Frederic Mullally’s Amanda


By Frederic Mullally, John Richardson & “Ken” (Ken Pierce Books)
ISBN: 978-0-91227-703-5

When I reviewed the comic strip collection Danielle recently, I declaimed at long length about having to become an apologist for some of the themes and content of what used to be called “cheesecake” or “girly” strips: a genre stuffy old-fashioned Britain used to excel at and happily venerate.

After all, aren’t we proud that we’re that sort of culture? Saucy postcards, Carry-On films, ingenuously innocent smut and a passion for double entendre which have for decades obscured and obfuscated genuine concerns such as entrenched gender pay-gaps, unwarranted interest in and control of female reproductive rights and sexual behaviour, double standards for men and women’s work and recreational behaviours, and that incomprehensible Mystery of Mysteries: just why men are utterly certain that anything they fancy automatically fancies them back and is therefore fair game for creepy jollity and unwanted attentions excused as “just having bit of fun” or “paying a compliment”…

Yes, it’s one of those days…

Meanwhile, back at this book and in a time long gone but not forgotten – as John Dakin points out in his introduction to this particular short-lived strip-siren – The Sun (original home of the lady in question) was the country’s best-selling newspaper and was proudly, provocatively populist. That translated into low laughs and acres of undraped female flesh everywhere except the sports section – and even there when possible… because the readers where mostly blokes and lads in search of that aforementioned easily digested little bit of fun…

By 1976 the battle for female equality had mostly moved from headlines and leader columns to the business pages: the frenzied height of the much-maligned “Sexual Revolution” with women demanding equal rights, fair pay and honest treatment had passed (so isn’t it marvellous that they’ve got all those things sorted now?). Contraception-on-demand and burning bras were gone – except for the provision of comedy fodder – and most men had generally returned to their old habits, breathing a heavy sigh of relief…

Written by journalist, columnist, novelist, political writer and editor (of left-wing magazine Tribune) Frederic Mullally, Amanda launched on January 26th 1976, and initially seemed a low-key, low-brow reworking of his prestigious Penthouse satire O Wicked Wanda!

However, there were marked differences for anybody looking below the satin-skinned surface…

Amanda Muller is the beautiful (naturally), sequestered heir to the world’s largest fortune, and once her old fossil of a father finally kicks the bucket she decides to become a teen rebel and have all the fun she’d missed growing up in an old castle with only prim staff and her cousins Wiley and Hunk for company. With thief turned companion Kiki, she determines to splurge and spree and have anything she wants…

The strip ran for a year and the first illustrator was John Richardson, a highly gifted artist with a light touch blending Brian Lewis with Frank Bellamy: a veteran visual storyteller who worked practically everywhere in Britain from 2000AD to DC Thomson to Marvel UK, as well as for specialist magazines such as Custom Car, Super Bike and Citizen’s Band.

The introductory story here sees Amanda – shedding her clothes at every opportunity – attempt to buy a noble title, only to fall foul of a Mafia plot to seize control of Italy’s Nudist Beaches, before moving on to a “career” as a pop-star – which once more draws her into a world of unscrupulous sharks and swindlers…

Whilst looking for a new maid, Amanda and Kiki then become embroiled in a continental burglary ring, before the author’s political and ethical underpinnings break loose as brainy cousin Wiley is invited to display his new electronic Chess brain behind the Iron Curtain. Naturally physical Adonis Cousin Hunk wants to come along – it’s just before the next Olympic Games after all – and the girls tag along just for kicks.

Since you just can’t trust a Commie they’re all soon in lots of trouble, but naturally the frolicsome foursome escape with relative ease. The next adventure, and all the remaining strips, are illustrated by somebody who signs him (or her) self “Ken”, and who, I’m ashamed to say, I know absolutely nothing about. Competent, but a tad stiff and hesitant, and lacking the humorous touch of Richardson, I’d lay money on the enigma being an Italian or Hispanic artist – but I’ve been wrong before and I will be again…

Safely home again, Amanda resolves to create a feminist magazine entitled New Woman, and despatches Kiki to interview the world’s greatest Chauvinist Pig – fashion designer “Bruno” – only to once more fall foul of crooks; although this time it’s kidnappers and embezzlers.

Still in editorialising mode, the young proud kids then head to super-sexist banana republic Costa Larga, just in time for the next revolution; infiltrating the “Miss Sex Object” beauty contest with the intent of sabotaging it, before concluding their globe-trotting by heading for a tropical holiday just as the local government is overthrown by a tin-pot dictator…

All my cavils, caveats and frustrated kvetchings aside Amanda was series that started out with few pretensions and great promise, but, the early loss of Richardson and – I suspect – Mullally’s intellectual interests soon overwhelmed what charms it held. Nevertheless, this collection is a good representative of an important period and a key genre in British cartooning history: one we should really be re-examining in much greater detail.

Some of the gags are still funny (especially in our modern world where celebrity equates with exactly where drunken, stoned rich people threw up last) and if you are going to ogle and objectify naked women at least well-drawn ones can’t be harmed or humiliated in the process.

Also, I don’t think a drawing has ever contributed to anybody’s low self-esteem or body-dysmorphia issues; Dear God, at least, I hope not…
© 1984 Express Newspapers Ltd. All Rights Reserved.

Modesty Blaise: The Killing Game


By Peter O’Donnell & Enric Badia Romero (Titan Books)
ISBN: 978-1-78565-300-1

Win’s Christmas Gift Recommendation: Blockbuster Derring-do and the Perfect Postprandial Tonic… 9/10

Infallible super-criminals Modesty Blaise and her lethally charming, compulsively platonic, equally adept partner Willie Garvin gained fearsome reputations heading underworld gang The Network. They then retired young, rich and healthy.

With honour intact and their hands relatively clean, they cut themselves off completely from careers where they made all the money they would ever need and far too many enemies: a situation exacerbated by their heartfelt conviction that killing was only ever to be used as a last resort.

When devious British Spymaster Sir Gerald Tarrant sought them out, they were slowly dying of boredom in England. The wily old bird offered them a chance to have fun, get back into harness and do a bit of good in the world. They jumped at his offer and have been cleaning up the dregs of society in their own unique manner ever since …

From that tenuous beginning in ‘La Machine’ (see Modesty Blaise: the Gabriel Set-Up) the dynamic duo went on to crush the world’s vilest villains and most macabre monsters in a never-ending succession of tense suspense and inspirational action for more than half a century. And now this final 30th collected paperback album completes their astounding run of newspaper strip escapades leaving us dedicated devotees delighted and simultaneously bereft…

The inseparable associates debuted in The Evening Standard on 13th May 1963 and over the passing decades went on to star in some of the world’s most memorable crime fiction, all in approximately three panels a day.

