Friday, September 30, 2016

Beano Christmas Special! On sale 12th October.


Yes, we're only reaching the end of summer but here's a preview of the front cover (of a wraparound cover) by Nigel Parkinson of the Beano Christmas Special that will be in the shops soon! Looking fine with its cool new logo and packed with strips featuring Dennis and Gnasher, The Bash Street Kids, Minnie the Minx, and more, plus activity pages, AND a set of 29 free stickers! Look out for it on 12th October. 

You can order it directly from D.C. Thomson at their online shop:
https://www.dcthomsonshop.co.uk/our-brands/the-beano/beano-christmas-special-2016.html

Wednesday, September 28, 2016

A good day for British comics

The UK's two top comics both have key issues out today. The Beano has a bright new redesign and a smart new logo, while 2000AD celebrates 2000 issues with a bumper issue packed with the cream of comics. 
News of The Beano's relaunch broke last Sunday and now we can see the results. The comic is now simply 'Beano', finally losing "The" from the title, and has undergone a complete redesign. The new logo looks great, and the yellow background really makes it stand out on the crowded shelves. There's been some tweaks to the content too. Pup Parade has gone, along with all the mini-strips. The focus is now squarely on the main characters; Dennis and Gnasher, Minnie the Minx, Roger the Dodger, The Bash Street Kids, etc. Every week there'll be an extra-long 8 page story. This week it's Dennis and Gnasher, with Minnie, Bash Street, and others to take their turns in future issues. (Similar to how TV Action did it in the 1970s.) Although I'm disappointed to no longer be a contributor to the comic I fully appreciate that it makes sense to big up the main characters for the relaunch and I wish it well.

(There has also been a big revamp of http://www.beano.com and some new strips appear there.)
I know some people were apprehensive about the revamp but the changes to Beano are mainly cosmetic and the content is still firmly focused on comic strips. The new-look comic is lively, fun, and should please readers young and old. I'm sure kids will love it, - if they can find it. The big test will be its availability to new potential readers and so far I haven't seen newsagents significantly increasing their orders. (Most shops I visited had none.) Either they weren't aware of the relaunch or they didn't care, and that's the big problem facing all publishers today. You can produce a brilliant comic but unless retailers choose to stock it, kids won't even know the comic exists. You can subscribe of course (http://www.beano.com/subscribe) but it would be good to see more newsagents stocking it to attract potential new readers.

2000AD is another comic that's not always easy to find in newsagents now. Luckily, comics speciality shops stock it so that helps. Prog 2000 is a stunning issue. 48 pages, plus a pull-out poster, and the return of some top talent to its pages including Brian Bolland, Kevin O'Neill, Carlos Ezquerra, Dave Gibbons, Mick McMahon, Robin Smith, David Roach, and more. 
Judge Dredd teams up with Johnny Alpha, Nemesis the Warlock returns, and there's the start of a brand new series, Counterfeit Girl, by Peter Milligan and Rufus Dayglo. 
2000AD is the sole survivor of all the new comics that IPC launched in the 1970s. It was expected to fail by some (as had many of IPC's other comics) and it rubbed management up the wrong way, but it not only survived, it thrived, connecting with a fanbase like none of those other comics did. Now owned by Rebellion (who recently purchased the rights to those other old IPC comics) 2000AD still represents the best of British comics, and this landmark issue is a prime example of that. 

Beano No.3854. Published by D.C. Thomson. Out today, £2.50.

2000AD Prog 2000. Published by Rebellion. Out today, £3.99.


Tuesday, September 27, 2016

TANK GIRL is back again!

London publisher Titan Comics are launching a new Tank Girl series this week with the publication of Tank Girl: Gold No.1. Written by the character's co-creator Alan Martin and drawn by Brett Parson, the 32 page mini-series continues Tank Girl's raucous adventures. 

From the comic's publicity: Picking up where the critically acclaimed hit series Two Girls One Tank left off - Tank Girl has lost one of her dearest friends, but inadvertently gained billions of dollars worth of Nazi Gold. What is she going to spend all that money on? Before we find out, her kangaroo boyfriend Booga must pay a penance by going right up THE FURRY ROAD. It's been swell, and the swelling isn't going down.

