of characters and elements of the world to take in at once (anybody else who is going to do one of these ought to read early Long Gone Don in The Phoenix, Broilerdoom is very strange, but introduced in an easily-understandable manner). Anyway, the story opens with the main character, Sylvana, looking for a job. She ends up being recruited with the usual motley crew of adventurers who are off on a quest. Then they get into a fight, with another crew of adventurers, whose “job” they “stole”!

Sylvana appears to have been punched in one eye, and it’s closed. But we don’t see the punching happen, is she perhaps blinded in one eye, and always has it closed? One of my friends is blinded like that, so I notice these things.

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Other artists draw both eyes… but then so do my friend’s fans XD

nstrip09Black Dragon is another reprint, but this time in colour! And it’s going to be continued, too. It’s set in an alternate steampunk(sigh)-ish world. Though it’s 2012 in this world, it’s all steam-powered airships, elaborate braid-covered uniforms and monarchies. This story was originally a one-off, but is now going to be continued!

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Strip Magazine also carries interviews with writers and artists, much like the Judge Dredd Megazine. Here Richmond Clements is interviewed about his work on Black Ops Extreme and Black Dragon, as well as work further afield. He also edits the 2000AD fanzine/comic Zarjaz, and helps to run the Hi-Ex convention.

nstrip11Next up is Denizens, an “eco” story which is also reprinted from the old Strip Magazine. There the first two installments were presented as a complete(ish) story, but now we have the first one repeated again. Unlike a lot of these stories, it actually has a scientific background and isn’t all about rune magic and leylines (which were actually dreamed up in the 1920’s, anyway). After a deforestation protester’s wife is killed accidentally, he creates a formula which causes rapid plant growth, then spreads it around the world, so nature can reclaim the cities.

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Books Spotlight primarily focuses on the books Print Media are producing. This one talking about Frontier, which I believe originally appeared in The DFC. They are also releasing Mirabilis (another DFC one?) and The Iron Moon in book form. Though some other DFC stories are collected in their own DFC Library book line. Hopefully a Phoenix Library is not too far away!

nstrip13After that, the final adventure strip for this issue, Warpaint. This IS the sort of rune-magic eco-mysticism that has terminally infected 2000AD (A “department of magyick” even showed up in Judge Dredd). Fortunately in Strip Magazine it’s safely quarantined in the one story. This is also a reprint, which ran through several of the old issues, but has re-started for the new version. Oh well, I suppose it will hook the 2000AD readers.

nstrip14On the back cover is Bogey Man Bob, another comedy strip, and another repeat, but a good one! And it is, of course, a strip on the cover (though The Beano currently has cover strips too, in a “new retro look”. Just like the “new retro look” they tried last year XD).

Strip Magazine is a bold attempt at launching a new comic into a country that has largely given up on them. It can be found in most of the larger WH Smith branches, as well as some comic shops and smaller ‘general’ newsagents. They maintain an informative web presence and always keep fans updated on distribution and delivery problems, as well as listing shops where the comic may be bought:

http://stripcomicmagazineuk.blogspot.co.uk/

There’s also a digital version for iThings, but no decent person is going to be lowering themselves to that, are they?

The new press regulations

New press regulations going through parliament will apparently force newspapers to make their stories “factually accurate”. While some may see this as a blow to free speech (opinion-as-journalism is a long, if annoying, tradition that’s almost as old as British newspapers), we may be able to turn it to our advantage. On what subject are the papers, even (sometimes especially) the “quality” papers, constantly spouting ill-researched, lazy nonsense, safe in the knowledge they will never be challenged?

bcomicoverI took this picture ages ago, for a totally different purpose, but it will suit…

Apparently papers found to have been lazily mouthing off with the first thing they thought up will be fined up to a million pounds (though no doubt that will only happen in severe cases of “he hasn’t been convicted of anything, but look at him, he’s probably capable of it…”). No doubt the money will just go straight to the government, but it would be nice if a paper jabbering “The Dandy cost 2p and was the first comic with speech bubbles” was forced to pay a million quid to The Phoenix, allowing them to launch a second title (if only to run it for 22 issues then do a “Great news inside, chums!”).

But enough jokey wishful thinking, every fan of British comics ought to rally around the flag, and start going through any comic related articles with a fine tooth comb. And as for any tabloid journalists who end up here in the course of their Googled-during-tea-break “research” (try looking at the original comics themselves, eh?), I have only this:

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