The Beano & Dandy 2017 Gift Book: Raiders of the Lost Archive! The Beano & Dandy 2016 Gift Book: Pranks for the Memories!


By Many and various (DC Thomson)
ISBN: 978-1-84535-604-0 (2017)                  ISBN: 978-1-84535-557-9 (2016)

Win’s Christmas Gift Recommendation: Evergreen Seasonal Traditions Celebrated and Ideal Last-Minute Gifts… 10/10

As we’re all feeling a wee bit Caledonian at present here in Win Ha-Ha-Hacienda, I thought I’d take another loving look at some of Scotland’s greatest achievements whilst simultaneously revelling in the Good Old Days of comics…
If you’re too busy to read yet more of my lecturing hectoring blather, feel free to skip the review… just as long as you buy these books for yourself or someone in severe need of a good cheering up and infectious laugh…

The shape and structure of British kids cartoon reading owes a huge debt to writer/editor Robert Duncan Low who was probably DC Thomson’s greatest creative find.

Low (1895-1980) began at the publishing monolith as a journalist, rising to the post of Managing Editor of Children’s Publications where he conceived and launched – between 1921 and 1933 – the company’s “Big Five” story-papers for boys. Those rip-roaring illustrated prose periodicals comprised Adventure, The Rover, The Wizard, The Skipper and The Hotspur.

In 1936 his next brilliant idea was The Fun Section: an 8-page pull-out supplement for Scottish national newspaper The Sunday Post consisting of comic strips. The illustrated accessory premiered on 8th March and from the very outset The Broons and Oor Wullie – both rendered by the incomparable Dudley Watkinswere its unchallenged stars…

Low’s shrewdest move was to devise both strips as domestic comedies played out in the charismatic Scottish idiom and broad unforgettable vernacular. Ably supported by features such as Auchentogle by Chic Gordon, Allan Morley’s Nero and Zero, Nosey Parker and other strips, they laid the groundwork for the company’s next great leap.

In December 1937 Low launched the DC Thomson’s first weekly pictorial comic. The Dandy was followed by The Beano in 1938 and an early-reading title The Magic Comic the year after that.

War-time paper shortages and rationing sadly curtailed this strip periodical revolution, and it was 1953 before the next wave of cartoon caper picture-papers. To supplement Beano and Dandy, the ball started rolling again with The Topper, closely followed by a host of new titles such as Beezer and Sparky to augment the expanding post-war line.

Every kid who grew up reading comics has their own personal nostalgia-filled nirvana, and DC Thomson have always sagely left that choice to us whilst striving to keep all eras alive with carefully-tooled collectors’ albums like this brace of giant (225 x 300 mm) hardback Gift Books.

These have all the appeal and panache of coffee-table art books; gathering material from nearly eight decades of publishing – including oodles of original art reproductions – but rather than just tantalising and frustrating incomplete extracts, here the reader gets complete stories starring immortal characters from comics and Christmas Annuals past…

Both of these sturdy celebrations of the company’s children’s periodicals division rightly glory in the incredible wealth of ebullient creativity that paraded through the flimsy colourful pages of The Beano and The Dandy. They’re also jam-packed with some of the best written and most impressively drawn strips ever conceived: superbly timeless examples of cartoon storytelling at its best…

However rather than a chronological arc tracing from a particularly bleak and fraught period in British history through years of growth, exploration and socio-cultural change, we’re treated to a splendid pick-&-mix protocol, with a surprise on every turn of a page…

Until it folded and was reborn as a digital publication on 4th December 2012, The Dandy was the third-longest running comic in the world (behind Italy’s Il Giornalino – launched in 1924 – and America’s Detective Comics in March 1937). Premiering on December 4th 1937, it broke the mould of its traditionalist British predecessors by using word balloons and captions rather than narrative blocks of text under sequential picture frames.

A huge success, The Dandy was followed eight months later on July 30th 1938 by The Beano – and together they utterly revolutionised the way children’s publications looked and, most importantly, how they were received.

Over decades the “terrible twins” spawned a bevy of unforgettable and dearly-beloved household names to delight generations of avid and devoted readers, and their end-of-year celebrations were graced by bumper bonanzas of the weekly stars in extended stories housed in magnificent hardback annuals.

As WWII progressed, rationing of paper and ink forced “children’s papers” into an alternating fortnightly schedule. On September 6th 1941 only The Dandy was published. A week later just The Beano appeared. The normality of weekly editions only resumed on 30th July 1949…

And now they are cultural icons commemorated by fabulous compilations such as these.

The 2015 edition – another strand of the company’s growing range of heritage-drenched collectors’ collections and forwarded-dated 2016 like all proper Christmas annuals should be – is subtitled Pranks for the Memories!

This year’s model is codified as Raiders of the Lost Archive!

As the name implies, our initial foray into fun is packed cover-to-cover with brilliant strips celebrating the art of the practical joke and starts on the inside front covers with a wonderful Biffo the Bear moment, illustrated by the astounding Dudley D. Watkins, followed by Davey Law’s Dennis the Menace, Contrary Mary by Roland Davies, Watkins’ cowboy superman Desperate Dan and a pantomimic exploit of Beano’s forgotten cover star Big Eggo by Reg Carter.

Short half-page monochrome of two-toned tales like James Jewell’s Wee Peem and Smarty Grandpa alternate with full-colour complete cover strips such as Korky the Cat by James Crichton (from The Dandy Comic for April 12th 1941), two-colour interior yarns from Hugh McNeil’s Pansy Potter – the Strongman’s Daughter or Leo Baxendale’s groundbreaking Bash Street Kids, all proving they knew how to set up a gag and deliver a punishing punchline…

There’s so many more old friends to revisit or, if you’re lucky, meet for the first time: The Three Bears, Eric Roberts’ timeless Winker Watson, Minnie the Minx, Roger the Dodger (Ken Reid), Lord Snooty and his Pals (represented here by a couple of lengthy Watkins wonders from various Annuals), Bully Beef and Chips (Jimmy Hughes), Tom Paterson’s Fiddle O’Diddle, Ivy the Terrible by Roy Nixon, Little Plum, Ron Spencer’s Baby Face Finlayson and even a relatively recent 16-page mega-epic with the entire Beanotown cast shanghaied into space.

Nor are these japes and jests one-trick-ponies. There are plus dozens of repeat performances for Biffo, Dennis, Dan, Korky (plus The Kits), Eggo and all the rest from later years and courtesy of the numerous illustrators who took over from the awesome originators…

Sadly none of the writers are named and precious few of the artists, but as always I’ve offered a best guess as to whom we should thank, and of course I would be so very happy if anybody could confirm or refute my suppositions…

The 2017 tome is blessed with a similar stellar selection under the umbrella title of Raiders of the Lost Archive!: offering similar childhood treasures and augmenting the humour with the odd – and they really were – dramatic strip presentation.

Contained herein you can become enrapt by the undersea adventures of Danny and Penny Gray in Bill Holroyd’s The Iron Fish and share a brace of seat-of-the-pants time-travel excursions by Jimmy and his Magic Patch (that man Watkins again) as well as a stunning and supremely silly Holroyd outing for schoolboy Charley Brand and his robot pal Brassneck

Beside cover strips of Desperate Dan, Biffo, and Korky the Cat there are also extended Annual larks starring Little Plum, Lord Snooty, Roberts’ Dirty Dick and more Winker Watson strips, in addition to further frolics from those Bash Street Kids, Malcolm Judge’s Billy Whizz and George Martin’s outrageous, voracious and larcenous schoolteacher Greedy Pigg

Topper export Beryl the Peril (by Karl Dixon) repeatedly joins Ken Reid’s Big Head and Thick Head, Baxendale’s Bash Street prototype When the Bell Rings, Bully Beef and Chips, Minnie the Minx, Holroyd’s Willie Fixit, European import Midge, David Law’s Corporal Clott, Roger the Dodger and his female nemesis Winnie the Wangler in unwise antics and silly sorties, barely stopped in each case by the forces of authority, be they parental, scholastic or state-sanctioned police…

Marvels of nostalgia and timeless wonder, the true magic of these collections is the brilliant art and stories by a host of talents who have literally made Britons who they are today, and bravo to DC Thomson for letting them out again to run amok once more.
© 2015, 2016 DC Thomson & Co. Ltd. All rights reserved.