Ooer!

Tank Girl: Gold No.1 will be available from comics speciality shops and online sellers from Wednesday 28th September.

As most of us know, most of today's new British comics aren't available from newsagents due to the restrictive costs involved etcbut you will find various titles in comic shops and on sale at the numerous comic cons around the country. Titan Comics themselves publish a huge number of titles originated in the UK. Their few DC reprint comics are in WH Smith but the majority of their output is direct-sale only (comic shops). Admittedly most are Doctor Who titles but if you're a Doctor Who fan you've hit the jackpot. Below are this months covers from http://www.titan-comics.com

These comics shouldn't be dismissed just because you can't find them in Asda or Smiths! So believe your eyes not the hearsay of those who spread misinformation that "the British comics industry is dead". Circulation figures are far lower than they were 50 years ago but there's life in UK comics yet. Even if Titan's output doesn't appeal to you personally there are loads of other independent British comics around with various themes and styles so you should find some that float your boat. Keep the faith and support British comics! 


The clothes maketh The Batman

Back in 1966, this ad appeared in Smash! comic for a Batman costume! Who could resist? After all, it was the year of Batmania and every kid wanted to be Batman, right? 

I was lucky enough to have one of those costumes for Christmas. Here's me wearing it in the following summer...

Yeah... not quite as authentic as one might have hoped is it? To be fair, there's a couple of items missing in the photo; it came with a plastic Batman mask which just featured the front of the face (like a Guy Fawkes mask) including the mouth and chin. It broke easily so I made a domino mask out of a bit of leather. It also had gloves. Well, just the cuffs to be more accurate, leaving the hands bare. 

At least the cape was the right colour but all in all it was clearly a million miles from being an accurate Batman costume, and even having BATMAN stamped on it in yellow paint couldn't hide that fact. I doubt it'd even be passed by DC's licensing department today, but you know what? I didn't care! I was seven years old and playing at being Batman, and that was all that mattered.

Take cover! It's a take over!

Last week's Beano carried a splendid cover by Nigel Parkinson, with Walter's Dad the Mayor taking over the comic.

A few days later, The Phoenix boasted a fine cover by Jamie Smart with Looshkin the cat taking over the comic.

There's no question of course that it's a complete coincidence that these two comics with the same cover theme are side by side on the shelves of WH Smith at the same time. Comics are produced weeks in advance and neither publisher would have any idea the other comic was planning a similar theme that issue. 

It's an amusing twist of fate though, and the "take over" theme is a good one to freshen things up. I presume the situation will return to normal on The Phoenix next week but in the case of The Beano it's more drastic, as it leads into a complete revamp of the comic with this week's issue. (Looks good! See here.)

I couldn't help being reminded though of another "take over" cover from over 20 years ago. :) Can anyone think of any more? 

Monday, September 26, 2016

This week in 1971: BUSTER AND JET merge

Concluding my look back at a few comics from this week in 1971, it's also 45 years since IPC's short-lived Jet comic merged into Buster. The first combined issue of Buster and Jet went on sale Saturday 25th September 1971 (the exact same day as the first merged issue of Valiant and TV21 shown in an earlier post here). 

Jet brought several strips to its new home; Von Hoffman's Invasion, The Kids of Stalag 41, The Sludgemouth Sloggers, Bonehead, Bertie Bumpkin, and Faceache. Here's a few of them...

Von Hoffman's Invasion was probably the best of Jet's rather weak adventure strips so it's easy to see why it proved popular enough to survive into Buster. Art by Eric Bradbury...




Bonehead was drawn by the ever-reliable Reg Parlett...
Faceache was of course by Ken Reid, and became the most enduring survivor of Jet's strips, lasting for many years in Buster...

A healthy number of Buster's strips also survived the merger, including the wonderful Clever Dick by Leo Baxendale, and Galaxus drawn by the Solano Lopez studio...




As Rebellion now own the rights to these strips it's hoped that some of them will eventually be collected into trade paperbacks. I'd personally like to see compilations of Clever Dick and Faceache but obviously it all depends on whether Rebellion think there's a big enough market for such books. It's a tough call, and while I'm sure a couple hundred people might buy them the company would need to know there's far more interest than that to make the books worthwhile. 

