Rivers of London: Body Work


By Ben Aaronovitch, Andrew Cartmel, Lee Sullivan & Luis Guerrero (Titan Comics)
ISBN: 978-1-78276-187-7

Ben Aaronovitch has been delighting fantasy fans for years, mostly through his television work on others people’s creations (Dr. Who: Remembrance of the Daleks and Battlefield, Jupiter Moon, Casualty and numerous licensed novels and audio-books), but really came into his own in 2011 when the Rivers of London (Midnight Riot in the USA) novel was released.

A supernatural police procedural saga with its sixth volume eagerly anticipated any moment now, it features the adventures of Peter Grant; the first Metropolitan Police officer in 70 years to transfer to the Special Assessment Unit, more commonly known as “Falcon” or the “weird shit” department. This well-known secret squad deals with all the magic and spooky stuff no sensible copper will admit occurs…

Grant’s boss there is the exceptionally dapper and imperturbable Inspector Nightingale who is far older than he looks and knows an awful lot about magic. As previously stated, Grant is his first Wizard’s Apprentice in decades…

The stories authentically resonate within the actual environs and legends of the big city, and amongst the pantheon of paranormal characters most prominent are the living spirits of the rivers which run through, beneath and between the boroughs of the macabre metropolis and the Thames Valley it lurks in…

This all-new yet canonical sequentially-illustrated tale sits between the fourth and fifth prose novels; written by Aaronovitch and Andrew Cartmel, with art by the splendid Lee Sullivan and colourist Luis Guerrero.

The eponymous ‘Body Work’ started life as a 4-part monthly miniseries in July 2015 and opens, as so many police stories do, with an attention-grabbing death. What looks like a simple drowning gets dead scary dead quick when Peter Grant ambles into the SOCO clean-up, his indefinable instincts calling him to a situation which, although still unclear, is clearly unnatural…

Soon he’s on the trail of a haunted car which should have been destroyed but has instead been broken up for parts, scattering a lethal compulsion amongst an assortment of owners all now unwitting receptacles for a pitiless centuries-old force craving death and somehow connected to water.

Before long Grant and Nightingale (with his inimitable hound familiar Toby) are tracking down leads and the eldritch elder soon uncovers links to his own greatest failure and dereliction of duty…

Fast paced, funny-&-thrilling by turn and packed with intriguing, individualistic supporting characters, Body Work is above all a solid mystery which both curious neophytes and dedicated devotees of the prose iteration will delight in solving along with our quirky cast.

Cheekily augmenting the main case are a series of blackly comedic and often surreal vignettes starring the supporting cast beginning with Tales from the Thames starring Beverley Brook in ‘Off their Trolley’ with the cheeky Naiad teaching some drunken upper-class sods a lesson about dumping trash, whilst sinister serving wench Molly stars in ‘Red Mist’ – a gory Tale from The Folly – followed by another seeing astounding canine wonder Toby triumphing over a zombie apocalypse on the ‘Night of the Living Dog’.

Aaronovitch, Cartmel, Alan Quah & Guerrero then offer a chilling and silent extended Halloween diversion in ‘Sleep No More’ and the extra duties close with a final brace of Tales from The Folly as Toby submits to his sodden fate in ‘Pursuit’ before Nightingale gets the gang together for a festive emergency in ‘Urgent Summons’.

Including a large covers and variants gallery and whimsical page of Creator Biographies, this is a splendid genre-blending yarn for lovers of cops-&-wizards fans who also love playing Dungeons and Dragnets.
Rivers of London ™ and © 2016 Ben Aaronovitch. All rights reserved.

Rivers of London: Body Work will be released on March 18th 2016

GoodCopBadCop

GoodCopBadCop

By Jim Alexander, Luke Cooper, Gary McLaughlin & Will Pickering with an Introduction by John Wagner (Rough Cut Comics)
ISBN: 978-0-9546726-6-9

GoodCopBadCop Casebook #2

By Jim Alexander, Luke Cooper, Will Pickering & Jim Campbell (Rough Cut Comics)
ISBN: 978-0-9546726-7-6

Seasoned old lags at getting the very best out of finite resources, fresh talent and strong ideas, Jims Alexander and Campbell with their compadres at Planet Jimbot have been crafting superbly enthralling – and in this particular case, award-winning – graphic narratives for a goodly time now.

This brace of superbly chilling crime compendia were originally crafted by the team and published by Rough Cut Comics, but since the title has now reverted to the Jimbots (the first issue of the next Casebook will star in a forthcoming Small Press Sunday) it’s long past due to give the series a lingering look…

Writer Alexander’s prodigious back catalogue includes Calhab Justice and other strips for 2000AD, Star Trek the Manga and a broad variety of comics and strips for The Dandy, DC, Marvel, Metal Hurlant, and loads of other places, and here turns his conceptual spotlight on City of Glasgow Police Inspector Brian Fisher; a worthy, weary, dedicated public servant with the oddest partner an honest copper could ever imagine…

Following an effusive and thought-proving Introduction from John Wagner, the scene is set with debut ‘Report Ident: GCBC’ (art by Gary McLaughlin, lettering Jim Campbell) wherein the traditional confrontation between thoroughly-nicked ratbag and legally-hamstrung policeman takes a very dark turn after the other guy in Brian’s head gets out and conducts the remainder of an interview with an axe-murderer in a bloodily fitting manner…

‘Mrs MacPhellimey’ then sees the other Brian leak out and act in most uncharacteristic manner when confronting a little old lady with a husband-shaped patch of dirt in her garden…

This is followed by a stylish tweak on prose short story telling, wherein Fisher’s tediously dogged hunt for legendary burglar ‘the Partick Cat’ is detailed through incident reports submitted alternately by Brian and the other Brian…

Having swiftly established the conceptual set-up, ‘Three Strikes’ returns to strip format and expands the cast with the introduction of Detective Sergeant Julie Spencer, who fruitlessly attempts to get Fisher fraternising with the other officers. The motivational engine then kicks in as Brian finds a child-abductor just a little too late…

Allowing his Other to deal with the killer is the right thing to do, but afterwards the decent copper resolves that since they have at last crossed a real line, he and himself only get two more chances between them…

The prose reports continue with the hunt for that burglar turning up a rather fishy lead, after which the comics crimebusting resumes as Under Investigation’ (illustrated by Will Pickering) offers the first hint that Brian’s condition is not a complete secret.

Despite a scrupulously honest and forthright interview with the Anti-Corruption Unit, relating recent – and excessively bloody – incidents involving a nuclear submarine and a legendary local gang-boss, Fisher is given a clean sheet and pat on the back…

The text trail of the Partick Cat concludes by way of sharp observation and a treatise on the nature of Glaswegian cuisine before the gripping drama ends as every great TV cop show should, with a tensely suspenseful cliffhanger…

‘Tiny Acts of Kindness’ (with Luke Cooper handling the art) opens as Julie gets a glimpse of the other Fisher when they confront smash-&-grab specialist Ricardo Dreyfus and his family crew. Elsewhere in Clydebank, meanwhile, a macabre and grotesque serial killer is having his special kind of fun…

After the bruised and battered Ricardo lawyers up and walks, easy-going, patient DI Fisher moves on to a missing persons case which seems to lead to a local church, but the other Brian still has his mind set on dealing with the Dreyfus clan…

To Be Continued…

Following an Introduction from author Douglas Skelton, the urban Hibernian atrocities carry on in GoodCopBadCop Casebook #2 with the grim continuation and grisly conclusion of ‘Tiny Acts of Kindness’ with Luke Cooper again illuminating Jim Alexander’s stories on our Jekyll and Hyde law enforcer.

It begins with a dismembered body in the river: apparently not that rare an occurrence in Glasgow. DS Julie Spencer is handling the recovery as Fisher is elsewhere.

When the Dreyfus boys turn over a local supermarket, Brian is waiting and happily lets the other Detective Inspector make the arrests… eventually…

Spencer is furious at his solo showboating but soon gets to the nub of the problem: why was Bruce Dreyfus floating in neat sections rather than on the raid with Ricardo and Uncle William?

A quiet chat with their Aunt Morag soon sets them on the trail of a rather odd cleric at the church and his connection to Russian orphans. Not long after, freshly severed fingers start turning up in the post…

And that’s where I’m stopping. The convoluted mystery cleverly unwinds with chilling complexity, loads of twisty-turny surprises and a succession of shocking moments, so if you don’t read these books you’ll have to wait for some media clever-clogs to turn this into a movie or preferably a BBC FOUR late-night Scandi-style drama serial…

You’ll thank me for it in the long run…

Prose Incident Reports – alternately submitted by Brian and Brian – serve to clear the palates whilst offering more thoughts on Glasgow’s gastro-culture and providing fascinating – and scarily hilarious – peeks into Fisher’s early life.

Before he was a quietly effective Detective, Brian Fisher learned his trade in the mounted police division and spent many educational hours doing community policing for the Violence Reduction Unit, visiting schools where the kids were more ruthlessly ferocious than any full-grown bad guy…

The Cops-&-Horrors show closes with a startling turning point as Julie at last sees the other Brian in full flow ‘Twisting the Knife’ (Pickering art) with a wounded suspect. When she quite naturally reports her observations to the Chief Superintendent, she is terrified and astounded by his response…

This deftly underplayed, chillingly believable and outrageously black-humoured serial is a magnificent addition to the annals of Tartan Noir: smart, compelling, compassionate and fiercely engaging. If you like your crime yarns nasty and your heroes deeply flawed, GoodCopBadCop is a series you must not miss.
All characters and distinctive names and likenesses thereof are © Planet Jimbot and used under license by Rough Cut Comics.

Planet Jimbot has a splendid online shop so why not check it out?

