Friday, February 28, 2014

Promoting the OINK! launch to the retail trade in 1986


Here's how the launch of Oink! comic was promoted in the pages of retailer's magazine CTN, March 21st 1986. IPC's Youth Group managing editor John Sanders explained how the company was paying £55,000 to publicize the new comic. That was nearly 30 years ago. It'd cost far more to launch a comic today, and the market is weaker now, which goes some way to explaining why publishers don't just throw out more comics as some people think they should.

Even back in 1986 the comics industry wasn't that stable. The article reveals: "During the past five years sales of youth titles have dropped by more than half". This was during a period when UK comics featured a strong stable of top quality artists and writers, with publications being reasonably priced. Yet children were still drifting away, which suggests that it wasn't so much the content that was putting them off but rather the distraction of other media and activities. 

John Sanders himself said "We must accept the fact that comics have not been for a long time the first leisure role that will attract children. That role belongs to television, but we can still compete if we change our direction".

Sadly, Oink! only lasted for two and a half years, and a change of direction the company would later take would lead to the kind of magazines bagged with toys that dominate the shelves today. A few, such as Toxic, still feature several comics pages, but many do not. In which case we should respect the late lamented Dandy for reviving its comic format in its last few years, and The Beano and The Phoenix for sticking with content that is all-comics.

Click on the article above to enlarge it to read. My own personal recollections about being invited to contribute to Oink! in its early stages can be seen on my other blog here: 
http://lewstringercomics.blogspot.co.uk/2014/02/the-origin-of-tom-thug.html 

Roll the credits!


Fifty years ago it would be unimaginable that The Beano would credit the people who produce the strips. Back then, DC Thomson had a strict policy of not allowing artists to sign their work, and writers were completely anonymous. There had been a few exceptions. In recognition of Dudley D. Watkins being their greatest asset they had allowed him to sign his pages for a few years, and Allan Morley was able to initial his strips, but on the whole such things were forbidden. 

It wasn't just DC Thomson. Their rivals Amalamated Press were just as reticent, with Roy Wilson being one of the few granted permission to sign their work. Even in the 1960s and 70s, Fleetway and IPC usually had their 'bodgers' (the nickname for art assistants) white out any signatures the artists tried to sneak in. (Curiously the practise was different at Odhams, with artists seemingly able to sign pages if they wished to. - Which is an easy way for collectors to now determine which pages Leo Baxendale drew for them for example. - Also Hulton of course published credits in the Eagle.)

Things started to change more significantly in the late seventies (perhaps influenced somewhat by Countdown and 2000AD running credits, and also by new editors coming into the industry). Signatures started appearing on strips and by the 1980s it was common practise at IPC, with even the mighty DC Thomson allowing it as well. IPC even started crediting scriptwriters and letterers too! (And rightly so. We wouldn't have a comic strip without 'em!)

However, writers were still often anonymous in the humour comics, (although IPC's Oink! was an exception, as was Scouse Mouse). Pleasingly, this week's Beano has made the welcome move of running a contents page with full credits to the artists and writers. The staff are also given credit. Let's hope this new policy continues! 

(There's no work by me in this issue as it was replaced by an advert, but they have a stack of Rasher strips in stock so hopefully it'll return soon.)

As you can see from the list of contents there's a lot packed into this issue, including Dennis the Menace dealing with an Internet troll! Script by Nigel Auchterlounie, art by Nigel Parkinson. Good work, lads!


Copyright © DC Thomson & Co. Ltd.

The story is exaggerated for a better visual effect of course. If it was realistic it'd just be three pages of someone tapping angrily on a keyboard 24/7, but in these sad times of Internet bullying it has a nice positive message to convey to the readers. 


Copyright © DC Thomson & Co. Ltd

The Beano is out now, priced £2. 


Cover by Nigel Parkinson.

Thursday, February 27, 2014

Return of The Tower King


Compared to the massive amount of classic American comics material reprinted in recent years, fans of UK comics are poorly served. The 120 plus year history of British comics is gradually being forgotten (or worse, never discovered) by new generations due to some publishers having no interest in reprinting their old material. 

However, thanks to independent outfits such as Hibernia Comics, some material is being brought to a new audience. (They did a Doomlord collection several years ago, and have published books on the history of selected comics.) With an arrangement with the Dan Dare Corporation who now own much of the Eagle material, Hibernia Comics have this week released a collection of The Tower King. This serial of a post-apocalyptic Britain plunged back into a mediaeval style scenario was written by Alan Hebden and drawn by José Ortiz and was one of the highlights of the new Eagle when it launched in 1982.


