50 years of Commando coffee table book

On Monday I had the day off and decided to go to the National Army Museum in London to see the Commando exhibition. Because it wasn’t a weekend (like it is when I go to comic conventions) the Underground was actually working! The museum itself is a fair walk from the station, past the Royal Chelsea Hospital. The houses round that way are nice mind you.

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When I rule my own country this is what the narrowest streets will look like.

Anyway after the walk I reached the museum, which has a banner outside advertising the exhibition. It did start on the first of this month though, the banner may not stay until the end! The museum itself is deceptively small on the outside, the inside is full of maze-like small rooms crammed with informative exhibits. The actual army exhibition part goes forwards in time as you climb the stairs, the first hall is about the New Model Army, for instance, whilst the one closest to the exhibition (on the top floor) is about 40’s and 50’s National Service.

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The Commando exhibition itself is actually quite small, and confined to one room. It’s primarily original cover artwork, which is no bad thing as the work of Ken Barr, Jose Maria Jorge et al is beautiful! There’s a mixture of ages too. DC Thomson are great at keeping their original artwork, which allows for top-notch reprints. They even have the original art for the very first issue, which will be reprinted shortly. You aren’t supposed to take pictures, and a small bloke who might have been a Gurkha caught me XD. But here’s one of the ones I managed to smuggle across the lines!

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50 years old and it looks like the paint’s barely dry!

Apart from the cover artwork there’s actually disappointingly little else, but only so much of a “serious” museum can be turned over to “mere” comics. There’s a very brief history of boys’ adventure comics mentioning The Boys’ Own Paper (with a 1916 monthly issue on display), examples of Commando’s IPC competitors, a mention of The Victor and a copy of “Battle Action Force”. This latter was an odd choice, Battle Picture Weekly (later Battle Action) is regarded as one of the greatest British comics ever, but Battle Action Force was just a stupid toy catalogue disguised as a comic (though unfortunately a sign of things to come).

There’s also one small cabinet featuring some authentic Commando equipment such as a silenced Sten Gun, a Commando knife, a few berets (and a helmet with a nasty-looking hole!). Behind it is a painting of the famous Saint Nazaire raid, which virtually immobilised Germany’s best battleships for the rest of the war.

Unfortunately there’s almost no interior artwork (I’d love to see the fine lines of Jose Maria Jorge up close!) but there is some more curious items – examples of the “transparencies” that used to be laid over the artwork. These have the comics logo, the knife and the title painted on them. They also have the cover of issue 11 “Closer Than Brothers” assembled with it’s transparencies, as it would have been back in 1961 for the printers! Of course today all of that is added to the art digitally instead.

One final important detail is that a couple of the descriptions lament the fact that comics are not taken seriously in Britain, and that the hard work of writers and artists deserves to be recognised and remembered much better than it is. Hopefully this display will be a small step in that direction!

In the museum’s shop the 50 Years a Home for Heroes book is on sale. It will be in bookshops at the end of the month. It’s about as thick as an annual but very large!

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Like so

As well as a general history of Commando, it also contains articles on writers and artists (“general overview” articles rather than ones for individuals, unfortunately) with some amusing anecdotes and insights into their working methods.

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With scattered-around bits of cover art. Here’s where keeping the originals comes in handy!

There’s also 6 reprinted stories, with 4 pages to each page at original size! Plus the covers are reproduced in colour (unlike the various other reprint books).

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Why yes he does have a story in there!

Finally the reprinted stories have introductions with big blow-ups of the cover art and detail on the stories, such as how they were developed with the writer, editor and artist. These pages look magnificent, and the whole book is printed on thick, heavy matte paper that really shows off the art.

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Must be about the original size of the paintings!

Despite it’s small size this exhibition is well worth visiting. The nearest underground station is Sloane Square. From there go left down the street in the picture above, then left again and right at the crossroads past the Royal Chelsea Hospital, then just go straight! Entry is free and there’s plenty else to look at in the building too.

Life imitates art… again!

I saw this story in the paper a week ago:

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Which is refusing to post in clickable thumbnail mode

For anybody who can’t be bothered to scroll around the image, it is an article about a runner called John Tarrant who throughout the 50’s became infamous as “The Ghost Runner”. He had been banned from competing in athletics tournaments in Britain due to having once been paid for sport – as a boxer when he was young and desperate. Despite this he would pop up at major events anyway, leaping the barriers to join a race just as it was starting. It sounds just like a story from a comic… In fact it sounds just like two stories from a comic! Possibly the most famous athletics stories ever written. Just look at this:

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Does that remind you of anybody?

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From The Hornet via the Great British Comics book… phew

The one and only Wilson! This great character first appeared in The Wizard in July 1943. It chronicled the story of this mysterious athlete who became known when he leapt into a race, until then a foregone conclusion, and trounced the opposition. From then onwards he would crop up at different events up and down the country, not so much breaking records as tearing the book to pieces!