Modesty Blaise: Ripper Jax


By Peter O’Donnell & Enric Badia Romero (Titan Books)
ISBN: 978-1-78329-858-7

Modesty Blaise and her lethally adept, knife-throwing, compulsively platonic partner Willie Garvin gained fearsome reputations as infallible super-criminals heading underworld gang The Network before retiring 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 perpetual storm of tense suspense and inspirational action for nearly forty years…

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 13 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’ superbly scrupulous chronological serial re-presentations of the ultimate trouble-shooters resume here, with O’Donnell & Romero offering four more masterpieces of mood mystery sand mayhem only pausing for intriguing Introduction ‘Modest Morality’: an insightful overview of the wonder woman’s ethics and motivation from author and incurable fan-addict Simon Barnes (How to be a Bad Birdwatcher, The Sacred Coombe, Ten Million Aliens).

The suspenseful dramas open with Ripper Jax (originally run in The Evening Standard from May 4th to October 2nd 1995), wherein Modesty and Willie repay an old blood-debt to psychometricist and antiquarian bookseller Mr. Haley. The old gentleman has a daughter who’s a bit of a wild child and now she’s been kidnapped by psychotic, knife-throwing gang boss Ripper Jax.

The thoroughly nasty flesh-peddler is after two million pounds hidden by a thief who is beyond his usual means of coercion and persuasion, but for a man who can find things by mental divination all things are possible…

Naturally the Dynamic Duo leap to the distraught dad’s defence, but a little pre-raid intelligence-gathering around the villain’s medieval castle in Ireland not only reveals the huge odds arranged against them but also that it might not be a simple abduction and trade that’s going on…

Moreover, Jax soon knows the troubleshooters are coming but doesn’t care. He’s always wanted to test his knives and skill against the legendary bladesman Willie Garvin…

The scene shifts to the antipodes for The Maori Contact (3rd October 2nd 1995 – March 1st 1996) as Willie helps some old friends finish a magnificent, hand-carved traditional Waka. The 100-foot native war-canoe is the crowning triumph of British sculptor Jason Nash and his wife Carol, but they have no idea of the problems brewing…

In London, Modesty is just learning from Jason’s uncle Sir Gerald Tarrant that Carol has inherited millions of pounds from a crazy relative she had no notion of, even as Willie and Jason foil an abduction attempt which leaves one kidnapper dead and poor hubby with blood on his hands…

Rushing out on the first jet to New Zealand, Modesty and Tarrant are unaware that Carol’s sole rival for the inheritance is already on his way ahead to them, having hired one of the few criminal organisations in the world undaunted by the lethal reputations of Blaise and Garvin.

Not prepared to leave it at that, Carol’s unknown enemy also recruits an army of local riff raff to play back-up, but has completely underestimated the devious duo’s experience in whittling down overwhelming odds and uncanny ability to find helpful allies in the strangest places…

A startling glimpse into Modesty’s criminal days running The Network underpins Honeygun (March 4th to August 2nd 1996), revealing how her life was saved by a merciless mercenary killer.

Sadly the striking Eurasian assassin was too depraved and kill-hungry to be allowed to join Modesty’s gang and left in a huff with a solemn promise that Modesty owed her a debt which would one day be called in…

Years later that obligation becomes a deadly burden when Willie and “the Princess” are relaxing in their Tangiers home. Modesty is spending time with her occasional paramour Dr. Giles Pennyfeather when Honeygun resurfaces, orchestrating a heist which goes bloodily awry.

Trapped in the Kasbah with the cops closing in, the sociopathic killer calls in her debt and Modesty reluctantly spirits her away before the police can swoop…

Blaise’s misgivings over the rescue are soon proved true when Honeygun kills an Israeli diplomat and his chauffeur and subsequently abducts Giles from his hospital to remove a bullet from one of her henchmen wounded in the exchange of fire…

Torn by guilt, Modesty resolves to stop Honeygun for good. Before long she and Willie have tracked the crazy killer and her increasingly anxious army of hired guns to a derelict Roman fort and begun the perilous task of extracting Giles and cutting down the odds. With the worst storm in decades brewing, Modesty has to deal with one final hiccup when her darling doctor refuses to leave without his critically injured patient…

This catalogue of compelling crookedness and catastrophic crime-busting concludes with a gripping yarn wherein Modesty and Willie rush to the rescue of old friends Dinah and Stephen Collier in the raw heart of the Guatemalan jungle.

The professor and his blind, psychic wife were working for Blaise’s occasional lover John Dall, divining potential drill sites for the billionaire’s oil company when they were taken by a gang of rebels led by the charismatic maniac Durango (August 5th 1996 to January 3rd 1997)…

Rapidly swinging into action, Blaise and Garvin go native and attempt to infiltrate the band in the manner that’s worked so well so often, but things go south swiftly when Durango turns out to be old Network adversary Lazaya who instantly recognises them and decides to ransom them instead….

With everything going wrong the partners in peril have to think fast, act boldly and ruthlessly exploit every advantage to save their friends and themselves, but as always the final arbiter is a study in applied violence…

These are incomparable capers crafted by brilliant creators at the peak of their powers; revelling in the sheer perfection of an iconic creation. Unforgettable shock and suspense-stuffed escapades packed with sleek sex appeal, dry wit, terrific tension and explosive action, the stories grow more appealing with every rereading and never fail to deliver maximum impact and total enjoyment.
Modesty Blaise © 2014 Associated Newspapers/Solo Syndication.

Modesty Blaise: Ripper Jax is available for pre-order now and will be published on March 4th 2016.

Tamsin and the Deep


By Neill Cameron & Kate Brown (David Fickling Books)
ISBN: 978-1-910200-77-3

In January 2012 Oxford-based family publisher David Fickling Books launched a traditional anthology comics weekly aimed at under-12 girls and boys which revelled in reviving the good old days of picture-story entertainment intent whilst embracing the full force of modernity in style and content.

Each issue offers humour, adventure, quizzes, puzzles and educational material in a joyous parade of cartoon fun and fantasy. In the years 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 astoundingly engaged kids and parents who read it…

Like the golden age of Beano and Dandy the magazine masterfully manages the magical trick of marrying hilarious humour strips with potently powerful adventure serials such as the subject of this latest compilation: a wondrous seaside sorcerous saga with intriguing overtones of The Little Mermaid, by way of the darker works of Alan Garner.

Written by Neill Cameron (Mega Robo Bros, How to Make Awesome Comics, Pirates of Pangea) and beguilingly illustrated by Kate Brown (Young Avengers, Manga Shakespeare: A Midsummer Night’s Dream, Fish + Chocolate), the fishy tale opens with a ‘Prologue’ on the Cornish coast as a young girl berates her older brother Morgan. He promised to teach her how to surf but is just messing about with his mates.

Fed up, she leaves her dog Pengersek on the sands, swipes a bodyboard and paddles out alone. After all how hard can it be?

When the big wave hits and she goes down for the final time, she’s sure she feels a grip on her foot and sees a green fishy face…

The story proper starts when ‘Tamsin’ drags herself ashore coughing and gasping. Somehow she’s drifted miles down the coast and with nobody there to help has to make her own way home. Her leg hurts and the bus driver won’t let her on (she’s soaking wet and without cash) but at least she’s still got that old stick she picked up somewhere to lean on…

There are even more surprises when she finally staggers home. Mum goes absolutely crazy and Morgan is clearly scared. Maybe it’s because their dad was lost at sea nine years ago, but it’s probably the fact that Tamsin vanished a month ago and has been declared drowned…

The police have loads of questions she can’t answer but as far as Tamsin knows she was only gone a few minutes, so eventually life settles back into a normal routine – apart from Morgan acting oddly and her own increasingly nasty dreams.

Things get bad again a few nights later. Awakening from a particularly vivid nightmare, Tamsin discovers she’s clutching that stick and riding a surfboard… hundreds of feet above the town! Moreover, from her shocking vantage point, she can see Morgan. He’s slowly walking into the sea…

Without pausing, she zooms into the roaring brine and yanks the sleepwalker out, blithely unaware that hostile, piscatorial eyes are angrily watching…

Morgan is shattered. He’s been having nightmares too, and sleepwalking. It’s probably from guilt but every time he wakes up he’s been heading for the sea…

‘A Nice Day Out’ sees Tamsin taking a little “me time”. Finding a secluded spot to practise flying with the aid of what is clearly a magic stick, she revels in her new gifts but from high above she sees Morgan is still unsettled. He’s sworn not to go near the water and even quit the local surfing competition but he’s clearly scared of something. Later, to cheer up her kids, mum drags them to the beachside amusements where Morgan meets an enigmatic girl who convinces him to re-enter the event…

Tamsin meanwhile has had another strange encounter: after having her ice cream stolen by a pixie thing, she meets a cocky Blackbird (he says he’s a Chough) who snidely and loquaciously tells her it was an Undine before warning her to keep Morgan well away from water…

She’s almost too late: her brother has wiped out in the early heats and is being pulled under by a gloating mermaid when Tamsin blasts into the depths on her board. She explosively rips him free of her clawed clutches, hurtling them both high into the air before landing in a terrified heap on the beach…

With the sorcerous she-wight fuming below the waves and planning further mischief, in the sunshine Tamsin shares her secret with traumatised big brother before discovering a little ‘Family Mythology’ after that smug bird returns…

Knowledge comes at a steep price however and her learning curve involves an awful lot of fighting against a lot of awful creatures before Tamsin is ready to save Morgan from a horrible fate hundreds of years in the making…

Apprised of a fantastic heritage and now fully prepared to combat a generational curse that has seen all the males of her line swallowed by ‘The Deep’, Tamsin prepares herself for a fantastic battle against the finned demon, but the foe is impatient and launches her own monstrous invasion of the surface-world which soon has the entire town in uproar…

Once the foam settles triumphant Tamsin tries to ease back into a normal routine but that ill-omened bird returns for an ‘Epilogue’, explaining that she now has a mission for life – protecting Cornwall from all mystic threats – and her next crisis has already started…

This yarn is a fabulous blend of scary and fabulous, introducing a splendid new champion for kids of all ages to cheer on with the promise of more to come in the forthcoming Tamsin and the Dark

Boisterous, bold and bombastically engaging, this is a romp of pure, bright and breezy supernatural thrills just the way kids love them, leavened with brash humour and straightforward sentiment to entertain the entire family.