The Dandy Annual 2017


By many and various (DC Thomson & Co., Ltd.)
ISBN: 978-1-84535-605-7

Win’s Christmas Gift Recommendation: Another Crucial Christmas Staple… 9/10

For many British fans Christmas means The Dandy Annual and Beano Book (although Scots worldwide have a pretty fair claim that the season belongs to them with collections of The Broons and Oor Wullie making every Yule truly cool) and both are available this year to continue a magnificent Seasonal tradition.

The Dandy comic actually predated the Beano by eight months, completely revolutionising the way children’s publications looked and, most importantly, how they were read. Over the decades it produced a bevy of household names that delighted generations and their end of year celebrations were bumper bonanzas of the comic’s weekly stars in brief or extended stories.

The Dandy Annual 2017 is a particularly welcome occasion for traditionalists since the actual comic was cancelled in 2010, subsequently failed as an online edition and now only exists in the minds and failing memories of old folk like me. Moreover the frantic, helter-skelter gag making continues here unabated, just as it always has…

Following the star-studded front (and back) double-page spreads by the Sharp Brothers, timeless superstar super cowboy Desperate Dan gets into more trouble with his colossal Cow Pies thanks to Ken W. Harrison.

Offering four complete strips per page, Funsize Funnies are fast and furious minicomics providing multiple bangs for your buck, with veteran characters such as Korky the Cat, Corporal Clott, Greedy Pigg, Smasher, Bully Beef and Chips and Dirty Dick joining newer turns like Kid Cops and Pinky’s Crackpot Circus. These generally three-panel-wonders come courtesy of modern mirth masters AR!, Lew Stringer, Nick Brennan, Karl Dixon, Nigel Aucterlounie and others and segue neatly into an episodic comedy thriller as Secret Agent Sally and her hapless hunky sidekick Gus investigate an Arctic Science Station and encounter a monster, before the laughs loop back with Nigel Parkinson’s terrible twins Cuddles and Dimples, priming the taste-buds for a team-up tale featuring most of the cast in ‘The Great Dandy Bake-Off’

Desperate Dan experiences some banking woes before the deeply surreal Pepperoni Pig eludes Big Bad Wolf to deliver her first pizza of the season whilst Beryl the Peril looks for a hobby and only finds trouble. Then Andy Fanton’s Bad Grandad and Mason & Stringer’s Postman Prat pay for their sins and skateboard addict Ollie Fliptrik (Dixon) turns beach sand adversity to his advantage

A lengthy exploit of canine marvel Agent Dog 2 Zero frustrating feline felonies leads to tonsorial terror for Cactusville residents when Aunt Aggie decides it’s time Desperate Dan had a haircut, after which Pepperoni Pig rides her Vespa hard and The Jocks and the Geordies renew their age-old class war…

After Secret Agent Sally turns monster-hunter, Jamie Smart’s My Dad’s a Doofus proves the folly of fast food and Bad Grandad nearly spoils Christmas, as a prelude to another octet of Funsize Funnies. More parental grief is provided by Cuddles and Dimples before schoolboy Charley Brand and his robot pal Brassneck resurface to play one too many classroom pranks…

Postman Prat has a snow day after which Wilbur Dawbarn revives devious child of privilege Winker Watson to again wreak terror on the masters at his boarding school whilst Beryl the Peril goes ballooning with Greedy Pigg and Corporal Clott.

Boy boffin Blinky modernises letter writing to Santa, Pepperoni Pig clashes with the wolf again and snow proves no obstacle to wheel-crazy stunter Ollie Fliptrik.

There are plenty of reprise opportunities for Brassneck, My Dad’s a Doofus, the Funsize Funnies gang, Desperate Dan, Blinky, Bad Grandad and Cuddles and Dimples before Secret Agent Sally and Gus broach a master villain’s icy lair and the Jocks and the Geordies finally find something to agree on…

Another colossal star-studded collaboration finds all the Dandy regulars competing in dire dance-off ‘Sickly Come Dancing’. Then it’s back to jolly solo strips for Brassneck, Winker Watson, My Dad’s a Doofus, Pepperoni Pig, Postman Prat, Blinky and the Funsize crowd before Ollie Fliptrik makes merry mayhem…

The cataclysmic conclusion of Secret Agent Sally’s icy escapade follows short stints from Beryl, Grandad, Dan and Cuddles and Dimples and then it’s one more wave of madcap mirth from the cast in solo stories before Desperate Dan closes the book and brings the house down for another year…

A great big (285 x 215 mm), full colour hardback, The Dandy Annual provides an unmissable Xmas treat; as it has for generations of kids and grandparents, and this year the wealth of talent and accumulations of fun are as grand as they ever were.

Fast, funny and timelessly exuberant, this is a true bulwark of British culture and national celebration at this time of year. Have you got yours yet?
© DC Thomson & Co., Ltd 2016.

Beano Annual 2017


By many and various (DC Thomson & Co., Ltd.)
ISBN: 978-1-84535-603-3

Win’s Christmas Gift Recommendation: No Christmas Complete Without One… 9/10

For many British fans Christmas means The Beano Book and/or its companion tome The Dandy – although Scots worldwide have a pretty fair claim that the season belongs to them with collections of The Broons and Oor Wullie making every Yule truly cool. Happily in these parlous times of uncertainty both are available this year to maintain a magnificent Seasonal tradition and a smidgen of comforting stability.

Unmissable treats for generations of kids and grandparents, this year both great big (285 x 215 mm) full-colour hardback Annual offerings are packed with a wealth of talent and as great as ever…

Beano Annual 2017 takes us through key points of the year and offers a wildly anarchic gathering of stars, opening and closing with chaotically star-stuffed double page spreads by Nigel Parkinson.

The panoply of perilous perishing kids unleashes Dennis the Menace and Gnasher, David Sutherland’s Bash Street Kids, Roger the Dodger, Gnasher and Gnipper!, Calamity James, Minnie the Minx and Bananaman in daily doses of crime and punishments – and the cartoon attractions do so on a regular basis throughout the book as they track through a year in the life of the characters…

However, colossal themed team-ups are all the rage these days, so we have some of those too, as Beanotown Adventures offers a shocking mash-up of little horrors amusing in unison.

Nigel Parkinson delineates the Valentine’s Day calamity after Minnie gets hold of Cupid’s machine gun and starts dispensing love-bullets to all and sundry, providing unspeakable horror and embarrassment to the other characters all over town…

Shorter strips that follow include Nigel Aucterlounie’s The Numskulls, more Bash Street Kids, Wilbur Dawbarn’s Billy Whizz and return engagements for Roger, Dennis, Gnasher, and Minnie, whose time-travel caper takes us from January to St. George’s Day. Then Ball Boy and Bananaman endure inclement weather and the hay fever rites of Spring…

Easter with the Bash Street Kids leads to another multi-star Beanotown Adventure set on a flatulence-filled May Fourth – yes! Star Wars Day

The recurring cast pop up thick and fast in quick solo japes or extended excursions such as Bananaman’s clash with the book’s recurring masked villain “Boy Genius

Amongst the storm of madcap mayhem, Laura Howell’s know-it-all Angel Face puts her foot down and The Numskulls endure even more allergy aggro in Edd’s Head before the Bash Streeters have their own brush with Boy Genius.