Sunday, September 25, 2016

Are you ready for the new look BEANO?

UPDATED: Britain's longest running comic, The Beano is having a revamp this Wednesday with a fresh new look and a modern new logo. As well as a boost to the weekly, the Beano website has also had a complete refresh. John Freeman at Down the Tubes has all the details so check out his blog here:
http://downthetubes.net/?p=34092 

As an aside, it's interesting that the prefix "The" has been dropped from the logo after 78 years. It was always a curiously old fashioned legacy of the story papers and the masthead carries more impact without it.

Look out for Beano No.3854, on sale Wednesday 28th September, still priced £2.50.

The Beano website:
https://www.beano.com/



Saturday, September 24, 2016

This week in 1971: VALIANT AND TV21 merge

Cover by Mike Western.
Published on Saturday 25th September, the same day as the issue of Countdown shown in the previous post, this issue of Valiant absorbed the once-great TV21

Only a couple of strips survived from TV21 to join Valiant. The Tuffs of Terror Island was an average yarn with a slight Lord of the Flies influence, but the other strip was Star Trek, based on the TV series. Harold Johns had been drawing it for the last months of TV21 but for the merger it gained the talents of John Stokes... 


The rest of the line up for Valiant and TV21 was much the same as it had been before the merger. The comic led off with Captain Hurricane, and other favourites such as Kelly's Eye, Billy Bunter, The Nutts, and The Wild Wonders were still present. Also continuing from the previous issue of Valiant was The Return of the Claw, the sequel to The Steel Claw, drawn by Jesus Blasco...


The comic also still featured some strips that had been added when Smash! had merged into Valiant earlier that year, such as The Swots and the Blots by Leo Baxendale...



...and Janus Stark, drawn by Solano Lopez...


Back in 1971, it was still deemed ok for comics to advertise sugary foods, and ice lollies were often promoted. Sky Ray offered a chance to "Win comics for one year" if a kid's returned wrapper was one picked out of the postbag. And, yes, there actually was a lolly called Kinky back then...


The long-running comedy strip The Crows was also still thriving, drawn as ever by Reg Parlett...

This was pretty much the beginning of the end of the old-style IPC adventure comics. A few years later, even the mighty Lion would merge into Valiant. Thankfully, a new wave of tougher, more relevant comics was on the horizon with ActionBattle, and 2000AD destined to shake up the industry.

This week in 1971: COUNTDOWN No.33

Here are a few pages from the issue of Countdown that went on sale Saturday 25th September, 45 years ago, in 1971. 

Before 2000AD proved them wrong, publishers felt that science fiction comics were old hat by the 1970s and wouldn't sell. One case in point being Countdown, which lasted just over a year before changing into TV Action and given a more action/adventure theme. 

Despite its short run, Countdown featured top of the league artwork by some of the premiere artists in the industry at the time. Editor Dennis Hooper proudly credited all the artists on the strips; something other British comics shied away from back then. 

With TV21 a poor shadow of its former self by 1971, Countdown had gained the licence to run strips based on Gerry Anderson TV shows. Effectively, it was more like TV21 than TV21 was at the time, and even reprinted some strips from the glory days of that title. In the main though, Countdown featured new material, such as the UFO serial on the front and back covers of this issue, with art by Gerry Haylock.  

Countdown featured a complete 7 page story every week, usually based on a Gerry Anderson show, but sometimes it was entirely original. Dangerous Drive being one example, being a futuristic thriller featuring a James Bond type named Andreas Caspo. Art by Rab Hamilton, who had previously drawn the Secret Agent 21 spy series for TV21.

The serial entitled Countdown was also originated solely for the comic. Although using spacecraft designs from the movie 2001: A Space Odyssey, there was no other connection to the film. Stunning artwork by John M. Burns...


Doctor Who began a new serial with this issue, nicely illustrated by Frank Langford. Before any purists say anything, we really didn't care that he was often referred to as "Dr.Who" back then. It was an abbreviation used everywhere, on merchandise, comics, TV listings, and even the TV series credited him as such for a while.


