Strip Magazine is BACK!

After a difficult birth and an even more difficult “childhood”, with waits of many months between some issues (and the entire consignment of one issue, which ended up being ‘combined’ with another, going missing in Italy. Anybody who finds those ought to hang on to them, might be worth a bit in years to come!), Strip Magazine has now finally reached UK Newsagents!

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The occasion is marked with a new first issue, which has an entirely new look and several new stories, though others are being reprinted for the benefit of new readers.

nstrip02The issue opens with the customary Cosmic Patrol strip. This is one that has not been seen before. I don’t know if they’re reprinted from somewhere else, but the artistic style suggests franco-belgian to me, as do the “strange” sound effects.

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In the same manner as 2000AD and The Phoenix, they have gone for a fictional editor to introduce the comic. In this case, an educated ape! (I wonder if it’s one of the apes from that Not-I-Spy-Honest strip in the original version? XD).

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The new “lead” strip is a re-creation of DC Thomson’s hero King Cobra! They kept this under their hats, I remember it being announced not too far in advance of the release date. I was worried they’d do the usual hatchet job, turning him into a “Patriotism as She is Spoke”, over emotional character who would be dropping to his knees and screaming “NNNOOOOO!” all the time. I voiced these concerns on a forum and got the usual response of “the character needs to be modernised”. For modernised, read americanised.

BUT, so far anyway, they have actually done a decent job (though he does shout “No!” in a speech bubble with a red outline). The new Cobra is the usual martial arts expert loaded with gadgets, such as wrist-mounted arrow firers and limited invisibility. He is also in contact with a woman “in the background”, monitoring CCTV images and police radios, which at least means he isn’t talking to himself XD.

Several references are made to “the old Cobra”, and the introduction blurb states that the original Cobra disappeared in 1982 (the year Hotspur was merged into Victor XD). The villain of the strip (costumed dictator of his own nuclear-armed country, no less!) recognises him too. There’s an interesting backstory here, and I for one can’t wait to read it!

One quirk of the original King Cobra was that his “human form” was really clumsy. I expect this aspect will be “modernised” (removed entirely), but Strip often gives me pleasant surprises. Mind you, the clumsiness wasn’t seen in all the old King Cobra stories. I didn’t know about it until I saw a reprint of one of the weekly strips in Classics From the Comics. It’s not mentioned at all in some annuals!

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KTHOOOM again

Black Ops Extreme also returns, in a brand new story! I think this is actually the best one so far (though the Embassy Siege one was good too). Though this “continues” from the old Strip Magazine, the stories are all more or less complete in themselves. The overall plot (disgraced former special forces soldiers have to undertake suicide missions for pardons) is pretty easy to grasp. No doubt it will slowly work towards them all being betrayed, almost killed, then escaping and going on the run XD.

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To reiterate – A BOSNIAN CARES MORE ABOUT BRITISH COMICS THAN BRITISH PEOPLE.

Next up is the Comic Cuts article, with news about what’s happening in the British comics ‘scene’. Of course, the biggest news at the moment is Strip Magazine itself! They talk about the origins of the UK version, the titles Print Media already publish in Bosnia (including Strip Magazin) and the endless troubles the test issues faced with customs. Hopefully things are smoothed over and the new version will reach shops in a timely manner, though as I write there have been some problems with subscriptions.

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Next is the fantasy story Crucible. This is quite confusing to begin with, lots of characters and elements of the world to take in at once (anybody else who is going to do one of these ought to read early Long Gone Don in The Phoenix, Broilerdoom is very strange, but introduced in an easily-understandable manner). Anyway, the story opens with the main character, Sylvana, looking for a job. She ends up being recruited with the usual motley crew of adventurers who are off on a quest. Then they get into a fight, with another crew of adventurers, whose “job” they “stole”!

Sylvana appears to have been punched in one eye, and it’s closed. But we don’t see the punching happen, is she perhaps blinded in one eye, and always has it closed? One of my friends is blinded like that, so I notice these things.

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Other artists draw both eyes… but then so do my friend’s fans XD

nstrip09Black Dragon is another reprint, but this time in colour! And it’s going to be continued, too. It’s set in an alternate steampunk(sigh)-ish world. Though it’s 2012 in this world, it’s all steam-powered airships, elaborate braid-covered uniforms and monarchies. This story was originally a one-off, but is now going to be continued!

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Strip Magazine also carries interviews with writers and artists, much like the Judge Dredd Megazine. Here Richmond Clements is interviewed about his work on Black Ops Extreme and Black Dragon, as well as work further afield. He also edits the 2000AD fanzine/comic Zarjaz, and helps to run the Hi-Ex convention.

nstrip11Next up is Denizens, an “eco” story which is also reprinted from the old Strip Magazine. There the first two installments were presented as a complete(ish) story, but now we have the first one repeated again. Unlike a lot of these stories, it actually has a scientific background and isn’t all about rune magic and leylines (which were actually dreamed up in the 1920’s, anyway). After a deforestation protester’s wife is killed accidentally, he creates a formula which causes rapid plant growth, then spreads it around the world, so nature can reclaim the cities.