Creators Peter O’Donnell & Jim Holdaway (who had previously collaborated on Romeo Brown – a lost strip classic just as deserving of its own archive albums) crafted a timeless treasure trove of brilliant graphic escapades until the illustrator’s tragic early death in 1970, whereupon Spanish artist Enric Badia Romero (and occasionally John Burns, Neville Colvin and Pat Wright) assumed the art reins, taking the partners-in-peril to even greater heights.

The series has been syndicated world-wide and Modesty has starred in numerous prose novels, short-story collections, several films, a TV pilot, a radio play, an original American graphic novel from DC, a serial on BBC Radio 4 and in nearly one hundred comic adventures until the strip’s conclusion in 2001 with the trio of titanic tales collected in this volume.

The pictorial exploits comprise a broad blend of hip adventuring lifestyle and cool capers; combining espionage, crime, intrigue and even – now and again – plausibly intriguing sci fi and supernaturally-tinged horror genre fare, with ever-competent Modesty and Willie canny, deadly, yet all-too-fallibly human defenders of the helpless and avengers of the wronged…

Reproduced in stark and stunning monochrome – as is only right and fitting – Titan Books’ superb and scrupulously chronological serial re-presentations of the ultimate cool trouble-shooters conclude here, with O’Donnell & Romero offering three last masterpieces of mood, mystery, mayhem and macabre mirth. The high-octane drama is preceded by a brace of preambles: affecting reminiscence ‘Modesty and Me’ from O’Donnell’s grandson Paul Michael and the true secret of writing the perfect comic strip in the author’s own ‘All in the Mind’, penned before his death in 2010.

The pulse-pounding pictorial perils premiere with ‘The Last Aristocrat’ (originally running in The Evening Standard from December 16th 1999-19th May 2000), as old – and mostly unwanted – acquaintance Guido the Jinx embroils Willie, Sir Gerald and Modesty in his last journalistic scoop.

Sadly, the stakes this time are terrifyingly high, as a former criminal rival returns selling grotesque bacterial weapons of mass destruction forcing the dynamic duo to infiltrate an island fortress to prevent a disastrous terrorist coup…

As ever each tale is introduced by a connected celebrity: Daphne Alexander who plays Modesty in the BBC radio series adds her thoughts to the first and final adventures whilst eponymous central story ‘The Killing Game’ (22nd May June-October 17th) benefits from the insights of Radio Drama Producer Kate MCall.

Here Modesty and Willie are abducted from an innocent British Church Fete by a cabal of ultra-rich, exceedingly jaded “sportsmen” (and woman), intent on spicing up their annual safari by including the proverbial Most Dangerous Game on their private tropical preserve and in their sights…

Marooned in New Guinea, our heroes experience a debilitating setback when they find a stray teenager and her newborn baby obliviously squatting in the killing fields, but as always, Modesty and Willie are up to the challenge and soon turn predators into prey…

The themes shift to criminal skulduggery and doomsday cults – with just a hint of bloody vengeance – in ‘The Zombie’ (October 10th 2000 to April 11th 2001) as an old associate from Modesty’s Network days is kidnapped for use as leverage…

What seems to be a simple turf war between gangs squabbling for markets get decidedly nasty and strange as the kidnappers are revealed as adherents of computer pioneer Professor Nicomede Katris, whose dream is to replace all the world’s fallible, venal governments with an incorruptible super-computer of his own design.

He knows he’s right: after all, his years of programming his doctrines have transformed his own daughter Leda into a coldly logical killing machine and ideal tool of societal transformation.

The wily Prof only ever made two mistakes: ordering his human zombie to guard empathic, charming abductee Danny Chavasse and presuming he could extrapolate and predict the actions of Modesty Blaise and Willie Garvin when they inevitably come for their friend…

These are incomparable capers crafted by brilliant creators at the peak of their powers; revelling in the sheer perfection of an iconic creation. Startling shock and suspense-stuffed escapades packed with sleek sex appeal, dry wit, terrific tension and explosive action, these stories grow more appealing with every rereading and never fail to deliver maximum impact and total enjoyment.

And, hopefully, now that the entire saga has been compiled, we can soon expect sturdy hardback deluxe collections in the manner of the companion James Bond volumes…
Modesty Blaise © 2017 Associated Newspapers/Solo Syndication.

Jeff Hawke: The Ambassadors


By Sydney Jordan & Willie Patterson (Titan Books)
ISBN: 978-1-84576-598-9

One the world’s most captivating comics strips is inexplicably almost unknown amongst modern readers, but this appalling state of affairs could so easily be rectified simply by seeking this spiffy deluxe hardback from Titan Books – and its recently reviewed predecessor and falling under the intoxicating spell of some of the wittiest, most intriguing and outright astounding British science fiction ever written or drawn.

In both style and quality these superb tales from the 1960s are the only serious rival to the legendary Dan Dare that Britain has ever produced.

Sydney Jordan began his saga of a thinking man’s Flash Gordon in the Daily Express on February 2nd 1954, writing the first adventures himself. In 1956 his old school friend and associate Willie Patterson moved from Scotland to London to assist with fifth adventure ‘Sanctuary’, and stayed on to script the next one – ‘Unquiet Island’ – whilst sorting out his own career as a freelance scripter for such titles as Amalgamated Press’s Children’s Encyclopaedia, Caroline Baker – Barrister at Law and eventually Fleetway’s War Picture Library series.

Jordan was never comfortable scripting, preferring to plot and draw, but his choice of collaborators was always immaculate – comicbook creator and sci fi novelist Harry Harrison wrote ‘Out of Touch’, (October 10th 1957 – April 5th 1958), Nick Faure and Martin Asbury worked with him in the 1970s and during the feature’s final days Syd hired a couple of talented tykes named Brian Bolland and Paul Neary to assist…

Patterson continued to supplement and assist Jordan intermittently until 1960 when – with fourteenth tale ‘Overlord’ – Patterson assumed the writing duties on a full-time basis, thereby launching the strip’s Golden Age. He remained the wordsmith-in-chief until 1969.

This second superb hardback volume (begging for re-release – or at least revival via a digital edition) opens with another fascinating memoir from Jordan himself before the wonderment begins.

‘Pastmaster’ (August 3rd – October 18th 1961) sees Space Scientist and trouble-shooter Hawke visiting the British Moonbase just as a crazed time-traveller from the future materialises, intent on changing history by transporting the entire complex back 10,000 years, and giving humanity a huge technological jump-start in the race’s development.

