The Sexton Blake Library turns 100

sb100_01

I don’t actually own this, I nicked the pic off an Ebay auction years ago

 The Sexton Blake library was the longest-running publication to contain stories of Sexton Blake – who, by the time it was launched in 1915, had already been around for 22 years – and had been appearing in the Union Jack every week for 11 of those (plus extra serials and short stories in the Boys’ Friend, Boys’ Realm, Penny Popular, Answers etc etc). There had also been a few longer, book-length stories in the Boys’ Friend Library. But, in 1915, Sexton Blake was given a library all his own!

I don’t know the exact date the first issue went on sale, but it was sometime in September. Somebody with a collection of Amalgamated Press publications for that year might be able to find an advert with a specific date, though. The first issue was The Yellow Tiger, and cost 3d. It was a “yellow peril” story, with wartime elements; the “minister of munitions” is kidnapped, and at one point, Blake & co are held up by a German submarine (at this point, they would surface and use their deck guns on unarmed ships). Wu Ling, basically the Sexton Blake version of Fu Manchu*, teams up with another guy called Baron De Beauremon, who leads a gang called The Council of Eleven. Many super villains had been established in the Union Jack stories, by now, and Blake regularly had to fight team-ups, like an evil “Avengers”! Anyway, the story is one of the best in the Sexton Blake saga, with loads of fist fights, gun fights, plane chases, ship chases, captures and rescues. But copies of issue 1 of the SBL are very rare and expensive…

sb100_03

Fortunately, the first four issues were reprinted (apparently very hastily – many spelling mistakes!) in this book. The Sexton Blake Detective Library, published by Hawk Books (who also reprinted some Eagle material, and had a very familiar logo) in 1989. Being considerably easier to find, and considerably cheaper, to boot (I got it in a Mind charity shop, for £1), it’s a great introduction to the world of Sexton Blake. The first four SBL stories are all vintage Blakiana – master villains, devious disguises, journeys to exotic lands and conspiracies that nearly ruin innocent victims, until Sexton Blake comes through! The book also contains an extensive introduction (still more-or-less “up to date”, there’s been precious little additional Blake material since 1989, and only one “official” new story!). There’s also several pages of cover pictures from various story papers, including full-page reproductions of the first four SBL issues, though the quality is, erm…

sb100_05 – sb100_06

Not colour filtered in any way, only brightness and contrast!

Still, the introduction reproduces several illustrations from the Blake saga, many by prolific Union Jack artist Eric Parker – who also did a large number of Library covers:

sb100_04

And, to round it off, a reproduced comic strip from Knockout. There was a later and (now) better-known Sexton Blake comic strip in Valiant, but that was rubbish – the plots were Scooby Doo esque ghost investigations, and not even original! They were re-drawn, and slightly re-worded, copies of a modern-day ghost hunting strip from Buster.

sb100_07

This is the real stuff!

Anyway, the SBL’s publication schedule was initially just one issue a month (there was, after all, a war on. It didn’t affect the paper supply nearly as badly as World War 2, though. At least, not to begin with). By 1916/17, the schedule appears to have increased to two or three per month (“digests”, like the SBL, BFL, and today’s Commando, generally come out in ‘batches’. Though the My Weekly and People’s Friend libraries come out every two weeks). But 1917 paper shortages saw the page count drop from the initial 120 to just 72. By 1919, with the war over, the library went up to four issues per month (five per month for most of 1922, but it dropped again, at the beginning of the following year), and stayed that way until the paper shortages of World War 2 again hampered it.

sb100_02

The oldest one I actually own is from 1917… features a train chase across Argentina!

In 1925, “Series 2” of the library began, though it wasn’t much different (not even a price increase, it had gone up to 4d in 1918). The golden age of Sexton Blake encompassed the post-WW1 period until the mid 1930’s, at which point a time known in Blakian circles as “the lean years” began (heralded, more or less, by the death of Union Jack in 1933 – it was replaced by the less-glamorous Detective Weekly, though the very first series of Blake tales to run in that was a belter).

sb100_09 – sb100_10

A late issue in series 1, and an early issue from series 2. 

There’s actually a new “Blackshirts”, having a meeting somewhere in my county today. But, though they claim to have “no policy” on homosexuality, I’m still too scared to go.

In 1940, wartime pressures saw the SBL increase it’s price from 4d to 4½d. It was also reduced to three, and then two, issues per month. In 1941, the third series began, with a whole 1½d leap to 6d! By this point, stories of supervillains and epic adventures were out, and hunts for spies and war profiteers were in. Uninspiring titles like “The Scrap Metal Mystery” hid tales that are still of use to social historians (or just people who want to soak in the atmosphere of a long-gone age), being more concerned with the trials of everyday life in those dark times. Paper shortages also saw the page count drop from 96 to 64. Some issues containted two short stories, instead of one long one, in an attempt to keep things varied.

sb100_11 – sb100_12

The library remained at two issues per month until December 1950, when it finally returned to it’s pre-war publication level. In the late 1940’s, it began to take on a more ‘standardised’ look. First, the title of the story was in a blue bar on the cover. This was soon replaced with the title being written in yellow, often in a red block. This look endured for many years.

sb100_13

The stories were still of the more “ordinary crime” type. There’s lots of house parties where a shot suddenly rings out, impossible murders in a locked room, or some poor guy being in the wrong place at the wrong time. Some of the golden-age supervillains made occasional appearances, though, but the days of them raising private armies and trying to destabilise the west were more or less over (or just didn’t seem so romantic, after two people had managed to do exactly that, a few years earlier!). Again, though the stories of this period didn’t live up to the epics of the golden age, many of them are still interesting mysteries in their own right. The odd secret mission behind the Iron Curtain harks back to the spy capers of the world wars, too.

sb100_14

In 1956, the at-first-unofficial (the editor later ‘retconned’ it) fourth series began, with No. 359, “Frightened Lady”. By now, the library was 10d, and had a red bar down one side of the cover. The cover artwork was a lot more “suggestive”, often with glamorous women showing a lot of leg! This sort of thing continued on the inside, too. Sexton Blake moved from his cosy baker street home to offices in Berkeley Square, and a secretary called Paula Dane – who often assists him on cases, sidelining Tinker to a cameo appearance at the very beginning or end. Tinker also dropped his old “street arab” nickname, preferring to be called Edward Carter. These changes all became known as the “New Order”.

The plots started to feature more gruesome hints of torture and brutality – and romance and hints of sex also began to make an appearance (though were then toned down in 1957, when the Obscene Publications Act threatened). A spymaster called Eustace Craille was introduced, and Blake was once again jetting off around the world (on jets, not steamships, too!), fighting master villains – though these were more in the cold war, James Bond mould. Most of the stories were still murder mysteries, set “at home”, though. Oh, there was also a few tales featuring “flashbacks” to World War 2 – and, it turns out, these are the only New Order stories I have! So I can’t show you any of the “leggy” covers. The New Order war stories were in that grim, gritty style that characterised the lurid war paperbacks of the 50’s and 60’s – and the early issues of War Picture Library and Commando – written by men who had actually been there!