More solo strips from old pals then carry us into high summer as ‘Beach Bother’ sees the entire unsavoury cast hit the seaside for another aggregated Beanotown Adventure…

Diverse hands take all those sullen kids ‘Back to School’ and all too soon Halloween rears its misshapen, badly carved orange heads; but even doughty Bananaman can’t stop the little louts sneaking out to a stone age monument for a mass Beanotown party only to encounter ‘The Creature from the Big Rocks Henge!’

All too soon it’s Yule time again and after a silly streak of solo stories, the cast all reunite for the big closer as the esteemed Mr. Dickens gets a hilarious kicking in ‘A Christmas Beano Carol’

Fast, irreverent and timelessly exuberant, The Beano Annual is a cornerstone of British culture and national celebration at this time of year. Have you got yours yet?
© DC Thomson & Co., Ltd 2016.

Doctor Who Graphic Novels #23: The Highgate Horror


By Mark Wright, Jonathan Morris, Steve Lyons, Roger Langridge, Jacqueline Rayner, Scott Gray, David A. Roach, Mike Collins, John Ross, Adrian Salmon, Martin Geraghty, Dave Gibbons, John Ridgway, Dan McDaid & various (Panini Comics)
ISBN: 978-1-84653-749-3

Win’s Christmas Gift Recommendation: Timeless Tradition… 9/10

The British love comic strips and they love celebrity and they love “Odd Characters.”

The history of our graphic narrative has a peculiarly disproportionate amount of radio comedians, stars of theatre, film and TV: folk like Charlie Chaplin, Arthur Askey, Winifred Atwell, Max Bygraves, Charlie Drake and their ilk, as well as actual shows and properties such as Whacko!, ITMA, Our Gang, (a British version of the Hal Roach film sensation by Dudley Watkins in The Dandy as well as the American comicbook series by Walt Kelly), Old Mother Riley, Supercar, Pinky & Perky and literally hundreds more.

Anthology variety comics such as Radio Fun, Film Fun, TV Fun, Look-In, TV Tornado, TV Comic and Countdown amongst others translated our viewing and listening favourites into pictorial escapism every week, and it was a pretty poor lead or show which couldn’t parley the screen job into a licensed comic property.

Television’s Doctor Who premiered with part one of ‘An Unearthly Child’ on November 23rd 1963, and the following year a decades-long association with TV Comic began in issue #674 and the first instalment of ‘The Klepton Parasites’.

On 11th October 1979 (although, adhering to US off-sale cover-dating system, it says 17th) Marvel’s UK subsidiary launched Doctor Who Weekly, which regenerated into a monthly magazine in September 1980 (#44), efficiently entitled Doctor Who Monthly. It has been with us through various title-changes ever since. All of which only goes to prove that the Time Lord is a comic hero with an impressive pedigree and big shoes to fill.

Panini’s ongoing process of collecting every strip from the prodigious annals and archives in a uniform series of over-sized graphic albums – each concentrating on a particular incarnation of the deathless wanderer – reaches its twenty-third volume here as the Twelfth Doctor returns in another (inter)stellar line-up of comic strip sagas.

This particular tome gathers stories from DWM #484 and #489-500; spanning March 2015 to July 2016; starring Peter Capaldi’s irascible old chrononaut and his saucy sidekick Impossible Girl Clara Oswald in unforgettable action across the universe and every Elsewhen imaginable.

The adventures of the Grumpy Gallifreyan are – as always – described and delineated by a rapidly rotating roster of British creators who also provide a treasure-trove of background information in the Commentary section at the back, comprising story-by-story background, history and insights from the authors and illustrators, supplemented by scads of sketches, roughs, designs, production art and photos.

None of which is relevant if all you want is a darn good read. However all the imagineers involved have managed the ultimate task of any artisan – to produce engaging, thrilling, fun work which can be enjoyed equally by the merest beginner and the most slavishly dedicated and opinionated fans imaginable.

That feast of fun – coloured throughout by James Offredi and lettered by the multi-talented Roger Langridge – opens with ‘Space Invaders!’ by Mark Wright, Mike Collins & David A. Roach as The Doctor and Clara fetch up at an orbiting storage facility just as the owners start their latest sell-off of unclaimed items. Sadly, the time-travellers are not quite quick enough to stop the avid bargain-hunters opening a container full of just hatched planet-eating monster eggs…

Following smart social satire is a multi-part action romp. ‘Spirits of the Jungle’ by Jonathan Morris & John Ross sees our heroes joining an extraction mission to recover lethal intelligent weapons-tech before apparently walking into trap on a planet where the forests have their own definition of World Wide Web…

Gothic horror and vintage thrills permeate Wright, Roach & Collins’ superb chiller ‘The Highgate Horror’ wherein Clara, her immortal straight man and neophyte Companion Jess Collins hunt vampires and satanic covens in a 1970s London cemetery and instead encounter a race of ancient predators who want far worse than mere blood…

As conceived and realised by Steve Lyons & Adrian Salmon, ‘The Dragon Lord’ was a radical activist attempting to save magnificent saurians from human fun-seekers who hunted them for sport on a medieval-themed fantasy resort world. By the time our wandering troubleshooters turn up however, things have turned decidedly bloody and it looks like nobody is getting out alive…

Roger Langridge then offers an all-him treat as Harry Houdini sends out a distress call and old pal The Doctor dutifully answers. Sometimes even fakers and charlatans have power and really resent being de-bunked by upstart human escapologists playing in the ‘Theatre of the Mind’

A new time-bending miscreant debuts in Jacqueline Rayner, Martin Geraghty & Roach’s epic tale of persecution and justice as temporal prankster Miss Chief infiltrates Clara’s workspace. After causing havoc at Coal Hill School the trickster drops Miss Oswald in the vicious clutches of Witchfinder General Matthew Hopkins, leaving The Doctor to either participate in a time duel or somehow search the entire 17th century for his missing school chum in a ‘Witch Hunt’ with potentially fatal and final consequences…

Our temporal tintinnabulations conclude with a splendidly appropriate anniversary party get-together of old friends and foes that will delight long-tern fans without baffling newbies or casual readers.

Written by editor Scott Gray, ‘The Stockbridge Showdown’ returns The Doctor to the alien-beleaguered British village just as cosmic corporate conqueror Josiah W. Dogbolter thinks he’s finally leveraged the keys to time itself.

As the universe nears a shocking “Going Out of Business” sale, the wily Gallifreyan and many allies from the past 500 issues unite to teach the richest man in creation the paucity of his resources and the lesson of his life in a tale crafted by artists past and current, including Dave Gibbons, Langridge, Salmon, Dan McDaid, Ross, Collins, John Ridgway, Geraghty and Roach…

This is another marvellous book for casual readers, a fine shelf-addition for dedicated fans of the show and a perfect opportunity to cross-promote our particular art-form to anyone minded to give comics one more go…
All Doctor Who material © BBCtv. Doctor Who, the Tardis and all logos are trademarks of the British Broadcasting Corporation and are used under licence. Licensed by BBC Worldwide. Tardis image © BBC 1963. Daleks © Terry Nation. All commentaries © 2016 their respective authors. Published 2013 by Panini UK Ltd. All rights reserved.