Top quality artwork, as you can see from the samples here. I'll be reviewing the 76 page collection in a week or two, but if you want to grab your own copy head over to the Hibernia Comics shop here:
http://www.comicsy.co.uk/hibernia/store/products/the-tower-king/

Commandos in shops today


My thanks to Scott Montgomery at DC Thomson for the latest news about the issues of Commando that arrive in shops today. As you can see above, issue 4685 has a brand new Ian Kennedy cover. Great to see one of Britain's best adventure artists still working regularly. 

Here's the info from the publisher about this week's releases...

Commando Issues 4683-4686 – On sale 27th February 2014

Commando No 4683 – The Cold War 

As World War Two draws to a close, a British special forces unit engage in a secret mission far to the snowy north, aimed at halting German progress on new devastating weapons and bringing the war to a swift conclusion.
   But the mission brings a bitter taste. As they compete to snatch a Nazi scientist, ally turns against ally as they battle in
The Cold War

Story: C.B. Harvey
Art: Vila
Cover: Janek Matysiak



Commando No 4684 – Green For Danger

From one German sentry to another went the whisper, “Achtung! Danger…Danger…Commando raid!”
   But who can stop the men in the green berets?

Introduction

   Commando heroes have always been “everyman” heroes — without capes and superpowers. But, if you’d read the bares bones of what it’s proposed that our two Commandos will achieve, you’d be forgiven for thinking that it would take the efforts of two supermen (with a small s) to pull it off. Yet, such is the skill of the story-telling everything seems very plausible and believable. Frantic and breathless, perhaps, but very credible.
   The plot is helped by some very accomplished black and whites. There are lots of small stylistic touches that add depth and movement. In some places they even give Ken Barr’s cover work a run for its money…and he’s got the advantage of colour.

Calum Laird, Commando Editor

Story: Redbridge
Art: Roux
Cover: Ken Barr


Commando No 4685 – Soldier Pilots

In battle, a few seconds can be the difference between life and death. For ground attack pilots operating over combat zones, those few seconds can mean the difference between destroying his enemy…or his own side.
   That was why pilot Flight Lieutenant Rudy Pendleton found himself on the ground, deep in the jungle. He was directing Allied aircraft on to Japanese targets, with split-second accuracy. And the stakes couldn’t have been higher — success was the only option. Failure would lead to the annihilation of Allied forces in the Far East.
  
Story: Alan Hebden
Art: Rezzonico
Cover: Ian Kennedy



Commando No 4686 – Beware The Traitor

Secret agents, hush-hush flights to Occupied France…as one of the pilots involved, Danny Cooper knew that too often the reception committee waiting for them was German. Someone on the British side was spilling the beans.
   Years after the war was over, Danny was to be offered the opportunity to settle these old scores – far away from Britain or France…in the jungles of South America.

Introduction

…but here the flashbacks are handled well and used sparingly.
[Five minutes previously]
   This cracking yarn has a compelling mystery at its core – and expertly flits between a post-World War II setting and a wartime espionage-tinged flashback.
   Normally, I’m not a huge fan of flashbacks. If done badly they can interrupt the flow of the story and even cause confusion for the reader...
[Back in the present] 
…but here the flashbacks are handled well and used sparingly.
   See what I mean?

Scott Montgomery, Deputy Editor

Story: R.A. Montague
Art: Denis Mcloughlin
Cover: Ian Kennedy


Wednesday, February 26, 2014

Shelf life, February 1952

Here's a photo I found on the net recently; a tobacconists / newsagents from 62 years ago. By doing a quick search on eBay I've determined this is early February 1952 as the Picture Post covers in the foreground were dated Feb 2nd and the other Feb, 9th. 
Behind the shop keeper weighing his customer a few ounces of tobacco you'll notice a few comics on the shelves. Nyoka the Jungle Girl and Hopalong Cassidy etc were published in the USA in 1951 but presumably these are British editions as US comic imports hadn't yet resumed after WW2. (Also, the one on the shelf has the 10 cents price missing, so definitely a UK reprint.) 
Alongside all the reprints of American comics we can see issues of Illustrated Chips on the shelf too, and what looks like The Dandy peeking out from behind it. 
Elsewhere in the shop are a few pulp magazines such as Short Stories, plus an edition of Old Moore's Almanack and various other mags and fiction papers. Admittedly there aren't a lot of traditional British comics for sale in this particular shop. No Eagle, Film Fun, Radio Fun, or Comic Cuts for example, (perhaps they'd sold out) but all the publications are neatly displayed, and not a bagged comic in sight. Magazines and newspapers at the counter too, not scratch cards or lottery tickets. Reading matter took priority in the stock in those days. (Well, that and tobacco obviously.) 