Add reprints of Stingray and Fireball XL5, a few science features and the humour strip Dastardly and Muttley and you had a great 24 page comic for 5p. 

Thursday, September 22, 2016

Mighty World of Marvel Reborn

When Panini's line of Marvel reprints were revamped with new first issues a few months ago, The Mighty World of Marvel was left behind to complete its run of existing stories. However, that changes next month as the comic receives a relaunch of its own. 

The Mighty World of Marvel Vol.6 No.1 goes on sale on Thursday 20th October, with a 100 page premiere issue. A new line up is introduced with the start of three serials: Doctor Strange, Black Widow, and Ms.Marvel, reprinting recent material from America.

As with the other relaunches in the Marvel Collectors' edition line, MWOM No.1 will have 100 pages, before settling back to its regular 76 page format with issue 2. Priced at just £3.99, this is a bargain indeed.

The final issue in the current run of Mighty World of Marvel (shown below) goes on sale today, wrapping up the Daredevil and S.H.I.E.L.D. stories, and featuring a classic Dr.Strange short by Stan Lee and Steve Ditko.

Wednesday, September 21, 2016

The Mighty One: A mighty fine read

Books on the history of British comics are rare these days, especially any written by people who were on the inside who actually experienced that history first hand. When I heard that Steve MacManus was writing his autobiography about his time editing 2000AD I was eagerly looking forward to it, and now it's out it doesn't disappoint. 

The Mighty One: My Life Inside the Nerve Centre is published by Rebellion (current owners of 2000AD, and who recently acquired the rights to a huge portion of classic UK titles). With each chapter covering a year of his comics career, Steve takes us on a journey through an important era in British comics. It begins in 1973, with the traditional comics starting to wane, and tells how dynamic new titles such as Battle Picture Weekly, Action, and 2000AD shook up the industry. On its basic level, it's a history many of us are already familiar with, but told from Steve's position on staff it adds depth and reveals new insights into that exciting time. 

It's an absorbing read, and Steve's easy going writing style carries the reader through the years with entertaining anecdotes and informative recollections. There's a couple of instances where he's misremembered little bits, but that's to be expected when covering memories of 40 years ago. (The mistakes are hardly worth mentioning, but to be pedantic, Steve's anecdote about meeting Jim Steranko and later falling asleep in the cinema during the screening of 2001: A Space Odyssey at the 1981 London Comic Con actually happened at the 1979 Comic Con in Birmingham. I know because I was having a kip in the row in front of Steve and the 2000AD crew. Back in those days, conventions would have all-night film shows just for the benefit of attendees who hadn't booked a hotel room.) He also mis-credits the creation of Dennis the Menace to Leo Baxendale, instead of Ian Chisholm and Davy Law, but as Steve never worked on humour comics we'll forgive him for that.

Steve was the editor of 2000AD during the period that many of us regard as its golden age; the early years when it began to find its mojo and develop beyond being just another boys adventure comic. (Not that it was ever just another comic of course. The potential was there from Prog 1.) He oversaw the arrival of strips such as Nemesis the Warlock, SkizzThe A.B.C. Warriors, and creators such as Alan Moore. The book also covers the development of the new wave of comics for older readers; Crisis, Revolver, and the enduring Judge Dredd Megazine, all created under Steve's watch. 

There's often speculation and naivety from some fans about the whys and wherefores of the comics industry so books such as this are essential to put the facts straight. That it's told in an relaxed, engaging way is a bonus, making it a pleasure to read. A treat for anyone genuinely interested in comics history, The Mighty One is a must-buy. 

The Mighty One: My Life Inside the Nerve Centre by Steve MacManus. 
300 pages including 16 pages of photos and illustrations. 
Published by Rebellion. R.R.P. £9.99 (paperback version).

http://www.rebellionstore.com/products/the_mighty_one

ICE on TV

A busy day at our tables.