Modesty Blaise: The Murder Frame


By Peter O’Donnell & Enric Badia Romero (Titan Books)
ISBN: 978-1-78329-859-4

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

Infallible super-criminals Modesty Blaise and her lethally adept, knife-throwing, compulsively platonic 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…

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 equally deserving of its own archive albums) produced 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 and short-story collections, several films, a TV pilot, a radio play, an original American graphic novel from DC and nearly one hundred comic strip adventures until the strip’s conclusion in 2001.

The serial exploits are 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 resume here, with O’Donnell & Romero offering four more masterpieces of mood, mystery and mayhem only pausing for effusive Introduction ‘Meeting Modesty’: from crime author Rebecca Chance (AKA Lauren Henderson; Bad Brides, Killer Heels, Jane Austin’s Guide to Dating) who compares the prose perils with the aforementioned strip sagas.

With Chance adding a prologue to each of the stunning strips which follow, the pictorial perils premiere with ‘The Murder Frame’ (originally seen in The Evening Standard from January 6th to June 6th 1997), wherein Modesty and Willie are drawn into a Machiavellian war of wits with a psychopathic old adversary who turns Garvin’s very public minor spat with a local property developer into an unassailable case of murder most foul.

Happily, Willie has lots of friends on both sides of the law and the stitch-up unravels after Modesty teams up with police Chief Inspector Brook to see justice done and the real killer caught…

The tone shifts to electrifying espionage and bloody vengeance for ‘Fraser’s Story’ (9th June – November 3rd) as Tarrant’s placidly, unflappable aide goes off the grid in pursuit of a British traitor-turned-Russian Mafia boss hiding out in Panama.

Victor Randle sold out his country and caused the death of 107 British agents – including Fraser’s only love – and is smart enough to know that Fraser is on his trail. In fact he’s counting on it and has creepy brainwashing genius Dr. Yago ready to pick the would-be avenger’s mind dry of every profitable secret it contains – especially as Victor currently possesses the only other thing the British agent still cares about…

He’s also smart enough to have Fraser’s friends Modesty Blaise and Willie Garvin murdered before they can interfere, but tragically not efficient enough to double check that his attempts have actually succeeded…

A startling glimpse into Modesty’s childhood days underpins ‘Tribute of the Pharaohs’ (November 4th 1997 to April 3rd 1998), also revealing Willie’s ultimate nemesis as the strident martinet who ran the orphanage he grew up in. Their reunion on the burning sands of the Bayouda desert near Khartoum also involves brutal bandit lord Mr. J who believes the draconian Miss Prendergast has knowledge of a vast horde of Egyptian gold…

When he kidnaps and tortures the old biddy, Willie and Modesty teach the sadistic thug a lasting lesson before uncovering a treasure and laying a ghost that has haunted Blaise for most of her life…

Wrapping up this trove of titanic tales is a traumatic exploration of the modern slave trade which sees Willie’s teen protégé Sam head out to Thailand as part of a mixed judo team. Sadly her youth, looks and bearing make her the perfect target for human traffickers Rosie Ling and Mr. Nagle-Green who boldly fake her death in broad daylight before stashing her on their ship full of ‘The Special Orders’ (April 6th to September 4th 1998) for rich and ruthless men…

Having been schooled by Garvin and Modesty, Sam is savvy enough to get off a message to the already suspicious (and en route) duo and takes matters into her own hands to rescue the girls. All she has to do is get them all off the ship, hole up in a suitable defensible position and keep safe until the enraged and remorseless cavalry arrives…

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.
Modesty Blaise © 2016 Associated Newspapers/Solo Syndication.

Good Dog, Bad Dog: Double Identity


By Dave Shelton (David Fickling Books)
ISBN: 978-1-910989-00-5

Win’s Christmas Gift Recommendation: A Boney Fido Mystery Thriller for fans of every stripe… 10/10

Way back in 2012, David Fickling Books launched a weekly comic for girls and boys that rapturously revived the grand old days of British picture-story entertainment intent whilst embracing the full force of modernity in style and content.

Still going strong, each issue offers humour, adventure, quizzes, puzzles and educational material: a joyous parade of cartoon fun and fantasy. Since its premiere, The Phoenix has gone from strength to strength, winning praise from the Great and the Good, child literacy experts and the only people who really count – the totally engaged kids and parents who read it…

As is the way of modern comics publishing, their greatest serial hits were soon gathered into a line of fabulously engaging album compilations. This splendidly constructed pastiche of detective thrillers is the latest: a winningly authentic murder mystery with anthropomorphic police pooches doggedly sloping through noir nostalgia (for those of us old enough to recognise it) on the seedily sordid streets of Muttropolis in search of killers – and worse – in the canine counterpart to Hollywood…

It’s not the first outing for curious cur Kirk Bergman (who thinks he’s a four-footed Sam Spade) and his beefy, astute and gently gigantic partner Duncan McBoo. They were previously seen in The Phoenix’s predecessor The DFC – by way of The Guardian, no lessand have lost none of their appeal in this further adventure, crafted as ever by Dave Shelton (A Boy and a Bear in a Boat) with sublime skill, seductive illustration, engaging word-play and a keen appreciation of the value of truly appalling puns …

Film freak McBoo is over the moon when their latest case takes them to Wiener Brothers Studios to investigate death threats against movie mogul Sam Weiner but soon sees that there’s nothing but trouble ahead in Tinseltown.

Twin brother Jack Wiener thinks it’s all a lot of hooey, but since Sam is off sick there’s little the police dogs can do except head back to the precinct. That all changes on the way out when a bomb seemingly intended for aging silver screen idol Dunstan Bassett apparently obliterates his stunt double Bump Henderson instead…

And so begins a cleverly constructed yet deadly game of bluff and deception, crammed to the rafters with hot dames, plucky assistants, raucous bar-fights, thrilling car chases, sinisterly suspicious strangers and quirky walk-on characters in a plot which cunningly twists and curves without ever losing itself in unnecessary complexity.

Bergman and McBoo each plays to his own strengths as they hunt a killer only to find that the victim isn’t dead but not all the suspects are necessarily alive…

Moody, suspenseful and outrageous, this yarn remains deliciously funny whilst honouring a deep dept and displaying a definite soft spot for the crime classics of yore, and is a perfect kid’s book every adult in the house will find impossible to put down.

Text and illustrations © Dave Shelton 2016. All rights reserved.

Good Dog, Bad Dog: Double Identity will be released on November 3rd 2016 and is available for pre-order now.

Why not check out the Phoenix experience at https://www.thephoenixcomic.co.uk/?

The Broons and Oor Wullie: The Sensational Sixties


By Dudley D. Watkins & various (DC Thomson)
ISBN: 978-0-85116-712-8

Win’s Christmas Gift Recommendation: Evergreen Seasonal Traditions Celebrated and the ideal last minute gift… 10/10

Published eternally in perfect tandem, The Broons and Oor Wullie are two of the longest running newspaper strips in British history, having appeared almost continuously in the Scottish Sunday Post since their dual debuts in the March 8th 1936 edition.

Both the boisterous boy and the gregariously engaging inner city clan were co-created by writer and Editor Robert Duncan Low in conjunction with Dudley D. Watkins; a man who would become DC Thomson’s greatest – and signature – artist.

Three years later the strips began being collected in reprint editions as Seasonal Annuals; alternating stars and years right up to the present day and remaining best-sellers every single time.

Low (1895-1980) began at the publishing monolith as a journalist, rising to the post of Managing Editor of Children’s Publication and launching, between 1921 and 1933, the company’s “Big Five” story-papers for boys: Adventure, The Rover, The Wizard, The Skipper and The Hotspur.