This is pretty much how I remember newsagents 10 to 15 years later in the 1960s, so things didn't change a great deal after this photo was taken. These days, many such shops have been converted into mini-markets, with periodicals fighting for space with ever-expanding lines of tinned food, cereals, confectionery, cheap booze, and anything else the retailer needs to stock in order to keep the business going. Such is life.

Monday, February 24, 2014

The Avengers comic strip (1967)




Diana was a weekly comic for girls that had a quality above most of its sister titles of the 1960s. Published by DC Thomson, its glossy, large size format had many pages in full colour at a time when most comics were on newsprint in black and white. 

The luxurious photogravure printing process allowed artists to produce colour work with a full palette, rather than relying on flat, primary colour overlays to be added later, as in Bunty

In 1967, DC Thomson gained an arrangement with ABC Television Ltd to adapt the top rated TV series The Avengers into brand new comic strip serials to run  in Diana. 




The strip ran at two pages a week, on pages two and three, from issue 199 until No.224. From what I can gather from the few I have, the scripts were understandably juvenile for Diana's young readership and never on a par with the wit of the TV series but the artwork was excellent. The main artist was Emilio Frejo, although he was assisted at times by Juan Gonzalez. Frejo could usually produce good likenesses of the actors Patrick McNee and Diana Rigg, although no doubt he was limited by the reference available to him in those pre-video days. 



Here are a few episodes of the run from various issues of Diana in 1967. I'm not sure who'd own the rights to this strip now but I'm sure fans of the TV series and the artwork would like to see a book collection of the material.




The license for the strip was soon taken up by TV Comic after the run in Diana ended, but Polystyle's version wasn't really in the same league.

Polaroid cameras and Engelbert Humperdinck. Yep, 1967!

Tuesday, February 18, 2014

Gordon Bell 1934 - 2014

Spoofer Mc.Graw. SPARKY 404 (Oct,14th 1972)

Sad news just in that the cartoonist Gordon Bell suddenly passed away last week, on February 13th 2014 at the age of 79. 
Gordon Bell's distinctive style will be familiar to the millions of children who read his comic strips over the last few decades. He began working for The Beano in 1958 on a strip called Pom-Pom, but his most fondly remembered characters came later. Who can forget the excellent Spoofer McGraw (He Tells Tall Tales) in Sparky in the late 1960s to early 1970s? Or the pure fun of Pup Parade for The Beano during the same period?


Dreamy Daniel. SPARKY, 1972.
As well as being assigned his own strips to draw, Mr.Bell was often called on to fill-in on other strips. A task he succeeded at admirably. Although The Beano was always uncredited in the 1960s I always noticed when "the other artist" did a fill-in on a particular week and enjoyed his versions of the characters. Here are examples of his work on Dennis the Menace (Beano No.1268, Nov.5th 1966), The Bash Street Kids (Beano 1282, Feb.11th 1967), and Roger the Dodger (Beano 1331, Jan.20th 1968)...



(Incidentally, that Bash Street spread features an early appearance of the pets who would become the Bash Street Dogs and Cats. Take a closer look...)
Gordon Bell's artwork had a very pleasant and amusing quality about it. As Peter Gray said over on his blog, Gordon was excellent at drawing funny facial expressions. His work was always joyful and solidly professional. 

My condolences to Mr.Bell's family and friends at this sad time. 

The Courier has published an obituary with more information on the artist's long career: http://www.thecourier.co.uk/news/obituaries/courier-fax-cartoonist-gordon-bell-1.225836


SPARKY No.372, March 4th 1972

Tony Harding 1942 - 2014


The artist Anthony John "Tony" Harding has passed away at the age of 72. Known primarily as an illustrator of football stories for British comics such as Scorcher, Hotspur, and Action, Tony began his comics career in 1962 on Victor weekly. 

Just a few of Tony's career highlights include Bouncing Briggs (featuring the popular Bernard Briggs character) for The Hornet, Bobby of the Blues for Scorcher, and the controversial Look Out for Lefty for Action

A full tribute to the artist has appeared on John Freeman's Down The Tubes website, which you can find here:
http://downthetubes.net/?p=14136

Meanwhile, on this blog, here's an episode of Bobby of the Blues that appeared in Scorcher dated 21st February 1970. The first page was drawn in linework, for spot colour to be added, but pages 2 and 3 had a grey wash added. An effective technique. 



