Stan Dare: Boy Detective

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Could he have been the grandfather of the famous Dan? Well his adventures were began in the Amalgamated Press story paper Pluck in 1903. And the descendants of Amalgamated Press eventually came to possess Eagle too!

Pluck was a paper that was founded in 1894, and was in a similar style to the Halfpenny Marvel and Union Jack, 16 half tabloid pages for a halfpenny. The other two began with a complete story and an editorial page (occasionally less than a page), I presume Pluck was the same. However by 1903 all three featured a complete story and 1 – 2 serial stories. In these issues of Pluck (I have the first 6 months of 1903) there are two serials running, the “newer” one being given longer installments than the “older” one.

Pluck’s complete stories, whilst being complete in each issue, were also organised into loose ‘series’ with recurring characters, and that is the form in which Stanley Dare appeared. I own the first five stories, though his adventures appear to have continued sporadically into at least 1911. All five of these first stories appear to be written by Alec G. Pearson (though the first is uncredited) and feature a few recurring characters. Apparently in later stories he was helped regularly by a Professor MacAndrew, though that character does not appear in these five.

The five stories are also a fantastic microcosm of the tropes of the detective stories of the day. Our hero roams around “large, old fashioned houses” with “queer, rambling passages”. These regularly burn down, their “elderly timbers” being “as dry as brushwood”. We meet a young apprentice criminal who wants to go straight, we sneak into the meetings of masked and robed secret societies. Stan is flung from a speeding train, trapped in endless secret chambers and drowned in a murky swamp yet always shows up in time to frustrate the villain’s plot. Not bad for somebody who today would only have been out of school a year!

The Shadow of Guilt – Pluck issue 431, 23/02/1903

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“Pluck” is an old-fashioned word for bravery

Stanley Dare is  a clerk at the Capital & District bank when we first meet him, he is falsely accused of stealing a large quantity of money from the vault of the bank, having been the only person to be left down there on his own. However most of the managers and staff don’t really believe he is guilty, but the evidence is too strong. They don’t press charges in the hope he can get a job somewhere else. He decides to do some detective work and try to discover the real criminals.

He investigates the vault and finds footprints that are made of clay, as you’d find on the shoes of somebody who had been digging a deep hole. He searches the surrounding area for evidence of digging, but can’t find any. Then he spots a man with the same sort of clay on his boots and follows him. This man goes to a house, then appears at the window looking completely different! He must have been walking around in disguise, which nobody honest would be doing.

Stan sneaks into the empty house next door, and discovers that the criminals have found an old Roman aqueduct under their house, and are using it to get around London unseen. He makes his own way down into the aqueduct, but the rope he is using snaps. He then blunders into an ancient well but is rescued by a mad old man who also found his way down there somehow. This man then leads him right into the clutches of the criminals!

The criminals know who he is, but ask him to join them, because he knows about bank vaults and their locks and so on. He pretends to be considering it, while they make a plan for a second robbery on the Capital & District. Then he smashes the lamp they are using in the room (which is an ancient and dried-up Roman bath) and escapes.

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That could be an ancestor of Judge Dredd in the black hat!

Stanley runs around the tunnels for a while, but is trapped in a dead end, which was once a secret room. The criminals shut the door and leave him to starve. However the ceiling has fallen in and he is able to escape back to the tunnels after many hours of crawling. He then creeps up into the criminal’s house and out into the street. He tells the managers of the Capital & District of the coming robbery, and the criminals are caught in the act. The inspector who had originally arrested him helps him to set up as a private detective.

Shadowed! – Pluck issue 435, 28/03/1903

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Hey modern American comic makers, THIS is how you do a cover!

A man called Harper Wayne receives a coded letter in a mysterious manner, and then loads of people try to kill him. His cousin, who looks similar to him, is murdered. He had given this cousin a little watch chain ornament he had found, a black snake. Stanley realises that the coded message belongs to a gang called “The League of the Black Serpent” (NB – Actually this name is not used in the comic, but is far cooler than just “The Serpent Gang”, which is!). All the police forces of Europe have been trying to capture this gang, but none have succeeded.

Stanley decodes the message and finds it relates to a secret meeting, which he attends in disguise. The League all meet in black masks and hooded robes. However when “too many” members show up Stanley is exposed, but is able to brand a man with a red-hot poker before he escapes. Oh and the house is set on fire in the initial struggle and burns down.

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For a while at primary school a load of us wanted to be “gangsters” (inspired more by Grease than gangsta rap). We ought to have called ourselves The League of the Black Serpent!

He later tracks the branded man down on a train, but the man see’s through his disguise. After a struggle over a poison dart gun Stanley is thrown off the train, directly into the path of another! The League arrive at their destination. Walsingham Grance, which they intend to rob. They creep in and, having overpowered a man sleeping in the same room as the safe, are about to finish him off when Stanley shows up with a posse of constables!

Stanley had escaped by twisting as he fell, and then had laid huddled up between the two rushing trains. As he goes to walk out of the tunnel he was dropped in, he finds the poison dart gun. It’s handle is a storage compartment which contains a piece of paper with a message relating to “the broken post”. By some contrived luck he discovers that there are some valuable diamonds at Walshingham Grange, he also discovers a broken post nearby and is able to ambush the Serpents. Their leader, Michael Scarfe, escapes at the last minute. He says he’ll meet Stanley again, but doesn’t in any of the stories I have.

The Vanished Heir – Pluck issue 437, 11/04/1903

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The amount of clinging fog rolling across the scene is left for you to imagine.

The description calls this “The Boy Detective’s Strangest Case”, actually it’s probably his most ordinary one! Colonel Thurston calls Stanley in when his son mysteriously disappears. He was dressed in a fancy costume for a party, but a servant claimed to see him in the grounds dressed normally only a few minutes after he was last seen, which is impossible. The colonel leaves and Stanley returns to his room (which is in a “rambling” and “old fashioned” hotel). He spots a shadow and a secret panel in the wall, somebody had been listening to the meeting!

He visits the colonel the next day, and that man says he was attacked while driving home from the hotel, but drove off his assailants. They then investigate the grounds and Stanley discovers and obvious clue, one that the original searchers ought to have found. It seems that the missing son was still in the house to start with, and was taken away afterwards. They walk further and see an old mansion which is now being used as a school. The headmaster passes by, Stanley notices strange dust on that man’s clothes. He decides to investigate the school later that night, but is tricked into an old shed, knocked out, and thrown in a nearby stagnant pool.