In 1936 his next brilliant idea was the Fun Section: an 8-page pull-out comic strip supplement for Scottish national newspaper The Sunday Post. The illustrated accessory launched on 8th March and from the very outset The Broons and Oor Wullie were its unchallenged stars…

Low’s shrewdest move was to devise both strips as domestic comedies played out in the charismatic Scottish idiom and broad unforgettable vernacular. Ably supported by features such as Auchentogle by Chic Gordon, Allan Morley’s Nero and Zero, Nosey Parker and other strips, they laid the groundwork for the company’s next great leap.

In December 1937 Low launched the DC Thomson’s first weekly pictorial comic. The Dandy was followed by The Beano in 1938 and early-reading title The Magic Comic the year after that.

War-time paper shortages and rationing sadly curtailed this strip periodical revolution, and it was 1953 before the next wave of cartoon caper picture-papers. The Topper started the ball rolling again (with Oor Wullie in the logo and masthead but not included amongst the magazine’s regular roster) in the same year that Low & the great Ken Reid created Roger the Dodger for The Beano

Low’s greatest advantage was his prolific illustrator Dudley Dexter Watkins, whose style, more than any other, shaped the look of DC Thompson’s comics output until the bombastic advent of Leo Baxendale shook things up in the mid-1950s.

Watkins (1907-1969) had started life in Manchester and Nottingham as an artistic prodigy. He entered Glasgow College of Art in 1924 and it wasn’t long before he was advised to get a job at Dundee-based DCT, where a 6-month trial illustrating boys’ stories led to comic strip specials and some original cartoon creations.

Percy Vere and His Trying Tricks and Wandering Willie, The Wily Explorer made him a dead cert for both lead strips in the Sunday Post’s proposed Fun Section and, without missing a beat, Watkins later added The Dandy’s Desperate Dan to his weekly workload in 1937, eventually including The Beano’s placidly and seditiously outrageous Lord Snooty seven months later.

Watkins soldiered on in unassailable homely magnificence for decades, drawing some of the most lavishly lifelike and winningly hilarious strips in illustration history. He died at his drawing board on August 20th 1969. For all those astonishingly productive years he had unflaggingly drawn a full captivating page each of Oor Wullie and The Broons every week, and his loss was a colossal blow to the company.

DC Thomson’s chiefs preferred to reprint old Watkins episodes of the strips in both the newspaper and the Annuals for seven years before a replacement was agreed upon. The Dandy reran Watkins’ Desperate Dan stories for twice that length of time.

An undeniable, rock-solid facet of Scots popular culture from the very start, the first Broons Annual (technically Bi-Annual) appeared in 1939, alternating with the first Oor Wullie book a year later (although, due to wartime paper restrictions, no annuals at all were published between 1943 and 1946) and for millions of readers no year can truly end without them.

This particular commemorative collection is tinged with sadness as the strips included here – probably written by David Donaldson, Iain Reid and some anonymous others – are perhaps the very best of Watkins’ astounding career, as well as his last.

So What’s the Set Up?: the Brown family inhabit a tenement flat at 10 Glebe Street, in the timelessly metafictional Scottish industrial everytown of Auchentogle (sometimes Auchenshoogle); based on the working class Auchenshuggle district of Glasgow. As such it’s an ideal setting in which to tell gags, relate events and fossilise the deepest and most reassuring cultural archetypes for sentimental Scots wherever in the world they might actually be residing. And naturally, such a region was the perfect sounding board to portray all the social, cultural and economic changes that came after the war…

The adamant, unswerving cornerstone of the family feature is long-suffering, ever-understanding Maw, who puts up with cantankerous, cheap, know-it-all Paw, and their battalion of stay-at-home kids. These comprise hunky Joe, freakishly tall Hen (Henry), sturdy Daphne, gorgeous Maggie, brainy Horace, mischievous twins Eck and the unnamed “ither ane” plus a wee toddling lassie referred to only as “The Bairn”.

Not officially in residence but always hanging around is sly, patriarchal buffoon Granpaw – a comedic gadfly who spends more time at Glebe Street than his own cottage and constantly tries to impart his decades of out-of-date, hard-earned experience to the kids… but do they listen?

Offering regular breaks from the inner city turmoil and a chance to simultaneously sentimentalise, spoof and memorialise more traditional times, the family frequently repair to their But ‘n’ Ben (a dilapidated rustic cottage in the Highlands) to fall foul of the weather, the countryside and all its denizens: fish, fowl, farm-grown, temporary and touristic…

As previously stated, Oor Wullie also launched on March 8th 1936 with his own collected Annual compilations subsequently and unfailingly appearing in the even years.

The basic set-up is sublimely simply and eternally evergreen, featuring an imaginative, scruff with a weakness for mischief, talent for finding trouble and no hope of ever avoiding parental retribution when appropriate…

Wullie – AKA William MacCallum – is an archetypal good-hearted rascal with time on his hands who can usually be found sitting on an upturned bucket at the start and finish of his page-a-week exploits. His regular cast includes Ma and Pa, local copper P.C. Murdoch, assorted teachers and other interfering adults who either lavish gifts or inflict opprobrium upon the little pest and his pals Fat Boab, Soapy Joe Soutar, Wee Eck and others. As a grudging sign of changing times, in later volumes such as this, he’s occasionally caught in the company of fetching schoolgirls like Rosie and Elizabeth

A compilation in monochrome with some full-colour pages, The Sensational Sixties was released in 1999 as part of a concerted drive to keep earlier material available to fans: a lavishly sturdy hardback (still readily available through internet vendors) offering a tantalising selection of Sunday pages from 1960 to August 24th 1959, covering every aspect of that white-hot era of rapid change, and yet all still uproariously funny even now…

Each year of selected gems commences with an atmospheric photo-clippings and news-headlines feature, book-ending every following year with a similar capsule feature of the unfolding years and usually accompanied by a colour Watkins cover or title-page from an Annual of the period.

The endless escapades of the strip stars comprise the happily standard subject-matter: galling goofs and gaffes, family frolics, sly pranks and cruel comeuppances: a regular menu of gloriously slapstick shenanigans including plumbing pitfalls, decorating disasters, fireplace fiascos, school foolishness, dating dilemmas, appliance atrocities, fashion freak-outs, bothered Bobbies, teacher tantrums, excessive exercise exploits, chore-dodging and childish pranks by young and old alike, all glimpsed through the lens of a comfortably traditional world inexorably transitioning as fashionable technology slowly altered the lives of everyone, whether they wanted it to or not…

 

Although The Beatles, political and celebrity assassinations, space races and moon-shots or Vietnam apparently played little part in the lives of our Scottish stars, contemporary dance crazes are acknowledged, as are student-hostellers, package holidays, electric blankets and long-haired, fashion-crazed boys. There’s even an increase in football-related japery in the 1966 and 1967 chapters for some reason…

Uncontested and always welcome are wry and weighted comparisons of the good old days with mere modernity, rib-tickling scenes of sledding and skating, stolen candies, Christmas revels, torn clothes, recycled comics, breakings into one’s own home, sparring school kids, ladies and lassies lost and found, harmless practical jokes and social scandals: stories intended to take our collective mind off troubles abroad and at home, and for every thwarted romance of poor Daphne and Maggie or embarrassing fiasco focussing on Paw’s cussed recalcitrance, there’s an uproarious chase, riotous squabble and no-tears scrap for the little ‘uns.

With snobs to deflate, bullies to crush, duels to fight, chips to scoff, games to win and rowdy animals (from cats to cows) to escape, the eternally affable humour and gently self-deprecating, inclusive frolics make these superbly crafted strips an endlessly entertaining, superbly nostalgic treat.

