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!

BICS bits

A few years ago i went to the Bristol comic convention two years on the trot. On both occasions i only decided to go the day before and thus was extremely tired and spend hundreds of pounds on train tickets and last-minute hotel bookings. Mind you the first year i went the hotel i got was actually closer to the convention than the official hotel.

Anyway, i decided to revive that tradition by deciding to go to the Birmingham International Comic Show less than 24 hours before the doors opened! Though i sensibly left out the hotel booking and just went for the Saturday… Birmingham doesn’t take the whole day to get to, after all. I also wore a black armband in tribute to Jose Maria Jorge.

In another tradition of me going to comic events i took NO pictures whilst there, so instead i’ll take a look at some of the comics i bought.

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Selected bits and pieces. I actually left out another one i bought there that i have been slowly collecting for a few years called Vampire Freestyle. It’s good so read it.

 Realms

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Fantastic cover, whoever designed this knew what they were doing.

A strange one this, a group who were selling some superhero type comic were giving it away for free. It dates from 1998, when self publishing was still just about in the photocopying and mail-order era, and when internet-capable computers were still not quite within the reach of everyone. To reinforce this fact it actually has no email address or website on it. The authors have actually put in a postal address to send comments and feedback to!

Oh, i suppose that isn’t “strange” after all, if they didn’t have a computer! Right, then, what about the stories – those are strange!

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My normal camera, itself from 2002, has given up the ghost at last so i have to use a more modern but far inferior one. The blurriness really doesn’t bring out the quality of this artwork.

The stories are very eerie horror tales, most of them have almost no dialogue and bizarre endings. The artwork is fantastic – very dark with acres and acres of hatching rather than solid black areas. It’s also very big and bold, this is an A4 sized comic yet has at most about 4 panels to a page.

Comics Forum

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A cover that would not disgrace a traditional British adventure annual!

The Comics Creators Guild is a sort of trade union of comic creators large and small (though mainly small!). They produce this book yearly. It’s not a half tabloid sized hardback like “proper” annuals, but you can’t have everything. It’s a real mashing together of disparate styles and genres within. Some familiar small press names like Space Babe 113 pop up regularly. These books are always worth buying!

 Alison’s Room

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Wooooo

I recently joined the forums of Sweatdrop Studios, a Cambridge-based comic creating group that i had somehow not had any contact with all these years (and who i ought to do an article about!). I bumped an old thread saying i was going to BICS and was anybody going – i got a reply from Yuri Kore. So i went to talk to her and bought this!

It’s an eerie horror story about a girl who believes that a monster lives in her wardrobe, and that if she doesn’t play with her dolls it will come out and get her. Her father is also dead and people blame her mother for the death. Various other characters pile on the pressure, scheming and backstabbing – all the while the monster in the wardrobe grows stronger and stronger. You can tell this won’t end well!

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Fantastic artwork once again. Also the book is tightly bound so i used the very professional journalistic device of “my hand holding the page open”. Come to think of it why didn’t i scan this? It’s not like it’s going to be damaged by being put in the scanner unlike the 100 year old bound volumes i’m normally delving in to.

London Calling

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A familiar look? If not, why not!

A new comic with art by Keith Page – who also works for Commando and recently completed The Iron Moon, a story about the British Space Empire of 1897! I actually went to BICS to get The Iron Moon (and some sushi), but the printers hadn’t come through in time (and i had a devil of a time finding the sushi restaurant too). Instead i got this, published by Time Bomb Comics who state that they specialise in “one shot” books.

The story in this is actually a little confusing, as it uses a character called Charlotte Corday who first appeared in a webcomic that i haven’t read. So searching that out first is recommended. The story revolves around Charlotte going on a secret mission in London, whilst trying to maintain psychic contact with her superiors in France. Also her enemies are vampires. And the police are after her with some odd listening equipment. And another police deparment want to fight the vampires… phew.

The story is also framed by a section set in a flooded modern London with Charlotte “making up” the story with her children. The actual story appears to be set in the late 1940’s – which means lots of lovely cars!

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Oh and did i mention her commander is a skeleton?

The back of the book says it’s for “all ages”, though really i think a “12” rating would be better. Mind you there’s no end of cultural references in it that will fly over the head of anybody not between the ages of about 40 and 60. Or else people like me who just live in an idealised version of the past.

Anyway, here’s the first page of that webcomic i haven’t read yet: http://dennisthedonkey.blogspot.com/2009/10/story-begins.html

Poot!

The image uploader has decided not to work for the picture of Poot… hurrah. Anyway it was one of the multitude of Viz ripoffs of the late 1980’s that died out within a few months (except for one called Smut that somehow lasted up until 2007, though i have no idea how, not even Borders stocked every issue… and it wasn’t funny). However now Poot is back!

Compared to Viz, Poot is more… silly. That might seem a bit strange since Viz has a bit of a silly reputation itself… but Viz also does some pretty vicious satire (like The Modern Parents) that i couldn’t see appearing in Poot. Mind you they do ridicule Macs and iGadgets a lot… which is a good thing.

I had a bit of a chat with them, but if i may i’ll hand over to Kevf off the Comics UK forum:

Another very positive stand was Poot! comic. I was pretty sure I’d not seen Poot! since I was was working for the comics that shared a shelf with it in the early 90s (the Viz-alike titles Gas, Brain Damage, Zit, UT, remember them?). And I was right. The guys had run Poot as kids, folded it when the bubble burst in 1991, got proper jobs as accountants and the like and, last year, revived the comic for fun. And now, after a dozen issues, they have a distribution deal with Seymour, they’ve been accepted by WH Smith’s travel outlets, and are currently selling 16,000 copies a month. On newsstands. I don’t know about you, but I find that one of the most heartening stories in comics I’ve heard this year. An independent publisher is selling a comics magazine, printed on paper, in good old fashioned newsagents, and people are buying it.

Their starting point was simply looking at the shelves, seeing that Viz was the only funny comic there, identifying a hole in the market, and filling it. They’re not making a fortune, but they are paying their contributors, breaking even, and enjoying themselves creating and publishing comic strips. If others could replicate this success I’d be delighted, and I get the feeling it’s possible.

Of course Titan ought to be trying to replicate that success by publishing Roy of the Rovers Volume 1.

I bought the latest issue, and also the “pilot issue”, which has much of the content of issue 1 (of the new version, not the one from the 80’s!) but a few different strips and layouts… might be worth a few bob one day!

Crikey!

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Ten pounds worth… but ‘worth’ a lot more!

Excitement abounded on Comics UK when it was revealed that a new magazine about British comics was to be released. Many people, including me, took out subscriptions… but were a little disappointed by the presence of several mistakes and also waffle-filled articles in the early issues. I allowed my subscription to lapse and largely forgot about the magazine (despite joining it’s forum and talking about Doctor Who on there, ahem). Until it was suddenly announced that issue 16 would be the final one!

Anyway, as a penance i bought several issues from the Crikey stall, and they certainly show a lot of improvement over the early ones! There’s also a nice article about Spaceship Away in one, and several ones that focus on some slightly more obscure comics that had my ebay bid finger itching.

I still feel like i ought to do more, mind you. Like start my own magazine about comics! Mind you it’d probably just regurgitate posts from this blog, come out once every decade, and only be available on one day of the year.

In all, a decent convention. Next up (maybe) is the London MCM Expo, the last weekend in October. This time i’ll try and remember to take some photos!