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.

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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?

 

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!

I Lived in the Desperate Days

Like The Last Men Alive, this is another story set in a world after a nuclear war. However, whilst that one was set only a few weeks after the “balloon went up”. This one is set around 500 years afterwards! It was published in The Wizard in 1959. When people talk about the DC Thomson “Big Four”, they generally talk about the pre-and-during war years. But The Wizard, Adventure et al were fine, high-quality publications in the 1950’s too! After more than a decade of so-offensive-it-goes-all-the-way-around-and-becomes-funny-again racism on the covers:

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The Wizard started to use the covers to promote the exciting stories within:

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Or else provide interesting facts. These were usually related (sometimes pretty vaguely – facts about 18th century sailor’s superstitions tied in with a story about modern trainee submariners, for instance!) to one of the stories inside.

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(Will the Americans of 2059 remember to publish issue 3 of the Illuminated Quadruple Constellation?).

There was a great variety in the stories too, from the wartime adventures of V for Vengeance – surely a large influence on a certain other story – “Hard” Science Fiction (shortly to become science fact!) of The Ace of Space, and a series of “historicals” set in famous disasters of the late 19th and early 20th centuries. Curiously, most of those are set in the USA.

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But on to the story itself. I Lived in the Desperate Days is set in 2492, on the small community of Land End, at the far southwestern corner of an island that, according to legend, was once called Eng, or Brit. Land End is the only fertile part of the island, the rest is made of fused, black rock and ash-like cinder sand, where nothing has grown for centuries. A nearby island called Ire is also made of nothing but this lifeless black rock. The Folk, as the population of Land End are called, number just 400. They have legends which talk of a time when Eng was home to millions of people, as were other lands around the world – though some of them don’t believe that any other land exists, and that Eng and Ire are all alone in The Great Sea.

The main character is called Jordon The Writer, who chronicles the events of the folk, and copies out their few books. He lives in the same house as Silas the Scholar, who teaches children to read and write. He also owns the few books that remain in the world, and Jordon is slowly copying them so there will be a second set, if anything happens. One of the books tells of people called Americans, who had ships that sailed under ice, Jordon thinks it’s an interesting story, but can’t possibly be true.

The first part of the story just gives an introduction to the Folk’s way of life. Their previous harvest was bad, and a harsh winter killed many sheep. Though they number only 400, the “Folk Father”, John Winter, decides that 100 people have to sacrifice themselves by going out into the “barrens”, as they call the melted and destroyed rest of the country. This is really a death sentence, as there’s no way of getting food out there. They draw sticks from a bag – white for life, and black for death! Jordon draws a black stick – though the people due to die are given a week to say goodbye to their families.

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Jordon’s friend, Bob Gray, has a small fishing boat, and all of his crew, including the villainous Zeke, are doomed to die. They decide to sail out and catch fish while they still can. Zeke is not happy about being merely one of the crew, but boats are worth their weight in gold, due to a severe shortage of wood, and the Folk Father and his council think Zeke is too irresponsible to have a boat of his own.

They sail out to look for fish, but are caught in a gale and blown close to Ire. Whilst sailing around the coast, looking for a place to land and repair the damaged boat (not to mention bury a dead crewman), they come across a huge “sea monster”, stranded on the rocks. Jordon, from his reading, realises it is a whale, and that it contains many tons of edible meat, which can save the doomed hundred! They also explore Ire a little, and in the meantime Zeke is left with the boat, which he almost loses. The damage takes several days to repair, and when they get back to Land End, they discover the rest of the doomed people have already gone out into the barrens. Bob Gray sails around to a bay further out into the barrens, and follows some tracks. Eventually they bring back around seventy of the hundred sent out to die.

A large operation (by the standards of a community of 370-odd with hardly any boats!) is mounted to go and collect the meat of the whale. While this is going on, Zeke decoys Jordon away from the harbour, and he ends up being left behind!

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Jordon spends a night on the coast of Ire, then wanders inland a little way to try and find fresh water. Instead, he falls through a crust of dust into a small cave, apparently once open to the air. At one end, he finds a heavy steel door, though after 500 years it’s so rusty he can push through it with his hands. Inside he finds a room lined with more books than he has seen in his life! There’s also a diary, with the last entry written in 1990. It says that nuclear proliferation had run out of control, and many nations had huge stockpiles of atomic warheads. When World War 3 started, the pulses of radiation from atomic explosions caused these stockpiles to detonate on their own (apparently this is theoretically possible – so real-life bombs are shielded against it). The huge fireballs quite literally melted at least Western Europe, apart from Land’s End. The writer of the diary didn’t know that, of course, his air purifier failed shortly afterwards, and he has long since died and crumbled to dust. The people huddled on Land’s End somehow survived the radioactivity (presumably many of the original ones died, and the few survivors have repopulated the area since), and the events of “the change”, along with details of the pre-war world, all faded into legends. Jordon lights a fire with the dead man’s ragged clothes, fortunately the crew of the fishing boat have come back for him, and spot the smoke. He is taken back to Land End, where Zeke is worried that his trickery will be exposed.

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Jordon sails out in Bob Gray’s fishing boat again. His leg was injured when he was a child (this is why he is a “writer”, not a farmer or something), but he can still haul on ropes and nets. Instead of catching fish, they spot something even more valuable – a huge tree! Quickly taking it in tow, they bring it back to Land End. It creates a sensation – if there’s huge trees growing somewhere, then there must be fertile land!