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Books Spotlight primarily focuses on the books Print Media are producing. This one talking about Frontier, which I believe originally appeared in The DFC. They are also releasing Mirabilis (another DFC one?) and The Iron Moon in book form. Though some other DFC stories are collected in their own DFC Library book line. Hopefully a Phoenix Library is not too far away!

nstrip13After that, the final adventure strip for this issue, Warpaint. This IS the sort of rune-magic eco-mysticism that has terminally infected 2000AD (A “department of magyick” even showed up in Judge Dredd). Fortunately in Strip Magazine it’s safely quarantined in the one story. This is also a reprint, which ran through several of the old issues, but has re-started for the new version. Oh well, I suppose it will hook the 2000AD readers.

nstrip14On the back cover is Bogey Man Bob, another comedy strip, and another repeat, but a good one! And it is, of course, a strip on the cover (though The Beano currently has cover strips too, in a “new retro look”. Just like the “new retro look” they tried last year XD).

Strip Magazine is a bold attempt at launching a new comic into a country that has largely given up on them. It can be found in most of the larger WH Smith branches, as well as some comic shops and smaller ‘general’ newsagents. They maintain an informative web presence and always keep fans updated on distribution and delivery problems, as well as listing shops where the comic may be bought:

http://stripcomicmagazineuk.blogspot.co.uk/

There’s also a digital version for iThings, but no decent person is going to be lowering themselves to that, are they?

Proper British adventure comics are still around, if you know where to look – Part 4

You may recall I started this series of articles in the middle of last year, anticipating the release of what it was leading up to. However my anticipation was, in fact, 11 months out! But on the second of this month it finally arrived…

Strip Magazine

Meet the newest comrade in the battle against boring comics, and one that has shot straight into my “regular buys” pile:

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(For some reason Cambridge Smith’s is only selling 3 Commando’s a time now)

Strip Magazine is an all-new monthly of 68 pages that costs a mere £2.99, which is amazing value considering what you get. It even “feels” longer than the Judge Dredd Megazine did in the good old days of 2004 when it was 100 pages long and cost £4.99! It’s also filled with newly-created characters that exist solely for the purpose of being comics – they aren’t just dumb toy adverts or TV show tie-ins.

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We start off with a comedy superhero strip (no don’t run, it’s only a page and actually funny!), which is promisingly advertised as “The only superheroes you’ll see in Strip Magazine”. The introduction doesn’t beat about the bush either. The publisher, Bosnian Ivo Milicevic, grew up reading classic British adventure comics such as Action and Valiant. He later discovered, to his horror, that there was no equivalent comic being published in Britain today. It’s nice to know that foreigners care about this vast, vanished part of our culture – even if British people don’t!

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Some of those parody heroes are a bit close to the bone! Lets hope Marvel/DC are able to laugh at themselves…

The first strip kicks off in fine style with a massive-explosion-to-page ratio of four in six…

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KATHOOOM!

It’s Black Ops Extreme, and features a team of mercenaries who have all been convicted of various crimes, and are now earning their freedom by tackling the dirtiest jobs in the world’s hotspots. In this first story blowing up a drug factory in the disputed Western Sahara region. It is, in fact, unintentionally similar to Commando’s “Convict Commandos” series. The characterisation in those stories is brilliant, but here it doesn’t really have a chance to get off the ground in only six pages. But we’ll see how things go on (oh if only this was a weekly!).

I’ll remain pessimistically optimistic that this story isn’t going to end up with them discovering that actually “western capitalism” is “the real enemy” and fighting against Britain / America. But we’ll see… elsewhere in the issue it is implied that they will at some point be off to Afghanistan, a current conflict that Commando has only slightly touched on so far.

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The comic also contains adverts for other Print Media publications, including this upcoming collection of a Croation comic called Herlock Sholmes. It sounds amusing, but there’s been some more unintentional sameness… for that was the name given to a comedy detective in Tom Merry’s Own annual from 1950!

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Which coincidentally had the same title as the first Sexton Blake story from 1893!

But I suppose the name is pretty obvious. As is “Sherlock Homeless”, who has been spotted in Viz but also as a comic created by Mashiro Moritaka in Bakuman when he was a child!

Next we have an article on Action, the infamous comic from 1976 that featured endless violence and gallons of blood. It was dubbed “The Sevenpenny Nightmare” by The Sun, Condemned by the Football Association for encouraging hooligans and even debated in parliament!