Anyway, series 4 ran into the 1960’s with the James Bond-ish stuff increasing slightly. There was even a cod-golden-age story called The World Shakers, about an ex-Nazi supervillain who has built a fleet of flying saucers! This was written by “Desmond Reid”, who was an interesting character. At some point, the format was also stretched upwards, going from “Library” size to “Paperback” size. Though still only 64 pages!

sb100_15

The “regular” Sexton Blake library came to an end in 1963, with the story The Last Tiger. The New Order did a lot of re-writing to Blake’s back-story, and it’s almost tempting to believe the return of the word “Tiger” in the title was a happy accident, rather than intentional! Anyway, this was another “yellow peril” story – this time, the villains are Japanese soldiers who don’t realise the war is over, and are using a “tractor beam” to kidnap airliners. Sexton Blake ends the tale proposing to Paula Dane, and writes a letter to the readers on the back cover, in which he reveals he has the middle initial “T”, and says that “nobody seems to have met” Desmond Reid. This is probably because he doesn’t exist! It was a fake name, used for editor-reworked stories, or just to cover up an author’s name, if they had written too many stories in a short period. Still, that didn’t stop his photo appearing in The World-Shakers! They chose a picture of some actor who looks like a right spiv.

sb100_16

Anyway, after 1964 passed Blake-less, the fifth series of the Sexton Blake library appeared in 1965, this time published by Mayflower-Dell. This time, they were in the standard paperback format – tall and narrow, with around 150 pages. But the type was considerably larger, so the story length was probably about the same. These came out at the rate of two per month, and initially cost 2/6 (quite a jump from the 1/- The Last Tiger cost!), though soon went up to 3/6. Some of these were terrible, though others are alright. Some follow the New Order mould, with Berkeley Square and Paula Dane, while others feature Blake plodding about his office, smoking a pipe while being fed by his housekeeper, Mrs Bardell. Several of them are very 60’s, with twangy pop bands (and hysterical fans) and hippies present and correct. This series lasted until 1968, ending with Down Among the Ad Men.

sb100_17

Howard Baker, the last editor of the regular SBL, was, by this time, reprinting loads of old Amalgamated Press material (he kept it up until the 1980’s). This included hardback Sexton Blake omnibus books, reprinting two issues (mainly from series 4 and 5) at a time. In 1969, four new stories appeared, in the same hardback format, and apparently costing a whopping 16/- (or 18/- or “90p”… erm…). Those were the last “official” Sexton Blake stories published (except for a TV show adaption in 1972), and the end of the SBL…

CIMG8813

Until 2014! A company called Obverse Books launched series six of the Library. This time, it’s a “series” of “quarterly” hardbacks, retailing at a whopping £20 each! Containing one original story, and one reprint from the archives. I say “series” and “quarterly”, because there has actually only been one issue, so far, and that came out more than a year ago. Looks like they’re not going to “make the century” with a new issue this month. But “insiders” report that the second book is on it’s way… slowly!

sb100_18

I think series 6 is far too well-bound and irregular to be truly classified as a story paper, though. Oh, for “that” Euromillions win. I’d buy up the copyright and have cheap, Commando-sized issues pumping out like a shot! Oh well, if the newest issue of my favourite “comic” won’t come out in September 2015, at least my third favourite will…

sb100_08

Better go and buy it, quick!

Reference: As with pretty much anything to do with Sexton Blake, I inevitably made use of Mark Hodder’s Blakiana website: http://www.mark-hodder.com/Blakiana/ , he pretty much wrote this entry for me XD.

*-At one point, at least, Amalgamated Press were actually publishing stories of both characters, but they didn’t meet. Until 2009 – when Mark Hodder did a fanfic! Fu Manchu and Wu Ling are mortal enemies, though. They both want to take over China, and use her mass of people to take over the world. Mind you, if you ask me, Fu Manchu’s green-tinted skin and sideways eyelids hint at him coming from rather further away…

A Soldier – And A Man, the Christmas Union Jack of 1914

100cuj01

The famous Christmas truce of 1914 has now gone down in legend. But what were the people of 1914 predicting for Christmas day before it had actually happened? Let’s find out, from the Union Jack’s 1914 Christmas issue!

…even though it’s cover, and presumably off-sale date, is the 19th of december! Amalgamated Press were producing so many story papers by that time, many of them due double-priced “double numbers” for Christmas, that they couldn’t bring out all of these double numbers at once without risking a loss in sales, so they seem to have been staggered. The Union Jack’s Christmas double number actually going on sale nearly a full week before the date! The one actually being sold on Christmas day was a normal, one-penny issue. Why no, they didn’t “take a break”, as many weeklies seem to do these days – it really did mean “every week”, a century ago.

100cuj02

As usual, the inside front cover is given over to the adverts, and the first proper page is a ‘second cover’, so people could take off the actual covers and bind them. Sadly, many did – I have the 1907 Christmas issue without it’s cover! As this issue has double the number of pages, they can afford to spend a whole one on a grand, decorated and theatre-like introduction to the story, complete with a “cast of characters”. This was a common device at the time, in serial re-caps as well as complete stories.

There’s also a map, showing where the “U.J.” is regularly read. As well as the British Empire, dominions, Japan and parts of South America (where Britain had large cattle and railway interests, if not actual governmental control), the U.J. also appears to be read in a large part of “enemy territory”!

100cuj03

Any bit of intelligence helps?

After that, we get right into the main story – a very long one, taking up almost all the issue. If there was a serial running at the time, it appears to have been suspended for this Sexton Blake epic. The illustrations accompanying the main story are also given whole pages to themselves, whereas in the normal run of things they’d be in among the text (though, instead, some unrelated ones are – see later!). There’s also holly decorations at the tops and bottoms of the pages.

100cuj04

The story opens with a lengthy prologue – not always possible in the typical UJ, but common in issues of the soon-to-start Sexton Blake Library (I wonder if there will be a 100th anniversary special issue?). Robert Fenmore was a wealthy and respected man-about-town, who is seized by the gambling bug and quickly runs through his money. He then marries a wealthy orphan called Marion, who has a fortune of £100,000. He swiftly reduces this to £30,000, and, as the story opens, takes another £5000 from her. Of course, he expects he will soon have his “big win”, which will solve all his problems.

Fenmore has also been seeing rather too much of a popular music-hall star called Marion Paul. Little does he know, she’s a “plant”, designed to encourage him to carry on gambling. And she was planted by his cousin, Harold Craig, who also loved Marion Fenmore (the story doesn’t mention her maiden name). He goes to his club, where three other men discuss the scandal he is causing. One of them, apparently known only as Graves, is the uncle of Mademoiselle Yvonne, an international adventuress who appears in many Sexton Blake stories. Sometimes as a friend, sometimes a rival! Anyway, Yvonne is a friend of Marion Fenmore, and gets the story of the unhappy marriage from her uncle. She decides to “get to the bottom of” the mystery… and as the female Sexton Blake (or near enough!), might just do it!

100cuj05

Yvonne goes to the gambling-den, called Frileti’s, which is a high-stakes place with some strict rules, including one that all women, and any men who wish to, must come masked. This helps Yvonne watch the games unnoticed, though! She plays a little, winning and losing evenly. Finally Bob Fenmore turns up, passing straight into a mysterious back room, where high-stakes games are played. Yvonne has a lot of money on her, so follows Bob and his chorus-girl companion in, noticing that Bob, and a “dark skinned foreigner” are both losing heavily, whilst thier attractive female companions rarely wager, lose little, and win a bit on occasion. Yvonne starts to make exactly the opposite bets to the men, and begins to win – the game is crooked, and the good-looking women are there to lure in rich men!

Yvonne quickly works this out, and that the music-hall star, Marion Paul, has her claws into Bob Fenmore. She also knows the dealer. Once Bob is cleaned out, the evening breaks up. Yvonne, roping a cab driver into her black ops game, follows the dealer from the high-stakes room home, discovering him to be Harold Craig! The next day, she calls on a solicitor friend who can, by his own methods, find out anything about anyone. She quickly runs Harold Craig to earth and applies a little blackmail – threatening to go to the police if he doesn’t sell her his gambling operation for £10,000 – far less than it’s worth, and a large part of that 10,000 was won from “the house” the previous night! Craig compromises – he’ll take Yvonne into partnership, and let her do the dealing in the high-stakes room. She’ll still rip people off, but will keep half the money. This, of course, includes all the money from Bob Fenmore, and a bit over. Yvonne cleans him out entirely – but holds on to all the money, planning to deliver it back to his unfortunate wife.