Text © Neill Cameron 2016. Illustrations © Kate Brown 2016.
Tamsin and the Deep will be released on February 4th 2016 and is available for pre-order now.

Scarlett Couture


By Des Taylor (Titan Comics)
ISBN: 978-1-78276-062-7

During the early 1960s the world went crazy for suave and stylish superspies like James Bond, Napoleon Solo & Ilya Kuryakin, Matt Helm and Derek Flint. They even accepted – to a lesser degree – such distaff operatives as Modesty Blaise, Honey West and April Dancer (The Girl from U.N.C.L.E.).

Now with our multimedia-mad world again embracing the astonishing entertainment value of espionage extravaganzas there’s a healthy new crop of shadowy spooks, urbane operatives and ferocious femmes fatale vying for our attention but none more sleekly eye-catching than this late entry from triple-threat creator Des Taylor…

Simple, straightforward and as on-target as a sinister sniper sortie, this eye-catching yarn deftly blends the ultra-glamorous worlds of high fashion and movie blockbuster spy-craft; with this initial compilation collecting first 4-issue foray ‘Project Stardust’.

As is so often the case, the drama begins with a beautiful woman being tortured by a maniac…

She is no ordinary victim, however, but one of a number of high profile supermodels from the Chase Couture Agency, abducted during gigs in Las Vegas. The story is soon top of the news all over the world, but all those fervid journalists would be even more strident if they knew the truth.

The celebrated cheesecake-and-clothes club is actually a highly specialised CIA front dating back decades to when luscious Chase Carver created “The Showroom” for “The Company”: building a bevy of beautiful, glamorous patriotic honey-traps extensively trained to get information from powerful but ultimately fallible and predictable men…

Now the project is a very visible (quasi) legitimate concern, Chase is the indomitable matriarch of a fashion empire and her daughter Scarlett is the business’ extremely formidable Chief of Security. Some of the most accomplished girls on their books are still proper spies though…

Scarlett is a girl with a past. As a teenager she was kidnapped herself: held for more than a week until rescued by some very special agents who then became her teachers in a number of unique disciplines and skill-sets. Now they also work for mommy dearest…

Tonight the daughter is hot on the trail of her missing employees and has tracked them to a warehouse in Brooklyn, but as she breaches the seedy building all her suspicions are confirmed as a lethal trap closes around her…

The over-zealous gunmen are no match for Scarlett or her support team, but the nasty surprise the crazy torturer left on one of the captive girls almost ends the investigation before it’s begun…

And as the ultra-rich masterminds behind the scheme confer it becomes clear what the stakes are in a truly high risk game: one that has a shocking connection to the Couture family line…

When a third SC model is found executed in her own New York apartment Scarlett and her handler at Covert Investigations Group back-trace her to Vegas too, and attentions switch to Sin City “businessman” Dante Ramon just as the rest of the world’s focus is on the US Secretary of Defense’s visit to the city…

And that’s only the opening gambit in this rollicking, rollercoaster romp set solidly in the style of the Roger Moore/Pierce Brosnan Bond extravaganzas, involving shady pasts, sinister cabals, crazy radical terror groups, Machiavellian Get-Super-Rich-Quick villains, sunken planes, Nazi-bio-weapons and a proper sting in the tale; all the tried-and-true tropes of sexy spy thrillers from Charlie’s Angels via Emma Peel to La Femme Nikita

Delivered in a superbly enticing animation-based illustrative style, this deceptively enticing spicy package also includes Special Bonus material such as ‘Dossiers & Mission Log’ offering profiles on ‘Scarlett Eva Carver’, her mega-mysterious mum ‘Chase Elizabeth Carver’, tutors/sidekicks ‘Spencer Kelly’ and ‘Trent Wayland’ as well as crusty curmudgeon/NYC cop dad ‘Lt. Jack Andrew Gillis’.

Adding to the attractions are a mocked-up photo-cover of ‘Hot Profile Magazine: The Chase Couture Collection Issue’, ‘Somebody Call Security’ a faux fashion-mag interview with Scarlett and a plus-sized ‘Gallery section’ featuring covers, photos (of actual model Viktoria Dobos – the visual inspiration for her), sketches, promo artwork, unused cover art and a selection of book covers from a proposed run of novels entitled ‘Scarlett Couture Pulp Designs’

Glitzy, fast-paced, inviting and superbly seductive, this is an action-packed asset to secure the undying attention of every red-blooded armchair operative.

Scarlett Couture will return in…
Scarlett Couture is ™ and © 2015 Des Taylor.

Blackhawk Album #1


By Dick Dillin, Chuck Cuidera, Jack Kirby, Sheldon Moldoff, George Roussos, Mort Meskin, Nick Cardy, Frank Frazetta, Bill Ely, Bob Brown & various (Strato Publications)
No ISBN:

Here’s another long-lost oddity of the eccentric and exotic British comics market that might be of passing interest to curio collectors and unrepentant comics nerds like me.

The early days of the American comicbook industry were awash with both opportunity and talent and those factors happily coincided with a vast population hungry for cheap entertainment.

The new medium of comicbooks had no acknowledged fans or collectors; only a large, transient market open to all varied aspects of yarn-spinning and tale-telling – a situation which publishers believed maintained right up to the middle of the 1960s. Thus, in 1940 even though America was loudly, proudly isolationist and more than a year away from any active inclusion in World War II, creators like Will Eisner and publishers like Everett M. (“Busy”) Arnold felt Americans were ready for a themed anthology title Military Comics.

Nobody was ready for Blackhawk.

Military #1 launched at the end of May 1941 (with an August cover-date) and included in its gritty, two-fisted line-up Death Patrol by Jack Cole, Miss America, Fred Guardineer’s Blue Tracer, X of the Underground, The Yankee Eagle, Q-Boat, Shot and Shell, Archie Atkins and Loops and Banks by “Bud Ernest” (actually aviation-nut and unsung comics genius Bob Powell), but none of these strips, not even Cole’s surreal and suicidal team of hell-bent fliers, had the instant cachet and sheer glamour appeal of Eisner and Powell’s “Foreign Legion of the Air” led by the charismatic Dark Knight of the airways known only as Blackhawk.

Chuck Cuidera, already famed for creating the original Blue Beetle for Fox, drew ‘the Origin of Blackhawk’ for the first issue, wherein a lone pilot fighting the Nazi invasion of Poland in 1939 was shot down by Nazi Ace Von Tepp; only to rise bloody and unbowed from his plane’s wreckage to form the World’s greatest team of airborne fighting men…

This mysterious paramilitary squadron of unbeatable fliers, dedicated to crushing injustice and smashing the Axis war-machine, battled on all fronts during the war and – once the embattled nations had notionally laid down their arms – stayed together to crush international crime, Communism and every threat to democracy from alien invaders to supernatural monsters, consequently becoming one of the true milestones of the US industry.

Eisner wrote the first four Blackhawk episodes before moving on and Cuidera stayed until issue #11 – although he triumphantly returned in later years. There were many melodramatic touches that made the Blackhawks so memorable in the eyes of a wide-eyed populace of thrill-hungry kids. There was the cool, black leather uniforms and peaked caps. The unique, outrageous – but authentic – Grumman F5F-1 Skyrocket planes they flew from their secret island base and of course their eerie battle-cry “Hawkaaaaa!”

But perhaps the oddest idiosyncrasy to modern readers was that they had their own song (would you be more comfortable if we started calling it an international anthem?) which Blackhawk, André, Stanislaus, Olaf, Chuck, Hendrickson and Chop-Chop would sing as they plummeted into battle. (To see the music and lyrics check out the Blackhawk Archives edition but just remember this catchy number was written for seven really tough leather-clad guys to sing while dodging bullets…

Quality adapted well to peacetime demands: superheroes Plastic Man and Doll Man lasted far longer than most of their Golden Age mystery man compatriots and rivals, whilst the rest of the company line turned to tough-guy crime, war, western, horror and racy comedy titles.

The Blackhawks soared to even greater heights, starring in their own movie serial in 1952. However the hostility of the marketplace to mature-targeted titles after the adoption of the self-censorious Comics Code was a clear sign of the times and as 1956 ended Arnold sold most of his comics properties to National Publishing Periodicals (now DC) and turned his attentions to becoming a general magazine publisher.

Most of the purchases were a huge boost to National’s portfolio, with titles such as GI Combat, Heart Throbs and Blackhawk lasting uninterrupted well into the 1970s (GI Combat survived until in 1987), whilst the unceasing draw and potential of characters such as Uncle Sam, the assorted Freedom Fighters costumed pantheon, Kid Eternity and Plastic Man have paid dividends ever since.

The “Black Knights” had also been a fixture of the British comics reprint industry since the early 1950s, with distributor-turned publisher Thorpe & Porter releasing 37 huge (68-page, whilst the US originals only boasted 36 pages) monochrome anthologies to entrance thrill-starved audiences under their Strato imprint.

This commodious British collection combines a flurry of tales featuring the Air Aces, balanced out by an assortment of mystery and science fiction tales from DC’s wide selection of weird adventure anthologies (primarily culled in this instance from September and October 1957) and kicks off with the contents of (US) Blackhawk #117 and ‘The Fantastic Mr. Freeze’ wherein the paramilitary aviators battle a chilling criminal maniac with a penchant for cold crimes before tackling smugglers masquerading as Vikings in ‘The Menace of the Dragon Boat’.