The story then switches to a school story for a bit. A new boy called Samuel Flopp arrives at the school, which is not a very good one and rife with bullies. The new boy beats up most of the bullies single-handed, which earns him respect from the other pupils. After being at school for a while he goes for a midnight wander to an unused, forbidden wing of the mansion. There he finds somebody is being held prisoner. He is almost caught by the one other teacher, but escapes into the night.

Later Stanley is back at the colonel’s house, explaining that he landed on an old tree that was submerged in the pond, and his dog rescued him. He also says that the colonel’s new footman, who claimed to see his son in the garden on the night of the disappearance, is one of the villains! They surprise this man as he is trying to destroy some evidence, and he is arrested.

Samuel Flopp shows up at the school assembly the next day, and accuses the headmaster of being a kidnapper! The police them march in and Samuel Flopp is (surprise surprise) revealed to be Stanley Dare! The headmaster ruses off to murder his captive, but Stan is quicker because he rushes around the outside of the building and climbs a ladder into the room where Harold Thurston is held. He arrives just in time to save him from the headmaster, who throws a bottle of chemicals onto the floor that burst into flames.

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The headmaster goes mad and then collapses on the fire. Stanley picks up Harold, shoots the lock off the door and collapses into the arms of the policemen, waking up again outside as the burning school collapses.

The Crimson Clue – Pluck issue 438, 25/04/1903

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More secret rooms and trapdoors

A farmer called John Norton brings Stanley a note he found tied to the foot of a pigeon. It is addressed to the boy detective by a dying man, and is written in his own blood! The man writes that his daughter is in peril and mentions a grey house. He also says he has been mortally wounded by “an awful, unaccountable thing”, adding to the mystery.

Stanley and the farmer track down the rough direction the pigeon came from, and walk until they hit upon a village, where a badly-mauled body has just been discovered. The victim appears to have been bitten in the throat by some sort of huge wolf, yet there are no tracks of such a creature. Stanley does, however, find horseshoe-shaped impressions several hundred yards apart along the road. Tracing these back he finds a grey house occupied by a Mr Moreland, and tricks his way inside past the hideous, hunchbacked servant. The pair hear a girl’s scream, but Mr Moreland says it was actually a Hyena that he keeps as a pet. Stanley notices revolvers bulging in the man’s pockets and they leave.

At midnight he and John Norton return and break in. They sneak into the cellars, but are suddenly dazzled by a bright light. Moreland and his servant are behind it, covering them with revolvers. However the current is interrupted and Stanley and John run further down into the cellars, where they are attacked by huge wolves. They fight these off, but are shut in the cellar.

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Screentone!

John Norton says he could easily break the door down, but then a panel opens and a gun is fired through it. John is wounded and Stanley, dodging, trips a secret trapdoor and falls into a deeper cellar with no exit! He is knocked out, but comes around many hours later and finds a note from Mr Moreland, saying he likes to keep people down there to see how long it is before they go insane. Stanley spends the whole day there, but when the servant comes to feed him he pulls that man down through the trapdoor, and climbs out.

He explores the house, and while looking through a window spots a huge bat-like creature landing in the garden and walking into the house. He hides as it passes him. He then steals some food, and also some “queer-looking apparatus”. Then he comes across John Norton, who is locked in a room but not badly injured. Together they rescue the woman, Marguerite Woodward, and escape the house.

By the time they have got the police, the criminals have discovered the prisoners have escaped, and have escaped themselves. However Stanley tracks them down to a dodgy guest house in London’s docklands where they are arrested. He explains that the “awful, unaccountable thing” that had been murdering people in the district of the grey house was Moreland, using spring-loaded shoes and bat-like wings to glide with.

The Clue of the Painted Face – Pluck issue 442, 16/05/1903

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Stanley is accosted by a Ramsay Marshall whilst out walking. Mr Marshall has been expecting a Niece, who he has never met or seen, to visit from Australia. However when her ship arrives he is told she left it in France, since then she has vanished. Then suddenly he gets a letter in her handwriting, telling him to go to a house in a run-down district. He does and finds a woman in a trance. He rushes out, runs into Stanley Dare and returns, only to find her missing!

Whilst the pair are looking around the room a painting is removed into the wall and a ghastly, corpse-like face stares out at them. Suddenly all the candles go out and by the time they are re-lit, the face has disappeared. Mr Marshall leaves the house, whilst Stanley searches further. He discovers a secret room, leading off from the room where the woman vanished. He climbs down into this and discovers an obvious secret door with a button to press, however the button is a trap, and a mechanical claw grabs his arm!

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Is he supposed to look Chinese or Jewish?

The man of the corpse-like face emerges from the shadows, and prepares to kill Stanley with a blow-pipe. However Stan has been fiddling with the secret door mechanism and it swings open, blowing out the candles. Stanley escapes through into the next room, which is a cellar with a window, and from there into the yard. He finds a lost wallet as he makes good his escape.

The next day he returns with John Norton, that worthy man itching for a rumble. The house is apparently back to normal. Suddenly “the real owner” walks in and threatens to call the police. Stanley tells him to go ahead as “we are anxious to meet with your late tenant, who took a great deal of trouble to try and murder me last night!”. No more clues can be picked up at the house, so Stanley then tracks down Jim Slideaway, the owner of the lost wallet. It was he who, whilst trespassing in the back yard of the house to find something to steal, was given the note by the captive woman.

Stanley then tracks down the man of the painted face and the woman to a seaside village called Rottingdean. This “old eccentric and his invalid niece”  are looking for a housekeeper, which job Stanley’s landlady Mrs Bowen applies for and gets. Slideaway Jim is posted in a tree outside the house, and Stanley soon has confirmation that these are the people he is looking for. However the man with the painted face, now “Doctor Marengo”, visits him in another disguise, as “Reverend Ingram”. The worthy reverend is going to prick Stanley with a poisoned needle hidden in a cigar case, but it is stolen from his back pocket by Jim, who is hiding in the cupboard.