Jordon has been reading more about the old world in his newly-found books. He reads about a man named Christopher Columbus, who, 1000 years earlier, sailed west until he found a huge continent. Jordon comes up with a plan to use the wood in the tree to build a replica of Columbus’ ship, the Santa Maria, and try to find this continent again. Jordon even builds a model of the ship – but is betrayed by Zeke. Wasting wood is a terrible crime in Land End, and he is sentenced to be banished into the barrens. However, he overhears a conversation between the Folk Father and one of the farmers – a disease which killed many of the sheep the previous winter has come back! Of course, they have no medicines, and probably no medical knowledge beyond the absolute basics.

Jordon goes to sleep, but when he wakes up he finds he has been pardoned, and that the Folk Father has decided they must attempt to build a “Santa Maria II” and find new lands, or the whole human race might perish! The construction of the ship begins, though there is quite a bit of resistance – some of the “Fathers Minor” (who rule under the Folk Father) think there’s no other land in the world, and that stories of a ship a whole seventy feet long must be fictional. When the Folk Father commands every household to give up one blanket (and there’s precious few of those) to make the sails of the ship, there is a minor riot, stirred up by Zeke.

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The rioters accidentally knock out the Folk Father with a thrown rock – then sidle away, feeling guilty. They blamed Jordon, rather than him. After they have got over the shock, they riot again, this time trying to tear apart the half-built ship and take the timber away for other uses. Jordon sails out in another fishing boat and finds Bob Gray, who returns in time to stop the riot. He has also found another tree, which will serve for the ship’s masts, and there will be plenty of wood left over for other uses too.

Finally the ship is finished and launched. The crew, with Bob Gray as Captain and Jordon as log-keeper (plus Zeke, because he is “at least good at his work”) have to learn sailing from scratch, and panic when they make a mistake! A sudden squall from the wrong direction brings down part of the rigging, and knocks Bob unconscious. Fortunately Jordon remembers that a ship can be steered using sails alone, if you work them correctly. The second-in-command, a man called Clark, takes command just in time, and the ship avoids being wrecked on the coast of Ire.

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Now it’s time for the voyage to really start! Just before they set out, a weird light called “St. Elmo’s Fire” is seen on the mast. Many of the crew think this is a sign of bad luck, and Zeke stirs up a minor mutiny, telling the men that Jordon will bring disaster to the ship. Just as they are about to charge the poop deck, a stowaway – a condemned criminal – is found. Bob grants the man a reprieve, and later he sacrifices himself by swimming under the ship and jamming himself in a hole. He plugs it, but drowns in the process.

The journey goes on, an encounter with waterspouts almost wrecks the ship in mid-ocean, but the spout which sucks them up collapses just in time, though several of the crew are killed. Then they sight land! But it turns out to be a huge floating mass of seaweed and rotten trees. Worse, it’s infested with huge, carnivorous jellyfish! The story doesn’t make it clear if these are creatures mutated by radiation (or, rather, their descendants), or else freaks of evolution produced by the abrupt change in climate caused by the war (tests with fruit flies have shown that ‘random shots’ of evolution happen if their environment is changed drastically – meaning a new species may be created in tens of generations instead of millions, though many more of these ‘random shots’ are useless and fatal). Of course, the story is written by Jordon himself, and for all he knows, Columbus met creatures like this too!

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After fighting off the Jellyfish, the crew encounter some more sea monsters, including some kind of sentient seaweed, and a thing which looks like a flying Manta Ray with a spiked, razor-sharp tail. Several more crew members die during these attacks, and the ship suffers a lot of damage, but is still able to limp onwards.

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Finally, they sight land, real land! But, to their horror, it’s the same fused, black rock as Eng and Ire are made of. They anchor at this island to repair the ship anyway, though their supplies of fresh water and food are running very low. They also discover the island is infested with giant killer crabs! Jordon, trying to escape from these, accidentally falls into a pool of hot water, which he discovers is also fresh water! The crew also try to eat the crabs, but it makes them drunk, and the ship is almost set on fire. Fortunately some men stay sober, and are able to put it out. Instead, they try fishing, and find the sea around this island (it’s probably Iceland… which is made of fused, black, lifeless rock now, let alone after a nuclear war XD) is full of fish. With their supplies refilled, they sail onwards.

After many more days, they sight a huge column of smoke in the air – is it a fire lit by human beings? The ship sails at high speed, but the smoke only seems to come towards them very slowly. The wind drops at night, and in the morning it seems that the smoke has got further away. Again, they sail at high speed, but again the smoke appears to move away. The lookout then notices that the water around the ship is brown. Bob tastes a bit, and discovers it’s fresh! They are sailing in the current of a huge river, pouring out to sea. Altering course, they close in on the distant land – and run dangerously close to a mountain, which appears to be on fire!

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The Land Enders are terrified by the sight, though Jordon realises it must be a volcano, something the ancient books tell of. The coast of the country around it is the same black, lifeless rock as they have seen in other places – but then they spot several more huge trees floating out of the river mouth. Somewhere up there is the fertile land they dream of!