‘How Not to Enjoy a Vacation’ was seen in many places; a Public Service feature probably written by Jack Schiff and definitely illustrated by Rueben Moreira, followed by prose poser ‘I Was a Human Missile’, relating a technician’s account of when he was trapped during the test firing of a missile – and how he escaped – after which ‘The Seven Little Blackhawks’ become the targets of a ruthless mastermind exploiting their fame and reputations to plug his new movie…

Regrettably most records are lost so scripter-credits are not available (likely candidates include Ed “France” Herron, Arnold Drake, George Kashdan, Jack Miller, Bill Woolfolk, Jack Schiff and/or Dave Wood) but the art remained in the capable hands of veteran illustrators Dick Dillin & Chuck Cuidera: a team who meshed so seamlessly that they often traded roles with few any the wiser…

Moreover although broadly formulaic, the gritty cachet, exotic crime locales, Sci Fi underpinnings and international jurisdiction of the team always allowed great internal variety within the tales…

Here however the uniformed escapades pause as House of Mystery #67 (October 1957) offers the sorry saga of ‘The Wizard of Water’ – a scurvy conman who accidentally gets hold of King Neptune’s trident as drawn by Bill Ely – and, after an always-engaging ‘Science Says You’re Wrong’ page and text terror tale ‘The Mummy’s Revenge’, counts down ‘Five Days to Doom’ (illustrated by Sheldon Moldoff from House of Mystery #66, September 1957) wherein a printer discovers a seemingly-prophetic calendar and uses it to track down aliens planning to destroy Earth.

‘The Legend of the Golden Lion’ (HoM #67 again and illustrated by George Roussos) then described a Big Game Hunter’s confrontation with a leonine legend of biblical pedigree whilst from the same issue the ever-excellent Bob Brown depicted a weird science-tinged crime caper about ‘The Man Who Made Giants’ before the Blackhawks soared back into action battling ‘The Bandit with a Thousand Nets’ – yet another audacious costumed thief with a novel gimmick (from Blackhawk #118, October 1957).

That issue also provided ‘The Blackhawk Robinson Crusoes’ wherein the Pacific Ocean proved to be the real enemy when an accident marooned the Aviators as they hunted the nefarious pirate Sting Ray, followed by much-reprinted western classic ‘The Town Jesse James Couldn’t Rob’ limned by Frank Frazetta and itself a reprint from Jimmy Wakely #4.

Text feature ‘From Caveman to Classroom’ charted the history of map-making after which Blackhawk #118 continues to completion as ‘The Human Clay Pigeons’ found the entire squadron helpless targets of international assassin/spymaster the Sniper, leaving the rest of this collection to astound and amuse with more genre-specific tales such as the Roussos illustrated psychological crime thriller ‘Sinister Shadow’ from House of Mystery #66 Sept 1957.

Also in that issue is Jack Kirby’s eerie mystery of best friends turned rivals ‘The Thief of Thoughts’, Moldoff’s jungle trek chiller ‘The Bell that Tolled Danger’ and Mort Meskin & Roussos’ tragic supernatural romance ‘The Girl in the Iron Mask’.

Rounding out the collection are selections from House of Mystery #64 (July 1957) beginning with Nick Cardy’s irony-drenched riff on the curse of Midas wherein a criminal subjects himself to ‘The Golden Doom’ – pausing briefly for Jack Miller’s prose expose of mind-readers ‘A Clever Code’ (from HoM #66) and another Public Service ad with teen star Binky explaining ‘How to Make New Friends’ (Schiff & Bob Oksner) – before Bill Ely delivers a murderous revelation regarding ‘The Artist Who Painted Dreams’.

A brace of Henry Boltinoff gag pages starring ‘Professor Eureka’ and ‘Moolah the Mystic’ then segues into Bernard Baily’s macabre depiction of criminal obsession in ‘My Terrible Twin’ (HoM #64) to bring the fun to a close on a spooky high note.

These stories were produced – and reprinted here – at a pivotal moment in comics history: the last showing of broadly human-scaled action-heroes and two-fisted mystery-solvers in a marketplace increasingly filling up with gaudily clad wondermen and superwomen. The iconic blend of weary sophistication and glorious, juvenile bravado where a few good men with wits, firearms and an occasional trusty animal companion could overcome all odds was fading in the light of spectacular scenarios and ubiquitous alien encounters.

These are splendidly engaging tales that could beguile and amaze a whole new audience if only publishers would give them a chance. But whilst they won’t your best bet is to seek out books like this in specialist comic shops or online.

Go on; let your fingers do the hard work…

Despite there being no copyrights included in this tome, I think it’s safe to assume:
All material © 1957, 1958, 2015 DC Comics. All Rights Reserved.

Rip Kirby Comic Album


By Alex Raymond, John Prentiss & Fred Dickenson (World Distributors {Manchester} Ltd)
No ISBN; ASIN: B004N6P0KM

It took the British a very long time to get the hang of American-style superheroes but we never had any trouble with more traditional genre standards, such as this quirky collection of adventures starring one of the world’s most intriguing private eyes. Another tantalising oddment of UK reprint publishing, the Rip Kirby Comic Album was probably released in 1960: a monochrome affair with soft card-covers, gathering selected yarns from the transitional period when John Prentice took over from all-star originator Alex Raymond.

Although this particular vintage item is relatively easy to find, if you’re properly interested in the armchair sleuth’s career you should seek out the recent hardback releases from IDW: the entire saga of Rip Kirby in splendid archival collector’s editions.

In the golden age of newspaper adventure strips (that’s the 1930s, OK?) Alex Raymond made Flash Gordon, Jungle Jim and Secret Agent X-9 household names all over the world, but when duty called, he dropped everything and went to war.

On his return, rather than rekindle old glories, he created (from King Features Editor Ward Greene’s concept and scripts) a new kind of private detective. The result was a rather unique individual, a demobbed marine, intellectual by inclination and sedentary by preference, who – although physically powerful – chose to use his mind rather than fists and guns to solve quandaries.

He had a steady girlfriend called Judith “Honey” Dorian and a seemingly mousy yet deviously competent manservant named Desmond simply sodden with hidden depths (the dapper flunky was a reformed burglar and able sidekick decades before Lady Penelope hired that guy Parker).

Remington “Rip” Kirby debuted on March 4th 1946, to instant approbation and commercial success. Greene scripted the strip until 1952 when he was replaced by journalist Fred Dickenson. Raymond continued to illustrate the wittily urbane serial thriller until September 6th 1956, when, aged only 46, he died in a car crash.

The hugely talented John Prentice was chosen to assume the art duties whilst Dickenson continued writing until 1986 when he retired due to ill-health, from which time Prentice did his job too. The feature finally ended on June 26th 1999 when Prentice retired.

This reprint classic fortuitously represents that transitional tale as the opening case as ‘Rip Kirby in the Elixir of Youth’ (which was originally syndicated from 30th July to 20th October 1956, with Prentice taking over from October 1st) finds aging Hollywood star Mavis Fulton raging against the inexorable ravages of time and taking it out on her makeup man.

As conman “Dr.” Leon de Leon is kicked out of town for his usual charlatanry, he links up with disgraced and recently dismissed cosmetic artist Pancake Murgatroyd and both head East to New York…

In the city they first target wealthy spinster Hattie Hilton for a million dollar scam. All they need is a gullible actress they can cosmetically add fifty years to before very publicly erasing those years with their bogus Fountain of Youth for foolish old ladies…

The scheme proceeds with slow, sure success until Hattie’s butler swipes some of the miracle mixture for his own use and affably shares the benefits with Desmond. When Rip sees their silliness, he immediately leaps to the correct conclusion and quietly intervenes in Miss Hilton’s behalf…

‘Model in Trouble’ (originally entitled ‘The Fatal Photo’ and running from December 9th 1957 to February 8th 1958) focuses on Honey’s modelling career but deviates into deadly danger after her photographer – a notorious letch and Lothario – is murdered during a shoot.

With his girlfriend the only suspect, Rip starts nosing around and soon finds plenty of other likely candidates but things really start popping when he finds the dying shutterbug got a shot at his killer…

The high stakes thrills and chills conclude with the butler centre stage when ‘Desmond Makes a Lucky Strike’ (first serialised from 27th May to August 10th 1957 as ‘Casino Con’ follows the dutiful valet as he beguiles and cajoles his easygoing employer into taking a trip out west.

Awaiting them are husband-&-wife hucksters Belle and “Stogie” Nash and they soon part Desmond from his savings by convincing him there’s uranium in them thar hills…

Rip’s response is typical: organise a few old pals on both sides of the law and set up an irresistible sting to fleece the fleecers…

This arcane album offers a perfect snapshot of one of America’s most famous fictional detectives, drawn by two of the world’s most brilliant artists. A perfect taste of the heady 1950s style, this book will suck you into a captivating world of adventure and resurgent post-war glamour all doled out with deliciously sharp dialogue, smart plotting and plenty of laughs to balance the thrills.

Your chances of tracking down this gem are rather better than you’d expect and well worth the effort if you’re an art-lover or comics curio collector, as Raymond’s and Prentice’s drawing at this size are an unparalleled delight.
© King Features Syndicate Inc. All rights reserved.

The Super Summer Holiday Annual (No. 1)


By various (Atlas Publishing & Distributing Co. Ltd.)
No ISBN:

It took the British a very long time to get the hang of American-style superheroes – just ask any old UK-based fan about Tri-Man, Gadget Man and Gimmick Kid or the Phantom Viking if you doubt me – but we never had any trouble with more traditional genre standards, which is why this delightful oddment of UK reprint publishing boasts such a decidedly eclectic all-star line up.