100cuj06

Bob Fenmore goes home, his cousin with him. Harold tries to give him a loan – to bring him under complete control – but then the butler comes in with momentous news – war has been declared on Germany! Bob decides to write his wife a letter, admitting that he is bankrupt, and that he is “going away” – to enlist in the army under a false name – and will probably be killed (in “the greatest slaughter in history”, hardly the grand boy scout adventure we’re told papers of this kind described it!). His life insurance, and the diamond-encrusted Fenmore Necklace, will then provide for her. As soon as Bob has gone, leaving Harold with the necklace, the latter decides to, instead, give it to Marion Paul (“thank fortune their names are the same!”). Bob’s apparent “mistress” appearing in polite society wearing the famous necklace is bound to cause a scandal, further blacken the Fenmore name, and make Marion Fenmore totally dependent on Harold Craig!

The war drags on, the battle of Mons is fought to a standstill, and the lines of trenches begin to solidify across Europe. Bob Fenmore has vanished, and Marion Fenmore has moved into a small flat. But she has dismissed Harold Craig from her life entirely, and has a mysterious source of money that is keeping her head above water. Nobody but her and Yvonne know that she received an anonymous letter containing £40,000 – her own money, really, stolen from her husband! Harold Craig is seeing much more of Marion Paul, who scandalised society by wearing the necklace, as planned. Then, one night, Harold is seen entering her flat, while she is performing. She comes back later, with a group of friends, and they find Harold in the flat – poisoned! There has obviously been a huge fight, Harold the loser – but nothing has been stolen. Nothing, except the Fenmore Necklace!

Inspector Thomas, one of the lesser-known police friends of Sexton Blake (After the awkwardly-talking Spearing, and before the well-known Coutts), says that he is investigating the crime, and that Marion Paul thinks Bob Fenmore has been sending nasty letters, and that he stole the necklace. Thomas then visits Marion Fenmore, who is apparently too ill to see him, but, while the maid is out of the room, he spots the necklace on her sitting-room table! It looks like the vanished Bob Fenmore is responsible – but can Sexton Blake find him?

Blake and Thomas travel to the crime scene, where Blake quickly notices that the “signs of a struggle” appear to be faked. Lots of frail ornaments have fallen on the floor, but haven’t been broken. Also some flowers from a vase were not just thrown away, but burned! At this point Maron Paul arrives, and isn’t happy at Sexton Blake’s insistence that he takes the letter, which accompanied the necklace, with him. He then investigates footprints outside, and compares fingerprints with those of Marion and her servants – finding no unusual ones, whoever stole the necklace was an expert safe-cracker. Sexton Blake quickly spots that the necklace was intended for Marion Fenmore, not Paul. He then finds a single petal from the burned flowers, which he’d accidentally put in his pocket with something else. He takes the petal to his laboratory, to analyse some curious blue spots on it – but collapses halfway!

The scene then changes to the Western Front. Now, only a month ago, I showed you what The Boys’ Journal was writing about the war – the trenches becoming huge fist-fights, the Germans running away at the first sign of a counterattack, and so on. Certian “other” places, when writing about the British comics of this era (never mind the fact they have never read any), will tell you that those sorts of attitudes persisted throughout the entire First World War, brainwashing working-class teens into signing up for some easy “sport”. But is it actually true? Well, lets look at how the trench battles were being described in Union Jack by december 1914…

100cuj18100cuj19100cuj20

Hardly sounds glamorous, does it? Men with agonising wounds, vomiting into the freezing sewer which, to them, represented a narrow strip of safety in a land stripped of all life. And yet tens of thousands were still willingly volunteering – they went because they saw it as their duty, as a service to something bigger than themselves. Look at Britain today – the majority of people are begging the government for more censorship, for more police surveillance. This nation is awash with cowards, willing to surrender any freedom if “even one child” is saved, “even one bomb” prevented. A sickening insult to the sacrifices of our greatest generations.

To continue, Bob Fenmore, under the false name of Robert Fraser, rescues his sergeant from no-man’s land, receiving several severe wounds in the process. He is taken to hospital, raving to himself, and is not expected to survive. But even as he hovers between life and death, his commanding officer is recommending him for the Victoria Cross. Back in London, Tinker discovers his master collapsed on the floor, and calls a doctor. They eventually revive him (the doctor saying “we are losing enough good men in the trenches”), and he explains that some sort of poison was on the rose petal, even that small amount nearly enough to kill! Clearly, the murder of Harold Craig, instead of being a disturbed burglary, was in fact carefully planned. The wrecked room just a blind.

100cuj07 – 100cuj08

Sexton Blake is wondering about the case, when Yvonne visits, she also wants Bob Fenmore to be found. Blake also gets her to confess that she broke into Marion Paul’s flat and stole the necklace, sending it to Marion Fenmore. She mentions that the room was wrecked when she arrived, and the roses were on the floor. She also noticed a strange smell, and felt slightly giddy – the poison had already been placed! They then, quite easily, work out where Fenmore has hidden himself – ruined, wanting to die, and with a war starting, he obviously went into the army.

While they’re working that out, Tinker is out looking for Marion Paul, who clearly knows more about the crime that she’s letting on. He tricks his way into the flat, which is a spacious one, and is able to spy on her and a “servant”, who she speaks to as an equal. Unfortunately Tinker can’t hear what they are saying. Marion leaves, visits a bookshop, and returns, followed by Tinker the whole way. She didn’t buy anything in the shop, though – why go directly there and back for no reason? Tinker gets on the roof, and is able to spy on the maid and her mistress – though, again, they talk to each other as equals – through a skylight. He still can’t hear what they’re saying, though! After a while, the maid cleans up in the kitchen and leaves. Tinker breaks in, and gets into a room opposite to the one where they are all sitting – Marion, her two servants, and a man with “a Teutonic cast of features”(!). The two doors are left open, and Tinker can hear them talking – they are worried about Sexton Blake “discovering the truth about the murder”. The other three are also called Johann, Max and Zela, not very British names! They are talking about the stolen necklace – they haven’t worked out who has taken it, yet, and plan to put a notice in the newspapers, hoping to draw out the thief. They then talk about how to “deal with” Sexton Blake, Tinker can’t quite hear and leans forwards – only to be spotted by a dog, which he hadn’t noticed before. The animal raises the alarm, and he is captured.

Sexton Blake is still at home, testing the poison on the petal. He gets a phone call from the secret service, they want him to take some documents to France, and can’t trust a normal courier. War work must always come first, and he is soon off on, it turns out, Yvonne’s yacht, which she has turned over to military work. The crew are the same, and know Blake well. He reaches France and stays the night in a hotel, where he will meet another secret agent. Meanwhile a German spy tries to kill him, but is soon knocked out and tied up. All in a day’s work! Blake meets the British agent, who asks him to use the yacht to take back a tired-out volunteer nurse, who is only named as “The Hon. Edwina”. Sexton Blake has met her previously, at a dance (I expect she was briefly referred to in an earlier story, by a different writer, and this writer didn’t want to step on the other’s toes by coming up with a full name for her!).  She talks about a wounded, raving man she had to treat, who kept calling himself Robert Fenmore!