John Norton is called in, and together they kidnap Ann Parsons, the mystery woman’s jailer. They then rescue her. As Stanley goes to leave the house he runs into Doctor Marengo, who throws a jar of chemicals to the floor, which burst into flames. Stanley, probably muttering “not again”, daringly escapes the blazing building and Doctor Marengo is consumed in the flames. The mystery woman turns out to be Violet Forsyth, the missing Niece. Doctor Marengo had planned to use her, in a hypnotised state, as a sort of remote control burglar. She is restored to her family, who also give Slideaway Jim the chance to “go straight”, working on their farm.

A Wartime Christmas

1940! Four digits written in fire on the pages of our history, Britain entered that year apprehensive about the “phoney war” and left it wondering if she’d ever see 1942. Large parts of our cities were rubble and the families of many a soldier and airman spent Christmas dinner with an empty place at the table.

However, in the middle of 1939 when these annuals were being prepared, it was still just a number. And for the children reading their new books on this day 72 years ago they were a welcome look back into times of peace.

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 Though they’re both in remarkably good nick I actually got them months apart from different places!

One annual for boys and one for girls. Both from the same publisher and with a remarkably similar style of contents. They’re also very good value with over 200 pages each (paper rationing had not yet begun). Of course they’re full of text stories, reading two of those probably takes as long as reading the whole 2012 Beano Annual! And from the sound of things the Beano and Dandy annuals this year are actually thicker than the average size, which is 64 pages. 64 pages! That’s a jumped-up monthly magazine! Something ought not to have the right to call itself an annual with anything under 100.

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Tell your friends… NOW!

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The girls get a double-page contents with pretty illustrations.

Both annuals also have an introduction from the editor of their respective weekly comic (a thing unheard of today, though ask me again if Commando decide to do annuals again. Today “The Editor” would at least use their real name mind you) and extra illustrations around everything. Then we’re on to the stories, with block illustrations in line or grey washes. These washes look magnificent.

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Not always of the most dramatic incidents in a story, mind you.

The Champion was primarily a sport-themed comic that ran from 1922 to 1959. It might be considered a forerunner of the sport-themed comic (with strips, not completely text!) Tiger , into which it was eventually incorporated. As well as sport it also included a few stories of war or adventure (most famously Rockfist Rogan, a fighter pilot who was also a boxer!). This particular story starts off the annual with a mystery about a “monster” seen in an estuary near a navy base. Why yes you have guessed that it’s a submarine! The opening illustration to the story even features some very German-looking men being punched. The story does not mention the nationality of the spies operating the sub, mind you.

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The Schoolgirls’ Own Annual, in the tradition of British Annuals, was named after a publication that was already defunct. The Schoolgirls’ Own ran from 1921 to 1936, featuring stories of Morcove School. This was a girl’s school close to St Jim’s from The Gem, as Cliff House (home of Bessie Bunter) was close to Greyfriars (home of Billy Bunter). Comic cross-pollination is older than you think!

This opening story is also set in a public school (though not Morcove… in fact I don’t think any of the stories in this annual are!) and features a tangled mystery involving a young new girl, a bully, a wrongfully-expelled heroine and mysterious thefts. It’s a real page-turner though the solution to the mystery (and exposure of the real thief) is very cliche’d.

Other styles of story include tales of dancers and amateur theatricals…

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Clickety-click

Both annuals cram in plenty of school sports…

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You could just say “The Summer Game” and “The Winter Game” back then!

In the Schoolgirls’ Own we get an amusing comedy-of-errors story with plenty of characters all misunderstanding one another (an actress disguised as a schoolgirl fails to realise she’s insulting the headmistress of the school, for instance!).

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The Champion, in it’s run, produced two detectives in the mould of Sexton Blake. In the beginning there was Panther Grayle (an article in the 1925 Champion Annual states he has very nearly acheived the same level of fame as Blake… among the staff of The Champion maybe!) and later on there was Colwyn Dane, assisted by cockney lad Slick Chester. This story for 1940 appears to be yer usual Scooby Doo-style tale of a fake ghost intended to scare people away from a treasure (I haven’t completely read either book yet!). Colwyn Dane continued in Champion Annuals into the 1950’s, the paper became even more sport-oriented after the war, and the stories reflected that – he would go undercover in a county cricket team and so on.

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This reminds me of the style of one of the earlier Commando artists…

Finally mention should be made of a war story featuring air raids from the end of the Champion Annual. Something for the boy hiding in the family shelter to think over as the Blitz began, perhaps…

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Now here’s the sort of scene that’s supposed to be in the illustrations!

Both annuals also feature articles. Most of the articles are also loosely written in the form of stories (what would have been called “chatty” in the 20’s and early 30’s)  that contain advice. In The Champion we have the rules and terminology of Baseball, supposedly introduced to an English public school by an American named Cornelius T Pepperjohn. While Americans probably usually assume Cricket is “the British version” of Baseball, in fact Rounders is a lot closer. However from what I remember of Rounders at primary school it’s not as “organised”, has more “bases” and different rules. Though that might have just been my primary school!

I do seem to remember playing a lot of Baseball at secondary school, mind you. Of course we didn’t have a proper field for it, they never even bothered to paint a diamond (there was easily enough room for one though, that school’s field was vast). I think it was just an excuse for our PE teacher to shout “Strike 2… he could be in trouble!” in a ridiculous American accent.

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Also our school’s “catcher’s fence” was “my face” usually.

Of course in those days every boy knew all about Football, so a ‘story article’ about that concentrates more on tactics, organising training and the importance of selecting team members based on ability, not friendship!

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How many schools really appointed an ex-international as their coach? Even in those days of capped salaries?

Meanwhile on the girl’s side there’s an article about what to do when invited to a dance. The girl in question gets a fashionable dress… by altering one she already has with new bits of material. She can’t afford a fashionable handbag either, so creates a matching one for her dress from scratch, using a handkerchief and ribbon! The only new thing she buys is tights… could you imagine a girl’s annual suggesting altering and making things yourself these days? And remember this article was written before rationing!

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“I might go and work in Singapore dontcha know. I’ll be well away from this Hitler business out there…”

There’s also more conventional articles with short sections containing useful information. For the girls there’s suggestions for hobbies and crafts… including plenty more making of your own clothes.

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Everybody collected stamps back then. Everybody. It’s amazing there was enough left for posting letters.

And for the boys, advice for doing odd jobs around the house. The very idea of a book aimed at children these days talking about replacing fuses and fighting minor house fires! They’d never print that sort of thing today… and that means that we’ve lost something, quite frankly.

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 “Most people fly into a panic and forget the number for the fire brigade” in my admittedly limited experience.