Probably released in 1961, it’s a monochrome affair with soft card-covers, gathering select licensed snippets from National Comics/DC, presumably thought to be appealing or of interest to us junior limeys. The decidedly quirky special offers choice late-1950s escapades of Batman and Robin the Boy Wonder, The Viking Prince, Superman & Lois Lane and Davy Crockett, bundled up as a marvellously mixed bag of tales which must have frankly baffled and bedazzled the kids of Britain in equal amounts.

The book was (probably) released in 1961 by UK based Atlas Publishing and Distribution, re-reprinting material licensed to Australian outfit KG Murray Publishing Company – one of many small outfits repackaging American strips for the anything-goes UK marketplace…

In America during the 1950s, when superheroes were in a seemingly inescapable trough, comicbook companies looked to different types of leading men in their action heroes. In 1955 writer/editor Robert Kanigher created a traditional adventure comic entitled The Brave and the Bold which featured historical strips and stalwarts.

The Golden Gladiator, illustrated by Russ Heath, was set in the declining days of the Roman Empire, The Silent Knight fought injustice in Norman Britain, courtesy of Irv Novick, and the already-legendary Joe Kubert was drawing the exploits of a valiant young Norseman dubbed the Viking Prince.

This last feature appeared in almost every issue and eventually took over Brave and the Bold entirely, until the resurgent superhero boom saw B&B retooled as a try-out title with its 25th issue. Before that, however, those fanciful, practically “Hollywoodish” Viking sagas were among some of the finest adventure comics of all time (and they’re long overdue for a definitive collection of their own).

The valiant Jon has long been a fan favourite, intermittently returning in DC’s war titles and often guest-starring in such varied venues as Sgt. Rock and even Justice League of America.

Here at the height of his popularity, the lonely wanderer and his companion the Mute Bard kick off proceeding in fine fettle, accepting ‘The Challenge of the Flying Horse’ (B&B #19 Aug/Sep 1958 by Bob Haney & Kubert) and invading Valhalla to aid the comely Valkyries against an invasion of menacing Moon Vikings…

Tales from the censorious 1950s (with just a little overlapping touch of the 1960s) always favoured plot over drama – indeed, a strong argument could be made that all DC’s post-war costumed crusaders actually shared one personality (and yes I’m including Wonder Woman) – so narrative drive focused on comfortably familiar situations or outlandish themes and paraphernalia, but as a kid they simply blew me away.

They still do.

The Gotham Gangbusters especially had to perpetually think and act outside the box as they fought crime and worse with kid gloves on. ‘Batman… Superman of Planet X!’ (from Batman #113, February 1958 by France Herron, Dick Sprang & Charles Paris) offers fantastic science fiction fantasy and perhaps the best ever art job ever seen in an incredible, spectacular stupendous romp with the Cowled Crimebuster shanghaied to a distant galaxy to save an advanced civilisation from invasion…

At a time when the rise of television had made the colonial west crucial viewing, almost every publisher who had survived the birth of the Comics Code had their own iteration of Davy Crockett. National/DC joined the party rather late with Frontier Fighters, which ran for 8 issues between summer 1955 and the end of 1956.

The anthological title supplemented the man of the moment with the equally public-domain likes of Kit Carson, Buffalo Bill, Buck Skinner and similar mythic types whilst incorporating all the tropes and ingrained stereotypes you’d expect of the times, but cover-featured Crockett was always the main attraction.

‘The Renegade Fur-Traders’ was first seen in #6 (July-August 1956), by an unnamed author and illustrated with captivating authenticity by the excellent John Prentice, not long before he would begin ghosting the Rip Kirby newspaper strip. It told of how Davy and his mountainous pal Sam Willoughby saved a tribe of Piegan Indians from being swindled by wicked white men…

When Lois Lane – arguably the oldest supporting character/star in the Superman mythology if not DC universe – finally received her own shot at a solo title, it was very much on the terms of the times. I must shamefacedly admit to a deep, nostalgic affection for her bright and breezy, fantastically fun adventures, but as a free-thinking, (nominally) adult liberal of the 21st century I’m often simultaneously shocked nowadays at the jolly, patronising, patriarchally misogynistic attitudes underpinning too many of the stories.

Of course I’m (painfully) aware that the series was intended for young readers at a time when “dizzy dames” like Lucille Ball or Doris Day played to the popular American gestalt stereotype of Woman as jealous minx, silly goose, diffident wife and brood-hungry nester, but to ask kids to seriously accept that intelligent, courageous, ambitious, ethical and highly capable females would drop everything they’d worked hard for to lie, cheat, inveigle, manipulate and entrap a man just so that they could cook pot-roast and change super-diapers is just plain crazy and tantamount to child abuse. They’re great, great comics but still…

I’m just saying…

Superman’s Girlfriend Lois Lane #1 launched at the start of 1958) and became the regular venue for stunning yarns illustrated by sleek, slick Kurt Schaffenberger whose distinctive art-style would quickly become synonymous with the reporter. In this yarn from the second issue (April/May) Lois was apparently appalled to uncover ‘Superman’s Secret Sweetheart’ (possibly written by Bill Finger), but was in fact on her very best mettle, helping a bullied college girl fight back against her mean sorority sisters…

Prince Jon then became ‘The Viking Genie’ (Bill Finger & Joe Kubert from B&B #14 Dec 1958/Jan 1958) as he is sealed in a barrel by his enemies and washes up some time later on the shores of distant Araby.

Freed from his prison by an old man and his beautiful daughter, the golden-haired Northman uses ingenuity and superb physicality to grant the dotard’s three wishes, consequently unseating a tyrant and restoring the old man to the throne of Baghdad…

Detective Comics #249 (November 1957) was the original setting for Finger & Sheldon Moldoff’s ‘The Crime of Bruce Wayne’ wherein civic-minded Bruce Wayne agrees to Commissioner Gordon’s scheme to impersonate masked criminal The Collector. Sadly things go badly awry: Gordon is hospitalised and Wayne is sentenced to death, with Robin and Batwoman frantically trying to find the real Collector before time runs out for the incarcerated, incognito Caped Crusader…

Davy Crockett was then captured by ‘Two Little Paleface Indians’ (Frontier Fighters #3 Jan Feb 1956, art by Prentice) stolen and raised by the warlike Creek. Not only does he have to escape imminent execution but also return the bellicose little waifs to their true parents, after which ‘The Bombshell of the Boulevards’ (Leo Dorfman & Schaffenberger) sees Lois Lane donning a peroxide wig to deceitfully secure a Hollywood interview.

Apparently blondes not only have more fun but also make more trouble and soon she has provoked a death-duel between rival enflamed suitors. Of course, it was only another scheme by Superman and Jimmy Olsen to teach her a lesson in journalistic ethics. Good thing reporters are so much less unscrupulous these days…

The Viking Prince returns to frozen climes to confront the ‘Threat of the Ice-King’ (Haney & Kubert from B&B #18, June/July 1958) and spectacularly rescues a Rose Princess from the icy ogre’s legion of arctic monsters before Davy Crockett tackles ‘The Indian Buccaneers’ (Frontier Fighters #5, May/June 1956 Prentice) dragooned into raiding Louisiana with infamous pirate Swampfox Cy

The weirdly enticing array of adventures ends with charming Public Service ad ‘Don’t Give Fire a Place to Start’ by Jack Schiff & Win Mortimer, wrapping up the all-ages fun on a cautionary note every hoarder of highly inflammable collectibles should heed…

Although I’ve been nostalgically self-indulgent and a touch jocund throughout, there’s no denying the merit of these ancient tales, especially since they’re presented in staggeringly powerful and beautifully composed black and white: all marvellous examples of a level of artistic individuality and virtuosity we’re losing today as computer-colour advances and digital shortcuts are increasingly homogenising the craft and design of graphic narrative.

While we’re all revelling in the variety and creative freedom of today’s technology, let’s never forget the sheer force and potent efficiency of the lone line and an artist’s innate sense of flair and individuality. These are things of magical beauty and infinite potential…

Although there are no copyrights included I think it’s safe to assume:
All material © 1956, 1957, 1958, 2015 DC Comics. All Rights Reserved.

Lion Annual

Lion Annual 1956

By many and various (Amalgamated Press)
No ISBN:

The 1950s ushered in a revolution in British comics. With wartime restrictions on printing and paper lifted, a steady stream of new titles emerged from many companies and when the Hulton Press’ The Eagle launched in April 1950, the very idea of what weeklies could be altered forever.

The oversized, prestige package with photogravure colour was exorbitantly expensive however, and when London-based publishing powerhouse Amalgamated Press retaliated with their own equivalent, it was an understandably more economical affair.

I’m assuming they only waited so long before the first issue of Lion launched (dated February 23rd 1952), to see if their flashy rival periodical was going to last..

Like Eagle, Lion was a mix of prose stories, features and comic strips and had its own cover-featured space-farer in Captain Condor – Space Ship Pilot.

Initially edited by Reg Eves, the title eventually ran for 1156 weekly issues until 18th May 1974 when it merged with Valiant. Along the way, in the traditional manner of British comics which subsumed weaker-selling titles to keep popular strips going, Lion absorbed Sun in 1959 and Champion in 1966; swallowing Eagle in April 1969 and merged with Thunder in 1971, in its capacity as one of the country’s most popular and enduring adventure comics. It vanished in 1976 when Valiant was amalgamated with Battle Picture Weekly.

Despite its demise in the mid-70s there were 30 Lion Annuals between 1953 and 1982, all targeting the lucrative Christmas market, combining a broad variety of original strips with prose stories; sports, science and general interest features; short humour strips and – increasingly from the 1970s onwards – reformatted reprints from IPC/Fleetway’s vast back catalogue.

