Starscape Storypaper

Story Papers have virtually vanished from cultural history. A lot of people are aware of “Penny Dreadfuls” and “Comics”… but what came between? Far too many people (including me back in 2005/6) just assume that anything which costs aroundabout a penny and contains text stories is automatically a Penny Dreadful.

Story papers actually pre-date the Penny Dreadfuls too, I doubt The Young Gentlemen’s Magazine of 1777 featured many pirates or highwaymen. It was “The Young Gentlemen’s Magazine” because, of course, most working class boys and girls were illiterate! Compulsory schooling in the 19th century saw the rise of the Penny Dreadful as dodgy publishers vied to produce the most gruesome horror stories. By the 1860’s a moral backlash resulted in some more “worthy” publications (many of these early ones from the presses of Edwin J. Brett – formerly a leading Penny Dreadful publisher!). Then the Boys’ Own Paper of 1879 and Chums of 1892 put the Dreadfuls into retreat.

In the 1890’s the Alfred Harmsworh (later Amalgamated Press) story papers The Halfpenny Marvel, Union Jack and Boys’ Friend, all initially priced a halfpenny, decimated the dreadfuls and by 1910 (the Harmsworth papers having increased greatly in quality over the 1900’s, and gone up to a penny themselves) they were virtually forgotten. Amalgamated Press pretty much had the field to themselves until the 1920’s when Scottish upstart DC Thomson appeared, launching “The Big Five” throughout the decade. Most of AP’s story papers were killed off in 1940 by severe paper shortages. After the war it was DC Thomson who dominated the story-paper market (they had reduced the schedule of their papers rather than wholesale cancelling) until the comics took over and the DCT papers gradually converted to comics, merged or closed. The last, The Rover, finally vanished in 1973.

…At least, that’s the story papers aimed at the working class Boys’ market. Three story papers survive today, all aimed at middle-aged women. The People’s Friend Library, My Weekly Library and The People’s Friend itself. If you consider Story Papers to “count” as comics (and I do) then The People’s Friend is easily the longest running one ever – going on 150 years! the Dandy, Detective Comics and, er, that Italian one don’t even come close.

But now there’s a new story paper on the scene, and this one is aimed at the typical comic readership of today. The Starscape Storypaper.

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The cover wouldn’t have been seen on Chatterbox

For some reason it’s a tiny A6 size, and begins with an introduction by somebody who doesn’t seem to have seen a story paper and is under the impression they were “pocket book sized”. Mind you at least he does realise that story papers and penny dreadfuls were different things! He laments the decline of British adventure comics and wonders if a story paper could fill the gap between 2000AD and Harry Potter, a noble idea and one that’s worth a try!

He does seem under the impression that a paper with science fiction, superheroes and horror stories would be “modern”, though. Comics seem to have stopped at 2000AD, by way of 1977 XD. Mind you that’s the prevailing attitude in the British comics profession (such as it is – most of them working for American companies) anyway. 2000AD is good and anything that came before it is worthless, you only need to look at Comic Heroes!

Then again my own story paper, The Trident (re-launched, er, sometime in an A4 format with two complete stories and two serials) is going to be filled with early 20th century style jingoism, so what do I know?

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Starscape alongside the next smallest story paper I know of (The Boys’ Friend Library) and the more typical “half tabloid” size

The first story is excellent, it features the assistant to the great wizard, Merlin, murdering him and stealing the ankh of eternal life that Merlin was preparing. But Merlin is not dead and returns to the assistant, Seth, as a ghost. Seth is incapable of dying so long as he has the ankh with him (and if he is separated from it suffers the pains of death without dying!). Merlin whisks him through time and forces him to fight in various wars or participate in various atrocities through history – usually on the losing side!

Eventually, though, Merlin needs his help – for some great evil is threatening “all realms”, including earth and the afterlife. Seth must travel through time and enlist the help of great heroes, starting with Beowulf!

The next story is about “exterminators” on a colony planet called variously Redworld or Dustworld. This planet is infested with giant insects called Earwigs (giant spiders, ants and scorpions are too predictable XD). The hero is the nerdy Stoss, who wanted to study the insects after they were exterminated, but his father has forced him to get the more ‘glamorous’ job at the sharp end!

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Once a comic illustrator, always a comic illustrator!

