Proper British adventure comics are still around, if you know where to look – Part 4

You may recall I started this series of articles in the middle of last year, anticipating the release of what it was leading up to. However my anticipation was, in fact, 11 months out! But on the second of this month it finally arrived…

Strip Magazine

Meet the newest comrade in the battle against boring comics, and one that has shot straight into my “regular buys” pile:

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(For some reason Cambridge Smith’s is only selling 3 Commando’s a time now)

Strip Magazine is an all-new monthly of 68 pages that costs a mere £2.99, which is amazing value considering what you get. It even “feels” longer than the Judge Dredd Megazine did in the good old days of 2004 when it was 100 pages long and cost £4.99! It’s also filled with newly-created characters that exist solely for the purpose of being comics – they aren’t just dumb toy adverts or TV show tie-ins.

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We start off with a comedy superhero strip (no don’t run, it’s only a page and actually funny!), which is promisingly advertised as “The only superheroes you’ll see in Strip Magazine”. The introduction doesn’t beat about the bush either. The publisher, Bosnian Ivo Milicevic, grew up reading classic British adventure comics such as Action and Valiant. He later discovered, to his horror, that there was no equivalent comic being published in Britain today. It’s nice to know that foreigners care about this vast, vanished part of our culture – even if British people don’t!

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Some of those parody heroes are a bit close to the bone! Lets hope Marvel/DC are able to laugh at themselves…

The first strip kicks off in fine style with a massive-explosion-to-page ratio of four in six…

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KATHOOOM!

It’s Black Ops Extreme, and features a team of mercenaries who have all been convicted of various crimes, and are now earning their freedom by tackling the dirtiest jobs in the world’s hotspots. In this first story blowing up a drug factory in the disputed Western Sahara region. It is, in fact, unintentionally similar to Commando’s “Convict Commandos” series. The characterisation in those stories is brilliant, but here it doesn’t really have a chance to get off the ground in only six pages. But we’ll see how things go on (oh if only this was a weekly!).

I’ll remain pessimistically optimistic that this story isn’t going to end up with them discovering that actually “western capitalism” is “the real enemy” and fighting against Britain / America. But we’ll see… elsewhere in the issue it is implied that they will at some point be off to Afghanistan, a current conflict that Commando has only slightly touched on so far.

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The comic also contains adverts for other Print Media publications, including this upcoming collection of a Croation comic called Herlock Sholmes. It sounds amusing, but there’s been some more unintentional sameness… for that was the name given to a comedy detective in Tom Merry’s Own annual from 1950!

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Which coincidentally had the same title as the first Sexton Blake story from 1893!

But I suppose the name is pretty obvious. As is “Sherlock Homeless”, who has been spotted in Viz but also as a comic created by Mashiro Moritaka in Bakuman when he was a child!

Next we have an article on Action, the infamous comic from 1976 that featured endless violence and gallons of blood. It was dubbed “The Sevenpenny Nightmare” by The Sun, Condemned by the Football Association for encouraging hooligans and even debated in parliament!

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Using, I notice, a picture from the newly-recoloured Hook Jaw and not the original…

For all it’s horror Action did pave the way for the long-running 2000AD. Horrific violence apparently isn’t so bad when it’s happening 130 years in the future, or to robots and aliens. The article does make the highly-dubious claim that Blackjack in Action was “the first British strip to feature a black lead character”. Even ignoring offensive stereotypes like Policeman Pete (“he takes care of the nigs”!) from Tiger Tim’s Weekly, I’m sure that can’t be right. Could this be a brief flash of Megazine Syndrome – IE completely writing off anything that came before Comrade Mills as worthless?

Promisingly this article is named “Classic British Comics” – could it be one of a series? If it is I expect we will be seeing features on non-Eagle, pre-Mills titles that are not also awash with “hurr hurr Danny’s Tranny they wouldn’t get away with that today!” ‘hilarity’.

Anyway the reason Action has been featured in this first issue is to introduce the newly-recoloured reprint of an infamous seventies classic – Hook Jaw!

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Crunch!

Written off on a certain forum I go to as “dated” (erm, yeah?), it’s actually one of the best strips in the comic! The new colouring is pretty sympathetic to the old artwork, but It seems to me that the gore has actually been toned down(!). I’m sure pictures I’ve seen of the colour Hook Jaw pages from the original printing in Action had far more blood. But of course only some of the pages were originally coloured, here they all are.