That’s certainly not the case with this particular item. Forward-dated 1956 but actually published in late 1955, it’s a delicious dose of traditional comics entertainment, big on variety, sturdily produced in a mix of full-colour sections and a preponderance of starkly potent monochrome, offering a wide variety of treats to beguile boisterous boys – then and now…

I’m sure I don’t need to remind you that these entertainments were produced in good faith in a culture and at a time very different from ours, and occasionally attitudes and expressions are used which we will find a little upsetting. This book is actually one of the better examples of racial, gender and cultural tolerance, but even so…

Opening with an evocative, thematic map of North and South America (mirrored by a second one at the back highlighting Africa, India and New Guinea) and a spectacular painted frontispiece of ‘Sea-Bed Treasure Seekers’ the wonderment begins with ‘Sandy Dean in Guardian of the Secret Chimp’ (scripted by Ted Cowan & illustrated by Barry Nelson), a comic strip saga wherein our ideal schoolboy and his chums get into trouble after someone sends them a baby ape to look after. Next, “Edwin Dale” provides a prose thriller starring troubleshooter Mr. X who stops a con-artist exploiting ‘The Pigmies Who Wanted to Become Giants’ before a pictorial ‘World-Wide Quiz’ tests your general knowledge.

Arthur Deam’s text story about ‘Taming a Trouble-Maker’ features another school stalwart as Bob Belman turns a lout into a sports star with a practical joke and his own shining example before “Jack Maxwell” crafts a rousing comic strip romp starring Len Dalton and Dick Archer‘The Jungle Jeep Adventurers’ searching for – and finding – a lost city in the Amazon after which Brian Mead proffers prose lark ‘Spook-Hunter Gerry Gets his Ghost’: a comedic affair of haunted houses and hidden pets…

Sticking with text tales, Brian Ireland’s stirring yarn of Canadian lumberjack skulduggery ‘The Unmasking of the Timber-Camp Traitor’ is followed by general knowledge oddments in ‘Picture Parade of Facts from Near and Far’ and Peter Glassford’s beguiling ‘The Sea-Bed Treasure Seekers’ with a brace of British divers battling sharks and such to recover sunken gold…

Opening the colour comics sections, ‘Captain Condor Fights the Space Pirates’ is by Frank S. Pepper and probably illustrated by original artist Ron Forbes.

When he started in Lion #1, Condor was “The Outlaw of Space”; a rebel overthrowing a galactic tyrant. By this time however he’s a simple space pilot who encounters an asteroid full of cosmic corsairs and despatches them with doughty deliberation, after which Ray Marr takes us to ancient times in his prose thriller of ‘Marcus the Roman Wrestler’ thwarting a tyrant and securing common lands for the common folk whilst Harry Hollinson D.F.C. depicts some of the soon to be commonplace ‘Wonders of Outer Space’.

As I’m one of those kids still furtively muttering “where’s MY jetpack?”, I shall move on swiftly and say nothing…

It’s back to school as the Fourth Form teach a japester a lesson in Ronald Knill’s text account of ‘The Downfall of Sammy the Sneak’ before Brett Marlowe, Detective employs the comic strip form to solve ‘The Case of the Chinese Idol’ (as delineated by John Fordice) whilst Australian bush-bandits responsible for the ‘Robbery at Woolshed Creek’ are relentlessly tracked down by Trooper Tom Donnelly and his aborigine tracker pal Jolli – of the Australian Northern Territory Mounted Police Patrol – in Guy Deakin’s prose thriller.

‘Mighty Mabu Saves the Herd’ (illustrated by F.A. Williams) is Mark Aldridge’s text tale of a wise elephant protecting his tribe from drought and human hunters and “Connoly” renders a page of crazy gadgets in ‘They’re Inventors’ Brain-Waves’ before the clearly pseudonymous Dan Colt renders a powerful cowboy-era strip saga as ‘Trapper Ken Foils the Fur Thief’ before we return to school for Tom Stirling’s prose tale of bullies overcome by ‘Skinny’s Smoke Bomb’

Itinerant trader/skipper Stormy Tate becomes ‘The Man Who Wrecked a Revolution’ in R.G. Thomas’ text tale of the South Seas before another colour comic strip (by E. George Cowan – or Ted to his friends and us Fans) finds us in medieval England where ‘Tony the Circus Acrobat’ and his performing pals overthrow a local lordly tyrant whilst Richard Birnham’s ‘“Rajah” Routs the Railroad Wreckers’ offers a prose saga of pride and patriotism on the steam railroads of imperial India and Derek Knight describes in text the astounding wild west exploits of ‘Sheriff Spike – Racket Buster’

Pictorial fact-feature ‘When the Romans Went Chariot Racing’ precedes a rollicking WWII comic strip battle blitz by Cliff Hooper as peerless Privates Joe Dale and Shorty Brown investigate the ‘Mystery House in No-Man’s Land’ to find out where all the Germans are disappearing to, after which Kaibu of Samba Island exposes the conniving tricks of a greedy witch doctor in prose tale ‘The Haunted Lagoon’ by Michael Alan whilst Victor Norman describes the astounding and amusing antics of ‘Phido, the Electronic Bloodhound’, before the final comic strip details how two British pilots comprising the ‘Skyway Police for the Desert Sheik’ (by Hugh Tempest) expose a scheme by oil interests to defraud their boss.

The 160 pages of wholesome thrills conclude with a rousing jungle caper in prose form as ‘The T.V. Thrill-Hunters’ go in search of great footage and encounter a lost Inca city and hunters smuggling rare animals… like pterodactyls…

Sadly many of the actual creators are unknown, especially the exceptional artists whose tantalisingly familiar-looking efforts adorn the prose stories, but generally this is still a solid box of delights for any “bloke of a certain age” seeking to recapture his so-happily uncomplicated youth. It also has the added advantage of being far less likely than other (usually unsavoury) endeavours which, although designed to rekindle the dead past, generally lead to divorce…
© 1955 the Amalgamated Press and latterly IPC. All rights reserved.

Lion Annual 1966

By many and various (Fleetway)
No ISBN:

Even though sales of all British comics were drastically declining, the 1960s were a period of intense and impressive innovation with publishers embracing new sensibilities and constantly trying new types of character and tales.

At this time Lion and its stable-mate Valiant dominated the boys’ adventure field although nothing could touch DC Thomson’s Beano and Dandy in the kids’ comedy arena.

From their creative peak comes this book, the 13th Annual (on sale from the end of August 1965), a far slicker, sleeker package, which opens in a blaze of colour with history-feature ‘Fighting Scot’, recounting the Horatian battle of military legend Dr. William Brydon, only survivor of the British Retreat from Kabul in 1842.

The comic action commences with an exploit of a much travelled, much recycled favourite. In October 1960 Karl the Viking debuted in Lion as The Sword of Eingar by Ken Bulmer and Don Lawrence. The one-off became a regular feature and ran until September 1964: a total of 205 instalments, plus four complete tales in the annuals (including one scripted by Michael Moorcock).

The character was subsequently renamed Rolf and Eric as his stories were reprinted in Lion, Smash!, Valiant and elsewhere. The British comics industry generally recycled strips which didn’t date too much approximately every five years, on the mistaken assumption that their readership was transient and temporary, constantly outgrowing picture stories before moving on to more worthy entertainments.

Here ‘Karl the Viking and the Swamp of Fear’ found the bold warrior battling dinosaurs in a fetid bog to ensure the son of a fallen comrade inherited the mantle of chieftainship…

The monochrome section begins with ‘Menace of the Flying Mini’: another historical prose feature this time detailing the amazing life of micro-plane pioneer A. E. Clouston. It is followed by a stunning saga of the Napoleonic era set in 1812. ‘The Little King – Part I: Escape from Hell’ traces the perilous path of young Blaise, heir to the kingdom of Arenburg. When vile regent Rosencranz moves to oust the boy-king, the child barely escapes with his life and, resolved to save his people from tyranny, makes his way across frozen, war-wracked Europe to find embattled Emperor Bonaparte and demand his aid in restoring his rightful rule.

A spectacular work, it’s drawn by one of the great foreign artists Fleetway was using during this period but I just can’t decide who. At this moment I’m torn between Hugo Pratt, Vicente Alcazar, Fernando Fernández or Victor de la Fuentes, but it’s probably some equally brilliant and prestigious master I’m slighting…

Venerable space ace Captain Condor stars in prose puzzler ‘The Mystery Men from Fantasy Planet’, uncovering a vast criminal conspiracy after which Lion’s iconic and irrepressible mechanical marvel is stolen by American mobsters and becomes ‘Robot Archie – The Metal Monster’ in a black & white comic strip (probably) scripted by Ted Cowan and illustrated by Carlos Pino.

A rollicking text romp set in cavalier days sees a dispossessed lord reclaim his lands with the help of the recently-restored King’s top agent John Quarrel in ‘Two Rapiers for Revenge’ after which ‘The Rommel Raiders’ reveals, in strip form, the history of a daring commando raid on Germany’s greatest general before the war takes to the air in ‘Paddy Payne and the Ghost Squadron’ with the daring Spitfire pilot single-handedly uncovering and eradicating a hidden Nazi airbase…

Photographic optical teasers in ‘Pic Quiz’ segue into the astounding and breathtakingly bombastic conclusion of ‘The Little King’ in ‘Part II: Return to Glory!’ whilst ‘Guess What?’ asks for more identifications – albeit drawn ones – before a prose thriller sets special agent Vic Gun on the trail of ‘The Plot to Kill’ the president of a friendly nation…

‘Now You Know’ offers a fascinating fusillade of sporting facts and cartoon biography of Wyatt Earp, ‘One of the Fearless’ segues seamlessly into the saga of stalwart Saxon ‘Longsword’ as he battles to protect Normandy from invasion whereafter stunning colour augments the comic strip history of ‘Churchill – the Warrior’ (Pino again?).