Back at Baker Street, Yvonne is waiting for Sexton Blake or Tinker to show up. She hears noises in the laboratory, and hides herself in a cupboard. A man comes from the lab, and into Sexton Blake’s bedroom. When he comes out again, she surprises him. He doesn’t think she’s a threat, so she shoots him in the shoulder. Pedro holds him down while she ties him up and dumps him back in the bedroom. She looks out the window, and spots a taxi waiting. She gets into it with Pedro, says the previous fare is not coming back, and asks to be driven to where he was picked up from. She gets taken back to the flats where Tinker is being held. Climbing on the roof, she spots the villains about to kill him with the same poison they put on the flowers. But, at the last moment, they decide they’d better have a taxi ready for an instant getaway. Yvonne quickly gets into the room, pours the poison away, and replaces it with water. The crooks come back – they have a cab driver working for them – and drive out into the countryside, dumping Tinker in a ditch. Yvonne picks him up and carries on after the villains, but they realise they are being followed and try to get away – right into the path of  a train! The maid, butler and driver are all killed. Tinker and Yvonne go back to Baker Street, where they find the prisoner dead, too. He had saturated Sexton Blake’s room with the same poison – which kills by inhalation – and Yvonne had left him laying on the floor!

Only Marion Paul is left out of the gang, and she says that the leader, Max, had forced her to marry him in Vienna, where they bled rich men dry. They did the same in Berlin and Paris before coming to London. Marion was completely helpless, her servants were really the spies of her husband, and he would punish her if she ever went to the police, or warned one of his victims. She has many letters and papers that prove this, and Yvonne quickly arranges matters to hide her involvement in any wrong-doing from the police. Sexton Blake gets back, and she tells him about all this. He later goes back to France and finds Bob Fenm0re – who has now “come to his senses”, and can hardly continue to fight, with his wounds.

Bob Fenmore is bought back to England, and taken to his wife’s new flat. She forgives everything, and he, in turn, forgives Marion Paul. We also discover the reason for Marion Fenmore being confined indoors – not just depression, but the fact Bob Fenmore now has the greatest gift of all – a son!

There’s little else, apart from the story. There’s an article on the Fall of Antwerp, in a similar style to the one about the Belgian forts from the Boys’ Journal issue I looked at in the previous post. Except here, half the article is missing! However, there doesn’t seem to be a page missing from my copy (I have the corresponding one, with the start of the Sexton Blake story on it, and the page seems to ‘bend down’ at the spine). Maybe it was a printing error?

100cuj13

Continuing with the warlike theme, the issue contains two illustrations of The London Scottish in action. The regiment’s name is pretty self-explanatory, and they still exist today, though as a company in a larger London Regiment. Apparently they existed before World War 1, but were re-raised as part of Kitchener’s new army, and distinguished themselves in their first battle. Today, however, the Wikipedia entry for them just has a blank space for World War 1.

100cuj09 – 100cuj10

There’s also an extremely grainy picture of “pay day in the navy!”, photographic reproduction in mass-market, cheap publications was a hit-and-miss affair in those days (though Chums, and other “upmarket” publications, did it better, despite their weekly issues also costing a penny).

100cuj11

As well as the incomplete Fall of Antwerp article, there’s an also-grainily-reproduced wash illustration of the German army under bombardment from offshore “Monitor ships”, which were warships with a shallow draught, allowing them to come up close to the muddy, indistinct coast around river estuaries and fire at enemies on shore.

100cuj12

I try to avoid mentioning the adverts in the old comics I look at – the stories are more important! But Amalgamated Press liked to advertise their papers in one another. Here’s adverts for the Christmas special of the Boys’ Journal, as well as the next, regular-sized issue. That Zeppelin cover looks great! Was it an all-over wash illustration, in the style of the Boys’ Friend Library?

100cuj14 – 100cuj15

For decades, people have been going on about Christmas being “too commercialised”. Well it was the same back before living memory, too! What’s the best way to have a truly happy Christmas? Buying the Weekly Friend, of course!

100cuj17

And finally, an advert for an electronic gadget that will keep the boys happy. A light! Not sure about that “burns for hours” claim, though some of the bulbs of those days were only a single watt. “A battery that lasts for years” needs some explaining to modern readers, too: They meant you’d need to “re-charge” the battery, by literally refilling it with chemicals when the power ran out! Children who wanted to dabble with electricity in those days had to put quite a bit of effort in just to get electricity!

100cuj16

The Boys’ Journal vol. 3 No. 60 – November 1914

Earlier in the year, I looked at a Boys’ Journal serial which began exactly 100 years (going by the cover date, anyway) prior to the post. I promised another “100 years later” post, and promptly forgot about. Oh well, 100 years and a week and a bit, then!

bj3-60-01

Of course, the cover date could have been when it went off sale.

Modern historians like to talk about how the “popular magazines” (because the very term “story paper” has been erased from the cultural consciousness. Even though it’s possible that, in 2014, Britain is one of the countries with the most story papers in current publication – all four of them!) of World War 1 talked up trench warfare as “a grand life” of camping, cricket and the occasional battle, in which the “huns” would quickly surrender or run away. For most of the war, that wasn’t true – plenty of the soldiers at the front, especially junior officers, were able to make it back home on  a week’s leave and describe their experiences. It became clear, very quickly, that what was going on was not “glamorous”. Most of the story papers quickly switched to escapism: spy chases, behind-the-lines adventures, or stories about other, much older European wars. An early Sexton Blake library urges to pray that a such a war “will never be seen again”, and the Christmas 1914 Union Jack (to be reviewed when the time comes) hardly paints a pleasant picture of the trenches.

But, before all that, for a few glorious months, AP papers were exactly what those historians talk about! They make fascinating reading now, the hysterical anti-German hatred and ludicrous battle scenes need to be seen to be beleived. Apparently The Boys’ Friend was one of the “best” papers, for this sort of thing. Though I have some some pretty silly Dreadnought covers, too. Unfortunately, I only own one of these hate-crazed papers, this issue of The Boys’ Journal!

bj3-60-02

The inner pages, note “second” cover, so the real cover can be removed, if somebody wants to bind it in a book.

The lead serial is called “War to the Death! Or, When Britain Fought for Right”. The title ought to give you some idea of what to expect – two territorials are called to war, but not before discovering that a German spy is trying to diddle one of them out of his inheritance (a very common theme in AP story papers, right up into the early twenties!).

bj3-60-03

I came into this serial at just the right point for a major battle scene. The evil, cowardly Germans are, of course, advancing while disguised as Belgians. Though apparently the illustrator forgot this, showing them in their usual spiked helmets. The advancing teutonic horde is given a good pasting by artillery and, as they get into range, rifle fire. Tragically, this was probably the part that seemed most “unbelievable” to soon-to-be-eligible teenage boys reading it. But was, of course, pretty much the standard attacking procedure until towards the end of 1917.

Once the enemy are close enough to get to grips, the soldiers all jump out of their trenches, and the scene starts to look more like an overgrown pub brawl. Just have a read of this!

bj3-60-04

The accompanying illustration looks similar to those in stories about Victorian-era wars, where the red-coated Brits swarmed amongst sword-armed Arabs and Africans. Two of the Germans even appear to be bayonetting one of their own comrades XD.

bj3-60-05

Note they’re still wearing cloth caps here, rather than the steel helmets.