My condolences to Mr.Harding's family and friends on their loss.

Sunday, February 16, 2014

Brickman meets The Cloak

When I was 8 years old in 1967 my favourite comic strip was The Cloak, the humour-action spy serial that ran in the pages of Pow! weekly. Written and drawn by Mike Higgs in his own distinctive style, it felt very modern with its references to pop culture and something of a cool semi-underground look to it. Most other strips in British comics at the time still had something of the late fifties/early sixties about them, but The Cloak felt right up to date. Pow! sometimes carried the strapline: "Wow! It's Pow! The Comic of Now!" - well, The Cloak certainly fitted the bill. 

I've blogged about The Cloak here before, such as at this link:
http://lewstringer.blogspot.co.uk/2007/01/enter-cloak.html

Thirty years ago I was fortunate enough to become Mike Higgs' art assistant for several months during the early stages of my comics career. It was excellent experience and Mike has been a good pal ever since. (One of these days I'll show some of the art from the children's books we worked on.) 

Several years ago, Richard Starkings of Active Images in California put together a collection of my early Brickman strips and had the good idea of adding all-new pages by guest artists. Richard contacted people such as Tim Sale and Ian Churchill for contributions and I got in touch with a few people too. Naturally, Mike Higgs was on my list, and he produced the fine page you see at the top of this post. The Cloak! Back in print, - and with Brickman too! 

The completed book, Brickman Begins! was published by Active Images in 2005. It's digest-size, has 152 black and white pages, and features all my Brickman strips from 1979 to 1996, plus a new four pager by me, plus loads of guest artist pages, unused art, and more. Alan Moore, from an introduction he wrote for a Brickman comic I did in the 1980s. 

If you're interested, I still have some copies left. Swing your cursor over to my website here if you wish to order a copy by PayPal: 
http://www.lewstringer.com/page7.htm

Saturday, February 15, 2014

UK comics: Sales figures for 2013



The latest Audit Bureau of Circulations (ABC) figures have been released for magazines and comics covering June to December 2013 and once again they make for interesting reading. 

John Freeman goes into it in more depth on his excellent Down The Tubes website (http://downthetubes.net/?p=14099) but there's a few things I'd like to mention here.

Egmont's boys mag Toxic shows an increase from 47,000 to 53,000 since the same period in 2012.  Its new rival Mega, has sales around 30,768. Doctor Who Adventures has dipped to an average of 28,443, and Ultimate Spider-Man is fairly stable at around 28,709 sales an issue. 

Girl's mag Barbie had an average fall from 50,000 to 42,907 in twelve months, with Disney Princess falling from 62,506 to 51,649. Egmont's Hello Kitty has risen from 31,000 to 37,020, and Monster High is up from 32,000 in 2012 to 35,579 in 2013. 

For the nursery market, Redan's Fun To Learn - Peppa Pig had an impressive average of 86,878 in 2012 and rose to an even more impressive 98,922 in 2013, making it currently the best selling children's title on the stands. 

In the diminished children's traditional comic market, the new Dennis the Menace Megazine has average sales of 20,502, whilst The Beano has a slight drop from 36,000 in 2012 to 32,000 in 2013. 

All things considered, I still think The Beano is holding its own. I know a few critics were predicting "Dandy style" drops in circulation due to The Beano's revamp bringing in several of The Dandy's artists, but that clearly hasn't happened. So much for the theory that it was mainly the contributors who caused The Dandy's fall. Yes, there is a sales decline, but it's comparable to that of other titles and is not as drastic as some had feared. Even more importantly, sales of comics have been falling since the 1950s, mostly due to each generation having an increasing number of leisure distractions. 

Here's something else to consider: The Beano is the only weekly comic listed in the circulation figures. (2000AD and The Phoenix do not submit their data.) Considering that Ultimate Spider-Man sells 28,709 a month, and Toxic sells 53,000 every three weeks, I think the fact that The Beano only has seven days to shift each issue and still manages to sell 32,000 every week is an impressive accomplishment. 

Another factor to remember is packaging. All of the other children's titles listed come either bagged with several gifts, or have cover mounts every issue. Throughout most of 2013 The Beano carried no gifts. It relied solely on its content and being a comic. It's interesting that The Beano's highest selling issue for 2013 was the Christmas issue, (45,896) which was bagged with gifts, and was on display for a whole month. Which kind of backs up what I'm saying. (The Beano's other handful of issues that had noticeable sales increases were the ones that carried cover mounts last summer.) 