A terrific mix of sly comedy and startling action in the inimitable, underplayed style of Nigel Kneale’s Quatermass and the best of John Wyndham, this romp of time-bending cops-&-robbers is a splendid appetiser for ‘The Immortal Toys’ (October 19th – 5th April 1962) which immediately follows.

Here, ancient Hindu jewels in the shape of insects are revealed to be something else entirely, leading Hawke and a rambunctious archaeologist reminiscent of Sir Arthur Conan Doyle’s bombastic Professor Challenger to a long-hidden tomb and concrete evidence of alien visitors from Earth’s earliest pre-history.

No fan of Indiana Jones would want to miss this yarn – especially as here all the science, history and stunts are both plausible and possible and there are no nuke-defying fridges to be found anywhere…

‘The Ambassadors’ (6th April 1-13th July) is a winningly sharp, slick social satire with a brace of avian aliens – looking just like owls – arriving in London to offer Earth – free, gratis and for nothing – a device that will do away with work forever.

Instantly politicians and the media descend like vultures and the dry, self-deprecatory comedy of films like The Mouse That Roared resonates beside the wit and influence of Jonathan Swift as events snowball to a conclusion. Patterson could employ humour like a scalpel and, augmented by Jordan’s fantastic artwork and rich, incisive facility with expressions, produced here a gentle satire to rival the best of Private Eye, Tom Lehrer or TW3. If you’re also a devotee of Robert Sheckley or Eric Frank Russell, you’ll delight in how this yarn celebrates and exposes the worst of humanity…

Trust me, you’ll believe an owl can cry…

Exotic high adventure and Big Concept science dominates ‘The Gamesman’ (14th July – September 23rd) as a bored alien employs sub-atomic worlds for role-playing diversions; abducting a giant warrior, a technical wizard, a feisty “princess” and Hawke and his assistant from their respective worlds to play with – and for – him.

Unfortunately, ambition is a universal problem and the extraterrestrial dungeon-master quickly finds himself “played”…

The last tale in this sublime volume is another human-scaled fable touching on contemporary concerns, but although humour is still present in ‘A Test Case’ (September 24th 1962- 2nd January 1963), the over-arching theme is nuclear terror, as a second-rate scientist is granted ultra-advanced atomic knowledge by well-meaning aliens who have no idea how fragile a human mind can be…

The frantic desperation and tension as Hawke and the authorities scour London for a super-nuclear device primed to eradicate them all is chillingly reminiscent of the Boulting Brothers 1950 film classic Seven Days to Noon and makes of this memorable tale a timeless salutary warning…

Maybe we should send a copy to Pyongyang and Mar-a-Lago…

These are stories that appeared in daily episodes and their sardonic grasp of the nature of “the man-in-the-street” make them a delightful slice of social history as well as powerful and pure escapist entertainment.

Jeff Hawke is a rightly revered and respected milestone of graphic achievement almost everywhere except his country of origin. Hopefully there will be further attempts to reprint these graphic gems that will find a more receptive audience, and maybe we’ll even get to see those elusive earlier stories as well for a more receptive audience in the 21st century World of Tomorrow.
© 2008 Express Newspapers Ltd.

Eagle Classics: Harris Tweed – Extra Special Agent


By John Ryan (Hawk Books -1990)
ISBN: 978-0-94824-822-1

The son of a diplomat and irrefutable True Gent, John Ryan was born in 1921, served in Burma and India and – after attending the Regent Street Polytechnic (1946-48) – took up a teaching post as assistant Art Master at Harrow School from 1948 to 1955.

It was during this time that he began contributing strips to comics such as Girl and legendary weekly comic The Eagle.

On April 14th 1950 Britain’s grey, post-war gloom was partially lifted with the first issue of a glossy new comic that literally shone with light and colour. Mesmerised children were soon understandably enraptured with the gloss and dazzle of Dan Dare, Pilot of the Future, a charismatic star-turn venerated to this day as well as a plethora of strips illustrating some of their favourite radio shows.

The Eagle was a tabloid sized paper with full photogravure colour inserts alternating with text and a range of other comic features. Tabloid is a big page and you can get a lot of material onto each one. Deep within, on the bottom third of a monochrome folio was an 8-panel strip entitled Captain Pugwash, the story of a Bad Buccaneer and the many sticky ends which nearly befell him.

Ryan’s quirky, spiky style also lent itself to the numerous spot illustrations required every week.

Pugwash, his harridan of a wife and the useless, lazy crew of the Black Pig ran until issue #19 when the feature disappeared. This was no real hardship as Ryan had been writing and illustrating Harris Tweed – Extra Special Agent which began as a full page (tabloid, remember – an average of twenty panels a page, per week!) in #16.

Tweed ran for three years as a full page until 1953 when it dropped to a half-page strip and deftly repositioned as a purely comedic venture. For our purposes and those of the book under review it’s those first three years we’re thinking of.

Tweed was a bluff and blundering caricature of the “military Big Brass” Ryan had encountered during the war. In gentler times the bumbler with a young, never-to-be-named assistant known only as ‘Boy’, solved mysteries and captured villains to general popular acclaim. Thrilling and often macabre adventure blended seamlessly with sly yet cheerful schoolboy low comedy in these strips, since Tweed was in fact that most British of archetypes, a bit of a twit and a bit of a sham…

His totally undeserved reputation as detective and crime fighter par excellence, and his good-hearted yet smug arrogance – as demonstrated elsewhere by the likes of Bulldog Drummond, Dick Barton – Special Agent, or Sexton Blake somehow endeared the arrogant, posturing buffoon to a young public which would in later years take to its heart Captain Mainwaring in Dad’s Army and, more pointedly perhaps, Peter Sellers’ numerous film outings as Inspector Clouseau.

Ryan’s art in these strips is particularly noteworthy. Deep moody blacks and intense, sharp, edgy inking creates a mood of fever-dream intensity. There are anachronistic echoes and nuances of underground cartoons of more than a decade later, and much of the inevitable ‘brooding, lurking horror’ atmosphere found in the best works of Basil Wolverton. Ryan knew what kids liked and he delivered it by the cartload.

This too-slim, oversized (324 x 234mm x) paperback compilation is all that’s readily available these days, but surely in these days of electronic publishing some enterprising fan with a complete Eagle Collection can link up with a perspicacious publisher someway, somehow and produce a comprehensive compilation of the nation’s most self-lauded sleuth?

I know a lot of aging 10-year olds and their grandchildren who would leap at the chance to see the old team back in action…
Harris Tweed © 1990 Fleetway Publications. Compilation © 1990 Hawk Books.

Captain Pugwash: A Pirate Story


By John Ryan (Frances Lincoln Children’s Books)
ISBN: 978-1-84780-721 (PB)            978-1845078218 (HC)

The Day’s coming, Shipmates! Here’s a taste of things to come for all you hearty fun-starved rogues…

John Ryan was an artist and storyteller who straddled three distinct disciplines of graphic narrative, with equal qualitative if not financial success.