Both of our heroes are wounded in the battle (though continue fighting until they drop from exhaustion, naturally). Sidney ending up in hospital, where he finds his girlfriend has enlisted as an amateur nurse. Just as they’re being reunited, German aeroplanes (all with specific “names”, and talked about as if they are ships) start bombing the town. The villain of the tale is piloting one of these, and has somehow worked out that his enemy will be in the hospital, so he orders his observer to bomb it. The observer, to his credit, doesn’t want to – but “he knew what it meant to disobey an officer”!

bj3-60-06

The next story is a complete one, called The Ghost Lugger. This one doesn’t mention the war, it’s a straightforward smuggling tale (the smuggler’s aren’t even bringing over German spies, or taking stolen arms to the enemy!). The “ghost lugger” in question being part of a ship with several removable sections, which can be used to hide contraband in.

bj3-60-07

After that, there’s the inevitable stamp section. This about the stamps of Alsace-Lorraine, a part of France that had been seized by Germany in the earlier Franco-Prussian war. The writer, confident of an allied victory, predicts that “one of the most certain results of the present war will be the return of these provinces to France”. No illustrations of the stamps in question, though!

bj3-60-08

This is followed by The Great Tunnel Tragedy, another non-war-related story about a policeman who solves a mystery. It has no illustrations at all, though the title has a flag, which is an exact copy of one from the “The End” block on the previous story! There is a photo of a naval gunner, though.

bj3-60-09

As this issue is from early November, the old customs can’t be cast aside just because of a bit of a ruckus on the continent. There’s an article about how to make a “fire balloon”, what we’d now call a Chinese Lantern. Unlike todays modern dolphin-choking plastic models, this is all biodegradable paper!

bj3-60-10

After this, on the centre spread, there’s a strange “factual” story about the fall of Liege, an early battle in the war. It’s “framed” by two British boys, who were on holiday when the war broke out, and have only just made it back to England. They “heard something of the battle”, and ask their father about it. He was fortunate enough to have actually been…. in England, and read about it in the papers. He gives an account which contains passages about the Germans being like “flies around a cube of sugar”. The gallant Belgians kill thousands of Germans from their safe trenches and forts, but are still beaten by the ever-increasing field-grey horde. Also the dastardly huns capture a bridge by parking a van full of wounded Belgians in the middle of it. The story ends with the two boys edging towards the door. “Where are you going?” asks the father. “To enlist!” they reply. “Bravo!” he whispers, in awed envy!

bj3-60-11

The dots are pencil, added by a previous owner.

After that, we have a photo of one of Britain’s warships – HMS Monarch. Probably built only a few years after the still-surviving Mikasa, in Japan, but with a much more squat, narrow, “all big gun” profile. Oh if only one of these dreadnought-era ships had been saved!

bj3-60-12

The next story is another serial (which also reaches chapter 15 in this issue!). The Mystery at Craghurst is a school story, with a mystery of missing persons, criminals prowling the district, and distractions in the form of “Football” (Rugby!) matches. The match in this issue being between a team of “peat cutters” and the schoolboys. Except the dastardly local landowner has swapped out the peat cutters for big, tough miners. The crowd of locals is looking like trouble, too – a teacher advises members of the schools cadet corps to be ready to rush for their (blank-loaded!) rifles if there’s any trouble. I suspect the unscrupulous landowner goes face-first into a peat bog at least once in this story!

bj3-60-13

After that, a Sexton Blake serial! This one is an adaption of a Sexton Blake film, which was then being shown. With rather more dialogue, I suppose – considering the film would have been silent! Up into the twenties and thirties, written adaptions of films were pretty common. There was even some story papers dedicated to them – Boys’ and Girl’s Cinema, for instance. A cinema ticket was probably roughly equivalent in price to one of these papers, so you could see one popular film and read about the others. Later on, paperback adaptions of films had to “make do” until video players came along in the 1980’s, and bought “on demand” replays into the average home.

bj3-60-14

This is followed by the script for a “crosstalk”, a type of stand-up comedy with a straight man and a comedian interrupting him. That lasted well into the twentieth century, too – no doubt you’ll be able to catch some Morecambe and Wise over Christmas! Being from late 1914, this one tells of a heroic wartime exploit (shooting down a Zeppelin, capturing it, and flying over the heads of a besieging enemy to fetch reinforcements). Naturally, the characters decide to join the army at the end.

bj3-60-15

There’s some more factual content on the back covers, too. Remember that some binding readers would have thrown them away. On the inside cover is a “poster”, showing British army and navy officer ranks. Some readers no doubt put it up on their walls.

bj3-60-16

The back cover is a short article about Krupp’s, the famous German armaments manufacturer. “Krupp Steel” was a byword for strength in those days, and the power of their naval guns was well-respected. At the time, the firm was run by a woman – Bertha Krupp, eldest daughter of the previous manager. German surface raiders certainly did plenty of damage, but it was the submarines that really caused Britain trouble!

bj3-60-17

The Sexton Blake Library is back!

Normally, when you hear about a British comic being “back”, it’s either a point-missing American revival in which the main character is a psychopathic cannibal, a book of reprints, a one-off “funny” newspaper strip, or (in a depressingly-increasing number of cases) digital-only. Maybe even digital-only reprints, which are basically free to make and still sold for the thick end of a fiver. And people who are oh-so “aware” of “what’s going on in the world” lap it up. While, no doubt, sharing pictures on Facebook about how they don’t fall for “corporate propaganda”.

But when I say The Sexton Blake Library is back, I mean it’s BACK! New stories, printed on paper! Now, when the revival was first announced, I was hoping it would be this sort of size:

sbl-bk02

And this sort of price:

sbl-bk03

Was the announcement really that long ago?

And not this sort of size:

sbl-bk04

And this sort of price:

sbl-bk05

Well in size, it’s actually a hardback, of about these dimensions…

nsbl_01

And as for price…

nsbl_01

JESUS, IT’S TWENTY QUID!*

I was also hoping it was going to be sold in newsagents, perhaps near the My Weekly and People’s Friend story libraries, rather than in bookshops. But I haven’t seen it in either, it looks like it’s online ordering only, though it might turn up in bigger Waterstoneses. I’ll check when I go to London next… I just hope it’s in the Crime section, and not the Steampunk section.

nsbl_02

But anyway, on to the content! As I said, often, when we hear about a comic or character being “back”, it often turns out to be reprints. But the new SBL is really NEW, and begins with a story by Mark Hodder, who is already well-known in steampunk circles (as well as, erm, running the biggest Sexton Blake website!). Resisting the temptation to “update” the character, with, say, an alsatian and a black Tinker (Though I had a plan to do that myself, many years ago!), the new story reads exactly like an issue of the SBL would have eighty-something years ago. It even has an “introducing” blurb before the story – common in both the Sexton Blake Library and the weekly Union Jack.

nsbl_03

The story packs in all the usual Sexton Blake tropes – fiendish, untrustworthy master villains, disguises, escapes, sleight-of-hand trickery, betrayals and James Bond (or Captain Justice!)-esque “gadgets”, far in advance of the technology of the day. If that isn’t enough, the discovery of a priceless, bible-referenced treasure is slotted in as a mere scene-setter. There’s even an upper-class imperialist offering an actually-quite-convincing explanation of why the Middle East is always such a trouble spot! Remember, once upon a time, you could buy at least eight stories of this quality every month!

nsbl_04

The first story ends with a quick explanation of the origin of the main villains (also returning from old stories, though one of thier associates, “The Gentleman”, is a new character). We are then treated to a reprint of their very first story, originally published in The Union Jack, in 1922. It’s by G.H. Teed, regarded by many as the best Sexton Blake writer (he was quite the “character” himself. A biography would be very difficult to piece together, but would make interesting reading). To Mark Hodder’s, and the new Library’s, credit, the style and pacing of the story are almost indistinguishable from the brand-new one that preceded it!

nsbl_05

It retains the introductory blurb, and the sometimes-spoiler-tastic chapter titles. Unfortunately the illustrations are not reproduced. Shame, as they were almost certainly by Eric Parker, regarded by many as the best Sexton Blake artist! He’s certainly the one who gave him a defined image, anyway. It’s interesting to see the “origin story” of the three villains who we have just seen foiled in the main story, and it’s a great thriller in itself, though the ending is a little rushed. The Union Jack didn’t have a great deal of space, though!