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Using, I notice, a picture from the newly-recoloured Hook Jaw and not the original…

For all it’s horror Action did pave the way for the long-running 2000AD. Horrific violence apparently isn’t so bad when it’s happening 130 years in the future, or to robots and aliens. The article does make the highly-dubious claim that Blackjack in Action was “the first British strip to feature a black lead character”. Even ignoring offensive stereotypes like Policeman Pete (“he takes care of the nigs”!) from Tiger Tim’s Weekly, I’m sure that can’t be right. Could this be a brief flash of Megazine Syndrome – IE completely writing off anything that came before Comrade Mills as worthless?

Promisingly this article is named “Classic British Comics” – could it be one of a series? If it is I expect we will be seeing features on non-Eagle, pre-Mills titles that are not also awash with “hurr hurr Danny’s Tranny they wouldn’t get away with that today!” ‘hilarity’.

Anyway the reason Action has been featured in this first issue is to introduce the newly-recoloured reprint of an infamous seventies classic – Hook Jaw!

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Crunch!

Written off on a certain forum I go to as “dated” (erm, yeah?), it’s actually one of the best strips in the comic! The new colouring is pretty sympathetic to the old artwork, but It seems to me that the gore has actually been toned down(!). I’m sure pictures I’ve seen of the colour Hook Jaw pages from the original printing in Action had far more blood. But of course only some of the pages were originally coloured, here they all are.

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The next strip is a prequel to The Iron Moon, which I shamefully don’t own yet! It’s done in the same delicate watercolour/pencil style, which looks wonderful. The main character is Charlotte Corday, a secret agent in some kind of mystic investigation department. She also showed up in London Calling, which I talked about here. The Iron Moon is actually set in a different universe to that story, but one that is no less bonkers! It’s set in the 1890’s, but Queen Victoria is both still alive, and apparently came to the throne in the 1690’s! Also the British Empire extends all the way to mars, plus France has been conquered too.

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The next story is Recovery Inc. What can I say about this one? Well it features a woman in a tight black leather suit narrating the story as she creeps around stealing stuff. It’s like they threw a bunch of recentish thriller DVD’s at the writer and said “make this”. It also features swear words “disguised” by random symbols. Except those random symbols are actually text speak for the actual letters of the word. This is possibly even worse than fake “futuristic” swear words like “Frell” and they’d better pray nobody at the Mail/Express has their reading glasses on. It smacks of being written into a corner, if Eastenders (or Action!) can manage without swearing so can you!

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Incedentally if it wasn’t for the explanation of what Recovery Inc is on the contents page I wouldn’t have had the faintest idea what this was even about.

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Next there’s an article about PJ Holden, the artist on Black Ops Extreme, which also goes over his work for Rebellion, Warhammer and some other small(ish) press stuff.

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The next strip is Warpaint, which smacks of the mystik faery spyrit type of stories that made me finally give up on 2000AD. It also features one of these narrating the intro, complaining about how “us people” “like stories that start at the beginning”. Actually from what I’ve seen of a lot of modern British/US comics they very rarely start at the beginning these days. Luckily the Japanese (and Commando and Spaceship Away) are there to put things right!

Anyway this story features a girl called Mia, the same name as the main character of Recovery Inc! Her and a friend are stealing pipes from an old building to sell for scrap, when the security guard catches them. He is then eaten by the pipes and Mia is eaten by a coyote spirit… and no doubt will emerge with superpowers and fight against the evil forces that are working to tear Gaia apart at her ley lines by brainwashing earth’s chyldryen into driving cars, eating meat and wearing clothes. Or something.

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I’d say “Manga influenced” here… but I won’t because I’ve done more than idly flick through a few books in a shop!

Fortunately the next strip is far better! It’s the first winner of the Strip Challenge (don’t google that with safe search off). It’s self contained in six pages and so hits the ground running. Basically a secret agent in the future called Agent Syber rescues a kidnapped scientist from the baddies, and that’s it. Oh well, only six pages after all! I was actually pleasantly surprised to see a black and white strip. It shows that this comic is produced by people who love comics, not men in suits droning on that a lack of colour won’t appeal to the TV and Videogame generation.

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I want to draw a colour strip set in Britain’s countryside now!

The final adventure strip is Age of Heroes. It has utterly beautiful artwork, and features a wandering blind storyteller who, erm, tells stories. It’s set on another planet, and so features references to several made up heroes. One of whom is called Drake, who was a blind swordsman – like Japan’s Zatoichi! Anyway, the storyteller begins to tell his tale of an adventuring monk called Wex, who walks along a bit, and then decides to rest but gets a knife thrown at him. Erm, and then we have to wait for part 2. Again, if only this was a weekly!

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Finally on the back cover (on the cover! Told you this was a proper British comic!)  we have the other humour strip. This a comedy story about a faceless spy who looks very similar to the brilliant I.Spy of Sparky! Except this time he is up against evil intelligent apes. One of the hench-apes decides to change sides and help him (there’s no prospects for promotion in evil organisations), then they beat up the baddies. Well it is only a page!