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.

‘Latest’ 2000AD, Meg and Commando

Well i was planning my second post to “come up to date” with the very latest issues of 2000AD, the Judge Dredd Megazine and Commando, however on the day i had no internet and since then have had no motivation, so this entry is actually being made more than a week later. Oh well, at least it’s not more than 118 years later!

Batch o comics for Wed 17th of September 2008

The comics. Judge Dredd Megazine, 2000AD, Snow/Tiger (JDM reprint supplement, and the closest thing here to US comic size), and the four Commandos.

2000AD is a weekly sci-fi themed comic which began life in 1977 on the back of the Star Wars boom (in fact, before Star Wars arrived in Britain, but after everybody knew it had been massive in the US) and has carried on ever since, in a way “growing up with” it’s readers and nowadays featuring more mature themes than it did when it started (at the time pitched at the 8-12 age group). It has had it’s ups and downs and i’m afraid to report this paticular issue (1604) is a “down”. 2000AD is of course Synonmous with Judge Dredd, and this issue features the start of a new story called Firestorm, in which the judge apprehends a criminal who has commited several murders in Mega-City 1 and then fled into space (whilst the earth is a radioactive, crime-ridden hellhole in the Dreddverse, humanity has also spread out amongst the stars and colonised new planets, which begs the question why anybody stays on earth. It would make an interesting story). The judge acts very out of character in this story i feel, stomping onto another planet (albiet one rife with crime and corruption) to catch his man and ignoring the consequences. The Justice Department ship he came on is captured so he has to get the criminal onto a departing luxury space liner, which then (would you beleive it?) comes under pirate attack.

Judge Dredd escapes the alien world

Other stories include The Red Seas, a pirate/occult story always drawn by the same artist in sparse-looking line-art. The crew have come to the recently founded country of America to investigate massacres of townsfolk by apparent vikings, who happen to be bulletproof. They encounter a tribe of Indians who in the past joined with Vikings and have a shared heritage, before spending most of this episode climbing a very large tree, from which they can even see Britain, and ending up at the door of Valhalla. Like you do.

Following that we have ABC warriors, a strip with beautiful and confusing art. In it the “west”, who’s flag looks like that of the USA but with the stars replaced by an eagle, are involved in a war over oil with the Volgans, who are very thinly disguised Soviets. The war is primarily fought by robots. This episode following one of the western robots called Steelhorn, who is designed to be a chivalrous robot knight. He is infected with a Volgan virus and turns on his own side. Eventually the virus is beaten but the shame never leaves him.

After that we have part 5 of Stalag 666, a rubbish prisoner of war story in which very little has happend. Finally something does happen when some kind of large burrowing insect that lives under the camp bites one of the alien guards and kills him instantly (rather than in a few hours as with humans). This gives the prisoners an idea to harvest the venom and use it as a weapon to allow thier escape. 2000AD has recently had a spate (well, 3) of stories in which an old character who has not been seen for a long time returns in a ‘twist’ ending to a seemingly unrelated story. If you ask me this is another one of those.

Finally prog 1604 is wrapped up by Lobster Random, who re-appeared in the ending to one of the above-mentioned twist stories. I don’t know anything about Lobster Random and if this story is anything to go on i don’t want to, it’s mind-numbing.

Moving onto the Judge Dredd Megazine, we have part 4 of Ratfink, a great Dredd story in which the son of Fink Angel (one of the Angel Gang, amongst the best ‘recurring’ villains in the saga, despite dying in thier first appearance). Ratfink is an expert at poisons and has been killing, looting and raping cursed earth travellers for years, but Dredd has finally caught up with him and after a tense chase the final confrontation begins!

Next there is an article on Crisis, a “politically aware” and “adult” offshoot of 2000AD from the late 1980’s. I’ve never read any of Crisis but what i’ve heard about it sounds frankly pathetic. A kind of preachy sci-fi tinged version of Viz’s “Modern Parents” told with a straight face. The article has examples of stickers given away with the first issue, which include slogans like “Mutate and Survive” with a nuclear symbol, “Global Pillage”, “Take back the future” and most hilariously “Caution: Fragile Earth”. Jesus christ… The cover designs weren’t all that either.

The Megazine used to run reprinted strips, but they have been “triumphantly” knocked on the head and replaced with a continuation of Tank Girl. This appeared in another one of the pretentious “adult comics” of the late 80’s, though one that doesn’t sound quite so horrible as Crisis. However Tank Girl is probably the least accurate representation of those comics, but has also become thier most enduring creation. There is some common sense in the world eh? The basic plotline involves her friend being injured in a skateboard accident, the operation she needs costs a gazillion dollars, which just happens to be the prize money for a crazed Deathrace 2000 – style blast across Australia, so our heroine enters, crashes (after using some old boxer shorts to tie her axles together) and is rescued by a lothario in a rather nicely rendered Ruf Porsche Le mans racer.