Anchoring the Santa Maria II, the crew take to the boats and row up the river – straight into the jaws of a sea monster! After an epic battle, in which Bob Gray is almost killed, the monster is killed. Later on Bob and several others row up the river in the two boats, whilst Jordon is left behind. Zeke comes back alone, frantically ranting about “giant birds” and how the others “disappeared in the trees”. Jordon and a few others row up the river themselves – spotting gigantic black birds perched on a jumble of giant logs. Bob Gray’s voice seems to come from below them – the crew of the other boat have fallen into quicksand, and have almost gone under! Most of them are saved in time, as is the boat itself. Bob had been trying to grab something when he went under, and he shows it to Jordon now – it’s heather, of the kind that grows in Land End. Somewhere beyond this swampy pile of logs is a vast land, more fertile than Land End and with enough room for everybody!

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Then… 1959, and my collection of Wizards, comes to an end! >.< Looks like I’ll never find out what happened to them – did they find an uninhabited land? Was it full of monsters? Was it full of hostile tribes? Perhaps the United States still exists, and has maintained a higher level of technology, but never realised anybody was still alive in Europe? I doubt I’ll ever read the end XD.

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The Last Men Alive

Just after the end of the war, “nuclear weapons” were seen as amazing wonder-weapons which could make battleships ‘melt and sink’ using ‘rays’ (as described in the last episode of The Yellow Sword, a Wizard serial from 1955-6). However, as time went on, people began to understand the real horrors of atomic warfare. In 1946, the New Yorker magazine ran a full-length article on the experiences of people in Hiroshima, which found it’s way to Britain as a Penguin not long afterwards.

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In 1954, a Japanese fishing boat called Lucky Dragon no. 5 sailed too close to an atomic bomb test, causing the crew to develop severe radiation sickness. At the time, the American occupational government were trying to play down the effects of radioactive fallout from the bombs. Even back at home, US Marines were performing manuovres in the immediate aftermath of a nuclear blast, as part of the “Desert Rock” project.

Going into the late 50’s, the consequences of an actual nuclear war were filtering down into the boys’ story papers, and in 1958 Adventure began a serial called The Last Men Alive, about the crew of a nuclear-powered (though it did not carry ballistic missiles. “Atomic torpedoes” are mentioned, but these were probably supposed to be smaller-scale kiloton-sized weapons for use on fleets of enemy ships) submarine in 1996. The sub, called the Argos (interestingly never called HMS Argos… a subtle assumption that the monarchy would have been abolished by the nineties?), is on patrol in the South Atlantic, during World War 3. Her mission is to prevent “the enemy” from sailing around the Horn of Africa. We never find out exactly who “the enemy” are, but can assume it’s the Soviet Union, perhaps allied with China.

The war is already about six months old when the story begins, though so far nobody has used nuclear weapons. The sub has not received any messages for almost three weeks, so they decide to surface and have a look around, as soon as they reach the surface, alarms start to go off – the air is dangerously radioactive! It looks like a nuclear war has been fought, after all.

The captain, Lt. Cmdr Vince Bryant, decides to sail back to Britain and investigate. On the way, they stop at St Helena, finding everybody on the island dead – apparently they dropped dead whilst going about their everyday lives. The air is still alive with radiation, and the crew can only go outside in special suits. They visit the “telegraph office” (now the story shows it’s age!), and find that three weeks previously, enemy bombers managed to avoid Britain’s radar and fighter screens, and drop “Hydrogen-Cobalt bombs” on London and other cities. Britain retaliated, and these new, powerful bombs somehow caused a ‘chain reaction’, which ‘set the upper atmosphere on fire’ and spread a huge amount of powerful fallout around the entire globe in only a few hours (the one realistic part, the jet stream races around the world at hundreds of miles per hour).

The sub sails further north, past “French Senegal” and the “busy port of Dakar”, now also ‘bleached’ of all human and animal life. Of course, Senegal was long-since independent in the real 1996! The journey also takes them past a number of lifeless, drifting surface ships. It appears that only submarine crews, safe under the sea, have survived. Eventually the Argos reaches Britain. There too, the coast is lifeless, deserted and radioactive. They sail into the Thames (“cl0gged with ships”, as are many other major rivers into the traditional port cities – by the real 1996 the advent of containers had rapidly decreased the number of working docks in Britain), to find that London has taken a direct hit, the few buildings left standing are roofless, blackened ruins.

The Argos sails south again, down the channel and eventually finds a Cornish village called Trelorna, where some freak of the wind has keeping the fallout away. The people here are isolated and starving, but fortunately the Argos carries a large supply of food, and is able to give them at least one meal. The crew begin handing out tins to the women of the village, though a big man called Black Jack pushes his way to the front and snatches a can from an old lady. Fortunately Vince Bryant is a champion boxer, and soon has Jack on his back!

Other villagers are more friendly, namely Henry Penkevil, the headmaster of the village school, and Tom Couch, coxwain of the local lifeboat, and expert fisherman. The crew of the Argos come up with a plan to use electric shocks, generated from the hull, to “herd” fish into the safe bay, where they can be caught by the villagers. It will keep them going until they can start to grow crops on the small area of radiation-free farmland they can access.

Tom Couch comes out in the submarine (“A unique and terrifying experience, even in the year 1996”! – though Eagle and other publications were predicting huge passenger-and-cargo carrying submarines, unaffected by storms), which dives beneath the surface as soon as it gets beyond the headland – where the radioactive zone starts. They find a huge shoal of mackerel with the sonar, and begin to herd the fish towards Trelorna bay, using electric shocks generated on the surface of the sub (supposed to be a futuristic ‘silent sonar’). However, the fish attract something else – a sea monster bigger than the sub!