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The next strip is a prequel to The Iron Moon, which I shamefully don’t own yet! It’s done in the same delicate watercolour/pencil style, which looks wonderful. The main character is Charlotte Corday, a secret agent in some kind of mystic investigation department. She also showed up in London Calling, which I talked about here. The Iron Moon is actually set in a different universe to that story, but one that is no less bonkers! It’s set in the 1890’s, but Queen Victoria is both still alive, and apparently came to the throne in the 1690’s! Also the British Empire extends all the way to mars, plus France has been conquered too.

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The next story is Recovery Inc. What can I say about this one? Well it features a woman in a tight black leather suit narrating the story as she creeps around stealing stuff. It’s like they threw a bunch of recentish thriller DVD’s at the writer and said “make this”. It also features swear words “disguised” by random symbols. Except those random symbols are actually text speak for the actual letters of the word. This is possibly even worse than fake “futuristic” swear words like “Frell” and they’d better pray nobody at the Mail/Express has their reading glasses on. It smacks of being written into a corner, if Eastenders (or Action!) can manage without swearing so can you!

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Incedentally if it wasn’t for the explanation of what Recovery Inc is on the contents page I wouldn’t have had the faintest idea what this was even about.

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Next there’s an article about PJ Holden, the artist on Black Ops Extreme, which also goes over his work for Rebellion, Warhammer and some other small(ish) press stuff.

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The next strip is Warpaint, which smacks of the mystik faery spyrit type of stories that made me finally give up on 2000AD. It also features one of these narrating the intro, complaining about how “us people” “like stories that start at the beginning”. Actually from what I’ve seen of a lot of modern British/US comics they very rarely start at the beginning these days. Luckily the Japanese (and Commando and Spaceship Away) are there to put things right!

Anyway this story features a girl called Mia, the same name as the main character of Recovery Inc! Her and a friend are stealing pipes from an old building to sell for scrap, when the security guard catches them. He is then eaten by the pipes and Mia is eaten by a coyote spirit… and no doubt will emerge with superpowers and fight against the evil forces that are working to tear Gaia apart at her ley lines by brainwashing earth’s chyldryen into driving cars, eating meat and wearing clothes. Or something.

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I’d say “Manga influenced” here… but I won’t because I’ve done more than idly flick through a few books in a shop!

Fortunately the next strip is far better! It’s the first winner of the Strip Challenge (don’t google that with safe search off). It’s self contained in six pages and so hits the ground running. Basically a secret agent in the future called Agent Syber rescues a kidnapped scientist from the baddies, and that’s it. Oh well, only six pages after all! I was actually pleasantly surprised to see a black and white strip. It shows that this comic is produced by people who love comics, not men in suits droning on that a lack of colour won’t appeal to the TV and Videogame generation.

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I want to draw a colour strip set in Britain’s countryside now!

The final adventure strip is Age of Heroes. It has utterly beautiful artwork, and features a wandering blind storyteller who, erm, tells stories. It’s set on another planet, and so features references to several made up heroes. One of whom is called Drake, who was a blind swordsman – like Japan’s Zatoichi! Anyway, the storyteller begins to tell his tale of an adventuring monk called Wex, who walks along a bit, and then decides to rest but gets a knife thrown at him. Erm, and then we have to wait for part 2. Again, if only this was a weekly!

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Finally on the back cover (on the cover! Told you this was a proper British comic!)  we have the other humour strip. This a comedy story about a faceless spy who looks very similar to the brilliant I.Spy of Sparky! Except this time he is up against evil intelligent apes. One of the hench-apes decides to change sides and help him (there’s no prospects for promotion in evil organisations), then they beat up the baddies. Well it is only a page!

Bad news from Classics Illustrated! + new stuff.

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

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

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

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

Sexton Blake: A Celebration

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

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

James Bond Omnibus

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

The Gem issues 1-15

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

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

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

The birth of decompression

All comic fans (or at least the ones with sense) lament the modern trend of “decompression”, also known as “ripping readers off and at the same time stretching out one good idea over loads of issues until everybody is bored of it” (they didn’t label me a “fence sitter” over at Comics UK for nothing!). Anyway, examples of this trend stretch back further than you might imagine, just look at this strip from a 1933 issue of The Gem! this gag could easily fit two panels but has been stretched to six, leaving the poor artist to draw virtually the exact same thing five times over!

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New Acquisition

Rick Random: Space Detective

A collected edition of 10 Rick Random stories from the pages of Super Detective Library (which also once featured a Sexton Blake story). It’s the same sort of thing as those big Commando books. The pages are reproduced from copies of the comic, like the War Picture Library books are, but the quality is astonishing! though some pages are better than others

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