Tank Girl - Judge Dredd Megazine 276
After a short article on the state of British comics (much being made of recently launched subscription-only title The DFC) we get into a new Black Atlantic story, this follows a group of mutants and outcasts sailing the polluted seas between Mega City 1 and Brit-Cit as a kind of friendly pirates. Whilst salvaging some stuff from an island they find an old oil rig, and after boarding it are set upon by it’s crazed inhabitants. After this the Meg continues to vent it’s absolute worship of TV shows from America and disdain for anything else (Life On Mars only got an insultingly brief mention a year after it had finished) in an article titled “You Should Be Watching… Battlestar Galactica”. As in the new series with it’s terrible “documentary-style” filming. Jesus Christ…

After the usual woeful movie reviews (they are improving though, they used to be written in this agonisingly “matey” way) we reach the conclusion of a Judge Anderson story. She is a judge in the psychic-powered PSI Division, and is investigating a series of murders which take place in “Hyven”, a thinly-disguised parody of an advanced “Second Life” or “Myspace” of the future. Turns out the people who run it have smuggled criminals in now and again for money, but one of the criminals is a powerful psychic who is able to jump into other people’s minds and kill them. At the same time the central computer which controls the program has become sentient, and Anderson has to persuade it to help her rather than allow the killing to go on. There then follows the letters page made up of people praising everything i hate about the current Meg. Fortunately the comments on this blog don’t work or they’ll discover it and send me lengthy tirades.

As the Meg no longer features reprints (a feature i expect to last precisely as long as Tank Girl does), and now that the reprint-only 2000AD Extreme has been cancelled, reprints are bagged in a seperate comic that comes with the meg. The second one of these being Snow/Tiger.

This is, essentially, Eugene Manx, except replace the former Wehrmacht officer fighting neo-nazis in 1950 with two secret agents, a Brit who wants to go carefully and a Yank who wants to shoot everybody, in 2002. The Nazis in question have a genetically engineered version of the Ebola virus (remember 2002 was the year of the Athrax scares) which doesn’t kill white people. It features some cool action scenes like one where a woman remains rather non-blinded despite the fact a gun goes off centimetres from her face…

Snow/Tiger

There’s also your typical mano-a-mano “throw the guns aside and grapple” ever so heterosexual scene on the rocket launch gantry. But i’ll spare you that. The book also features a future shock and a short Dredd story reviving the “anti robot Klans” idea which was first done in 1977!

Onto Commando now, these small-sized war themed comics are the sole surviors of the “Picture Libraries” which used to cram spinning racks in newsagents and where produced on all sorts of subjects, though war was the dominant theme, 8 Commando’s are produced a month in batches of 4, on (supposedly) the first and last tuesday of each month. Currently they are 50% reprint and 50% new.

The two new ones are “The Fighting Storks”, about a very versatile Italian plane which could take off and land in very short distances, handy in a time before widespread use of Helicopters. The artist on this story is one of my Commando favourites – Jose Maria Jorge, who specialises in flying stories, though occasionally does submarine ones too. His style does not actually suit the small Commando books very well, but comes alive in those large collected editions (in shops now!).

jm jorge - fighting storks

The other new issue is “Hollywood Hero”, about a film star going to war and ending up trapped in the jungle surrounded by the Japanese on all sides.

The first of the reprints is “Front Line Fixer”, about a German working for the REME. Would a German really have just been allowed to walk into the British Army during the war? well it still makes for a tense story… the artist is Gordon Livingstone, who has a unique and distinctive style. Personally i don’t actually like it all that much but others do. He has now retired from Commando but has drawn hundreds, so will remain in reprints for a long time to come.

Gordon Livingstone - FLF

And finally we have Outcast! with art by Dennis McLoughlin, another excellent one with a real skill for moody light and shadow. This story follows a member of the French Foreign Legion from Germany who has to leave and join the German army when war is declared, ending up on the eastern front.
D McLoughlin - Outcast

Well there you have a look at more recent British Comics. For the next few entries i have some interesting bits from the Union Jack in 1894, and some stuff from W. Howard Baker reprints of 1920’s/30’s Gem’s and Magnets… so it’ll be back to the past. I’ll have to have a scout around Lincoln again and attempt to find some more recent material, maybe from the 60’s to 80’s, the real “golden age” of British comics!