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After a cat-and-mouse chase, Argos is able to fire off two “rocket torpedoes”, which curiously only have a thousand-yard range (surely traditional propellor-powered torpedoes can go for miles?). These hit the monster and it’s huge body goes floating to the surface. Is it a radioactive mutation? Nope! The story is more scientifically ‘accurate’ than that. It’s described as a creature from very deep in the sea, which has been attracted to the surface by the ‘turmoil’ of the nuclear war. As the crew watch it float, they notice bubbles coming from it. Suddenly it bursts open and sinks, as it lives in the deep sea, it’s body is under tremendous pressure. This pressure was held in by an exoskeleton, which the torpedoes broke open.

The crew can now get back to herding fish, and successfully drive them into the town, for now, the population have something to keep them alive! The schoolteacher has been surveying the boundaries of the radioactivity in more detail, now that he has protective gear from the submarine.  He tells Bryant there is a store of seed potatoes in a deep vault at St. Austell, and if people in protective clothing could drive there, they could bring them back and start to grow them. The crew set off, finding many crashed, or just stalled, cars, with dead drivers – people fleeing the cities who were caught out by the intense fallout. They reach St. Austell, described as “centre of the china-clay industry”. People in the 50’s couldn’t possibly have foreseen how quickly and completely British industry would be destroyed.

The crew soon find the seed potato vault, and open it. There they are attacked by a madman! He has been shut in there for 5 weeks, living on potatoes and condensation, and not knowing what had happened to the outside world. Rather conveniently, another protective suit and airtight cases for transporting the potatoes come to hand, and they all make their way back to Trelorna, where something else crops up – confused, meaningless messages in Morse are being transmitted from some elderly wireless set!

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On the way to find the source of these signals, they spot another sea monster through the periscope. This one has six huge legs, black scales and snail-like antennae. It was originally intended to walk around at the bottom of deep-sea canyons, but was drawn to the surface by the nuclear explosions. When it tried to walk on land, the radiation killed it.

The Argos carries on into St. Ives, where they find some minesweepers, an oil tanker and a couple of “tramp steamers”. Of course, by the real 1996 I doubt St. Ives had any industrial port facilities at all. But then again in the real 1996 the country hadn’t been at war for 6 months! They soon discover the morse code is coming from the oil tanker, and after breaking in, find a kid called Tommy Clarke alive below decks. He was shut in the deepest part of the habitable area of the ship, having been planning on stowing away for a ‘life at sea’ (hah, imagine a real British kid of 1996 doing that!). The rest of the crew had tried to make it home when the air raid warnings sounded, and had been killed. Tommy had food, water and power from the ship’s small generator (which had a whole tanker’s worth of fuel to run on!), so was able to survive.

With Tommy rescued, the Argos turns back, only now one of the artificers, called Dorsey, leads a minor mutiny. He and some other want ‘shore leave’ in St. Ives, even though they’d have to have it in cumbersome radiation suits. The Captain guesses they really want to loot beer from the pubs, and challenges Dorsey to a fight. Bryant wins, and the Argos continues with her mission, on the way back to Trelorna some whales are driven into the harbour and captured. Also they witness the detonation of a nuclear mine(!) which broke it’s moorings in a storm, drifted against the coast and detonated, incinerating many square miles and releasing even more fallout – good thing that didn’t drift into the harbour!

With a supply of food, and also whale-oil for fuel, secured, the survivors start to wonder if anybody else has survived the war. They reason that atomic research facilities and nuclear power stations (accurate prediction of the future! We only had one nuclear power station in the 50’s, and that was a small one, with production of material for nuclear weapons it’s main priority.) will have ‘safe rooms’ with radiation shielding, where there might be survivors.

Argos sets off once more, spotting a still-working lighthouse – which means it must still be manned (the story shows it’s age once again). Two of the men in the lighthouse have been killed by fallout, but the third is “naturally immune”, though he still has some radiation burns, and has gone mad. Bryant has to call on his boxing skills once more, and the mission proceeds. They also come across a drifting American aircraft carrier – sent to help Britain repel enemy bombers, but it didn’t get there in time. No doubt in a real nuclear World War 3 Britain would just be classed as an American aircraft carrier, but one crewed by foreigners, so it’s okay for the Americans to leave if it’s in danger of being ‘sunk’.

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The Argos carries on to the Mersey, finding Liverpool has taken a direct hit and has been entirely flattened. They sail to the other side of the river, get a lorry and start to drive towards a nuclear power station at a place called Werton. Before they get there, they find a car coming the other way! A few scientists from the power station have survived, but had run out of food and were going to search for more, using their own anti-radiation suits. One of them, Professor Woodley, has been working on a compound which neutralises radioactive fallout, but it’s still early days. The scientists are taken back to Trelorna and begin to work with the farmers on growing potatoes successfully in the irradiated soil.