Independent Midlands broadcaster Big Centre TV were at ICE2016 the other week, shooting news footage of the comic con. It's now up on YouTube for all to see. It was a great event so if you missed it, or maybe you'd like to see if the camera captured you, here's the link:

https://m.youtube.com/watch?feature=share&v=fL0PRl2Zm7w

...and table bookings are already available for next year's event, ICE2017, which will take place on Saturday 9th September. Get in there! Here's the link:
https://www.eventbrite.co.uk/e/ice-birmingham-2017-tickets-27795911319#tickets

This week's COMMANDO comics

Reliable as ever, here's the press release from D.C. Thomson for the four issues of Commando that will be on sale from tomorrow. (If only more mainstream comics sent out PR material like this, then perhaps more people would be aware that the British comics industry is still around!) 


Commando Issues 4951-4954 – On Sale 22 September 2016

Commando No 4951 – Battle of the Black Crow
 The Black Crow was a pirate ship, sailing the seas south of Cuba and tussling with Navy vessels from many different countries.
   Two young crewmen, Flinn Scott and Charlie Reeves, longed to jump ship — as they missed their Scottish homeland so much. However, soon came the chance to get their hands on some treasure — but they were not the only buccaneers interested. The Tartarus, a British privateer ship and its captain would destroy anyone who got in their way of their haul.

Story: Ferg Handley
Art: Keith Page
Cover: Keith Page



Commando No 4952 – Atlantic Killer
 A swift trail of bubbles — if you see it and a roar like a thousand express trains crashing — if you hear it. That’s all the warning you get when a torpedo hits home.
   Lieutenant Commander Dave Miller lost his destroyer just like that to Kapitan Karl von Sturm, top Nazi U-Boat ace known as the “Sea Wolf”. The way things were going, Dave was liable to lose another ship…unless he got to the “Sea Wolf” first.

Introduction
 This is a tough, sea-faring tale which has a personal vendetta between two arch enemies at its heart. Veteran interior artist C.T. Rigby draws maritime action incredibly well — his thick lines are almost like the inky depths of the Atlantic itself and are wonderfully atmospheric, especially whenever a U-Boat is submerged.
   The late, sadly-missed Ken Barr also provides a dynamic cover illustration which does its job perfectly — giving the reader a solid indication of the action contained within the book’s pages.
Scott Montgomery, Deputy Editor
Atlantic Killer, originally Commando No 260 (May 1967)

Story: Newark
Art: C.T. Rigby
Cover: Ken Barr


Commando No 4953 – For The White Eagle!
 The Order of the White Eagle was Poland’s highest military decoration. Captain Janusz Libarcki wore his medal with pride as he fought the Red Army and the Germans during World War II, even though he eventually became a prisoner-of-war.
   However, when Germany turned against her Russian allies, Polish prisoners such as Janusz and his lieutenant, Lech Szost, became conscripts of the Red Army on the horrific Eastern Front. It seemed that their brutal Russian officer despised them as much as he did the Nazis. Nonetheless, the Poles were determined to honour their fallen comrades and their homeland…
FOR THE WHITE EAGLE!

Story: Philip Madden
Art: Rezzonico/Morahin
Cover: Janek Matysiak



Commando No 4954 – Deadly Triangle
 Shooting up unsuspecting British trucks in a captured Hurricane was just one of the dirty tricks played by Erich von Werner — a pilot hated by his own men as much as by the British.
   The feeling was mutual, particularly for Luftwaffe pilot Carl Lutz and Ted Bull of the R.A.F. — two men linked by fate to Werner to form a strange and deadly triangle.

Introduction
 This rollicking air story sets a fair pace and I’m sure it might hold a record for the amount of times that any of our three main characters have to abandon their aircraft and bail out after a dogfight. It’s just as well that interior artist Jose Maria Jorge was such a master of aerial action and I imagine that this script would have been tailored specifically for him. His attention to detail was astounding and many other Commando artists were huge fans of his wonderful work.
   The same thing can, of course, be said about our equally legendary cover artist, Ian Kennedy — who delivers yet another action-packed, dynamic illustration.

Scott Montgomery, Deputy Editor
Deadly Triangle, originally Commando No 2466 (April 1991)

Story: C.G. Walker
Art: J.M. Jorge
Cover: Ian Kennedy
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