Interestingly there’s also an article about Speedway, from 1939! I was under the impression it didn’t arrive in Britain until the late 40’s, having originated in Australia. In fact the editorial in issue 4 of my Red, White & Blue said as much… oh well, lucky it’s going to be re-launched!

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2 wheels, no brakes, aeroplane fuel. What could go wrong?

And finally, the back covers, both containing adverts for the weekly publications that the annuals are associated with… in the customary style!

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Who cares about actual speed, bikes like that look faster than modern ones!

Armistice Union Jacks

For nearly a decade after the end of the First World War it was hardly mentioned in British comics. Any war stories were either set further back in time (for instance the Afghan wars), or else were about fictional conflicts set in the near future. Often against made-up countries presumed to be in some part of the dismembered Austro-Hungarian empire.

However by the second half of the twenties stories and articles about the war gradually crept back in. The Union Jack in November 1926 was one of the leaders of this trend with a series of three plates celebrating the armistice.

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I only have two of the issues though!

Normally I don’t care about gifts with comics. I buy them for the art and stories alone, in fact I prefer comics without their gifts because they are usually far cheaper! I got the first issue of the re-launched Wizard from 1970 for a tenner that way. But I made an exception when I saw the first of these pictures on sale…

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Wonder if this has been reproduced anywhere else?

The plates are accompanied by brief articles about them. These also contain plenty of reminders that no other paper has ever made such an amazing offer at the price, that demand is high and that a regular order should be placed. You’d think The Dandy would try this in these days of ‘pester power’ eh?

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They also contain previews of the next plate

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And remember that regular order!

The three issues are bumper numbers in other ways too. They feature the start of the serial The Three Just Men by Edgar Wallace. This was considered so important that the first two parts (and maybe more) take precedence over Sexton Blake and appear right at the front!

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I doubt that happened with many other serials.

The Three Just Men is the sequel to 1905’s The Four Just Men (yes the Four came before the Three, for reasons that will be obvious if you’ve read the first one XD). It features a group of highly skilled gentlemen who publicly sentence people to death and then carry out the promised assassination by some clever trick. Just like The Deathless Men and V would be doing in later decades. The Four Just Men was actually one of the first ‘really old’ stories I read. It was fairly hard going for me at the time but now I breeze through stories from 10-20 years earlier. Maybe I ought to re-read it.

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The copy I own is actually from the 50’s mind.

Sexton Blake is also on top form. The story concerns the return of one of his greatest enemies (and he wasn’t short of those in the twenties!) Leon Kestrel, the “master mummer”. A mummer was a kind of ‘quick change’ artist who with clever, quickly-applied makeup, could appear to be many different people on stage. Kestrel on the other hand could do this in real life, with disguises that couldn’t be detected even at close quarters by friends of the person being imitated. This of course led to fantastic stories where you never quite know who is who, especially if Sexton Blake also steps into one of his famous disguises.

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Kestrel also had a love of the theatrical. He would threaten to carry out seemingly impossible crimes – in this case stealing gemstones one at a time from a necklace (“pinching it by installments!” declares Tinker) despite the fact it’s inside a locked case and guarded round the clock. He would also steal valuable art treasures that it would be impossible to sell on simply for the fun of it. Not that he wasn’t also above swindling honest people out of large sums of money. Oh and of course his skills at deception, burglary and quick changes of appearance help him with an endless series of amazing prison escapes when he is finally captured!

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Oh and his wife/accomplice Fifette who is just as skilled as he is!

I don’t have the third issue of these armistice numbers, but the editorial further up mentions that it is the first issue to feature Dr Satira. I don’t think I’ve ever read one of his stories, but it says he has a personal army of ape-men so I expect it can’t be half bad!

To celebrate the release of Green Lantern…

Lets look at how comic movies were advertised 101 years ago!

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Or in the week ending May 21st 1910 to be precise.

The advert is rather more, ahem, restrained. It appears on the editor’s page and concerns a film made about a complete story that is printed in that very issue. As soon as readers finished with it they could rush to the “electric theatre” and see “clever performers” acting out the story in “living pictures”!

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Did I mention The Boys Friend had the best editor’s page ever?

Of course not everybody counts the text-only story papers, such as this one, as “comics”. However for those that do, could this be the first ever comic movie?

Anyway, here is the ad itself…

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Film was not exactly a brand-new technology in 1910, but was apparently rare and interesting enough for the editor to go into a technical description of how it works.

With seventy copies distributed to the ends of the country, I wonder if any copies of the film survive? And also how they stack up against the written story. Were liberties taken to ‘simplify’ scenes that wouldn’t have been easy to capture with the limited filming time, heavy equipment and lack of sound in those days?

Odds ‘N Ends

Sorry I haven’t made any decent updates lately. I have a few ideas in the pipeline including some more reviews of serial stories (I have in fact taken the necessary pictures for a review of a 1930’s Girls’ Crystal serial and had them sitting around for ages!) and more looks at classic science fiction.

Anyway, for now here is an inspirational poem from The Juvenile Magazine for July 1886. Which also gives me an excuse to start an 1880’s category!

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No mention of Jesus, unlike almost everything else this comic printed.

Well the gap between 1870’s and 1890’s was annoying. The 1890’s is the start of my “normal” collecting era, so I won’t feature much from before then (well from before 1892 when Chums started, really). The broad type of comics I collect started in the 1860’s but I don’t own anything from that decade yet!

Today I got this, though. An issue of my favourite comic from my favourite decade… with appropriate jingo:

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New Series no. 56, June 14th 1902.

This is a special number to celebrate the coronation of Edward VII. It is also twice the size of a normal issue (and twice the price). Most issues of this era had black and white covers with part of a story on them, too.

This issue see’s the launch of two new serial stories – both with extra-long opening installments of several pages (tabloid sized pages with tiny print, the serials in The Boys’ Friend were truly “book length” ). It also has the usual installments of already-running serials, articles about the King, coronation ceremony and Britain in general. There is also an advert for issue 2 of The Boys’ Realm – which was a very similar story paper launched that year. In 1903 these two would be joined by The Boys Herald making a “big three” of tabloid-sized story papers.

The Case of the Nihilists Daughter – A Brilliant Union Jack

I recently read this tale, as a breaktime-filler at work, and just had to write about it, it’s brilliant!