Finally, the other factor, in my opinion, is how comics are displayed. Throughout 2013 my local WH Smith (and branches in some other towns/cities) had a curiously OCD method of shelving all the comics alphabetically in a narrow, high, shelving unit. This meant that The Beano, Dennis the Menace Megazine, and Doctor Who Adventures were on top of a 6ft high shelf, out of visibility of their target audience, whilst Toxic, Monster High, Peppa Pig and others were right at a child's eyeline. Admittedly, many retailers do have all their comics within a child's reach, so this may not be a major factor but it's worth considering. 

Interestingly, the issue of The Beano that had a noticeable dip in sales was the one featuring 'guest editor' Richard Hammond, (down to 28,729) despite being plugged in newspapers and on the TV news. My guess is that young kids simply don't watch Top Gear. (Heck, I'm 54 and I don't watch it either.)

In case anyone thinks I'm bigging up The Beano because I freelance for it, well, I also freelance for Toxic. I'm not pretending that everything is rosy. It's an ongoing concern for readers and contributors that comic sales are gradually falling every year, and I'm well aware that we'll never again see the sales figures of millions that some had in the 1950s or the hundred thousands of the 1960s. I'm just saying that things aren't apocalyptic just yet. 

Thursday, February 13, 2014

Radio Fun's first revamp


Comics often have various revamps and new looks over their long runs, and Radio Fun was certainly no exception. Yet it's first revamp came just a few weeks into its 23 year run. 

When Radio Fun was launched in 1938 its cover star was George the Jolly Gee-Gee, drawn by Amalgamated Press' top humourist Roy Wilson. Presumably George was on the cover because Radio Fun's rivals Dandy and Beano had animal characters on their covers. However, it seems editor Stanley Gooch soon had misgivings about this, thinking that a comic called Radio Fun ought to have something connected with radio on the front page. 

Therefore, with issue 18, dated February 11th 1939, Radio Fun had a mini-revamp, with a new logo, a free gift, and a new cover star, - Big Hearted Arthur, drawn by Reg Parlett. The character was of course Arthur Askey, who had previously had a strip inside the comic, but Arthur was very popular in 1939 and deserved his cover slot.

Inside the 28 page comic, the set-up had a few tweaks. George the Jolly Gee-Gee was relegated to a black and white half pager. I'm not even sure if this one was drawn by Roy Wilson as it's not up to his usual standard, but perhaps the sudden switch to a different format had required it to be drawn quickly.



Flanagan and Allen, previously in black and white, was now promoted to the centre pages and given a splash of red spot colour. The artwork was by Alex Akerbladh. Bud Flanagan and Chesney Allen's success on the stage, screen, and radio would continue throughout the war years, so they were ideal stars for Radio Fun. Here's a Pathé newsreel clip of them from 1941:
http://www.britishpathe.com/video/flanagan-and-allen-underneath-the-arches



The rest of the comic carried on unchanged, with its mixture of prose stories and comic strips. Despite its title, Radio Fun never limited itself solely to radio stars. Here's Clark Gable in the latest installment of Along Paths of Peril drawn by George Heath.


Another big UK star of the time was Sandy Powell. Like many performers of the time he'd begun his career in the music halls. By the 1930s his radio career was underway, and his catchphrase "Can you hear me, mother?" became famous across the land. (Some people still use it today!) The comic strip in Radio Fun was drawn by George Parlett, brother of cover artist Reg.



George Parlett also illustrated the two page Radio Fun Music Hall serial. I know I've shown one of these on this blog before but it's such a great strip it's worth showing another. The layout of the pages, mixing art and rhyme, are quite unique and ahead of their time. 




I mentioned that this issue contained a free gift. Here it is, - the Radio Fun Bumper Song Book; a 28 page giveaway featuring the sheet music to "20 latest hits" such as London is Saying Good Night, I'm Knitting a Singlet for Cecil, and When Granny Wore Her Crinoline



Those songs are mostly lost to the mists of time by now, but here's a couple if you're curious...






There was also a free gift scheduled for the following week in the form of 'Magic Spectacles' and 'Living Pictures' that "spring to life before your eyes". I'm assuming they were an early form of 3-D specs. 



Radio Fun was a worthy rival to DC Thomson's comics. I have a good selection of issues from over the years and I think if I'd been around back then it would definitely have been one comic I'd have plonked down my 2d every week for. 

(As always, click on each page to see it larger. You may then need to click again to see it even bigger.)
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