The new SBL may be £20, but it is quarterly (for now…?), so you have time to save up. If every issue is of the same quality, it ought to do well! I do hope there’s stories set in several different time periods, though. In fact, I seem to remember hints that a story about “Silent Thunder” was going to explain how Sexton Blake, Tinker and Mrs Bardell lived right through from the 1890’s to 1960’s (and, unofficially, far beyond!) without ageing.  That story was going to alternate between the early 20th and 21st centuries. The one in this volume, though, is set sometime around 1928, and is more “straightforward”. As straightforward as you get with Sexton Blake, anyway!

* – Also, I’d ignore that “one left in stock” message. The much older Zenith Lives! book, from the same publisher, says the same, even though I bought “the last one” ages ago. Hasn’t stopped somebody trying to re-sell their “rare” copy for £3000, though!

The Sexton Blake Library is coming back!

sbl-bk01

I love Sexton Blake. An article about him in issue 232 of the Judge Dredd Megazine (May 2005, back when it was £4.50 for 100 pages of varied and interesting reading – it’s golden era) was what started me off on the path of collecting old British comics and story papers. A path which led to this blog, and to the creation of my own Boys’ Own comic (before that I’d been doing serial killer horror stories). In fact, my old comic blog, the Union Jack Index, was an over-ambitious project to catalogue and write-up every issue of the comic he made his own. Though I only actually managed to do about 5 issues!

Though Union Jack was his first permanent home, from 1915 onwards long, novel-length stories were also appearing in the Sexton Blake Library. This went through five distinct “series” from 1915 to 1969, though 1964 was an empty year, and the final books in the late 60’s were no longer explicitly part of the Library.

But now, there’s going to be a much-delayed sixth series! A company called Obverse Books have purchased the copyright from IPC, and plan to launch a new library! Presumably sometime this year, though the current press release carries little in the way of solid information:

http://obversebooks.co.uk/pr-sexton-blake-library/

Of course, we have heard of things like this before. For now, I’ll remain cautiously pessimistic. Though I am hoping we’ll be getting something like this:

sbl-bk02

Which will cost in the region of this:

sbl-bk03

And not something like this:

sbl-bk04

Which will cost in the region of this:

sbl-bk05

And I also hope that it will come out at least once a month (the number increasing if successful) and not 2-3 times a year. In the magazine section alongside 2000AD (or Commando!), and not with the books in the Crime section (or, worse, the Sci-fi and Fantasy section… or, worse still, the Steampunk section). And before anybody says the days of regular text-only pocket story papers are long past, well, here’s one I bought today, in Tesco of all places:

sbl-bk06£1.99 to prove a point… not sure I’ll bother reading it, mind you!

Still, despite my expectations of disappointment, I’ll try to keep an open mind. I might even try submitting a certain story idea myself! I think it’s “just supernatural enough” for the Sexton Blake series (why no, n00b, those Scooby Doo-esque Valiant strips are not representative of  of the Blake saga, in fact they’re amongst the worst stories it ever produced. That picture on Deviantart where he’s being menaced by a mummy has massively missed the point too), and would also tie in with the old Captain Justice stories. If there’s any chance of it, I’d love to become a member of the ‘slightly raffish’ club… Though I have “published” Sexton Blake stories before, it won’t really count until they are printed by a proper printer’s, not my laserjet… and are bought by somebody who isn’t my mum!

Progress Report

After far too long, the “new” 1910 Press website was launched recently. It’s the third or fourth “revamp” it’s had which is not actually a revamp at all, just a few small alterations that took 6 months.

 1910site.jpg

And even then it’s not finished!

The URL is http://www.felney.co.uk/

It actually needs further edits, as I have decided to cancel The Small Press Digest and The Sentinel before they even began! As they are both “newspapers” my typical working speed meant that by the time they got printed the news in them would have been hilariously out of date. I’ll stick to the blog for that!

I originally intended for The Sentinel to join “The 22 Club” and merge with The Red, White & Blue at a later date. I may instead just add a one-page “The Sentinel Says” article to the RWB, containing news of small press cons and new British Comic releases.

rwb1.jpg

Marcus Morris wouldn’t have liked this

Speaking of The Red, White & Blue, it’s bi-monthly publishing schedule began at the start of 2012, meaning the first issue is dated Jan-Feb 2012. So where is it? Horribly delayed! Virtually all of the artwork is done, but the “Complete history of British adventure comics 1777-2012” article turned out to be rather long, for some reason. An early draft of the article, with huge numbers of spelling and grammar errors, and not a small amount of factual errors, can be read under the History tab. It is being slowly revised, the Norman Saxon story will also be re-read and corrected and the first issue will hopefully “go to press” on Friday, in time for it’s unofficial “launch party” on Saturday.

The party that the RWB will be “hijacking” is actually a premeeting for Camcon, the first Comic/Sci-fi/Anime/Cosplay/Roleplay/My Little Pony (all the cool kids are going mad for it, seriously) convention to be held in Cambridge!

 camcon12.jpg

www.thecamcon.com 

I have decided to prepare the first two issues of the RWB in time for Camcon, in May, and put them both on sale there first. After that I’ll sort out an online shop, probably using the arts and crafts website Etsy.

The first issue of the RWB, including the overlong article, is going to be a “mammoth” 40 pages! From issue 2 it will be 32 pages and from issue 3 (after various ‘setting up’ articles and editorials are out of the way) will contain:

One colour comic strip (4 pages)

Three black and white strips (5 pages each)

One complete text story about Norman Saxon (7-8 pages)

One text serial instalment (3 pages)

Plus other short complete stories/strips, articles and filler.

Unless I can find somebody to help with artwork (and who in the UK small press cares about jingoistic boys’ own comics?) the page count will be drastically reduced in future. Probably shedding the colour strip, one black and white strip and the text serial. Of course I will try to keep the  “full size” comic going for as long as I can manage!

As for the release date of the first issue of The Trident… your guess is as good as mine! If I can manage to get ahead of myself on the Red, White & Blue I’ll take a week off work and pummel the keyboard until it’s finished! The story in Issue 1 is going to be the “actual” first Norman Saxon story, set in 1899. It will be a heavily-revised version of an old Sexton Blake story I wrote, which can be found here: http://www.felney.co.uk/web/blake/hong.html  (warning: long and terrible!).

 

And now, in light of the cancellation of The Sentinel, here is Black Widowe, the comic strip that was due to appear in it! I will continue this one day, I’m just not sure where or how!

 blackwid01.jpg

 blackwid02.jpg

 blackwid03.jpg

Armistice Union Jacks

For nearly a decade after the end of the First World War it was hardly mentioned in British comics. Any war stories were either set further back in time (for instance the Afghan wars), or else were about fictional conflicts set in the near future. Often against made-up countries presumed to be in some part of the dismembered Austro-Hungarian empire.

However by the second half of the twenties stories and articles about the war gradually crept back in. The Union Jack in November 1926 was one of the leaders of this trend with a series of three plates celebrating the armistice.

ujarms01.jpg

I only have two of the issues though!

Normally I don’t care about gifts with comics. I buy them for the art and stories alone, in fact I prefer comics without their gifts because they are usually far cheaper! I got the first issue of the re-launched Wizard from 1970 for a tenner that way. But I made an exception when I saw the first of these pictures on sale…

ujarms02.jpg

Wonder if this has been reproduced anywhere else?