The son of a diplomat, Ryan was born in Edinburgh on March 4th 1921, served in Burma and India and – after attending the Regent Street Polytechnic (1946-48) – took up a post as assistant Art Master at Harrow School from 1948 to 1955.

It was during this time that he began contributing strips to Fulton Press publications, in the company’s glossy distaff alternative Girl, but most especially in the pages of the legendary “boys’ paper” The Eagle.

On April 14th 1950, Britain’s grey, post-war gloom was partially lifted with the first issue of a new comic that literally shone with light and colour. Avid children were soon understandably enraptured with the gloss and dazzle of Dan Dare, Pilot of the Future, a charismatic star-turn venerated to this day.

The Eagle was a tabloid-sized paper with full-colour inserts alternating with text and a range of various other comic features. “Tabloid” is a big page and one can get a lot of material onto each one. Deep within, on the bottom third of a monochrome page was an 8-panel strip entitled Captain PugwashThe story of a Bad Buccaneer and the many Sticky Ends which nearly befell him.

Ryan’s quirky, spiky style also lent itself to the numerous spot illustrations required throughout the comic every week.

Pugwash, his harridan of a wife and the useless, lazy crew of the Black Pig ran (or more accurately capered and fell about) until issue 19 when the feature disappeared. This was no real hardship for Ryan who had been writing and illustrating Harris Tweed – Extra Special Agent as a full-page (tabloid, remember, an average of twenty panels a page, per week!) from Eagle #16. (I really must reinvestigate the solidly stolid sleuth too sometime soon…)

Tweed ran for three years as a page until 1953 when it dropped to a half-page strip and was repositioned as a purely comedic venture.

In 1956 the indefatigable old sea-dog (I mean old Horatio Pugwash but it could so easily be Ryan) made the jump to children’s picture books. He was an unceasing story-peddler with a big family, and somehow also found time to be the head cartoonist for The Catholic Herald for forty years.

A Pirate Story was first published by Bodley Head before switching to the children’s publishing specialist Puffin for further editions and more adventures. It was the first of a vast (sorry, got away with myself there!) run of children’s books on a number of different subjects.

Pugwash himself starred in 21 tomes; there were a dozen books based on the animated TV series Ark Stories, plus Sir Prancelot and a number of other creations. Ryan worked whenever he wanted to in the comics world and eventually the books and the strips began to cross-fertilise.

The primary Pugwash is very traditional in format with blocks of text and single illustrations to illuminate a particular moment. But by the publication of Pugwash the Smuggler (1982) entire sequences were lavishly painted comic strips, with as many as eight panels per page, and including word balloons. A fitting circularity to his careers and a nice treat for us old-fashioned comic drones.

After A Pirate Story was released in 1957 the BBC pounced on the property, commissioning Ryan to produce five-minute episodes (86 in all from 1957 to 1968, which were later reformatted in full colour and rebroadcast in 1976). In the budding 1950s arena of animated television cartoons, Ryan developed a new system for producing cheap, high quality animations to a tight deadline. He began with Pugwash, keeping the adventure milieu, but replaced the shrewish wife with a tried-and-true boy assistant. Tom the Cabin Boy is the only capable member of a crew which included such visual archetypes as Willy, Barnabas and Master Mate (fat, thin and tall – and all dim), instantly affirming to the rapt, young audience that grown-ups are fools and kids do, in fact, rule.

Ryan also drew a weekly Captain Pugwash strip in The Radio Times for eight years, before going on to produce a number of other animated series including Mary, Mungo and Midge, The Friendly Giant and the aforementioned Sir Prancelot. There were also adaptations of some of his many other children’s books. In 1997 an all new CGI-based Pugwash animated TV series began.

This first story sets the scene with a delightful clown’s romp as the so-very-motley crew of the Black Pig sail in search of buried treasure, only to fall into a cunning trap set by the truly nasty Cut-Throat Jake. Luckily Tom is as smart as his shipmates and Captain are not…

John Ryan returned to pirate life in the 1980s, drawing three new Pugwash storybooks: The Secret of the San Fiasco, The Battle of Bunkum Bay and The Quest for the Golden Handshake, as well as thematic prequel Admiral Fatso Fitzpugwash, in which it is revealed that the not-so-salty seadog had a medieval ancestor who became First Sea Lord, despite being terrified of water…

A 2008 edition of A Pirate Story (from Frances Lincoln Children’s Books) came with a free audio CD, and just in case I’ve tempted you beyond endurance here’s a full list (I think) of the good(?) Captain’s exploits that you should make it your remaining life’s work to unearth…:

Captain Pugwash: A Pirate Story (1957), Pugwash Aloft (1960), Pugwash and the Ghost Ship (1962), Pugwash in the Pacific (1963), Pugwash and the Sea Monster (1976), Captain Pugwash and the Ruby (1976), Captain Pugwash and the Treasure Chest (1976), Captain Pugwash and the New Ship (1976), Captain Pugwash and the Elephant (1976), The Captain Pugwash Cartoon Book (1977), Pugwash and the Buried Treasure (1980), Pugwash the Smuggler (1982), Captain Pugwash and the Fancy Dress Party (1982), Captain Pugwash and the Mutiny (1982), Pugwash and the Wreckers (1984), Pugwash and the Midnight Feast (1984), The Battle of Bunkum Bay (1985), The Quest of the Golden Handshake (1985), The Secret of the San Fiasco (1985), Captain Pugwash and the Pigwig (1991) and Captain Pugwash and the Huge Reward (1991). They are all pearls beyond price and a true treasure of graphic excellence…

We don’t have that many multi-discipline successes in comics, so why don’t you go and find out why we should celebrate one who did it all, did it first and did it well? Your kids will thank you and if you’ve any life left in your old and weary soul, you will too…
© 1957, 2009 John Ryan and (presumably) the Estate of John Ryan. All rights reserved.

Jeff Hawke: Overlord


By Sydney Jordan & Willie Patterson (Titan Books)
ISBN: 978-1-84576-597-2

Have you ever heard of Jeff Hawke? If you’re a hard-science Sci Fi and comics fan, your horizons may just have expanded exponentially…

Sydney Jordan began his saga of the thinking man’s hero in the Daily Express on February 2nd 1954, devising and scripting the first few adventures himself. In 1956 his old school friend and associate Willie Patterson moved from Scotland to London and helped out with fifth adventure ‘Sanctuary’.