The scientists need more information, so the Argos sets off to Plymouth to find some books. The town has not been hit by a nuclear bomb, though is as lifeless as everywhere else. They go to the library and start to fetch a load of scientific books, suddenly they hear the recall signal from the Argos – three shots of the deck gun! The story showing it’s age again – why would a nuclear submarine, able to submerge for months at a time, and with the ‘chivalry’ of the First World War long dead – need a deck gun? Even HMS Dreadnought, out first nuclear sub which entered service in 1959, didn’t have one. Anyway, the shore party race back to the dock, and find Argos has disappeared! The dingy which had been tied to the outside of the hull is floating freely – obviously she has crash dived in a great hurry.

One of the crew suddenly spots a submarine entering the harbour – but she is of a strange design, and has X7 painted on her conning tower – an enemy! The shore party get under cover, and watch as an enemy shore party enter the town and look around. Bryant knows something of “the enemy’s language”, and overhears them saying that the situation in Britain is “the same as at home”. They then console themselves with the fact that “the scientists who created these infernal bombs are dead” and go back to hunting for fish. The party from the Argos keep out of sight, they only have one revolver between them, and the war is not officially over. The enemy captain – Commander Stok – orders his men back on board, and they sail off. The Argos reappears, and they set off back to Trelorna, this time with the crew at action stations!

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Later, Argos is trying to navigate a horde of eels into Trelorna bay, but it is proving difficult – they have to chase them around the Scilly Isles several times. Just as they get into the channel, a huge blast of sound scatters the eels. It’s the X7! She hasn’t detected the Argos – she was instead trying to direct the eels with sound, rather than electric shocks. The Argos goes into stealth mode, and watches as the X7 battles another sea monster. The X7 fires two torpedoes at the monster, and Argos has to dash out of the way, in case either of them misses. The Argos is mentioned as travelling at 50-60 knots underwater, by contrast the Royal Navy’s Daring-class destroyers of the 1950’s could only do 30 knots on the surface (and our nuclear “fleet submarines” which were in service in the 1990’s, could do about the same underwater). One of the X7’s shots kills the monster, and she goes back to directing shoals of fish using sound waves, followed by the Argos.

Eventually X7 gets close to the Somme river, which is at low tide. Bryant orders the Argos to overtake the shoal of fish, and steer them into the estuary using electric shocks. With this done, the X7 races to follow, and jams herself in a mud bank. Bryant then calls X7 on the “undersea telephone” (at least there’s no “imagiser”, I suppose), and reveals the existence of the British crew. The X7’s immediate response is a pair of torpedoes!

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Bryant moves Argos into a position immediately above X7 and waits. Eventually Captain Stok agrees to a truce – the politicians who started the war are all dead, and it’s up to the two crews to work together for the future of the human race. X7 has been herding fish for two similarly-stranded colonies of people “a thousand miles away” on the other side of the North Sea. Assuming the enemy is the Soviet Union, these colonies could be in Poland or along the Soviet shore in the Baltic. Or, if this was happening in the actual 1996, there could be Russian survivors in Kaliningrad.

Argos prepars to take the X7 in tow, when another sea monster appears on the radar. It is heading towards the shoal of fish, which still swarm around the X7 in confusion. Argos disengages and fights the monster, Bryant has to be careful about when he fires the torpedoes, as the explosions might damage the X7. After a short battle, the monster is blown up, and X7 is successfully bought to the surface and towed to Trelorna.

The people of Trelorna are wary at first – they are the last British people alive, and any trickery by the enemy might result in the entire country being wiped out. But when they hear that there’s other desperate colonies of people just clinging to life, they accept the truce as real. Soon the X7’s crew are meeting the locals, and playing a football game, despite the language barrier.

Bryant, Captain Stok and some others are invited to Professor Woodley’s house, where he shows them some formerly-radioactive soil he has treated with his powder. It’s now completely inert, and safe to grow crops in. Henry Penkevil, who has his own gieger counter (with the threat of nuclear war, maybe headmasters would be issued with them – the balloon could go up at any time!), reports that the area of radiation-free land around the village appears to be slowly growing, too. Bryant looks forward to a future where these three small colonies of people will be able to rebuild human society, together and in peace.

The Headhunter of St. Hal’s

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By the mid-late 50’s, the writing was well and truly on the wall for story papers, as all-comic strip, “American” (sometimes) “style” (sometimes) “Slicks” began to sell in ever-greater numbers, the Beano and Dandy trampled what was left of the older humour comics into the dust, and Eagle gave Britain’s own adventure comic “style” a quality product to imitate.

Still, some story papers were soldiering on – especially those from DC Thomson. Their first foray into the weekly story-paper market had been Adventure, which began in 1921, and really shook things up with it’s strange stories of super powers, time travel, space travel and sportsmen of amazing ability. Adventure, and three of it’s stablemates, were kept running throughout the war, whereas Amalgamated Press had killed off story papers wholesale – keeping their more modern, comic-focused publications for boys going instead.

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With the all-text style starting to look old fashioned at the end of the war, Adventure began to feature (very!) simple, four-colour picture strips on the covers. By the mid-50’s, these had increased in sophistication, and the centre pages featured a similar strip in black, white and red.

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Neither of these strips had speech balloons (and, of course, sound effects should be rare and unusual in British adventure comics anyway!), but were instead a series of pictures with large captions underneath, explaining the story. The frames were almost always the same size, though sometimes a new cover strip would be introduced with a large panel.

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Like the text serials, the strips were regularly changed around, in order to feature stories on different themes. These included wartime adventure with frogmen and Spitfire pilots, science fiction with deadly walking machines, early-Victorian boxing with Tinker Cobb and the strange tale of an RAF test-pilot who is also a first-division goalkeeper!