This story is also a serial, and sets the scene, really. There’s no battles – but the main characters are crawling around in a dark, deserted and crumbling old building (evidently the lessons of a thousand horror movies still haven’t been learned in the future!) so the next part will doubtless be carnage.

Then we have the short, complete story. This has a some futuristic cyborg weaponary and an unexpected twist ending. A “future” with a “shock”, if you will XD.

Actually it’s a superhero story with two main heroes. One of them has the power of punching people, and the other has a power-suit that’s bulletproof and lets him leap long distances and smash people’s skulls in.

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Which is better against armed mobsters, if we’re being honest

The rest of the heroes have the power of being killed by the henchmen of a criminal called “The Big Boss”. Somebody has sold them out… but who?

In all it’s a publication with it’s faults, but it’s well worth supporting… especially for the Merlin story! A kind of Justice League of middle ages Britain sounds awesome… even if that’s kind of already been done in the Arthurian legends XD.

This would be the bit where I give you a way of buying it, but Starscape’s website is, ahem, ‘quirky’ to navigate, so I’ll instead say go to a small press convention and hope they are there. Not much use for those of us that want to emigrate, mind you!

London SP Expo 2011

The UK Web & Mini-comix Thing is gone, but the London SP Expo is here to replace it! It’s run by the same people who started the Bristol SP Expo, which is a few years old and now runs over two days.

Anyway, the first one was held yesterday and I went to sell my comics. I didn’t get issue 4 of the Red, White & Blue finished in time. Even though my new year’s resolution was to take it bi-monthly, and the cover still actually says “Jan-Feb 2011” it’s still not done! I’d like to blame a cold I had late last month, but really I was just too lazy. I did have one new production, in the shape of issue 1 of The Trident. I finished this last year and it’s an unofficial continuation of the Sexton Blake Library and Boys’ Friend Library, ie one long text story. The first is about Sexton Blake in World War 1, I sold an amazing two copies! XD

But before setting out to the convention I had to make a “colours nailed to the mast” T-shirt to wear. Using rubbish print-yourself iron-on transfers, it didn’t go well. But then again it only had to last a day.

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First print a mirror image… (my dad inevitably had to point out that it was “wrong” in case I “hadn’t noticed”)

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Get yer amazing Tesco value t-shirt, and a mum with an iron

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One not-burned-down house later… The E was the corner I peeled the paper off first, and some of the red went with it. Also the far corner wasn’t stuck down.

 I’d been intending to stay up for “as long as it took” to finish issue 4, but it had got to 9 at night and I’d still not finished the (20,500 words so far!) Sexton Blake story, and not even started on the 5 pages of Tigers of Punjab (the three of issue 4’s short Speedway story took all of January). Anything produced that quickly wasn’t going to be any good, so I decided to not produce it at all and leave issue 4 out. The Sexton Blake story could do with some big tweaks too, if it’d printed it as-is it would have been very rambling and bland. So instead I packed what I had, printed the strips for issue 4 that did get finished, and went to sleep at a decent time.

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Stuff packed. I have some display stands this year!

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The finished material in a display book. I need to take my printer’s colour management in hand… things that are supposed to be darkish grey are almost-black purple! It will be sorted out for when the actual comics are printed.

As it NOT traditional for my comic convention trips, the transportation ran perfectly smoothly. Nobody had dropped a match at a station or anything. (Actually the fire that closed Cambridge station last year really was huge and could be seen over most of the city, plus a tall former mill was in danger of collapsing onto the station. But at the time I didn’t know that XD).

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Had to use the “London Overground”, I didn’t even know there was such a thing. I just thought it was a funny nickname for the parts of the Underground that aren’t actually underground (which is a surprising amount of it, actually). But the Overground is actually a seperate train with it’s own lines.

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Packed with convention-goers, as you can see.

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Is that some blue I see?

After arriving at New Cross station, apparently near Millwall stadium (they weren’t at home, I doubt supporters of a club with a reputation for hooliganism and long-haired comic con goers would mix!) I predictably got lost. At least the Thing was on a straight road from it’s station, even I can’t get lost on a straight road XD. I found the venue pretty much at 10 o clock when the event was opening to the public, though for the first hour it was pretty much just the exhibitors, still. Several wandering around and chatting to people they knew.