He wrote follow-up ‘Unquiet Island’, whilst sorting out his own career as a freelance scripter for such titles as Amalgamated Press’s Children’s Encyclopaedia, Caroline Baker – Barrister at Law and eventually Fleetway’s War Picture Library series.

Patterson continued to supplement and assist the artist intermittently as Jordan was never comfortable scripting; preferring to plot and draw the strips. Another confederate of the time was Harry Harrison, who wrote the ninth Hawke tale ‘Out of Touch’ – running from October 10th 1957 through April 5th 1958.

With the fourteenth tale, Patterson assumed writing chores on a full-time basis and began the strip’s Golden Age. He would remain until 1969.

Presented in Titan’s spiffy Deluxe hardback format, this superb collection of strips from the only serious rival to Dan Dare in either popularity or quality, not just in Britain but in the entire world, offers a tantalising glimpse at a transitional period in Britain and a fondly missed view of a Tomorrow that never was…

‘Overlord’ began on February 10th 1960. Here British Space Scientist Jeff Hawke meets for the first time a character who would become one of the greatest villains in pictorial fiction: Chalcedon, galactic criminal and would-be Overlord of Space.

When an alien ship crashes into the Egyptian desert, it reveals that two huge fleets of spaceships are engaged in a running battle within the Solar System and the Earth is directly in their path. After interminable babble and shilly-shallying at the UN, Hawke convinces the authorities to let him take a party to the warring factions in the hope of diverting them from our poor, endangered world and its potential future as a collateral casualty.

What Hawke finds is not only terrifying and fantastic but, thanks to Jordan’s magical illustration and Patterson’s thrilling, devastatingly wry writing, incredibly sophisticated and very, very funny.

Running until June 20th the saga was followed by a far more traditional and solemn yarn. ‘Survival’ (21st June to December 12th) follows the events of an interplanetary prang that severely injures Hawke’s assistant Mac Maclean.

Repaired – and “improved” by the penitent extraterrestrials who caused the accident – Mac rejoins the Earth crew, but is no longer one of them. Moreover, they are all still marooned on a desolate asteroid with no hope of rescue, and must use all their meagre resources to save themselves. This gritty tale of endurance and integrity was mostly illustrated by fellow Scot Colin Andrew as Jordan was busily preparing art for a proposed Jeff Hawke Sunday page, which tragically never materialised, although that art was recycled as 18th adventure ‘Pastmaster’.

It was a return to Earth and satirical commentary with the next tale. ‘Wondrous Lamp’ (13th September 1960 to 11th March 1961) opens in second century Arabia when an alien survey scout crashed at the feet of wandering merchant Ala Eddin, briefly granting him great powers before his timely comeuppance.

Nearly two thousand years later the ship – which looks a bit like a lamp – precipitates a crisis when its teleportation circuits lead to an invasion by a couple of million of the universe’s toughest warriors…

This brilliantly quirky tale, like all the best science-fiction, is a commentary on its time of creation, and the satirical view of Whitehall bureaucracy and venality, earthbound and pan-galactic, is a wry, dryly cynical delight, as as telling now as it was in the days before the Profumo Affair.

Chalcedon returns for the final tale in this volume. ‘Counsel for The Defence’ (13th March -August 2nd 1961) sees Hawke and Maclean press-ganged into the depths of Intergalactic Jurisprudence as the Overlord, brought to Justice at last, chooses interfering Earthman Hawke as his advocate in the upcoming trial. Naturally the villain has a sinister motive and naturally nothing turns out as anybody planned or expected it to, but the art is breathtaking, the adventure captivating and the humour timeless…

Jeff Hawke is a rightly revered and respected milestone of graphic achievement almost everywhere except its country of origin. Hopefully there will be more attempts to reprint these graphic gems – at least digitally – that will find a more receptive audience, and maybe we’ll even get to see those elusive earlier stories as well.
© 2007 Express Newspapers Ltd.

Danielle


By John M. Burns & Richard O’Neill (First American Edition Series)
ISBN: 0-912277-23-8

If you indulge in the wonders of comics for any appreciable length of time you’ll increasingly find yourself becoming something of an apologist.

“I just like the artwork.”
“They’ll be worth money one day.”
“It’s a metaphor for…”

You get the idea. I often end up having to explain away situations and depictions that might seem (or actually are) racist, sexist or – worst of all – painfully naff, and at first glance, this book and its contents might easily confirm most if not all of those charges.

But I’m not apologising and I urge you not to rush to judgements.

The prime reason for this is the illustrator. John M. Burns is an international star of comics but still remains largely unsung in his own country – which, considering the sheer breadth and quality of his output, is possibly the greatest compliment I can pay him. Britain has always been painfully ignorant of its comics heroes…

Born in Essex in 1938 he apprenticed at Doris White’s Link Studios in 1954 before moving on to Amalgamated Press where he worked on “Young Juvenile” titles such as Junior Express, Girl’s Crystal and School Friend, before graduating to the luxurious photogravure mainstream comic Express Weekly a year later.

After National Service (we used to conscript our young men for two years’ military training in those hazy Cold War days – just in case…) which found him in the RAF and sent to Singapore, he returned to comics in 1961, adapting Wuthering Heights for DC Thomson’s Diana and drew Kelpie in Odhams’ revolutionary weekly Wham!

Spreading himself far and wide, Burns followed Ron Embleton on Wrath of the Gods in Boy’s World and Eagle (scripted by Michael Moorcock – now there’s a strip crying out for collection), as well as The Fists of Danny Pike, Dolebusters and Roving Reporter. He was part of the inimitable and beloved artist stables working on the Gerry Anderson licensed titles TV Century 21 and its sister magazines – and particularly impressive on Space Family Robinson in Lady Penelope.

From 1965 he worked increasingly for newspapers, beginning with The Tuckwells in The Sunday Citizen, The Seekers for The Daily Sketch (1966-1971), Danielle in the Evening News (1973-74), George and Lynne (1977-1984) and The Royals – the official strip biography of Prince Charles and Diana Spencer (1981) in The Sun. He also too-briefly illustrated Modesty Blaise in The Evening Standard. You can see for yourself by picking up Modesty Blaise: Yellowstone Booty

He revived and worked on the legendary Jane for the Daily Mirror (between 1985 and 1989) and has intermittently worked on many others. He was selected to conclude Jim Edgar & Tony Weare’s incredible, immaculate long-running western Matt Marriot in 1977.

Burns’ TV-related work is magnificent. He has worked on licensed series for Look-In, TV Action and Countdown, illuminating the print adventures of UFO, Mission Impossible, The Tomorrow People, Bionic Woman, How the West Was Won and others. For Germany, he drew the strip Julia (also known as Lilli) and worked with Martin Lodewijk on fantasy series Zetari before in 1980 beginning his long association with infamous British science fiction comic 2000AD, where he has worked on Judge Dredd, Trueno, Nikolai Dante and his own Bendatti Vendetta.