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The Headhunter of St. Hal’s was another of the red, white and black strips. This one is a boarding school story, a craze for which had been kicked off by Tom Brown’s Schooldays right back in 1857, and was only now starting to slow. Probably more through accident than design, nearly all boarding school stories appearing in British comics were text. Girls got a few strips, but boy’s ones were pretty rare. That makes this story quite interesting, even if it is pretty terrible! Also the tale is told from the point of view of the villain, which is pretty unusual even by DC Thomson standards (though characters acting in defiance of the law – like Tinker Cobb – were fairly common, they weren’t evil as such).

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The story begins with the headmaster of St. Hal’s recieving an evil-looking carved idol from his brother, who is exploring in Borneo. The head is reminded that a new boy, called Juma, who comes from Borneo, is starting at the school that day. He doesn’t yet know that the boy has been sent by his tribe to recapture the idol! The headmaster’s brother had stolen it, and had been tortured to death in revenge.

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The head sends Dick Donovan, the captain of the Fourth Form, to the station to meet the new boy. The ethnic majorities of Borneo are Malay, Chinese, Banjar and Dayak (who are apparently very similar to Malays). But Juma looks more like a Black African with the eyes of a cat. On the way back, they are attacked by some bullies. Juma pulls a knife and tries to stab one of them! Dick stops him in time, but Juma later threatens the porter in the same way. Dick tells him “we can’t have the law of the jungle at St. Hals!” XD.

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They go to the headmaster’s office, where Juma spots the idol and starts to worship it! The head arrives shortly afterwards and greets Juma, who notices a red stain from the idol on his hand. Any White man who touches the idol must die! But Juma decides to bide his time, and formulate a very over-complicated, messy plan XD.

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Dick shows Juma to his study, where some bullies later threaten him. But he knocks one of their caps off with an expertly-thrown knife, and they decide to leave him alone after that. Juma’s first day at the school passes normally, but that night he sneaks out of the dormitory and goes to the headmaster’s office. At the precise moment Juma looks through the wall, the head discovers a long-forgotten secret passage which leads out from a panel in the wall. Juma shoots the head with a drugged blow-dart, and locks him into some very convenient (and still working) old handcuffs that are chained to the wall.

Juma sneaks back out of the hidden passage, only to find a burglar who has just finished picking the lock of the head’s safe! Juma strangles him, and throws him off the balcony.

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Juma then opens the safe, but this sets off alarms throughout the school. The alarm needs to be deactivated by pressing a secret button, before the door can be opened. Juma quickly hides the idol on top of a cupboard, then joins in with the crowd of boys surging down the corridor. They find the dead burglar, and assume that he ran out of the window and fell when the alarms went off.

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Sam Taylor, the porter, finds the idol and hides it in his cottage, thinking it might be worth something. He assumes the burglar hid it on the cupboard, and with the headmaster missing, nobody will bother to look for it. Juma is angry at finding the idol missing, but thanks to it’s ever-wet paint, he quickly works out who has stolen it, darts the porter, and locks him up in the secret tunnels too.

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Two other masters are in the headmaster’s office, so Juma explores the tunnels further, finding another exit in a ruined castle near the school. He runs back, but is late for class, so is put in detention with Bully Bates, the boy whose cap he had knocked off earlier. The bully notices Juma is agitated and trying to escape, so follows him to the headmaster’s office when they are let out. But Juma has already ‘vanished’ into the secret tunnels!

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By this time, the porter has recovered from the drugged dart. Juma learns (by, lets not beat about the bush here, torture!) that the idol has been sold to an antique shop in the town. He tries to leave the school by the front gate, but is caught by some prefects and bought back.

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That night, Juma sneaks down to the tunnels again, intending to get out through the other end. Bully bates follows him and… (missing reel) …my volume has a few missing issues! Anyway, in the next issue he has captured Bully Bates, drugged the shop owner, and holds him up whilst “waving” with his arm to a policeman outside the shop! Juma can’t find the idol, so returns to the secret passage, pushing the antiques dealer in a covered wheelbarrow. Two tramps spot him and, no doubt because of his skin colour, assume he has stolen something.

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While Juma fiddles about with the door of the secret passage, the tramps look in the barrow, and see the “dead” shopkeeper. They run off before Juma comes back, and drags the shopkeeper into the school the hard way, adding to his collection of missing persons. Quite why all those chained-up people don’t shout for help at once is beyond me. The walls of the school can’t be that thick!

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Juma goes down the passage and frees the other door, but quickly closes it again, as he can see the tramps and several police on the other side! The next day, the police investigate the school, searching every study. Juma, for some reason, as the death mask of the headmaster’s brother in his suitcase, which would take a bit of explaining! A policeman is about to find it, so Juma does the sensible thing and… oh wait, he attacks the copper with a knife! He is quickly overpowered and locked in the detention room. But, would ya know it, he has a special weed which can be used to ‘hypnotise’ people!

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Mr Davison, the senior master, comes to check on Juma, and gets a face-full of the weed. Juma commands him to hand over the keys, then go to sleep. Soon Juma is running back to the antique shop, but the police, having found evidence of a break-in, and nothing but the owner missing, have rigged up an alarm system.

