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.
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?
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!
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.
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!