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What I could see. Opposite me were several DFC contributors. To my shame I never got that comic, but will certianly be getting The Pheonix, it’s “replacement”. Even if I hope to have emigrated by then I still will!

I just took lots of pictures… all of the architecture!

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Wanna see a huge organ?

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 All ceilings should look like this

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Balconies

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The top, sadly the windows are obscured by this horrible modern lighting rig. They ought to use ornate chandeliers. I’d love to be in this room alone when it’s raining heavily.

I also set up my table. The new stands make it look a lot better, but I really need an A5 one for The Trident (and, when it’s done, The Dragonfly). Also I’d hoped to have the A6 sized penny comics in a seperate box all jumbled up (the different stories will be different colours), but I’d only got one finished (-_- and that was a reprint) so into the stand they went as well.

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I later made a seperate notice pointing out the price of the penny dreadfuls which got a bit more attention XD

After that I took a quick run around the hall to look for the stuff I wanted to buy especially, but as I was in a hurry I actually didn’t see any of them. I did see  Yuri Kore but she didn’t have any new books out. But if you haven’t got the two she had released then buy ’em! One of them won a competition organised by the Japanese embassy!

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How do they work?

At 11 I phoned up my girlfriend, who is Japanese. I’d not had any contact with her since the earthquake but she said she was fine, just that she had to walk home from work which took 10 hours O_O. I also found a yen in my change bucket and gave it to some anime fans behind me. From about 11 on people actually started arriving and browsing. Though I didn’t make any sales til gone 12 I did give out a few hastily-made (they always are) free flyers.

There was also no less than three film crews wandering about at one point! Well this is in a university, I suppose the media studies students wanted to get their “interviewing” badge. “for some strange reason” they didn’t interview me. Oh well, I only would have said that a story paper that ended in the mid-1920’s was the best comic ever.

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“You’re sure that’s not a Tribble”?

As the day went on I handed out a few more free flyers, though oddly enough still had a few left. People won’t take shoddily-produced rubbish with silly puns in it even if it is free! No less than three people who came to see me had actually heard of Sexton Blake! The story paper revolution gains momentum, comrades! Around 1 I went off for food and then a longer wander around the hall. I found all the stuff on my shopping list, including (finally) some issues of FuturequakeOmnivistascope (both near-professional quality publications inspired by 2000AD’s heyday) and some Starscape productions, including the Starscape Storypaper! It’s A6 sized but what can ya do. It’ll while away some time at work. “For some strange reason” the guy at the Starscape stall thought I’d be older. Well I do mainly collect comics from before World War 2.

I also got the first two issues of Non-repro (a seperate post about this will be made eventually!). This came about when somebody posted on the forums of Sweatdrop Studios (a seperate post about them will be made eventually!) saying “Why isn’t there a regular UK manga anthology?”. The people who came to produce Non-repro said “Why isn’t there a regular UK manga anthology?” and made it!

Aand I also got “The Comix Reader” – 24 tabloid-sized pages on newsprint for a pound! There’s all sorts in it and some is not for children. Encouragingly it says “Issue 1” so unlike the similarly-formatted Gothic there will hopefully be many more!

I got heaps of other stuff too, and ought to blog about some of it eventually. I want to treat all British comics the same, whether they be million-sellers or photocopied pamphlets!

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Free advertising! Where’s me discount?

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Buys

Eventually the day came to a close. I’d spent a good 50-odd quid all in coins and sold about 10 comics, so my case was considerably heavier on the way out! One of the rules of this con, unlike the Thing, was that we had to help put away the tables and chairs too. I was half expecting a load of whinging and moaning and sudden development of bad backs, but actually everybody was making themselves useful and actually doing it. Then again contrary to expectations the majority of people at the con seemed to be working class, when you’d think a bunch of “creative types” would be airy fairy and middle class. Oh well, comics were always too good to be wasted on the likes of them!

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My real name is tarquin wetherby but I used my cleaner’s name to blend in.

Then it was time for the journey home, which was similarly uneventful. I’d used cheap Tesco deodorant which didn’t last the distance, luckily the trains weren’t crowded and stereotypes about comic con goers remained unproven to the public at large XD. Wierdly when I arrived at Ely station it was soaked and smelled like heavy rain, but the train had not passed through any rain, and my dad said our village hadn’t had any either. Very narrow band!