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New Series number 606, May 22nd 1915

The story begins with a lengthy prologue, in fact it’s so long you forget it even is a prologue and wonder when Sexton Blake is going to show up!

As it is, the tale begins in winter in the Russian city of Petrograd. General Karoski is waiting at a resturant for Elga Seblinsky, the daughter of a count that he is deeply in love with. However she is engaged to another man, Boris Tchapernoff. But the general has an ace up his sleeve – he knows that Elga’s father is “The Wolf”, and a member of The Nihilists, a group that want to bring down the government of Russia. The general attempts to blackmail Elga, telling her he knows where her father is meeting that very night, and that if she doesn’t promise to marry him her father will be arrested and exiled – virtually a death sentence.

Just as the general loses his temper Boris Tchapernoff appears on the scene and knocks the general to the ground, Elga faints and by the time she has come around the general is long gone – to arrest her father! Boris races them to the meeting-place in his sleigh, but they are just too late – and they witness Elga’s father being led away in chains, never to be seen again. Elga wants to shoot the general there and then, but it would only result in them being arrested too, and Boris has to drag her away.

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Which can’t have been very easy in a Russian winter

During the earlier ‘scene’ Boris and Karoski had arranged to fight a duel – which is to take place in the gardens of a mansion during a masked ball. Elga drugs Boris and takes his place in the costume, eager to have her personal revenge. However the general cheats at the duel – turning and firing after only five paces instead of the agreed six. “Boris'” second. Alexis Irloff, pulls off the victims mask and discovers the truth, shortly before being shot himself. Boris, recovered from the drug, arrives just in time to swear he will have his revenge on General Karoski!

Five years pass, and the world is plunged into a devastating war. One that causes Tinker, Sexton Blake’s assistant, to compose a ‘touching ballad’:

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Tinker’s anti-German song!

 A woman named Enid Delane comes to visit the great detective – she is the victim of a blackmailer named Latham Gower, who has got hold of some silly love letters she wrote as a teenager, and is demanding ever-increasing sums of money not to send them to her husband. Gower has now invited her, and several other of his victims, to a party. Sexton Blake decides to accompany Miss Delane to the party, disguised as her father!

At the party two kinds of guests are present – high society, all of them Gower’s victims, and gower’s associates – dodgy bookies, loan sharks and the like. Enid and “Sir Thomas” Delane both arrive at the party, the latter engaging Gower in a protracted conversation about safes and burglars – in order to find out the location of Gower’s safe.

As the party wears on Sir Thomas, AKA Sexton Blake, slips away and breaks into the safe, collecting up all of the blackmail documents and burning them in the gas stove. Just as he is about to leave the room Gower enters and passes into a private office with one of his “clients”, the French Monsieur Leon. As Sexton Blake listens from his hasty hiding place the “Frenchman” begins to tell Latham Gower a ‘leetle story’ – about a murdering Russian officer who dissapeared, after wounding a woman severely in a rigged duel and driving her half-insane! For the Frenchman is really Boris Tchapernoff and Latham Gower is General Karoski!

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I swear an illustration very similar to this one has been used at times to represent both Sexton Blake and Nelson Lee! This was before the reign of Eric Parker, who gave Sexton Blake a defined image.

Boris demands that the general fight the duel that they could not in Russia, when suddenly Elga bursts in through the large windows. She has been free of her insanity – which comes and goes, and begs Boris not to murder the general, for duels in England are illegal. Sexton Blake decides to intervene – when a body thuds against the office door and slams it shut. Then there is another thud, a whistle, and a sucession of horrifying screams!

Blake forces his way in and finds Boris knocked out, an ugly wound on his head – Elga is in the corner, screaming with insanity, and Latham Gower is dead, with a knife buried deep in his heart! Of course Sexton Blake is still in disguise so has to leave with his daughter, who “is ill”, and then rush back to the mansion as his true self and “discover” the crime. Luckily a doctor arrived quickly while Blake was away and the scene has not been disturbed too greatly – but the mystery is baffling – Boris was knocked out before the murder, and Elga could not have been strong enough to do it. Besides which the knife is a huge showy Mexican piece, not the thing a Russian would carry around. Added to this are some strange animal tracks in the room.

Inspector Martin, one of the Scotland Yard officials that Sexton Blake is familiar with, arrives at the scene and immediatley arrests Boris. The robbed safe and burned papers only add to the confusion. Blake decides to proceed more carefully and has Tinker bring Pedro, their intelligent bloodhound, over from Baker Street. they set pedro on the trail of the small animal that had been in the room… and wind up at a circus! On the way the Inspector tumbles to the  fact that Sexton Blake had robbed the safe and actually heard the murder happen.  The trail Pedro follows ends up at a tent where Captain Emanuel Carlos, a famous Lion-tamer, is performing. He wants to try and enter a cage containing a dangerous untamed lion, but has not so far managed the feat. He also has a pet ferret – the mysterious small animal!

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Sexton Blake

Sexton Blake and Inspector Martin return to the mansion and search Latham Gower’s office to try and connect the lion tamer to the blackmailer. Eventually they find a hidden compartment in his desk with documents relating to Gower’s other, “official” business, as a moneylender with absurd interest rates. Emanuel Carlos is one of his victims. They need more proof, however, and Sexton Blake, disguised as a general worker at the circus, manages to enter the lion tamer’s caravan, and discovers that Carlos used to be a knife-thrower, and has 40 knives that are the exact duplicates of the ones that killed Latham Gower.

Sexton Blake and Inspector Martin go and watch the lion tamer, intending to arrest him afterwards. However the lion attacks him and he is fatally wounded – he makes a deathbed confession – he had originally borrowed money for his daughter’s medical treatment, but had got deeper into Latham Gower’s clutches. One night he heard that his daughter had died, and went to Gower’s house, taking advantage of the confusion of of the argument he witnessed to throw a knife through the window and kill the blackmailer!

In the end a friend of Sexton Blake performs an operation on Elga and cures her insanity – and later on her and Boris are married.

This is a brilliant story, with a lot of unexpected twists and angles. It goes off the boil in the end, though. The Lion-tamer’s mauling and deathbed confession is all a bit too neat and tidy – but space restrictions and wartime shortages applied. I wonder how much better this tale may have been if it had been extended and held over for the 60-80,000 word Sexton Blake Library, which began in September 1915?