He is also a regular adaptor of significant literary masterpieces, having already completed pictorial versions of Lorna Doone, Wuthering Heights and Jane Eyre.

So, what about Danielle?

1973 was the height of the much-maligned and deliberately misunderstood “Sexual Revolution”, with women demanding equal rights, equal pay and fair treatment (and isn’t it marvellous that they’ve got all those things now?). Contraception was becoming readily available, apparently everywhere bras were burning, and men thought that sex wasn’t going to be so expensive anymore.

It was a reactionary Male Chauvinist Pig’s Dream, and unrepentant, old-school stand-up comedians were having a field day.

I’m not sure how many of the various editors of daily and Sunday papers were supporters of the Women’s Liberation movement, or whether they simply found a great excuse to turn the industry’s long tradition of naked birds on the comics pages into something at least nominally hip, political and contemporary. I do know that an awful lot of new features appeared, with strident (if not actually liberated), forceful women who nevertheless still had hunky take-charge boyfriends in tow… but not for very long.

One of them was Danielle: at first glance an all-purpose fantasy saga in the sound tradition of Garth, but as the saga unfolded, one that developed beyond its superficial beginnings. The strip launched on Monday, September 17th 1973, introducing a willowy blonde heroine: a rebel against an oppressive regime, and one whose railing against the system resulted in her banishment.

Her crime? She had loved a man.

Danielle had returned to the planet Janus to overthrow her own mother, whose matriarchal dictatorship had kept men as subservient sex-slaves, and to rescue her truly beloved Zabal from the State Brothel he had been condemned to (stop sniggering).

Reversing many of the cherished trappings of Flash Gordon, Danielle fought monsters and militarists before she and Zabal escaped, using a magical Pendant of Power to leap into the chaos of time and space. From then on, the pair roamed the universe like buff, unclad Doctor Who extras, first landing in futuristic Britain in ‘Master Plan’ where the previous situation is utterly reversed and women have been drugged into subservient submission whilst a highly commercialised male hegemony rules virtually unopposed.

When Zabal’s head is turned by freedom and testosterone-soaked male dominance, he betrays Danielle until she unites with the all-female resistance and helps overthrow the Masters. Reunited – but not quite as trusting anymore – the nomadic lovers are then whisked by the Pendant to ‘The Dump’: an intergalactic penal colony where she is the only woman, before the space eddies tear them apart and Zabal is lost…

In ‘Dark Genesis’ Danielle lands on a desolate world where rejects from a super-alien’s genetics program attempt to save her from becoming their creator’s latest stock-breeder. After defeating the alien with old-fashioned common sense, the hapless voyager then materialises at a ‘Black Sabbath’ in 1660 Edinburgh.

Mistaken for a demon, she finds herself at the mercy of Puritan witch-finders and corrupt, debased officers of Cromwell’s New Model Army…

Appalling as these summations perhaps sound, Richard O’Neill’s scripts are a wry and canny counterpoint to the strident zeitgeist of the times. Brought in to overhaul Burns’ initial proposal, the ex-TV 21 editor imposed a studied balance to what was always intended to be a slight, escapist, lad-ish girly-strip with lots of ogle-worthy nudity and loads of fantasy action.

With deliberate overtones of H.P. Lovecraft and Philip José Farmer, the military historian added a knowing lightness to the proceedings which – married to Burn’s imagination and incredible monochrome line-work – resulted in a delight of self-deprecatory storytelling which is far, far from the exploitative, pandering lip-service it might first seem to be.

Nevertheless, the sterling efforts couldn’t save the feature. ‘Superstar’, the last story in this slim black and white, impossibly scarce volume, deviates from the established format as Danielle lands on a Hollywood film set in 1930.

Quickly co-opted by a zany movie director, she becomes a reluctant rising star before being reunited with Zabal who has been marooned on Earth for decades. Roaring along at a rather brisk pace and played strictly for gentle laughs, this final tale abruptly ended Danielle’s cosmic capers on September 14th 1974. Not included in this book is her 54-day revival from 1978, but I suspect that’s for the best…

Heavy-handed at first glance, but stunningly beautiful to look upon; this is a strip with plenty to say about the times it came from and perhaps one that might finally find a welcoming readership in these oh-so-perfect modern days, if only someone can resurrect and reprint it.
© 1984 Associated Newspapers Group. All rights reserved.

Corpse Talk: Ground-Breaking Scientists


By Adam & Lisa Murphy (David Fickling Books)
ISBN: 978-1-910989-80-7

The educational power of comic strips has been long understood and acknowledged: if you can make the material memorably enjoyable, there is nothing that can’t be better taught with pictures. The obverse is also true: comics can make any topic or subject come alive… or at least – as here – outrageously, informatively undead…

The conceit in Corpse Talk is that famous personages from the past are exhumed for a chatty, cheeky This Was Your Life talk-show interview that – in Reithian terms – simultaneously “elucidates, educates and entertains”. It also often grosses one out, which is no bad thing for either a kids’ comic or a learning experience…

Another splendid album release culled from the annals of The Phoenix (courtesy of those fine saviours of weekly comics at David Fickling Books) this thoughtfully themed collection opens with another scene-setting chat from your scribbling, cartooning host Adam Murphy (ably abetted off-camera by Lisa Murphy) before we get to know a serried selection of “dead brilliant scientists” in what might well be their very own – post-mortem – words…

In order of date of demise our funny, fact-loving host begins these candid cartoon interviews in a tutorial from ‘Aristotle: Philosopher 384-322BCE’, supplemented by an in-depth peek into the world-changer’s educational practices in ‘School of Life’ after which noted streaker ‘Archimedes: Mathematician 287-212BCE’ shares his version of the infamous “eureka moment” and ingenious military inventions. The most lethal of these then get special attention in sidebar feature ‘Calculated Aggression’.