Fans of the creative process will also delight in bonus features such as unused pencilled pages of Watkins’ art and the fulsome tribute section showing the illustrator’s first and last Broons and Oor Wullie strips: simply four more of the near 3500 pages he immaculately conceived for the staunchly timeless features.

Packed with all-ages fun, rambunctious homespun hilarity and deliriously domestic warmth, these examples of comedic certainty and convivial celebration are a sure cure for post-modern glums… and you can’t really have a happy holiday without that, can you?
© D.C. Thomson & Co., Ltd. 1998.

The Art of Sean Phillips


By Sean Phillips, Eddie Robson and various (Dynamite Entertainment)
ISBN: 978-1-60690-420-6

Win’s Christmas Recommendation: A Magical Trawl through Fan-favourite Moments… 9/10

Sean Phillips started selling comic strips in 1980. He was 15 years old, still at school and for all intents and purposes “living the dream”. He’s been doing it ever since, with dedication, professionalism and ever-increasing proficiency.

This magnificent oversized (234 x 310 mm) hardback reproduces hundreds of comics pages and covers, plus an assortment of out-industry artwork, as accompaniment to an astonishingly forthright extended interview and career retrospective of the phenomenally talented and terrifying dedicated illustrator, covering his earliest cartooning efforts right through to his next big thing. There’s even baby pictures and school work. Of course Sean and his friends did make their first professional strip sale – to the local newspaper – when they were twelve…

Compiled by Phillips and writer and journalist Eddie Robson, with contributions from fellow artists, writers and editors the artist worked with over the decades, the book includes an Introduction from co-conspirator Ed Brubaker and offers many complete strips fans will probably never have seen.

As well as many unpublished works the gallery of visual wonder include early strips on “Girls” comics and Annuals such as Bunty, Judy and Diana For Girls as well as college work, try-out pages and portfolio pieces created with the sole purpose of getting into the cool mainstream…

Phillips is equally adept with paints and pen-&-ink and the book tracks his career as a jobbing artist through Bunty to early “mature reader” title Crisis (Crisis, New Statesmen, Straitgate), 2000AD and The Megazine (Armitage, Devlin Waugh), and that crucial jump to America as part of the “British Invasion”; producing features and one-offs at Vertigo and becoming part of the initial intake who launched and cemented the radical imprint’s look. Of particular interest and strongly emphasised are his runs on Kid Eternity, Hellblazer and The Invisibles.

The longed-for move into super-heroics began with Batman, a sidestep into Star Wars and back to Spider-Man. Early hints of later specialisation can be spotted in Scene of the Crime, Gotham Noir and Sleeper, but he was also busy with Wildcats and X-Men. He truly became a major name through the monumental sensation that was Marvel Zombies, but more attention here is paid to poorer-selling critical hit and career crossroads Criminal.

The parade of pictorial perfection continues with finished pages and original art from many more titles including User, Intersections, Incognito and more, strips and covers for licensed titles such as Serenity, Predator, Stephen King’s The Dark Tower spin-offs and for classic film repackager Criterion. Other non-comics work includes true lost gems such as political strip ‘Right Behind You’ from The Sunday Herald depicting how a certain meeting between George W. Bush and Tony Blair probably went as a certain invasion was discussed…

The comics conversation concludes with sneaky peeks at then-upcoming projects Fatale and European album Void 01 and we know just how damn good those both turned out…

Also sporting a healthy Bibliography section, heartfelt Acknowledgements and a Biography page, this massively entertaining, vibrant tome is as much an incisive and philosophical treatise on work-ethic as celebration of a stellar career telling stories in pictures: a beautiful, breathtaking and brilliantly inspirational compendium for the next generation of artists and writers, whatever their age.

If you already have the urge to make pictures but want a little encouragement, this rousing celebration offers all the encouragement you could possibly hope for – and is just plain lovely to look at too.
© 2013 Dynamite Entertainment. All artworks, characters, images and contributions © their respective creators or holders. All rights reserved.

The Broons and Oor Wullie 1939-1945: The Lighter Side of World War II


By R.D. Low & Dudley D. Watkins & various (DC Thomson)
ISBN: 978-0-85116-651-3

The Broons and Oor Wullie are, singly or in eternal conjunction, one of the longest running newspaper cartoon features in British history, having appeared continuously in Scotland’s The Sunday Post since their debut in the March 8th 1936 edition.

Both boisterous wee boy and eccentrically engaging working class clan were co-created by journalist, writer and Editor Robert Duncan Low and DC Thomson’s greatest artist Dudley D. Watkins. Once their addictively engaging strips began to be collected in reprint editions as Seasonal Annuals – with solo books or each star-feature appearing in alternate years, right up to the present day – the Broons and Oor Wullie became an international milestone, beloved by Scots far from home and all devotees of cartooning mastery.

Low (1895-1980) began at DC Thomson as a journalist, rising to the post of Managing Editor of Children’s Publication and launching, between 1921 and 1933, the company’s “Big Five” story papers for boys: Adventure, The Rover, The Wizard, The Skipper and The Hotspur.

In 1936 his next brilliant notion was the Fun Section: an 8-page comic-strip supplement to the publishing giant’s most popular national newspaper. This illustrated accessory launched on 8th March and from the outset The Broons and Oor Wullie were its standout stars…

Low’s shrewdest notion was devising both strips as domestic comedies played out in the charismatic Scottish idiom and vernacular. Supported by features such as Auchentogle by Chic Gordon, Allan Morley’s Nero and Zero, Nosey Parker amongst others, they laid the groundwork for the company’s next great leap. In December 1937 Low launched the very first DC Thomson weekly comic. The Dandy was cautiously followed by The Beano in 1938 and an early-reading title entitled The Magic Comic a year later.

War-time paper shortages and post-war rationing strictures curtailed this budding strip periodical revolution, and it was 1953 before the next wave of groundbreaking picture paper releases. The Topper started the ball rolling again (with Oor Wullie in the logo and masthead but not part of the magazine’s regular roster) and in that same year Low and Ken Reid created Roger the Dodger for The Beano

Low’s greatest weapon in those early days was his prolific illustrator Dudley Dexter Watkins, whose style shaped the look of DC Thompson’s comics output until the bombastic arrival of Leo Baxendale shook things up in the mid-1950s.

Watkins (1907-1969) had started life in Manchester and Nottingham as a genuine artistic prodigy before entering Glasgow College of Art in 1924. It wasn’t long before he was advised to get a job at burgeoning, Dundee-based DCT, where a 6-month trial illustrating boys’ stories led to comic strip specials and some original cartoon creations.

Percy Vere and His Trying Tricks and Wandering Willie, The Wily Explorer made him a the only choice for both lead strips in the new Fun Section and, without missing a beat, in 1937 Watkins added Dandy’s Desperate Dan to his weekly workload and Beano’s placidly outrageous Lord Snooty seven months later.

Watkins soldiered on in unassailable magnificence for decades, drawing some of the most lavishly lifelike and winningly hilarious strips in comics history. He died at his drawing board on August 20th 1969.

For all that time he had unflaggingly crafted a full captivating page each for Oor Wullie and The Broons every week as well as his many comics pages. His loss was a colossal blow to the company. DC Thomson reprinted old episodes of both strips in the newspaper and Annuals for seven years before a replacement was settled upon, whilst The Dandy reran Watkins’ Desperate Dan stories for twice that length of time.