The plates are accompanied by brief articles about them. These also contain plenty of reminders that no other paper has ever made such an amazing offer at the price, that demand is high and that a regular order should be placed. You’d think The Dandy would try this in these days of ‘pester power’ eh?

 ujarms03.jpg

They also contain previews of the next plate

 ujarms04.jpg

And remember that regular order!

The three issues are bumper numbers in other ways too. They feature the start of the serial The Three Just Men by Edgar Wallace. This was considered so important that the first two parts (and maybe more) take precedence over Sexton Blake and appear right at the front!

 ujarms05.jpg

I doubt that happened with many other serials.

The Three Just Men is the sequel to 1905’s The Four Just Men (yes the Four came before the Three, for reasons that will be obvious if you’ve read the first one XD). It features a group of highly skilled gentlemen who publicly sentence people to death and then carry out the promised assassination by some clever trick. Just like The Deathless Men and V would be doing in later decades. The Four Just Men was actually one of the first ‘really old’ stories I read. It was fairly hard going for me at the time but now I breeze through stories from 10-20 years earlier. Maybe I ought to re-read it.

 ujarms06.jpg

The copy I own is actually from the 50’s mind.

Sexton Blake is also on top form. The story concerns the return of one of his greatest enemies (and he wasn’t short of those in the twenties!) Leon Kestrel, the “master mummer”. A mummer was a kind of ‘quick change’ artist who with clever, quickly-applied makeup, could appear to be many different people on stage. Kestrel on the other hand could do this in real life, with disguises that couldn’t be detected even at close quarters by friends of the person being imitated. This of course led to fantastic stories where you never quite know who is who, especially if Sexton Blake also steps into one of his famous disguises.

 ujarms07.jpg

Kestrel also had a love of the theatrical. He would threaten to carry out seemingly impossible crimes – in this case stealing gemstones one at a time from a necklace (“pinching it by installments!” declares Tinker) despite the fact it’s inside a locked case and guarded round the clock. He would also steal valuable art treasures that it would be impossible to sell on simply for the fun of it. Not that he wasn’t also above swindling honest people out of large sums of money. Oh and of course his skills at deception, burglary and quick changes of appearance help him with an endless series of amazing prison escapes when he is finally captured!

 ujarms08.jpg

Oh and his wife/accomplice Fifette who is just as skilled as he is!

I don’t have the third issue of these armistice numbers, but the editorial further up mentions that it is the first issue to feature Dr Satira. I don’t think I’ve ever read one of his stories, but it says he has a personal army of ape-men so I expect it can’t be half bad!

Red, White & Blue to be re-launched!

Having produced four issues of my self-published comic The Red, White & Blue, plus one of The Trident storypaper, I thought it was high time I looked into selling them online. I’d also “recently” discovered that the character of Sexton Blake was not public domain, as originally thought, but was owned by IPC. I decided to contact them and ask for permission to use him in my own comics… and got turned down!*

Anyway, the upshot of this is that I will need to re-launch the Red, White & Blue and Trident with my own characters. I have some ideas that I’m currently putting together. One advantage of starting from scratch with my own character is that the continuity issues of 70-odd years of constant publication Sexton Blake had behind him no longer exist – so my own detective(s)** can have a cohesive background and the stories can all link together. This isn’t going to turn into a serial, though – the long text story in each issue will still be complete, just like it was in the Union Jack!

rwbre1.jpg

 The covers of the old series…

Of course, I need to dispose of the old stock of printed comics, but I can’t sell them. Instead I’ll just chuck them in the recycling. Mind you, though, I wouldn’t want to overwhelm Cambridgeshire recycling with one huge lump of paper all in one go. So I’ll distribute the comics to people for free at some event, they can then take them back to all different ends of the country/world and dispose of them there. Of course I’m not sure which event I can dispose of them at yet.

rwbre5.jpg

Picture unrelated. It is especially unrelated to Saturday May 28th.

In order to dispose of the comics I’ve been putting them into “packs”. Most of the packs, for the people who get to me first, will contain issues 1-4 of the Red, White & Blue and issue 1 of The Trident. Then a few with issue 3 missing. Then a few with issue 3 and The Trident missing. Then many with just issues 1 & 2 and then finally a few issue 2’s on their own.

rwbre2.jpg

Pilez O different sizez

There’s no suitable comic events coming up before my planned emigration time that I can reasonably get to and/or get a table at. So whatever I distribute them at I’ll have to have them in a backpack and wear a T-shirt with “Free Comics!” written on it. Events such as the MCM Expo May 28th at the Excel Centre, London usually have “Free Hug” people, so it will just be an extension of that with something you can read on the bog.

rwbre3.jpg

Like this but in T-shirt form.

As an aside I did take that box to work to see if anybody there wanted the lure of free Jingo. I think I only gave away 3 packs at most. Yep, I literally can’t give it away! …so when the re-launch comes (earmarked for August, hopefully issue 1 of the new Trident will be sooner) and the comics are available online, make sure you form an orderly line to pay £1.50 for something people didn’t want for free!

rwbre4.jpg

Tempted?

 * – They also mentioned that a certain large US comic company owns “exclusive print rights” …which possibly explains the non-appearance of the next Snowbooks compliation. It’s also a worrying development as we’ll quite possibly see some full colour version of Sexton Blake fighting against the British government and Empire after uncovering unjust conspiracies. Doubtless set in 1895 but showing him being assisted by Tinker who didn’t appear until 1904 in the proper stories. Or at least that’s the worst-case scenario. Hopefully the big US comic company will just be content to sit on the character and not do anything with him – staying out of print is far better than the wringer they’d put him through in the interests of “updating”.

** – *devious grin*

Red, White & Blue issue 4

On the 26th of April I finally put the finishing touches on Issue 4 of my own British adventure comic, the Red, White & Blue (cover dated Jan-Feb 2011, ahem). It contains 5 stories in both text and strip form, plus an editor’s page in the style of The Boys’ Friend and such-like story papers from the 1900’s.

rwb41.jpg

The cover

As this is a proper British adventure comic it has parts of stories on the cover, in the same way that The Boys’ Friend, Eagle and Victor did! Usually the story on the cover will be the colour story, but in other issues (starting with the next) a new/important story will be given it’s first page on the cover to promote it.

rwb42.jpg

Why yes, photo reference was used heavily here!

An interior story called “A Sting in the Tail”, a short complete strip about speedway racing. Based extremely loosely on real events… which a friend on Facebook posted on his page once.

rwb43.jpg

Now this is a wall of text!

The complete Sexton Blake text story, and the primary reason for this comic being so late. It’s almost 25,000 words crammed into 10 pages… at 7.5 point font! Other pages do have some block illustrations. The story itself is called “Sexton Blake in Hong Kong” and is set in 1900. That’s the pre-Tinker era, when Sexton Blake was assisted by a Chinese boy called We-Wee. In this story he leaves the detective’s service after getting homesick… though in the actual Blake canon he did feature in one more story in 1901!

rwb44.jpg

Thuuuugs!

Tigers of Punjab, a war-adventure serial set during the Partition of India in 1947. Like Action, Battle and 2000AD this is a more “hard hitting” story – or it was, at any rate. I have now converted it into a more generic adventure story rather than a harsh criticism of Imperial policy. (Though not a criticism of the Empire itself… you ought to know me better than that!)

 rwb45.jpg

 That actually says “Korea Sky” in Korean… I doubt Altavista would be good with fancy compound words!

The continuation of Sarah Millman, and also part of the text serial story called The Day of Green Skulls. I needed a filler, so this story is actually just based on an amalgamation of the two places I’ve worked ful-time at getting attacked by crazed animal rights activist, with the main character being based on me! (As one of the scientists, of course, not the attackers).