Muslim scholar ‘Al-Haytham: Natural Philosopher 965-1040’ discusses his service with the Caliph of Egypt and discoveries in optical science, and his greatest invention is examined in follow-up feature ‘Camera Obscura’. Tragic Italian genius ‘Galileo Galilei: Astronomer 1564-1642’ recounts his star-gazing triumphs and the response of the Catholic Church – augmented by a rapturous spread depicting ‘Secrets of the Solar System’ – and a grossly misused scientific pioneer who founded the principles of entomology (before being written out of history by male historians and scientists) tells her story in ‘Maria Sibylla Merian: Entomologist 1647-1717’ and describes the linked ‘Circle of Life’ she discovered by observing caterpillars, cocoons and butterflies…

Noted egomaniac ‘Isaac Newton: Natural Philosopher 1642-1727’ has his say next, with ancillary features on ‘Laying Down the Laws’ and ‘Newton’s Three Laws of Motion’, culminating in the instructions on how to make ‘A Home-made Hovercraft’

‘Edward Jenner: Physician 1749-1823’ describes how his observations led to the eradication of smallpox (with the process broken down into grotesquely captivating ‘Vaccination Stations’) after which forgotten woman ‘Mary Anning: Palaeontologist 1799-1847’ reveals the true history of fossil hunting and evolutionary observation – including a quick tour of ‘The Jurassic World’ – before ‘Lovelace & Babbage: Mathematicians 1815-1852 & 1791-1871’ delves deep into the lives of computer visionaries Ada Lovelace and Charles Babbage, who devised calculating machines and systems long before science and engineering had the facilities to construct them. Unable to physically enjoy the fruits of their labour, the dead clever thinkers can at least play here with a modern version of ‘The Difference Engine’ since built to honour them at London’s Science Museum….

‘Von Humboldt: Explorer, Naturalist, Geographer, Etc… 1769-1859’ was a true Renaissance man and master of many disciplines, which he used in his five-year voyage of scientific discovery. As well as the 3500 species of flora and fauna he catalogued in one trip he also formulated the concept of ‘Habitat Zones’ (perfectly explained here in graphic terms following his “piece to camera”).

You may have heard of revolutionary medical reformer ‘James Barry: Doctor 1790s-1865’ but did you know that she was actually Margaret Anne Bulkey, a young woman who refused to let her gender hinder her dreams in an exclusively male-dominated world. Her innovations and changes in military hospitals saved millions of soldiers and civilians, and her influence is celebrated in sidebar feature ‘A History of Infection’. Meanwhile, the world-shattering observations of ‘Charles Darwin: Naturalist 1809-1882’ whilst aboard HMS Beagle are interpreted in the savant’s own individualist manner, with a follow-up detailing his theories through ‘Darwin’s Finches’.

Russian superstar ‘Dmitri Mendeleev: Chemist 1834-1907’ outlines his epic struggle to classify, decipher and order the elements, complete with a fully-updated version of his ‘Periodic Table’ before the profound discoveries – and their personal cost – of ‘Marie Curie: Chemist & Physicist 1867-1934’ bring us into the modern age of intellectual endeavour, via a chilling warning of the repercussions of her ‘Killer Research’.

Born a slave and self-taught, ‘George Washington Carver: Botanist & Inventor 1860s-1943’ transformed America and the world with his discoveries in Agriculture. His astounding life is précised here and validated in supplemental feature ‘Nuts About Nuts!’ sharing the secret of making peanut butter…

Apparently the closest thing to an actual Mad Scientist the world has ever known, ‘Nikola Tesla: Inventor 1856-1943’ tries to clear his name and reputation whilst latterly describing his battle with his greatest rival in ‘Edison vs Tesla in… the War of the Currents’ after which the Digital Age begins thanks to the efforts of ‘Alan Turing: Computer Scientist 1912-1954’. His wartime work with decoding and cipher chasing is then commemorated in ‘An Enigma Wrapped in a Mystery’ giving us all a chance to tinker with our own (simplified) Enigma Machine…

Last Big Brain in the box, ‘Albert Einstein: Physicist 1879-1955’ then gleefully explains one of his most universally misunderstood theories and laments the misuse of his work through his own personal history and ends the scientific history lessons on a high note with another in ‘It’s All Relative…’

Smart, irreverent, funny and splendidly factual throughout, Corpse Talk cleverly but unflinchingly deals with history’s more tendentious moments whilst personalising the great and the good for coming generations.

It is also a fabulously fun read no parent or kid could possibly resist. Don’t take my word for it though, just consult with any of the clever cadavers in question…

Text and illustrations © Adam & Lisa Murphy 2017. All rights reserved.
Corpse Talk: Ground-Breaking Scientists will be released on 7th September 2017 and is available for pre-order now.

Eagle Classics: Riders of the Range


By Charles Chilton, Jack Daniel & Frank Humphris (Hawk Books)
ISBN: 978-0-94824-827-6

In the 1950s Cowboys and Indians ruled the hearts and minds of the First World public. Westerns were the most popular subject of books, films and comics in Britain, America and most of Europe. The new medium of television screened both recycled cowboy B-movies and eventually serials and series especially created for the stay-at-home aficionado.

Some examples were pretty good and became acknowledged as art – as is always the way with popular culture once it gains a few decades and the polished veneer of fond nostalgia – whilst most others faded from memory, cherished only by the hopelessly past-imprisoned and fannishly-driven.

One entertainment arena I didn’t list was radio: a medium ideal for creating spectacular scenarios and dreamscapes on a low budget. However, the BBC (the sole British radio broadcaster of the post-war period) even managed a halfway decent Western/musical show called Riders of the Range. It was written by producer/director Charles Chilton and ran from 1949 until 1953, six series in total.

At the height of its popularity Riders was adapted as a comic strip in Eagle, which already featured the strip exploits of the immensely successful radio star P.C. 49. The hugely successful weekly anthology magazine had already trialled one cowboy strip – Seth and Shorty – but promptly dropped it. With a popular show to bolster it the pictorial Riders of the Range began as a full-colour page in the first Eagle Christmas edition (December 22nd 1950; volume 1, No. 37) and ran continuously until 1962, surviving the demise of its radio parent and becoming the longest-running western strip in British comics history. In all that time it only ever had three artists.

The first was Jack Daniel, an almost abstract stylist in his designs who worked in bold (almost primitive) lines, but whose colour-palette was years ahead of his time. Crude and scratchy-seeming, his western scenarios were subversive and subliminal in impact. He had previously worked on the newspaper strip Kit Conquest. His “European” style of illustration was notoriously unpopular with Editor Marcus Morris and apparently led to the illustrator’s replacement…

Author Chilton had a deep and abiding fascination with the West and often wrote adventures that interwove with actual historical events, such as ‘The Cochise Affair’ included in this splendid oversized paperback collection. It was the second adventure and had heroic Jeff Arnold and sidekick Luke branding cattle for their “6T6” ranch near the Arizona border when they find a raided homestead.

A distraught, wounded mother begs for help and reveals that Indians have stolen her little boy. Taking her to Fort Buchanan, Arnold becomes embroiled in a bitter battle of wills between Chief Cochise and Acting Cavalry Commander Lieutenant George N. Bascom. The lean sparse scripts are subtly engaging and Daniel’s unique design and colour sense – although perhaps at odds with the more naturalistic realism of the rest of Eagle’s drama strips – make this a hugely enjoyable lost gem.