Some Christmas covers

I did this before, right back at the start of the blog. My collection has expanded quite a bit since then, so it’s time for another gallery of Christmas covers!

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Ho Ho… ho?

Starting off right back in 1874 with Chatterbox. That’s not actually the fourth issue, the numbers were restarted for every volume. As you can see the cover is not particularly ‘festive’, but the 1870’s were puritannical times and perhaps a bird dying in the cold was supposed to remind readers to be miserable. The cover refers to a long poem taking up the first two inside pages of the issue within.

Chatterbox was one of the first story papers, starting in 1866. I distinguish these from the penny dreadfuls that were most popular from the 1830’s to 1890’s by the fact that story papers were not horror-focused, and often had more than one story in them (the penny dreadfuls were just a chapter of one long story – of course it was not only ‘dreadful’ stories that were published in this way, the work of Dickens was originally too!). Of course most, but not all, of the early story papers were Christian focused, or else they had only the loosest credibility by being published by the same people who were churning out the penny dreadfuls!

Chatterbox was a bit different, it had more high-minded, ‘straight’ adventure stories without ghosts or ghouls. It also had informative articles and shorter stories about naughty children repenting. It was started by a reverend – J. Erskine Clarke, M.A. so in a way anticipated the Boys’ Own Paper of 1879 and The Eagle of 1950. This 1874-5 volume is of course loaded down with Jesus, but later volumes became more secular, reflecting the attitudes of their age. The first really old book I bought was the 1908 volume of Chatterbox which is a great deal less pious. Chatterbox actually ran all the way up until 1955, though by the end it was just a series of adventure story annuals, and virtually indistinguishable from any of the other “Grand Book for Boys” publications.

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By Jingo!

It’s 1897 now, and this is the Christmas edition of The Marvel (which began in 1893 as The Halfpenny Marvel and gave us Sexton Blake). Where the older story papers were content to just be an alternative to the penny dreadfuls, Alfred Harmsworth’s halfpenny story papers were a clear shot across the bows of these gruesome horror stories. By 1900 the penny dreadfuls were holed below the waterline. Though in the early days of the Harmsworh papers the stories were not all that brilliant, and one wag wrote them off as “Halfpenny dreadfullers”.

Another way that Harmsworh’s story papers differed from the older story papers was their jingoism. By the 1890’s church had been replaced by state in the affections of the people and the empire had become something to be widely celebrated. Harmsworth’s papers captured the mood of this age, and  how better to show it but than with this cover? Santa does not introduce us to presents, or a dickensian scene, but to a host of British troops on the march, “Jack Tar” to the fore and surrounding Britannia on a white charger. We’ll not see the likes of this again until… well until i do a Christmas issue of one of my comics.

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Oops, no cover

Into the twentieth century now, with the 1901 Christmas issue of The Boys’ Friend – except the cover is missing! The Boys’ Friend only had black and white printing most of the time, but relatively frequent “double numbers” (the Christmas and Spring ones being regular fixtures) would have a beautiful colour cover, and double the page count (pst, and also double the price!). Double numbers were also chosen to introduce new serial stories.

The serial was the stock-in-trade of the tabloid-sized Boys’ Friend which started as a halfpenny paper in 1895. The serial stories, large size and cheap paper make collecting The Boys’ Friend very difficult today, may I add! Each issue also had a long complete story of 10,000 words, though, and many of these are great reads. The large size of the paper and tiny type used allowed for very long stories to be told, and also for large and lavish illustrations. To my mind this is one of the greatest of all British comics!

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How, um traffic was a nightmare

Now it’s 1913 and time for another lavish Boys’ Friend double number. This one with it’s wonderful cover intact. The content inside was much the same, a long complete story, ongoing serials, new serials with extra-long opening instalments, and the Editor’s page. I ought to say something for the editor’s page of the Boys’ Friend (and very-similar Boys Herald and Boys’ Realm, which started in the 1900’s and were cancelled in the 20’s), the editor would give well-meaning, and well-researched advice to his readers. He would also give long and friendly replies to readers, try to help them with problems (usually this help involved the purchasing of other Amalgamated press publications or books, ahem) and regularly advise on the dangers of smoking, drinking, gambling, rash emigration to the colonies and going to sea “for an adventure” without thinking it through – all pitfalls that it was all to easy for children to fall into in those days!

Compare this for a second to the letter’s pages of the comics i was growing up with in the 90’s – that is The Beano, The Dandy, Sonic the Comic and a bit later the Judge Dredd Megazine – in those readers were lucky if the reply to their letter was more than a single line. And that single line usually just contained some terrible pun. The Boys’ Friend – Best British comic ever.

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Anyone for footer?

Followed closely by this one! The Union Jack started in 1894 as a virtually-identical story paper to The Halfpenny Marvel. In 1904 it became “Sexton Blake’s own paper” and that detective featured in every issue from then on. Now 10 years later Europe is in the grip of a huge war that many people predicted would be over by Christmas. It wasn’t, as this issue shows! The story revolves around a gentleman falling into disgrace and joining up as an ordinary soldier to seek his own death.

This paper gives the lie to the oft-repeated notion that “popular magazines” during the World War 1 would portray the trenches as a grand life of camping, cricket and then short, easy battles where you would get to “account for” scores of the beastly Hun. This was only the case for the first month or so of the conflict, as it drew on writers became a lot more realistic. The stories in this issue certainly don’t make life in the trenches sound desirable – if anything they exaggerate the horrors! One passage talks of soldiers “fighting for hours waist-deep in freezing water”, which they couldn’t have really done, it’s biologically impossible! Unless you want your legs sawn off afterwards. It’s not exactly discouraging either though. There was after all the need to actually win the thing, so the story emphasises that whilst you may not like your duty, every patriotic Briton must do his best to discharge it.

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For the glory of the School Soviet, comrades!

Now it’s 1921, and the Nelson Lee Library. This was an odd one – a size roughly equivalent to the modern(ish) A5 and with quite a high page count, it carried complete stories about Nelson Lee in each issue. Nelson Lee was a detective who first appeared in the 1890’s, and was not greatly different to Sexton Blake at the time. However by the 1920’s things have rather changed a bit! Nelson Lee is now working as a schoolmaster at St Frank’s boarding school. He isn’t undercover – everybody knows he is a detective, and his boy assistant, Nipper, is a pupil at the school.

