Thursday, February 15, 2007
Express Weekly: a forgotten treasure?
Whilst fondly remembered British comics such as TV Century 21, Eagle, and Valiant have rightly received the acclaim they deserved it seems there's one comic from that era that hardly gets a mention. I recently bought some old copies of Express Weekly / TV Express and I was pleased to discover what a quality product it was.
As information on the comic is so hard to come by I don't know a great deal about the publication. From what I can gather it started life as Junior Express (No.1 dated 4th September 1954), changed its title to Junior Express Weekly with No.39, simplified itself to Express Weekly with No.74, and finally settled upon being called TV Express from No.286, jumping into the fad of tv-inspired comics. (Its final issue was No.375, dated 6th January 1962.)
The issues I have are from the latter part of the run; a handful from 1959 to 1961. I have no idea what its early years were like but by this time it was obviously modeling itself on Eagle, with its large size, photogravure printing, layout, and mixture of strips and features. I'm usually of the opinion that imitations never live up to the original, but from these examples Express was a worthy opponent to Eagle.
As can be seen from the samples above, Ron Embleton provided many covers for the publication. (There is actually quite a bit of info on Embleton on the internet at least, such as this page which shows a little bit more of his Express artwork.) His Wulf the Briton strips were later reprinted by Marvel UK in their Forces in Combat weekly.
Embleton of course later worked on Stingray strips for TV Century 21 and illustrated the end title boards for the original Captain Scarlet tv show. (Those boards can be seen here.)
Another artist who worked on Express Weekly prior to TV21 was Mike Noble who illustrated The Lone Ranger comic strip (seen above). This strip shared the centre spread of Express with an educational feature (another idea copied from Eagle). Mike's work however had a great vitality to it even back then.
From what I can see, all of the artists on Express were highly talented, not least Mike Western. Mike is better known as the artist who drew The Wild Wonders for Valiant in the 1960s and Darkie's Mob for Battle in the 1980s, to name but two, but the sample shown above (from the No Hiding Place strip) proves his sharp style was well developed as early as 1960 at least.
When the title changed to TV Express the tv-inspired strips included Gun Law, Yogi Bear, No Hiding Place, a series of Danger Man text stories, and later Alfie and Bill (Alfie Bass and Bill Fraser from The Army Game). Not to forget Biggles, a 1960 tv series based on the books by W.E. Johns. (See www.biggles.info).
TV Express eventually merged into TV Comic in 1962. I'm mystified as to why the history of the comic doesn't seem to be as thoroughly documented as that of Lion, Hotspur, or many other adventure comics. Perhaps I just haven't come across the articles that have been written about it. As it underwent several changes in title and direction I assume sales were continually declining. Why? Perhaps its characters just didn't hook the readers? Perhaps it was considered to be an inferior imitation of Eagle? Perhaps its frequent shifts in direction cost it more readers than it gained?
Whatever the reason for its eventual demise, from what I've seen, Express was one of the best British weeklies of the period and it was certainly as good, if not better, than some of its more popular contemporaries.
Update: Thanks to Shaqui Le Vesconte (whose Technodelic website is well worth checking out) I've learned that the classic British character Jeff Hawke first appeared in Junior Express. Also, how could I have forgotten that Express was the home of Jet Morgan and those strips are currently being reprinted in the excellent Spaceship Away comic. .