A rock-solid facet of Scottish popular culture from the start, the first Broons Annual (technically Bi-Annual) had appeared in 1939, re-presenting the best of the Sunday strips; followed and replaced with Oor Wullie the next Christmas. However, as wartime paper restrictions increasingly began to bite, no annuals were published between 1943 and 1946.

Here you have a chance to scrutinise the rare strips of the war years in a sublime collection of pages tracking the cartoon icons’ experiences as typical folk getting by in the worst of all possible times…

Need a Mission Briefing?

Most of the multigenerational Brown family inhabit a tenement flat at 10 Glebe Street, in the timelessly metafictional Scottish industrial everytown of Auchentogle (sometimes alternatively dubbed Auchenshoogle and based on working-class Glasgow district of Auchenshuggle). It was and still is an ideal setting in which to tell gags, comment on events, spoof trends and fossilise the deepest and most reassuring cultural archetypes for sentimental Scots, wherever in the world they might actually be residing.

As is always the case, the adamant, unswerving keystone of any family feature is long-suffering, understanding Maw, who puts up with cantankerous, cheap, know-it-all Paw, and their battalion of stay-at-home kids – comprising in descending order of age and military preparedness – hunky, husky Joe, freakishly tall and thin Hen (Henry), sturdy Daphne, pretty Maggie, brainy Horace, mischievous twins Eck and the unnamed “ither ane” and a wee toddler referred to only as “The Bairn”.

Not officially billeted there but always hanging around is gruff patriarchal buffoon Granpaw – a comedic gadfly who spends more time at Glebe Street than his own cottage, constantly striving to impart decades of hard-earned if outdated experience to the kids…

Offering regular breaks from inner city turmoil and another chance to simultaneously sentimentalise, spoof and memorialise more traditional times, the family often repair to their But ‘n’ Ben (a dilapidated rustic cottage in the Highlands), always falling afoul of the weather, the countryside and all its denizens: fish, fowl, farm-grown and farm-folk…

In these wartime strips that formula was naturally disrupted as the entire family found different ways to contribute to the war-effort.

As able-bodied patriots, Joe and Hen instantly joined up but frequently found time to pop back to share tantalising tastes of the army game. Paw became an ARP (Air Raid Precautions) Warden – as did Granpaw – revealing exhausting nights on fire watch and days working at the ship yards, Maw worked with the Red Cross whilst the older girls joined the V.A.D. (Volunteer Aid Detachment). Was it merely joshing when their siblings reckoned it was just to meet more men in uniform…?

Even the fractious and boisterous young ‘uns found ways to “contribute”…

Oor Wullie also soldiered on, giving a splendidly childlike boost to morale with his own version of “chin up and carry on, regardless”. His basic set-up has always been sublimely simply and eternally evergreen: the lad is just an overly-imaginative, good-hearted scamp with a talent for finding trouble and no hope of ever avoiding parental retribution when it becomes appropriate…

Wullie – AKA William MacCallum – is an archetypal rascal with time on his hands. He can usually be found ruminatively sitting on an upturned tin bucket at the start and finish of his page-a-week exploits.

His regular cast includes Ma and Pa, local copper P.C. Murdoch, assorted embattled teachers, relatives and other interfering adults who lavish gifts or inflict opprobrium upon the little pest and his pals Fat Bob, Soapy Joe Soutar, Wee Eck et al.

During this period Wullie’s world was heavily populated with adults always ready to apply some corporal punishment and thuggish bullies equally eager to prove their physical superiority – a fact repeatedly explained away and apologised for by the embarrassed and more-evolved editors of our more civilised age…

The Lighter Side of World War II was released in 1997: part of a concerted drive to keep the earlier material available to fans. This lavish and sturdy hardback compilation (still readily available through internet vendors) offers a captivating selection of strips from April 30th 1939, with the conflict still brewing far away, and includes the entire war era before concluding in December 1945 as servicemen all over the Empire – including Hen and Joe – readied themselves for demobilisation and life on Civvie Street.

These mostly monochrome memos of mirth-under-fire begin with – and are periodically punctuated by – full-colour cover adaptations of early Annual frontispieces. In attendance are atmospheric and informative year-by-year photo-features, period editorial cartoons, fact pages and excerpted headlines from The Sunday Post and other newspapers of the time, all combining to create a chronological chronicle of the Second World War through warm, funny and indomitably defiant eyes…

The endless escapades begin in 1939 with a few pre-Hostilities traditional teasers starring Oor Wullie before The Broons kick off the “Big Show” with a strip from October 1st reflecting everyone’s sudden concern over food supplies and the draconian discipline of The Blackout. The situation soon becomes a new normal and the cartoon stars slip back into familiar gag territory enlivened by recurring themes such as Hen and Joe coming a cropper after getting the lasses to launder their uniforms…

Bonus feature ‘Oor Wullie’s War Effort’ offers a colourful perspective on the wee lad’s morale-boosting capers (with plenty of superbly cruel caricaturing of Axis leaders Hitler and Mussolini) and is followed by fact-filled asides revealing how a major publishing house accommodated the public drive to cut paper use and recycle whilst still plugging sales for Dandy, Beano and the rest…

Many Wullie strips dealt with the boisterous boy’s attempts to dodge school and join any branch of the Services who would take him, whilst, not to be outdone, Paw Broon became obsessed with spies, suspiciously bulging bags and foreign accents…

The New Year dawned with a comedy poem from the Oor Wullie 1940 Annual plus a photo-feature explaining how the conflict had progressed, after which the usual subject-matter – gleeful goofs, family frolics and slapstick tomfoolery – are augmented by gas-mask gags, bomb shelter shenanigans and childish war-games involving young and old alike, as well as strips addressing the perennial problem of how to throw parties under government restrictions. Moreover, you can’t spit (or polish) without hitting some posh officer in need of taking down a peg and all involved are constantly collecting scrap to Hurt the Hun…

A similar eccentric ode – ‘The Broons’ Hoose’ – culled from their 1941 Annual with attendant news-based picture-feature leads into that tumultuous year as an aura of artistic anarchy returned, with tales of good-natured poaching, calamitous make-do-and-mend moments, brief encounters with spivs, conmen and black marketeers as well as increased emphasis on making your own entertainment and growing your own food.

Every so often, however, the strips became a vehicle for public information as when Maw Broon uses her Co-Op “Divvy” to buy Government Savings Certificates. Every war brings out blowhards and know-it-alls, but the ones here always regret their windy pontificating whether the unwilling audiences contain Wullie or the Broon clan…

A selection of headlines, full-colour reproductions of the painted covers for 1941’s Broons and 1942’s Oor Wullie Annuals (the last ones until 1946) and the by-now traditional photo-piece precede a range of strips from the key year of the conflict, with rationing and privation now an accepted part of daily life.

It only made the strips more imaginative and funny as Watkins’s style matured into a mesmerising melding of smooth caricature with slickly realistic slapstick as morale-boosting sporting fixtures and brief forays into the countryside countered the grim or gloomy news in the rest of The Sunday Post. The year concludes with ‘At the Barber’s’: a Wullie strip from 1944 deconstructing the artist’s skill with line and form…

The 1943 photo-feature deals with good news from North Africa and Southern Italy and leads directly into yet more graphic goonery; but although specific events are never mentioned it’s clear that growing optimism is infecting all the cartoon characters. Many Wullie strips in particular could be happening before or after the conflict and no one would be any the wiser.

Men in uniform are far more common in the Broons segments, but here too they’re having fun, playing pranks and chasing lassies again…

‘Domestic Bliss’ is another deconstructed exploration of Dudley Watkins’ astounding facility with comedy staging and characterisation and precedes the 1944 photo-feature which concentrates naturally enough on D-Day.