So when can you buy this? Erm, well, actually quite possibly never! There appears to be no conventions I can reasonably get tables at between now and August, when I hope to emigrate. Also the use of Sexton Blake prevents me from setting up an online shop. I used to think the character was in the public domain, but actually he still belongs to IPC. Reportedly IPC don’t mind “non profit” fan fiction, but the setting up of an online store rather than selling comics at car-boot-ish conventions could eventually nudge my publications into profitable territory. Yep, I’m just producing these comics for fun!

I could always maybe cheekily ask IPC for permission to use the character. Well stranger things have happened – Spaceship Away gets published despite the Dan Dare Corporation being a bunch of petulant childish mud-slinging vermin, after all.

Issue 5 is cover-dated Mar-Apr… so I doubt it will be on schedule! However as we do have time off at the moment I have managed to finish the Sexton Blake tale for issue 5, a rather more modest 10,000 words… and set in the 1980’s! In the previous issues I treated the text stories as afterthoughts, and worked on them at work, using time at home after work to concentrate on the “hard” drawing and inking. However it turns out I really need to use relaxed, stress-free time to write the text stories in, or else they turn into mush.

The Case of the Nihilists Daughter – A Brilliant Union Jack

I recently read this tale, as a breaktime-filler at work, and just had to write about it, it’s brilliant!

 uj_n606_1.jpg

New Series number 606, May 22nd 1915

The story begins with a lengthy prologue, in fact it’s so long you forget it even is a prologue and wonder when Sexton Blake is going to show up!

As it is, the tale begins in winter in the Russian city of Petrograd. General Karoski is waiting at a resturant for Elga Seblinsky, the daughter of a count that he is deeply in love with. However she is engaged to another man, Boris Tchapernoff. But the general has an ace up his sleeve – he knows that Elga’s father is “The Wolf”, and a member of The Nihilists, a group that want to bring down the government of Russia. The general attempts to blackmail Elga, telling her he knows where her father is meeting that very night, and that if she doesn’t promise to marry him her father will be arrested and exiled – virtually a death sentence.

Just as the general loses his temper Boris Tchapernoff appears on the scene and knocks the general to the ground, Elga faints and by the time she has come around the general is long gone – to arrest her father! Boris races them to the meeting-place in his sleigh, but they are just too late – and they witness Elga’s father being led away in chains, never to be seen again. Elga wants to shoot the general there and then, but it would only result in them being arrested too, and Boris has to drag her away.

uj_n606_3.jpg

Which can’t have been very easy in a Russian winter

During the earlier ‘scene’ Boris and Karoski had arranged to fight a duel – which is to take place in the gardens of a mansion during a masked ball. Elga drugs Boris and takes his place in the costume, eager to have her personal revenge. However the general cheats at the duel – turning and firing after only five paces instead of the agreed six. “Boris'” second. Alexis Irloff, pulls off the victims mask and discovers the truth, shortly before being shot himself. Boris, recovered from the drug, arrives just in time to swear he will have his revenge on General Karoski!

Five years pass, and the world is plunged into a devastating war. One that causes Tinker, Sexton Blake’s assistant, to compose a ‘touching ballad’:

uj_n606_4.jpg

Tinker’s anti-German song!

 A woman named Enid Delane comes to visit the great detective – she is the victim of a blackmailer named Latham Gower, who has got hold of some silly love letters she wrote as a teenager, and is demanding ever-increasing sums of money not to send them to her husband. Gower has now invited her, and several other of his victims, to a party. Sexton Blake decides to accompany Miss Delane to the party, disguised as her father!

At the party two kinds of guests are present – high society, all of them Gower’s victims, and gower’s associates – dodgy bookies, loan sharks and the like. Enid and “Sir Thomas” Delane both arrive at the party, the latter engaging Gower in a protracted conversation about safes and burglars – in order to find out the location of Gower’s safe.

As the party wears on Sir Thomas, AKA Sexton Blake, slips away and breaks into the safe, collecting up all of the blackmail documents and burning them in the gas stove. Just as he is about to leave the room Gower enters and passes into a private office with one of his “clients”, the French Monsieur Leon. As Sexton Blake listens from his hasty hiding place the “Frenchman” begins to tell Latham Gower a ‘leetle story’ – about a murdering Russian officer who dissapeared, after wounding a woman severely in a rigged duel and driving her half-insane! For the Frenchman is really Boris Tchapernoff and Latham Gower is General Karoski!

uj_n606_2.jpg

I swear an illustration very similar to this one has been used at times to represent both Sexton Blake and Nelson Lee! This was before the reign of Eric Parker, who gave Sexton Blake a defined image.

Boris demands that the general fight the duel that they could not in Russia, when suddenly Elga bursts in through the large windows. She has been free of her insanity – which comes and goes, and begs Boris not to murder the general, for duels in England are illegal. Sexton Blake decides to intervene – when a body thuds against the office door and slams it shut. Then there is another thud, a whistle, and a sucession of horrifying screams!

Blake forces his way in and finds Boris knocked out, an ugly wound on his head – Elga is in the corner, screaming with insanity, and Latham Gower is dead, with a knife buried deep in his heart! Of course Sexton Blake is still in disguise so has to leave with his daughter, who “is ill”, and then rush back to the mansion as his true self and “discover” the crime. Luckily a doctor arrived quickly while Blake was away and the scene has not been disturbed too greatly – but the mystery is baffling – Boris was knocked out before the murder, and Elga could not have been strong enough to do it. Besides which the knife is a huge showy Mexican piece, not the thing a Russian would carry around. Added to this are some strange animal tracks in the room.

Inspector Martin, one of the Scotland Yard officials that Sexton Blake is familiar with, arrives at the scene and immediatley arrests Boris. The robbed safe and burned papers only add to the confusion. Blake decides to proceed more carefully and has Tinker bring Pedro, their intelligent bloodhound, over from Baker Street. they set pedro on the trail of the small animal that had been in the room… and wind up at a circus! On the way the Inspector tumbles to the  fact that Sexton Blake had robbed the safe and actually heard the murder happen.  The trail Pedro follows ends up at a tent where Captain Emanuel Carlos, a famous Lion-tamer, is performing. He wants to try and enter a cage containing a dangerous untamed lion, but has not so far managed the feat. He also has a pet ferret – the mysterious small animal!

uj_n606_5.jpg

Sexton Blake

Sexton Blake and Inspector Martin return to the mansion and search Latham Gower’s office to try and connect the lion tamer to the blackmailer. Eventually they find a hidden compartment in his desk with documents relating to Gower’s other, “official” business, as a moneylender with absurd interest rates. Emanuel Carlos is one of his victims. They need more proof, however, and Sexton Blake, disguised as a general worker at the circus, manages to enter the lion tamer’s caravan, and discovers that Carlos used to be a knife-thrower, and has 40 knives that are the exact duplicates of the ones that killed Latham Gower.

Sexton Blake and Inspector Martin go and watch the lion tamer, intending to arrest him afterwards. However the lion attacks him and he is fatally wounded – he makes a deathbed confession – he had originally borrowed money for his daughter’s medical treatment, but had got deeper into Latham Gower’s clutches. One night he heard that his daughter had died, and went to Gower’s house, taking advantage of the confusion of of the argument he witnessed to throw a knife through the window and kill the blackmailer!

In the end a friend of Sexton Blake performs an operation on Elga and cures her insanity – and later on her and Boris are married.

This is a brilliant story, with a lot of unexpected twists and angles. It goes off the boil in the end, though. The Lion-tamer’s mauling and deathbed confession is all a bit too neat and tidy – but space restrictions and wartime shortages applied. I wonder how much better this tale may have been if it had been extended and held over for the 60-80,000 word Sexton Blake Library, which began in September 1915?