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As you may notice the story is called “The Truth About Wilson”, and what was this truth? It was the fact he was born in 1795 and had lived all those years thanks to a simple life living on the moors, sleeping in a cave and eating various herbal recipes that were actually the elixir of life! At many points throughout the story, chronicled by the journalist W.S.K. Webb, supposedly during the year before World War 2, Wilson would refer to old records from the early 19th century thought to only be legends. He would then set out to break these “impossible” records, which were far in advance of the accepted modern ones – and usually manage it! Of course later it is revealed that he was actually alive when all these supposedly legendary records were set up, without the aid of stopwatches!

The Wilson stories were initially “explained away” by the fact that they all took place before World War 2, and so Wilson’s amazing records were “forgotten” because of the war. But DC Thomson had created a juggernaut and couldn’t just stop at one series. So Wilson, supposedly “last seen” in a burning spitfire over the Channel, returned to “seek champions” in the late 1940’s for Britian’s olympic efforts. After this he discovered a lost Ancient Greek civilisation in Africa and competed in their olympics, before going elsewhere in Africa to compete in a Zulu warlord’s “black olympics”. Still later he made the transition from text stories to comic strips in The Hornet, moving eventually to The Victor. Also in DC Thomson’s more “hard hitting” 80’s comic Spike, he was bought back as the mysterious “man in black”. Readers were going to be let in to his identity and background story only at the end of the serial – however their dads, remembering Wilson from the old days, spoiled it for them after episode 1!

However, Wilson is not the only comic strip hero to defy the authorities and take to the track on his own terms. Over in The Rover a story called The Tough of the Track began in 1949. This featured Alf Tupper, a much more down to earth character who worked as a welder and ate cod n’ chips!

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This could be Alf Tupper! (Except he did reach the Olympics eventually)

Alf, too, was thrown out of professional athletics. But his fault was to catch out an upper-class cheat, and then to be too quick with his fists.

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 Again from the later comic strip. Alf Tupper also first appeared in text stories.

And he also decided to join in a race uninvited, and “ran ’em” all!

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Alf also had a long life. He started in 1949, but I have issues of The Victor from the late 80’s where he’s still going strong – and there’s also stories of his apparent childhood which is clearly set in the 70’s! The ageing patterns only comic characters (and James Bond) can manage! The final Alf Tupper story didn’t appear in a comic, but in a newspaper. It was 1992 and the Victor’s days were already numbered, the paper featured a short serialised strip showing how Alf made it to the Barcelona Olympics and “ran” the best athletes in the world to win gold!

Sadly Victor Tarrant didn’t have such a long life, dying at only 42 of stomach cancer. Like the comic strip stars he perhaps unknowingly emulated (mind you he was a working class lad in the 40’s, could he perhaps have had Wilson tucked away in his subconscious when he decided on his “pitch invasions”? We’ll never know) he was forgotten until a researcher stumbled upon his memoirs. They have finally been published as “The Ghost Runner” by Bill Jones. It is right and proper that such an unstoppable and eccentric character should be remembered. But what of the comic and story-paper versions? These tales entertained generations of readers for decades yet ask the average convention goer at Bristol and they won’t have a clue who you are on about. We have, in the words of Show of Hands, “lost more than we’ll ever know”.

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Oi DCT, reprint this!

The Beano “Gnashional Trust” special

In keeping with my timely updates on current comics, this one is actually going off sale tomorrow, but oh well. DC Thomson have teamed up with the National Trust to bring a Beano with several stories featuring the characters visiting famous locations around Britain.

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Once again I’ve been taking photos of the glossy pages with the flash rather than scanning them -_-

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I must remember it’s okay to scan modern comics it’s only crumbling 100 year old ones you have to be careful with!

 This has given the artists a chance to show off their skills with renditions of these grand stately piles…

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While we’re here I may as well mention that the Beano has recently been running a two-page “Retro Beano” spread with classic reprints. After the shock demise of Classics From the Comics this was a welcome addition. Also the stories are presented with their original colour.

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89-90 eh? I just missed these! Started getting it in 1991

There is also other reprints in the issue as Roger The Dodger and Minnie The Minx are reprints from the 80’s too at the moment, but those are “disguised” reprints with new colouring and occasionally updated dialogue (what is clearly a tape player becomes a “ipod” for instance!).

There’s also been a series of activity pages called “Where’s Dennis?”, reprinted from a big book from 1999. Unfortunately they have decided to “update” these too, by pasting on the face of the modern “TV Dennis” (who is seemingly not going to be with us much longer anyway, things are moving towards the old one being bought back). However the pasted-on artwork is at a higher resolution and sticks out a mile.

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Also he’s near the middle of the picture where people will look first anyway.

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Harrumph! Grrrumph! I bet it’s all PC these days anyway. Back in my day they’d give away free bows and arrows with the comic, you wouldn’t get that these days…

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Oh.

Space Watch reprinted!