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Juma manages to grab the idol anyway (despite stopping to worship it once again), and only just escapes the clutches of the law. He runs back to the school and commands Mr Davison to go and tell the police he has been locked up in the detention room all night. What Juma doesn’t know is that Dick Donovan (remember him?) is hiding in the room too, and overhears what happens.

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With the police off the sent, Juma puts the master out of action again, with a kick to the jaw! Donovan follows him across the quad, and into the headmaster’s room, where he spots the secret passage. Rousing the Fourth Form, Dick leads an attack on Juma’s hideout just as he is about to start torturing the head with a red-hot iron. Juma is overpowered and all his prisoners set free. The headmaster congratulates dick, and promises to send the idol ba-what? no of course he doesn’t, he’ll have it put in the local museum. It’s well-known that tribes who consider an idol so sacred they will send one of their number right around the world to regain it, using deadly force if necessary, will give up if the first attempt fails XD.

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Bunty in the 90’s

Remember this book?

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

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

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

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

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

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It reproduces the last-ever cover, from 2001.

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Is that a text story I see being advertised?

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

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Some typical covers

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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THERE WERE THIS FING CAM AP!

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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I live in a huge building site!

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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How licensed annuals ought to be done

The “modern” form of comic annuals began in the 1940’s, though of course the history of annuals filled with fictional stories, some taking the names of weekly and monthly comics, goes back far further. Running alongside these, throughout their history, have been “standalone” annuals with strips and stories (particularly the output of Dean), annuals named after celebrities, based on radio shows, films and later TV shows. As time has gone on these have declined in quality. Today they are mostly worthless, dumbed down fare of as little as 64 pages, sometimes with a whole page occupied by a generic publicity photo or single, unfunny joke.

Of course, in better days an annual based on a TV show would be filled with exciting text stories and comics. For instance, the 1966 Z Cars annual!

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 Presumed to be “the 1966 annual” because the copyright date inside is 1965

From cover to cover it contains nothing but action-packed detective stories (plenty of punch ups, just like the show! …or at least the clips I’ve seen) and a few comic strips. There’s hardly a publicity shot in sight, except on the endpapers, and to spice up the contents page.

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It was called Z Cars because the cars they were driving were Ford Zephyrs. That estate one would fetch a pretty penny today!

The show was always in black and white, but the illustrations in this annual are all in full colour! It might have been exciting for the kids of the time to see their heroes looking closer to real life. I say might have been, because the colouring is, er, well…

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All is forgiven, modern Classics Illustrated!

I believe this is called “the four colour method”, where the art has blobs of colour printed on it one after the other, which can be combined, or used as screentone, to produce other colours. Old US comics used it to great effect, producing the colourful spandex superhero costumes that endure to this day. This annual, though, appears to have slapped them down largely at random. Some of the resulting images are just plain bizarre:

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All aboard the clown boat!

This weird colouring is also used in the strips, though on those it is slightly better. Can’t help but feel some grey screentone used to ‘suggest’ colours would have worked better, though.

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This annual is a good read, and doesn’t have a single jokes page or article. Mind you, if it did have a jokes page there would have been a good number of jokes, which would have been illustrated with newly-created art, for which an artist would have been paid. And if there had been articles, they would no doubt have been of a decent length and actually contained interesting information on police work. Mind you, though, the annual does cost a whopping 9/6! Apparently kids of the day felt like they could “buy the world” with a 10-bob note, so that must have been quite a bit.

For 2 shillings less, their parents could have got them a “proper” annual for Christmas. For instance, the first Hotspur annual!

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There’s also an article about surfing on the inside, it comes and goes, like yo-yo’s

The Hotspur annual, reflecting the changes made to it’s parent weekly in 1959, is mostly strips. They’re much better drawn than the Z Cars ones too, though are not “full colour”. Instead they have blocks and tones in only one colour, but they are used far more intelligently, working with the black and white work, not burying it!

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Hotspur was mainly an adventure comic, though the annual (and, I’m assuming, the weekly) also contains a few gag strips and text stories. As the comic was an anthology, the stories are not all on the same theme, covering World War 2, the wild west, Victorian firemen, football and sailing. There’s also fictionalised accounts of real adventures, for instance the journeys of Earnest Shackleton.

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Most of the stories in the annual appear to be one-offs (though I don’t own any weekly Hotspurs from 1965). One of them, though, is about the long-running DC Thomson character The Wolf of Kabul. He’s a British secret agent on the North-west frontier, forever “just before the First World War” (the war begins in this story, I suspect it’s not the only one where that happens!). The real star of the story is his native (though it’s not clear if he is an Indian or an Arab) assistant Chung, who wades into battle with a worn-out old cricket bat called “Clicky-Ba”.

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New format for Commando

No, don’t worry, they haven’t added any colour to it! (Mind you, if Commando sales are increasing and if The Phoenix can establish a bridgehead, could a re-launch of The Victor, “The new colour weekly from the makers of Commando!” be an outside possibility?), instead they have improved the printing dramatically.

A while ago, DC Thomson closed down their in-house printing operation to save money (this also bought about the end of the Beano and Dandy libraries). The new outside printers seemed to have trouble with Commando, with issues becoming creased along the spine.

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An old “in house” issue, a new printer issue and one of the latest.

As you can see, the most recent change has made the issues much thicker, with a good, square spine and no creasing! In fact the 64-page Commando issues are now as thick as 96-page issues of The Boys’ Friend Library from the 20’s and 30’s!