This unique setup allowed for the stories to waver between “Billy Bunter”-esque dorm feeds and practical jokes, to serious stories of solving murders and foiling gangs, with ease. Often these two elements would coexist in the same story, and the various boys of the school (not quite the fantastic characterisations of Charles Hamilton, but very close) would often take a hand in the solving of the mystery. Another remarkable aspect of the Nelson Lee library was that it was one huge serial – for decades the main story (it also carried more conventional serials – often 2 or 3 at a time!), while complete in each issue, followed on from the previous one and anticipated the next. Of course these were split into ‘series’ too (in the same way as some, but not all, Sexton Blake stories in the Union Jack were in the 20’s and 30’s) but even then a minor plot element in one series would become a major focus in another.

Oh, yeah, this particular issue is part of one of the more famous series in the Nelson Lee’s history – the “Schoolboy Soviet” series, in which a few boys, inspired by the revolution in Russia, turn the school into a communist state! Of course this descends into tyranny and starvation and they eventually welcome their rightful ‘rulers’, the teachers, back. Unfortunatley I don’t own the whole of this series, so i can’t read it, yet! Anybody got the issues that came directly after the one that was actually named “The Schoolboy Soviet”?

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The flash and old ink is only partly responsible – the cover really is that gloomy!

Now it’s 1925 and we’re back with the Nelson Lee Library. “Snow on the logo” is a long-standing British Comic tradition but in some of these old publications it looked like the wrong kind of snow – not the  soft white stuff you can look out at from your warm room on Christmas day, but the freezing, slippery stuff that your car skids on as you slowly crawl to work on a gloomy November’s morning.

The story in this issue is rather more lighthearted (well from the quick flick I had when i took it out to photograph it, anyway). Several of the boys from St Frank’s end up at an uninhabited stately home for Christmas, with only one butler and no food! But they suspect the castle is haunted – especially when a huge feast seemingly appears by a miracle on the dining table that was completely bare only half an hour before. I doubt it’s worth betting that the ‘ghost’ turns out to be Nelson Lee playing a Christmas prank and that a jolly holiday of crackling fires and gigantic cakes ends the tale.

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Christmas in space

Now it’s the 1950’s and we’ve never had it so good – Photogravure printing of art and writing that well deserves it, a genius artist firing on all cylinders and a minutely-researched science-fiction tale where British pluck, and not technobabble, reversed polarities and sonic screwdrivers wins the day! This is the first Christmas issue of The Eagle – a title that hardly needs introduction. It was created by a Reverend and intended to kill off the popular horror comics of the time. Sound familiar?

Of course I don’t own the actual issue, this is just a reproduced cover in a book about the comic’s most famous character – Dan Dare! They really pulled out all the stops on ‘decorating’ this cover, with holly between the panels!

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Ahh the festive tradition of poisonous gas – bring back the dying Robin!

Now it’s 1952 and Dan Dare still adorns the cover of The Eagle, which is still at the top of it’s game. It hit the ground running and barely faltered for 10 years! This issue isn’t quite so christmas-ey, no holly between the panels. Mind you the snow on the logo is now present and correct.

 Dan Dare and The Eagle copyrighted, trademarked and sole property of The Dan Dare Corporation PLC LTD KGB NKVD 1950-perpetuity. No infringement, expungement or disengagement of the copyright solely owned by the Dan Dare Corporation is hereby expressed, implied or implicated. Use of photographs of covers of The Eagle, copyright of the Dan Dare Corporation 1950-perpetuity, complies with the fair use law regarding critcism and/or review.

And I managed to make a whole post that didn’t involve Chums!

Murder in Melchester!

Everybody remembers where they were when they heard Roy Race had been shot. For instance i distinctly remember not being born yet.

But who remembers the other high profile attempted murder case from that “large, old fashioned town” located “about sixty miles from London“? The attempted murder of the chemist Leonard Jardine by the town’s respected doctor Edward Sharlaw? This case, as it developed in 1928, caused no end of sensation in the newspapers of Amalgamated Press Land. After an investigation by the famous detective Sexton Blake the doctor was cleared of the charge, as the chemist had been injured by accident and confessed all after the doctor’s son, himself a spinal expert, saved his life.

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Despite the naming coincidence, i’d say it’s pretty unlikely that anybody involved in Roy of the Rovers, despite the fact it was published by IPC which was a descendant of AP, had ever read this story. It’s just one of those things… (also it seems fairly likely that the Melchester of Roy of the Rovers is supposed to be a lot further north).

Something funny going on…

Let’s take a complete story from an issue of Chums at random, shall we? Hmm, No 736 from October 1906 looks good…

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‘Twixt Jackson and Barker

It’s the typical boarding school tale of the time. A boy called Jackson has some important news for his friends when his eye falls in a great new bicycle just received by one of them called Barker.  After admiring it he wishes he had such a machine: “what wouldn’t i do for a mount like that!“. Barker asks him what he would do for it, Jackson asks him to name his terms, these are:

-To climb to the top of the cathedral in the nearby town

– To persuade the timid science teacher to tackle a local ‘tough’, an ex-sailor called Jem Starbottle

-To cycle from Arlington to Greatthorpe, a distance of 5 miles, in 15 minutes

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A short story this, it’s only over two pages. Mind you the pages of Chums are pretty big. The illustration on the second is a cartoon and not related to the story.

The first challenge passes easily enough. Jackson and co. climb to the top of the acessible steps in the cathedral and then sneak out onto a narrow parapet. Jackson then climbs above this and stands up on the ball right at the top of the spire, with only the lightning conductor for support! He then descends but misses his step and has to circle the entire spire to find it again (this scene is not too well described XD). The first challenge is over, his friends say it was the easiest one but he says he wouldn’t do it again for a thousand sovereigns. His friend Burgess says he wouldn’t even watch the feat again for two thousand!

The next challenge is more difficult. Jackson, on the next half-holiday (a day with only half the amount of school work and the other half given over to sports/hobbies/free time, as these were boarding schools the pupils could not go home for short holidays) Jackson agrees to accompany the science master, “Smiley” on one of his long and invariably boring nature rambles. Meanwhile another of the friends named Timmins rushes off to find Jem Starbottle and tell him that a licking awaits him at such-and-such a place.