Angus Scott took over from Daniel with ‘Border Bandits’ (September 7th 1951), but was not a popular or comfortable fit and departed after less than a year. With only a single page of his art reprinted here, it’s perhaps fairest to move on to the artist most closely associated with the strip.

Frank Humphris was a godsend. His artwork was lush, vibrant and full-bodied. He was also as fascinated with the West as Chilton himself and brought every inch of that passion to the tales. From July 1952 and for the next decade Chilton and Humphris (with a few one-off and Christmas Annual contributions from Jesús Blasco, Giorgio Bellavitis and Roland Davies) crafted a thrilling and even educational western saga that is fondly remembered to this day. His tenure is represented here by ‘The War with the Sioux’

In 1875 gold was discovered in the Black Hills of Dakota and the resultant rush of prospectors resulted in the Cavalry being dispatched to protect them from the incensed Indians. Hired as intermediaries and scouts, Jeff and Luke are increasingly helpless as the situation worsens, resulting in the massacre at Little Big Horn. There have many tales woven into this epochal event, but the patriotically dispassionate creativity of two Britons have united here to craft one of the most beautiful and memorable…

The day of the cowboys’ dominance has faded now but the power of great stories well told has not. Although still relatively easy to find in second hand shops or online, this is a series and a book worthy of a more extensive revival, and well worthy of being resurrected at least as a digital edition. Let’s hope someone with the power to do something about it agrees with me. We’d all be winners then…
Riders of the Range © 1990 Fleetway Publications. Compilation © 1990 Hawk Books.

Garth: The Cloud of Balthus


By Jim Edgar & Frank Bellamy, with John Allard (Titan Books)
ISBN 10: 0-90761-034-X                   ISBN: 978-0-90761-034-2

British Superman Garth first appeared in the Daily Mirror on Saturday, July 24th 1943, the creation of professional cartoonist Steve Dowling and BBC radio producer Gordon Boshell, at the behest of the editor who wanted an adventure strip to complement their other comic strip features, Buck Ryan, Belinda Blue Eyes, Just Jake and immortal, morale-boosting Jane.

A blond giant and physical marvel, Garth washed up on an island shore and into the arms of a pretty girl, Gala, with no memory of who he was. Nonetheless he saved the entire populace from a brutal tyrant and a legend began. Boshell never had time to write the series, so Dowling, already producing the successful family strip The Ruggles, scripted Garth until a new writer could be found.

Don Freeman dumped the amnesia plot in ‘The Seven Ages of Garth’ (which ran from September 18th 1944 until January 20th 1946) by introducing imposing jack-of-all-sciences Professor Lumiere whose psychological experiments regressed the burly hero back through some past lives.

In the next tale ‘The Saga of Garth’ (January 22nd 1946 to July 20th 1946) his origin was revealed. As a child, he’d been found floating in a coracle off the Shetlands and adopted by a kindly old couple. When grown he became a Navy Captain until he was torpedoed off Tibet in 1943…

Freeman continued as writer until 1952 (‘Flight into the Future’ was his last tale), and was briefly replaced by script editor Hugh McClelland (who only wrote ‘Invasion From Space’) until Peter O’Donnell took over in February 1953 with ‘Warriors of Krull’.

He wrote 28 adventures until resigning in 1966 to devote more time to his own strip; something he called Modesty Blaise.

His place was taken by Jim Edgar; a short-story writer who also scripted such prestigious newspaper strips as Matt Marriott, Wes Slade and Gun Law.

Dowling retired in 1968 and his long-time assistant John Allard took over the strip until a suitable permanent artist could be found. Allard completed ten complete tales until Frank Bellamy began a legendary run with the 13th daily instalment of ‘Sundance’ (which ran from 28th June to 1 October 11th 1971).

Allard remained as background artist and assistant until Bellamy took full control during ‘The Orb of Trimandias’.

One thing Professor Lumiere had discovered and which gave this strip its distinctive appeal – even before the fantastic artwork of Bellamy elevated it to dizzying heights of graphic brilliance – was Garth’s involuntary ability to travel through time and re-experience past and future lives. This simple concept lent the strip an unfailing potential for exotic storylines and fantastic exploits, pushing it beyond its humble beginning as a British response to Siegel and Shuster’s American phenomenon Superman.

The tales in this criminally out of print monochrome tome begin with the aforementioned ‘Sundance’ as mighty Garth is sucked back to 1876 to relive his life as an officer of George Custer’s 7th Cavalry on the Eve of the Battle of the Little Big Horn.

The time-tossed titan has a brief but passionate love affair with Indian maiden Falling Leaf before dying valiantly for his beliefs and their love. It is an evocative, powerful tale that totally captures the bigotry, arrogance and futility of the White Man and the tragic demise of the Indian way of life…

Then eponymous epic ‘The Cloud of Balthus’ shows the open, simple elegance of the narrative concept in Garth. Whilst vacationing in the Caribbean our hero becomes embroiled in an espionage plot involving freelance super-spies and a US space station, but even that is mere prelude to fantastic adventure and deadly terrors when he and his delectable, double-dealing companion Lee Wan are abruptly abducted by nebulous energy beings in a taut, tension-fraught thriller.

‘The Orb of Trimandias’ plunges Garth back in time to the Venice of the Borgias, when he becomes again English Soldier-of-Fortune Lord Carthewan: a decent man battling an insane and all-powerful madman for the secret of a supernaturally potent holy relic. This gripping, exotic yarn is replete with flamboyant action, historical celebrities, sexy women and magnificently stirring locales. It’s a timeless treasure of adventure that has the added fillip of briefly reuniting Garth with his star-crossed true love, the ethereal Space Goddess Astra.

This lovely volume (long overdue for re-issue – at least in digital form if no other way is possible) concludes with a high-octane gothic horror story. ‘The Wolfman of Ausensee’ sees Garth as a rather reluctant companion of movie starlet Gloria Delmar on a shoot at the forbidding Austrian schloss (that’s a big ugly castle to you) of a playboy whose family was once cursed by witches.

Despite the title giving some of the game away, this is still a sharp and savvy spook-fest that ranks easily amongst the best Hammer Horror films, and just gets better with each rereading.

Garth is the quintessential British Action Hero – strong, smart, good-looking with a big heart and nose for trouble. His back-story gives him all of eternity and every genre to play in and the magnificent art of Frank Bellamy also made his too-brief tenure a stellar one.

Comic-strips seldom get this good, and even though this book and its sequel are still relatively easy to come by, it is still a crime and a mystery that all these wonderful tales have been out of print for so long.
© 1984 Mirror Group Newspapers. All rights reserved.