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Alongside a BFL from 1937.

The paper the new printers had been using was also slightly “crinkly”, but they have now switched back to a more ‘pulp’, newsprint type that really allows the ink to stand out.

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An old issue, note the creasing up at the centre and shiny paper.

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Now, much better!

Commando is not included in the ABC sales figures (in these dark times for British comics, they are eagerly scruitnised and speculated over!), probably because it’s “four every two weeks” schedule is “weird”. But according to information from the Commando CO there has been an increase in sales recently – no doubt due to the reprint books, publicity surrounding the 50th anniversary and the National Army Museum exhibition. Commando pages also work perfectly on the screens of digital readers such as iPads, where it has also proved popular. Perhaps the profit from the digital version is being invested back in the paper editions? It’s an encouraging sign.

Also encouraging is the fact that, on a few recent occasions, I have complained about the “stupid” WH Smith staff only putting out three of the four issues. But when I went to buy the most recent batch I actually got the last issue of the (non reprinted) Falklands War story. They weren’t failing to put out certain issues – they were selling out! In fact on occasion, when I have gone into Smith’s on the ‘other week’ there has been only 2-3 comics left in the box! May be feel some cautious optimism?

Incidentally another batch of 3-in-1 reprint books has been released. But I appear to have accidentally deleted the picture I’d taken of them!

Comic Football – Suspended!

Bad news from newcomer Comic Football, it has been sent for an early bath after a stellar performance.

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It was a game of three halves… erm

Despite giving 110% out on the pitch, at the end of the day that old injury to football comics told and it looks like the kid will be out for the forseeable future. The manager does, however, hint at a return in the future for the plucky upstart. We can only hope we haven’t seen the last of this promising talent.

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Well I’m not gonna tell any old person my address XD

In transfer news the first subscription issue of The Dandy got transferred to my house. Remember, it now has under 8,000 people on the terraces but if you buy online the tickets are only £1! Get them now and secure your place right behind the goal.

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Save The Dandy – A call to arms

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Again.

There’s been quite a lot written about the decline in Dandy sales lately, a lot of it in the form of mouth-foaming ravings on blog comments. These basically split into the “the artwork isn’t that great” camp and the “it’s just what the modern style is like and besides sales of everything are dropping” camp. (The third camp being bewildered casual fans wondering what on earth provoked such fury, such as me). If you ask me in amongst all the molten lolva flowing from the trollcano there were some valid points. However neither side seemed willing to accept the other viewpoint at all, meeting it with circular arguments and personal attacks. (NB: I’ll spare you the links as they were all full of swearing and I want to keep this blog clean, it’s part of my self-publishing site… at the moment the only working part!)

All of this actually made me stop caring about the Dandy. But then I thought why let that get me down? I’m jingoistic and patriotic and usually champion century-old story papers nobody’s even heard of. Of course I should be standing up for our longest-running comic!

What can we do?

Comments from people who work on the Dandy, and parents of children who get it regularly, seem to suggest that actually kids do like it as it is at present. Of course there may be room for improvement and perhaps they’d like it even better if it had 1960’s style Dudley D Watkins artwork. BUT if it goes to the wall it will never have a chance to improve. Lets get the sales up first and worry about the details afterwards.

How can we get the sales up? Well DC Thomson haven’t exactly got Marvel or DC money behind them, they can’t afford mass advertising campaigns to raise awareness of their titles. These are often poorly distributed (not seen the Dandy in Tesco for a while now, for instance) or buried under a ton of stupid toy-covered tie-in rubbish. So, let’s not rely on DC Thomson buying adverts, lets use the oldest trick in the book…

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It was ancient when this was printed!

What trick is that? The trick that they had to rely on when newspapers and magazines were full of ads for quack remedies, there was maybe 3 radio receivers in the whole world and television was a charming theory…

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Yes, lets advertise the comic ourselves! Lets assume out of the 7,500-odd readers that 6,500 are “regulars” and the others might get it one week and not the next. It’s possible that the regulars will know the irregulars and may be able to persuade them to get it more often. And of course there are the friends at school who may not get any comics. If anybody from the Dandy is out there it’s certainly worth a go!

And for those of us “rather beyond” the target age group, we must know somebody with young children! Comic fans are the best-placed to remind new parents that combined words and pictures help develop to literacy. You could even mention that you are trying to learn a foreign language and want to buy comics in that language, then idly add “it’s how I learned English in the first place!”

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Koko, then something about listening… erm…

And then of course there are other comic forums populated by people who may live in Britain but who primarily read American, Franco-Belgian or Japanese comics. Are you a member? Try and get people to rally around one of their home-grown icons!

Finally there’s a slightly more unorthodox tactic. Ever hear of guerrilla gardening? What about guerrilla comic placing? I may have subscribed to the Dandy now (£15 for 15 issues and free delivery!) but, well, I don’t exactly have much room…

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Oh dear

…nor am I really that interested in modern comedy comics, preferring 100 year old adventure papers. So once I’ve read the Dandy’s I’ll be leaving them in places that kids or parents might find them. Because if they read it themselves and decide they want more, the job’s done! (Mind you, make sure that your “guerrilla comic placing” doesn’t get confused with “littering”! )

And before I go, that subscription link again!

http://www.dcthomsonshop.co.uk/Group-Dandy.aspx