As Smiley comes to the end of the ramble, composing a poem about a Dandelion watched by Jackson and, unknown to him, the others hidden in a haystack, Starbottle comes along looking for his “licking” …and gets it! Much to the astonishment of all concerned. Jackson later explains that on the same afternoon the bike arrived the science master gave him a lesson in boxing: “You should have seen his arms – wire ropes!

The final challenge awaits, Jackson is lent the bicycle and travels down to the starting place with Timmins, who has synchronised his watch with Burgess who awaits at the finish line with Barker. He is a bad cyclist and knows it, he doesn’t expect to actually finish the course in the alotted time, to make matters worse the road is very bumpy. Still he decides to have a try at it, and sets off.

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As soon as he is out of sight Timmins is accosted by a local farm-hand, advising him: “Oi’d go b’train ef oi ere you, Wi’ Capt’in Symons tiger loose, the roads bean’t safe after dark“.  Timmins takes the advice. He’s no coward but the road is dark and “Tigers are tigers!“. Meanwhile Jackson is in the depths of despair, he has done the first mile and is already behind time and worn out beyond beleif. However suddenly the tiger leaps out behind him and starts to chase him. With this ‘encouragement’ he rushes the rest of the course and finishes it in record time, winning the bike! Towards the end the tiger, seeing the lights of the town approaching, gave up the chase, leaving Jackson wondering if he had imagined the whole thing.

That was a pretty good story. I’m in the mood for some AP now, lets turn to an issue of one of thier “Big (in size!) Three”, The Boys’ Herald – No 215 from August 1907.

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The Feats of Tony McTurk

By L.J. Beeston, this is a typical boarding school story of the time. A boy called Pilberry has just received a new camera from his uncle, with all the latest improvements up to the very hour. The only one not enthusiastic about it is Pilberry himself, his only photographic expedition resulted in pictures of his coat. Well how he was he to know which way around it went?

Along comes Tony McTurk, a pupil of the same school who does like photography, but who could never afford such a “snapper” as this. He instead says “There’s nothing worth doing that I wouldn’t attempt to win that spanking camera“. With the gauntlet on the ground Pilberry decides to name his terms:

-To call the headmaster, Dr Twelvetrees, a giant of a man with a fierce temper, an ass to his face.

-Persuade the French master to leap from his study window, twelve feet off the ground.

-Cycle from the town of Claythorpe to the school, a distance of 5 miles, in 14 minutes.

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Three days pass in which Tony racks his brains for ways to complete these tasks. He evidently thinks too hard at them because he ends up working too hard on his French… so hard the one night his friends are awoken by monotonous chanting in thier dorm room… he’s sleep walking, and studying French while doing it! Fearful of waking the sleepwalker, they instead follow him… until he stops outside the headmaster’s door, his French verbs becoming louder and louder. The headmaster is roused to anger at first, but them realises what is happening and starts to gently shake the boy in order to wake him. This seems to bring Tony round and he remembers another task: “you – are – an – ass” he mumbles to the headmaster, before being woken up. “You were walking in your sleep, McTurk” the Headmaster tells him “You have been studying too hard, i will see that you have a holiday to-morrow!“. First task completed, and he escaped annihilation into the bargain. His friends aren’t impressed… but they can’t deny he did it!

Now he has to work out how to get the French master, Monsieur Duport to leap from his study window. A few weeks later a half-holiday rolls around and his friends are told to wait beneath the window for something to happen.  The Frenchman is annoyed by boys hanging around beneath his window and repeatedly tells them to leave, only for them to return soon after. As he ponders this he is visited by an inventor of explosives (another of the French master’s interests). This melancholy man is looking for funding for his new high-powered explosive, the stick of which he is carrying would obliterate the school. When the rather extravagant funding is not forthcoming the inventor wonders what the point of living is, and throws the explosive into the fire! Duport leaps! After a few minutes he realises maybe the “explosive” wasn’t so explosive after all. Of course the “inventor” is long gone… who was he? If any of the boys know, they aren’t telling!

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And now for the final challenge – the ride! Now, Tony is by his own admission not a very good cyclist, and also the road is in rather bad condition and has a couple of stiff hills. But he decides to try it all the same and, started off by a friend called Weekes, who has synchronised his watch with Pilberry. Tony begins the race… and as Weekes turns to walk back to the school he is informed by a farm hand to take the train instead… for a Jaguar which escaped from Bunkum & Barnaby’s circus is still on the loose! Now Weekes isn’t a coward, but “Jaguars are jaguars!“.

Meanwhile, Tony is already tired out, and behind schedule. The Jaguar on the other hand, is watching him closely… it hasn’t eaten all day and this strange whirling creature coming down the road seems just the ticket! It leaps to attack the creature from behind… Tony, glancing back, see’s it and starts to pedal like mad to escape certain doom!

At the end of the course, his friends are waiting with the stopwatch… will be do it in time?… listen, here he comes! Meanwhile, the Jaguar, tired out from chasing this strange, fast creature, dives through the hedge and disappears.  Tony crosses the finish line with seconds to spare, and wins the camera! After the race he wonders if he had been chased by some imaginary creature… but later reads of the eventual shooting of an escaped Jaguar… and trembles!

So, what’s going on?

Well, the first and most likely explanation is that the two stories were written by the same man – L.J. Beeston. However the earlier Chums story is uncredited, so this can’t be confirmed. While some papers undoubtedly had ‘staff’ writers, there must also have been a vast pool of freelancers. (for instance Harry Blyth, who created Sexton Blake for Amalgamated Press, also wrote for Chums, then owned by Cassell’s) This was, remember, the golden age of publishing, and to my mind the golden age of British comics! There was a bewilderingly vast array of titles all crying out for stories to fill their pages. With imagination and a typewriter there must have been a decent living in it… You didn’t even have to be particularly good (just read pretty much any Halfpenny Marvel for proof!). I only wish i had lived in that era.

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(The other alternative explanation, especially if these stories were not written by the same writer, is downright piracy!)

So, which is the better story? For my money it’s Tony McTurk! It’s quite a bit longer for starters (filling 3 pages and most of a column in the Boys’ Herald’s large tabloid size) and has more illustrations. The descriptive details are much better written (even the Jaguar is a character!) , the challenges and their solutions are much more imaginative and, of course, it’s a great deal funnier! The sleepwalking sequence in particular.

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Bad news from Classics Illustrated! + new stuff.

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

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

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

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

Sexton Blake: A Celebration

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

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

James Bond Omnibus

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

The Gem issues 1-15

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

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

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