What follows is a splendid succession of classic gag outings, with sweets back in stock, eggs aplenty, holiday outings, hospital visits and parties taking the attention away from the real world. Proper Toffs are regularly embarrassed again, officious policemen outraged and teachers are once more hard-pressed to keep control as Wullie returns to japes, misguided helpfulness and get rich-quick schemes, whilst the Glebe Street irregulars go back to teasing Daphne and Maggie over thwarted romances, finding new definitions for Paw’s cussedness, embarrassing Maw in front of guests and indulging in all sorts of uproarious bad behaviour…

After a selection of Sunday Post headlines from 1943-1945, the accompanying history photo concentrates on V.E. Day 1945 showing renewed exuberance, focusing on servicemen and loved ones coming home and funny business very much back getting back to normal.

Most individual years are especially celebrated with their specific memorable and joy-inducing Christmas/Hogmanay strips and the collection concludes with Wullie’s May 13th celebration of the European war’s ending whilst The Broons episode for December 2nd 1945 shows Joe and Hen still in uniform but unable to tell the difference between home chores when On Leave and Jankers when back in Camp…

Crammed with all-ages fun, rambunctious hilarity and comfortably domestic warmth, these inspirational examples of enviable disgrace and wit under fire celebrate a mythic lost life and time are a sure cure for post-modern glums… and you can’t say fairer than that, can you?
© D.C. Thomson & Co., Ltd. 1997.

Dr. Who – The Eleventh Doctor volume 1: After Life


By Al Ewing, Rob Williams, Simon Fraser, Boo Cook & various (Titan Comics)
ISBN: 978-1-78276-385-7

Doctor Who was first seen on black-&-white TV screens on November 23rd 1963 in the first episode of ‘An Unearthly Child’. Less than a year later his decades-long run of adventures in TV Comic began with issue #674 and the premier instalment of ‘The Klepton Parasites’. Throughout the later Sixties and early 1970’s, strips appeared in Countdown (later re-titled TV Action) before shuttling back to TV Comic.

On 11th October 1979 (although adhering to the US off-sale cover-dating system so it says 17th) Marvel’s UK subsidiary launched Doctor Who Weekly, which evolved into a monthly magazine in 1980 and has been with us under various names ever since.

All of which only goes to prove that the Man from Gallifrey is a hero with an impressive pedigree and hard to kill in any medium…

In recent years the strip division of the Whovian mega-franchise has roamed far and wide and currently rests with British publisher Titan Comics who have sagely opted to run parallel series starring the Tenth, Eleventh, and Twelfth incarnations of the trickily turbulent Time Lord.

These tales starring the Matt Smith incarnation comprise the first five issues of the 2014 monthly comicbook; set just after the Time Lord restarted our imploding universe and saw his companions Amy Pond and Rory Williams married and settled down.

Naturally, the gregarious Galloping Gallifreyan is soon in the mood for a little company, as seen in ‘After Life’ scripted by Al Ewing (Captain America and the Mighty Avengers, Loki: Agent of Asgard) and Rob Williams (Cla$$war, Thanos) illustrated by Simon Fraser (Nikolai Dante, Lilly MacKenzie).

She wasn’t dead, but Alice Obiefune’s life seemed to end after her mother passed way. Things started falling apart and Library Assistant Alice was drifting head-first into a bleak grey world of sucking depression.

Everything changed in an instant when a weird rainbow dog/dragon/thingie raced down the High Street, followed by a strange beanpole man in tweed jacket and bowtie. Barely pausing for breath, he somehow got her to help him chase it.

They would have caught it too, if he hadn’t seen something sinister at the edge of his vision and run into a lamppost…

He then vanished, leaving Alice breathless and bewildered, but popped back a little later when she was safely back in her memory-blighted house. He said she seemed sad and made tea…

Alice was suitably impressed by the incredible TARDIS, but couldn’t help thinking the strange self-confessed alien seemed lonely…

Eager to show off, The Doctor gave her the guided tour of his incredible ship, but Alice kept thinking about the rainbow critter and soon the Doctor was too. Kharitite Joy Beasts home in on negative emotion and bulk up on the mass and energy they generate. However it got there, a miserable, avaricious, angry place like London was no place to leave one wandering about…

The proof of that occurred when they tracked it to the Houses of Parliament in time to stop a riot becoming a bloodbath. Happily The Doctor had a rather good idea about how to calm down the overwhelmed Kharitite…

With new Companion firmly onboard, the roaming wonderment continues in a jaunt to Rokhandi. What was supposed to be a visit to the most beautiful planet in the universe is spoiled when the TARDIS materialises in a cheap and shoddy global theme park…

‘The Friendly Place’ (Ewing & Fraser) is crass, artificial and toxically anodyne but its not long before The Doctor and Alice uncover a sinister presence lobotomising troublemakers, vandals and people who refuse to be happy. With typical rebellious zeal the Time Lord and the Library Assistant challenge the massed delight of the customers and soon uncover a rapacious scheme by corporate powerhouse ServeYouInc

Moreover – thanks to the oddities of temporal mechanics – they meet for the very first time an old enemy who despises them for all their past/future meddling…

Security Chief August Hart is happy to share the secret of the alien wish-granting thing they’ve used to pacify and lobotomise troublesome visitors, but when he makes it enter the Gallifreyan’s mind, the result is not what the moneymen were expecting…

In fact that brief cerebral contact will have repercussions up and down the timeline…

Blithely unaware, the time travellers think it’s “job done” and hurtle home. However, in 1930 Mississippi a most ominous Talent Scout is trading potential fame for relative inconsequentials. The wishes he grants are on behalf of ServeYouInc, but ‘What He Wants…’ (Williams & Fraser) is largely unknown.

He’ll probably get it though, since an ensorcelled Doctor has succumbed to the effects of the corporation’s wishing-entity and become just another of his beguiled slaves. Hopefully Alice and before-he-was-famous Rock Legend John Jones can help bluesman guitar god Robert Johnson work with the consciousness of the TARDIS to save the day and the world…

Some secrets of ServeYouInc and the initial clash with August Hart are then exposed in ‘Whodunnit?’ by Ewing & Boo (Elephantmen, Judge Dredd) Cook, as the charming chrononauts – sucked in by an impending paradox – accidentally arrive at a commercial alien science station in the far future where a years-long conspiracy has boiled over into tragedy…

Something has breached the station and is attacking the staff, plundering their minds and leaving them in comas…

Naturally, nothing is truly as it seems and despite the best efforts of jumped-up, gun-happy temporary Security Chief Hart, the shocking truth about what has been going on in the name of science and profit is exposed when The Doctor, Alice and Jones meet an incredible creature drawn to ‘The Sound of Our Voices’

Smart, warm, edgy and subtly hilarious, this premier volume comes with loads of bonus material such as short comedy strips by AJ and David Leach, Marc Ellerby’s sitcom featuring assorted Pond Life, behind-the-scenes production photos and a vast gallery of alternate and variant covers (photographic, digitally manipulated, painted and/or drawn) by the likes of Fraser, Alice X. Zhang, Rob Farmer and Verity Glass.

If you’re a fan of the small screen Time Lord, this book might well make you an addict to both. After Life is a glorious treat for casual readers, a fine additional avenue for devotees of the TV show to explore and a perfect opportunity to cross-promote our art-form to anyone minded to give comics a proper go…
BBC, Doctor Who (word marks, logos and devices) and Tardis are trade marks of the British Broadcasting Corporation and are used under licence. BBC logo © BBC 1996. Doctor Who logo © BBC 2009. Tardis image © BBC 1963. First edition April 2015.