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

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

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

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

Tomorrow!

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Is how they may have advertised a re-launch 100 years ago (which would have been a full 27 years before the first issue came out, but there you go). But this isn’t 1910, it’s 2010! – and the ALL-NEW, ALL-STRIP Dandy is out tomorrow! Or was today if you looked in the right places. Reaction on Comics-UK has, from my skim-reading to avoid actually reading it (heh) looks very very positive! So get buying and show the money-men that we like this kind of thing!

Farewell, Jose Maria Jorge

Last week saw the sad death of one of my favourite comic artists, Jose Maria Jorge. Hailing from Argentina, he worked for DC Thomson’s Commando comic, which is incidentally the last-surviving title in the Boys’ Own genre that is properly published in newsagents.

He specialised in flying stories (though occasionally did submarine stories too – and in “Fire over England” in the “True Brit” reprint book did both!). In 42 years he drew 163 issues. The final one of which was “Divided Aces”, Commando 4329, which appeared in September as part of the 70th anniversary of the Battle of Britain. He also had the honour of drawing issue 4000 – quite possibly the highest number any comic has ever reached!

He could turn his hand to flying stories of any era with equal skill. I’ll let the artwork speak for itself here, fans of classic warbirds might want to hang around!

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Starting off in World War 1 with Albatross fighters against “gunbus” pusher biplanes. This is from the story “Ace Versus Ace”, number 4091

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Into World War 2 now, with the story “Let Me Fly!”, number 4181. This story begins and ends with the air force but spends most of it’s time on the ground, with Germans fighting Russians. The uniforms and weapons no less authentically depicted. 

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Not bad at drawing explosions, either.

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Coming to the end of World War 2 in “Operation Extinction”, number 4144. Early jets could be bad enough to ‘just’ fly, let alone be shot at in! And just look at the attention to detail in that cockpit.

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And now it’s Sabres and Migs over Korea in “Iron Cross Yank”, Number 4104. Look at all the panels and rivets on the top of that Sabre! I bet a 1950’s American ground crew could find their way around this illustration!

Jose Maria also drew what is one of my favourite Commando stories of all time – “Aces Wild”, which is featured in the book “The Dirty Dozen” that can still be found knocking around in some book shops.  His artwork is good enough in the small Commando’s but really comes alive in those big books. In a just world we would, of course, have a big book dedicated to his Commando work as well as his paintings (mostly of classic motor racing) with lots of large-scale pictures. But i suspect instead the comics world at large will be left not knowing what a shining light it has lost just because he never drew Spider Man.

No updates lately…

Sorry, i’m too “busy” working on my own comics to write about other people’s at the moment!

BUT i’ll post a link to Lew Stringer’s blog, a short and sweet post about the impending re-design of The Dandy, with a cover gallery of the re-designs that have occurred in the past:

http://lewstringer.blogspot.com/2010/10/dandy-regenerates.html

What will it look like next? Find out in a few week’s time!The signs seem to be pointing to a more ‘classic style’ Dandy returning. The recent Dandy Xtreme rebranding was the biggest and most controversial one of all the changes it has undergone over the years… however nothing is quite certain as yet… references to the redesign are being kept pretty low-key and the creators that are working on it are saying little. We’ll have to wait and see!

Return of The Deatless Men?

I should think every reader of this blog is already familiar with one of the greatest stories ever published in a British comic.

It is a tale of a ruthless fascist regime under which the downtrodden people long for freedom. It is the tale of a rebellion against this regime by faceless killers, clad in anonymous masks and with a seemingly supernatural ability to cheat death and be in many places at once. Above all it is the tale of the police of this regime desperately trying to catch the man responsible for the endless string of outrages that threatens their rule. It is the tale of their chilling discovery that those responsible for the attacks on their leading officers ought to be dead – having been incarcerated in their sinister death camps. And it is the tale of betrayal at the highest levels as we learn that all the time the rebellion has deep inside knowledge of the regime’s hunt for them, and can always remain one step ahead.

This tale is of course V for Venegance, first published in The Wizard in 1951!

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The first series of which was reprinted in 1959, of which I own in a bound volume.

Anyway, today I was looking at the titles of the next Commando comics to come out and noticed this:

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Number 4322 is going to be called “V is for Vengeance!”

Could this possibly be DCT digging into their past to bring us an abridged/complete story of The Deathless Men? Sadly probably not, I don’t believe any of the recurring  characters from their other adventure comics (not even during a time when those comics were still running alongside Commando) have ever made the leap into the title. Though somebody did once on one website mention that “The Wolf of Kabul” a character from text stories who later appeared in a picture-story in The New Hotspur or Victor had re-appeared in Commando, it was actually a different character entirely (though with a similar setting in the middle east).

Actually the main character of those “wolf” stories was not a man but a book, passed down through many generations of a family from before WW1 up to the Gulf war of 1991. And not a comedy sidekick with a cricket bat in sight!