‘Rory McDuff in the Mountains of the Sun’ takes the indomitable stuntman on a prose journey into the Arabian deserts aiding of a reformist sheik in fear of his life, after which detective Bruce Kent invites you to Spot the Clue in taxing comic strip teaser ‘Find the Traitor’ whilst ‘Zip Nolan and the Payoff’ finds the ultra-observant Highway Patrolman scuttling a blackmail plot and bank raid in a terse, taut text thriller before everything calms down with an assortment of spot gags in ‘Time for a Laugh’

Adding context to earlier excitements ‘The Army that Froze to Death’ details how the Russian winter dealt Napoleon’s forces a crushing defeat whilst photo-feature ‘Men on the Moon’ reviews current technology built for the then-forthcoming lunar landing.

‘The Blazing Guns of Wild Bill Hickok’ recounts in prose form a deadly showdown for the legendary gunslinger and the festive fun concludes with another aerial assignment as ‘Paddy Payne and the Flying Secret’ sees the pilot paladin ferret out a spy stealing secrets from his own squadron…

Adapting to a more sophisticated audience, the editors had slowly given Lion a unique identity as the years passed. This collection would be the last to feature a general genre feel. Future years would see the pages filled with an increasingly strange and antiheroic – even monstrous – pantheon which made readers into slavish but delighted fanatics. However, viewed from today’s more informed perspectives this book is a magical collection of graphic treats and story delights that will enchant any kid or adult.
© Fleetway Publications Ltd. 1965. All rights reserved.

Lion Annual 1975

By many and various (Fleetway)
No ISBN;  SBN 85037-141-4

Being almost universally anthology weeklies, British comics over the decades have generated a simply incomprehensible number of strips and characters in a variety of genres ranging from the astounding to the appalling. Perhaps it’s just personal bias based on being the right age at the right time, but the early 1970s adventure material from Fleetway Publications seems to me the most imaginative and impressive.

Fleetway was a small division of IPC – the world’s largest publishing company – and had, by the early 1970s, swallowed or out-competed all other outfits producing mass-market comics except the exclusively television-themed Polystyle Publications.

As it always had been, the megalith was locked in a death-struggle with Dundee’s DC Thomson for the hearts and minds of their assorted juvenile markets – a battle the publishers of the Beano and Dandy finally won when Fleetway sold off its dwindling comics line to Egmont publishing and Rebellion Studios in 2002.

This is technically the last proper Lion Annual. In May 1974 the long-running title was merged with Valiant as very much the junior partner. Valiant itself was to be absorbed into Battle Picture Weekly two years later. However although the title itself was winding down, the Christmas Annual market worked on different principles and retailers seemed ever-eager to see familiar names when stocking up on one-off big-ticket items.

The memory of many defunct comics survived for years beyond their demise because publishers kept on banging out hardback collections for titles parents and retailers remembered from their own pasts.

Lion Annual 1975 was released in Autumn 1974, the 22nd since the comic began in 1952. There would be eight more before the hallowed name finally vanished from vendor’s shelves…

Boasting the traditional blend of full-colour, duo-tone and monochrome sections, this titanic tome kicks off with the wonderfully preposterous ‘Marty Wayne – He’s Heading for Fame!’ This star-struck kid was such a talented mimic he was occasionally used by MI-6 for emergency missions and here he’s sent by his spymaster boss to infiltrate a circus and ferret out a scurrilous saboteur after which a prose tale of ‘The Spellbinder’ (probably written by Tom Tully and illustrated by regular strip artist Geoff Campion) found young Tom Turville and his ancient alchemist ancestor Sylvester breaking all the rules – and the Fourth Wall – to rescue the mystically kidnapped creative staff of Lion. Apparently the magician’s arch enemy Tobias wanted to have a comic starring just him alone…

In a stunning black-&-white strip illustrated by the Solano Lopez studio, immortal time-castaway ‘Adam Eterno’ then washes up in a dystopian future to battle deadly cultists and surprisingly team up with the ubiquitous, undying Sylvester Turville (potential script candidates include Chris Lowder, Tully, Ted Cowan and Donne Avenell) before Reg Parlett’s priceless puss ‘Mowser’ wins another hilarious battle with obnoxious butler James

‘Rory McDuff and the Sargasso Sea Monster’ pits the troubleshooting paranormal investigator against modern day pirates and their pet dinosaur in a stunning thrill-ride limned by the inimitable and brilliant Reg Bunn, after which Spot-the-Clue highway patrolman ‘Zip Nolan’ tracks down a brace of bandits and a neat photo-feature details the history and hobby of collecting ‘Postcards’.

The Jungle Robot debuted in the first issue of Lion in 1952, created by E. George “Ted” Cowan & Alan Philpott, before vanishing until 1957. On his return in the 1960s as ‘Robot Archie’ he became one of the most popular and long-lasting heroes of British comics and in this prose outing – with pictures by Ted Kearnon – the amazing automaton and his hapless handlers Ted Ritchie and Ken Dale find themselves fighting a full-fledged alien invasion…

Maintaining the mechanical man mystique in comedic drama strip-form is Frank S. Pepper & Alex Henderson’s ‘Steel Commando’; a sturdy survivor of the March 1971 merger with Thunder who here, with his partner – portly nerdish Lance-Corporal ErnieExcused BootsBates – is ordered to seize a vital railway station before the Nazis can use it to reinforce the line.

As ever “old Ironsides” is ready and able but Ernie’s feet are playing up…

‘Heads with a History’ is a photo-feature on ship’s figureheads after which a popular serpentine super-villain makes his first appearance in a potent prose yarn.

Angus Allan & John Catchpole’s ‘Shadow of The Snake’ had begun in the weekly anthology in 1972; cataloguing the outrageous crimes of mad scientist Professor Krait who could transform himself into a reptilian rogue with all the assorted evolutionary advantages of the world’s ophidian denizens.

Here the bizarre bandit was in Brazil to perpetrate a bold bank heist with his mortal nemesis and former lab assistant Mike Bowen advising the bewildered, overmatched police…

A quartet of pictorial info-pages declare ‘It’s a Fact!’ before another nigh-legendary weird warrior appears in a text tale.

The Spider was a mysterious super-scientist whose original goal was to be the greatest criminal in the world. As conceived by Ted Cowan he began his public career by gathering a small team of crime specialists before attempting a massive gem-theft from a thinly veiled New York’s World Fair. As time progressed, committing crime proved no challenge and the Awesome Arachnid turned his coat and started hunting super-villains.

Here ‘The Spider and the Molecule Man’ finds him and long-suffering, still crooked assistants Pelham and Ordini chasing a nuclear menace with the ability to infinitely replicate himself before the aforementioned ‘Robot Archie’ clanks back to centre stage in a splendid red, black and white strip by Cowan & Kearnon with the mechanical marvel battling thieves wielding a stolen growth-acceleration ray…

Following a laugh break courtesy of ‘Leo’s Joke Page’, fantasy football takes hold as ‘The Team Terry Kept in a Box’ (Frank S. Pepper & Mike White) had to win a crucial replay. What nobody knew was that player manager Terry was the only living member of Anstey Albion: all the rest were historic sporting figures captured on Victorian stereo-opticon plates and reanimated long enough play individual matches. Here that replay is almost lost when Terry is hit by a bus and almost misses the match…

It’s back to monochrome and prose action as ‘The Steel Commando’ (and Ernie) show the Americans how to clear a Pacific island of entrenched Japanese soldiers and Parlett tickles ribs with a visit from anarchic kid-gang ‘The Lion Street Lot’ before ‘The Silver Colt’ reveals a pitiless rivalry between two WWI aviators.

Superbly drawn by Ian Kennedy, the spectacular strip was originally serialised in Lion during 1965, but with a little judicious editing makes for a splendidly entertaining extended complete tale here.

‘Marty Wayne’ gets the text thriller treatment next, imitating the Vice President of a hostile nation, after which ‘Zip Nolan’ is back in strip action tracking an industrial spy before humour takes hold with two more examples of ‘Leo’s Joke Page’ and another rousing duel between ‘Mowser’ and James whilst the castle is burgled. Then Campion displays his astounding talents in a stupendous full-colour ‘Spellbinder’ strip with Tom and Sylvester Turville trapped in fantastic realms: a cunning counterpoint to the Adam Eterno story seen earlier…

‘Paddy Payne and the Fire Raiders’ finds Joe Colquhoun’s astounding Air Ace (limned here, I suspect, by foreign hands) fighting a devilish new incendiary weapon before the Statue of Liberty is explored and explained in ‘The Tallest Lady in the World’. Then ‘The Last of the Harkers’ finds hapless final heir Joe and his ghostly coach attempting to reclaim a dead ancestor’s unpowered flight record to save the family seat…

The fun and thrills wrap up in that order as one more ‘Mowser’ mirthquake shows the fat cat’s infinite capacity for expensive food before ‘The Shadow of the Snake’ falls across the Andes in a stellar strip by Allan & Catchpole with the sinister serpent man raiding a lost valley of dinosaurs in search of genetic traits he can add to his insidious arsenal…

This is a glorious lost treasure-trove for fans of British comics and lovers of all-ages fantasy, filled with danger, drama and delight illustrated by some of the most talented artists in the history of the medium. Track it down, buy it for the kids and then read it too. Most of all pray that somebody somewhere is actively working to preserve and collect these sparkling and resplendent slices of our fabulous graphic tradition in more robust and worthy editions.
© IPC Magazines Ltd. 1974. All rights reserved.

Merry Christmas, Boys and Girls!

In keeping with my self-imposed Holiday tradition here’s another selection of British Annuals selected not just for nostalgia’s sake but because it’s my house and my rules…

After decades when only American comics and memorabilia were considered collectable or worthy, the growing resurgence of interest in home-grown material means there’s lots more of this stuff available and if you’re lucky enough to stumble across a vintage volume, I hope my words can convince you to take a punt and step out of your comfort zone.

Topping my Xmas wish-list would be further collections from those fans and publishers who have begun to rescue this magical material from print limbo in (affordable) new collections…

Great writing and art is rotting in boxes and attics or the archives of publishing houses, when it needs to be back in the hands of readers once again. As the tastes of the reading public have never been broader and since a selective sampling of our popular heritage will always appeal to some part of the mass consumer base, let’s all continue rewarding publishers for their efforts and prove that there’s money to be made from these glorious examples of our communal childhood.

Whizzer and Chips Annual 1979

By various (Fleetway)
SBN: 85037-478-2                  ASIN: B000IZ3DO2

British comics were always anthological. Even the few titles which notionally featured a solo lead like Doctor Who Weekly/Monthly or Hulk Comic carried a preponderance of ancillary series and serials. Most – whether Adventure or Humour, Pre-School or Juvenile and most importantly Boys or Girls – worked on the premise that variety was the spice of life and offered as many different characters and premises as they could cram into the page count.

That was never more ably demonstrated than in Fleetway/IPC’s ingenious comedy vehicle Whizzer and Chips which launched in October 1969 and ran – absorbing other flagging or failing kids’ humour titles – such as Knockout!, Krazy, Whoopee! and Scouse Mouse – until its own subsuming into valiant and venerable survivor Buster in October 1990, when the decline of mass-market children’s periodical publication really began to be felt.

Edited by Bob Paynter and lavishly packed with gag-features in IPC’s continual battle to steal market-share from DC Thomson’s unassailable Beano and Dandy, the first W&T appeared on Saturday 11th (dated the 18th; the off-sale date by when retailers had to have returned unsold copies for a refund/discount on the next issue), it’s innovative boast being “two comics for only sixpence” …and that’s in old money…

Chips was designed as a 16-page pull-out insert in the middle of Whizzer and the illusion was further fostered by the conceit that the graphic ranks of the “Whizz-kids” were deadly rivals of the “Chip-ites” eternally in their midst…

The comic was a splendid success, not because of the schizo-gimmick but because it was slickly professional and contained top-flight material by the company’s best comedy artists and writers; although arguably a toning down of the irreverent anarchy which predominated in earlier 1960s titles like Wham! and Pow! might have made parents a little happier to buy it too…

For a far more detailed discourse – on this and a host of other British comics – you should check out Lew Stringer’s glorious blog Blimey!… He’d also be able to tell you far more about the individual creators than I ever will, but as usual I’m going to have a bash anyway and apologize in advance for my inevitable errors and omissions.

As a hit weekly Whizzer and Chips naturally had end-of-year annuals from the earliest opportunity and this one (released at the end of 1978) was the ninth of 24, offering a wide range of old and new characters – just as you’d expect and want.

Behind that tantalising Mike Lacey cover the manic madness and mayhem begins with a delicious ‘Super Store Super Game’ (bring your own counters and dice, kids!) whilst ‘Lazy Bones’ (Colin Whittock) reveals how indolent young Bennie Bones attempts to skive off household chores again but only earned more work, after which Lacey’s ‘Sid’s Snake’ found serpentine Slippy getting into a tight spot he couldn’t slide out of.

Cliff Brown had the franchise for producing cartoon games and puzzles and begins here with the “mazing” ‘Jailbreak!’ before ‘The Magic of Films’ (Dave Jenner?) found the possessor of an enchanted tome using a manifested action hero to beat a bully before ‘Sweet Tooth’ (Trevor Metcalfe) outwitted another rampaging brute after his sugary treats. Always tardy ‘Slowcoach’ then found the perfect excuse for missing school registration…

Cover-star ‘Sid’s Snake’ – or rather his human co-conspirator – was the leader of the Whizz-Kids faction. He would organise infiltrations and “raids” onto Chips pages when not getting into tight spots or showing off to worms as in this second one-page outing, whilst the ‘Happy Families’ (by Dick Millington) spent most of their time sparring and causing domestic disasters, unlike Tom Williams’ underage ‘Tiny Tycoon’ who here transforms a little funfair into a big deal skate rink before Leo Baxendale’s pugnacious nipper ‘Champ’ turns his competitive drive to mastering the pogo stick with agonising consequences for all…

‘Super Store!’ by Bob Hill was the magical multi-storey emporium where anything could be bought, such as ghosts to stock a haunted house whilst – continuing the strangely trippy tone – ‘The Drips’ (Michael T Green perhaps?) were sentient water droplets playing mind-games with a baffled homeowner and ‘Beat Your Neighbour’ (a survivor of the merger with Knockout) revealed the depths competing families would sink to in order to be the best – in this case in making their home safe…

Uppity little madam ‘Toffee Nose’ made life hell for poor old dad when she found the garden too grubby, after which ‘Sid’s Snake’ resurfaces to show off his pugilistic skills; no doubt to provoke boy boxer ‘Shiner’ – also by Lacey – who leads off the Chips section of this book by once again disappointing his mum and copping a black eye without fighting anybody…

‘Footsie the Clown’ began as a colour strip by Leo Baxendale on the back page of Wham! and was revived here in monochrome, still being weird at the circus (by an artist I don’t recognise). Next comes Mike Brown’s bombastic ‘Super Dad’ quashing more time-wasting kids’ pranks before hard-luck lad ‘Loser’ adds his own unique spin to Shakespeare and Norman Mansbridge’s ‘Fuss Pot’ shows the proper way to shovel snow…

Cliff Brown’s ‘Treasure Island Maze!’ segues into another – cosmetically cushioned – clash for ‘Shiner’ and farmyard frenzy for ‘Footsie the Clown’ and his faithless companion Wuff the Wonder Dog whilst Reg Parlett’s rival gangs ‘Smarty’s Toffs & Tatty’s Toughs’ again fought a class war that left everyone bedraggled, beaten and in need of a break…

Following Cliff Brown’s brow-knitting puzzle ‘Two Old Grannies are in Trouble’ a TV commercial director soon regrets asking the opinion of one little girl in ‘Here’s Fuss Pot – the fussiest girl of the lot!’ after which ‘Pete’s Pockets’ disgorge a wish-granting genie as ‘Lib an’ Archie and their Magic Piano’ accidentally solve a skiers’ dilemma and ‘Loser’ wins after destroying a panting and uncovering a lost masterpiece…

‘Sammy Shrink – He’s the Smallest lad in the World’ – and one of IPC’s most well-travelled, having compactly fitted into Wham!, Pow!, Smash! and Knockout before squeezing into Whizzer and Chips.

Here Jenner portrays the mighty mite at his most pranksome before ‘Theo’s Thinking Cap’ saves the (wedding) day by finding a missing ring and ‘Belle Tent – She’s Funtastic’ proves girls can be just as destructive as boys and shouldn’t be let anywhere near a cricket pitch…

‘Shiner’ keeps his eyes un-pummelled by using his wits against a big bully before ‘Don’t Times Change!’ offers sharp comparisons of past and present parental peccadilloes whilst ‘Pete’s Pockets’ open again and suck the poor twit into a mad melee with a magician he didn’t know he had after which the landlord of ‘Harry’s Haunted House’ (Parlett) fails again to evict his ghostly tenant…

‘Shiner’s Scrap Book’ offers boxing spot-gags by Brocker and ‘Wear ‘em Out Wilf’ (Mansbridge) shows the wee wrecker proving the flimsiness of pianos before ‘Little Mo Peep’ causes chaos during a seaside excursion, ‘The Toffs and the Toughs’ (Parlett) compare the relative merits of castles and tents and ‘Sammy Shrink’ (by Terry Bave and wife/scripter Sheila) reacts badly to the news that his sweetie ration is being cut…

Parlett’s ‘Belle Tent – She’s Funtastic’ finds the unladylike lass causing catastrophe at a country house after which ‘Smarty’s Toffs & Tatty’s Toughs’ resort to all-out retail war at an antiques fair and the Baves put ‘Sammy Shrink’ through icy hell at the skating rink whilst ‘Loser’ sees the dark side of scouting for badges.

A belligerent bee cause ‘Footsie the Clown’ to lose his sense of humour, ‘Theo’s Thinking Cap’ helps a kid get into an air-show and ‘Pete’s Pockets’ unleash a dragon at the cinema before ‘Sammy Shrink’ has fun with snow and none with ice cream whilst ‘Shiner’ proves the superiority of British boxing to the kung fu of a new (Korean) bully in town and ‘Beat Your Neighbour’ reveals the danger of high-impact competitive gardening before Baxendale’s ‘Champ’ tries karate… with smashing results…

There’s more eerie insanity when ‘The Drips’ decide to practice their practical jokes inside gumboots and umbrellas and the assorted gags of ‘Sid’s Snake Smiles’ give way to vintage hi-jinks as ‘Jumbo and Jet!’ sees a boy and his elephant attempt to lay crazy paving.

A new boomerang soon makes ‘Champ’ the most unpopular kid at the funfair and the ‘Beat Your Neighbour’ dads clash over whose son can get smartest quickest even as animal crackers in a ‘Vet Set’ neatly lead to a final dose of ‘Sid’s Snake’ silliness with the reptile deciding to emulate the action of a space-hopper…

The weekly comic usually sported an adventure serial to balance the mirth and here ‘Whizz Wheels’ – with art from Ron Turner – details another exploit of bicycle prodigy Tommy Wheels who stood up to a bullying newcomer in town and accidentally exposed a vast bike theft ring.

It’s back to the funny stuff as ‘Rotten Egghead – He’s Just Got to Win!’ find the inventive poor sport building a tank to win a snowball fight whilst the ‘Happy Families’ fall out over television programmes and ‘Tiny Tycoon’ finds a fortune marketing animal skateboards and artificial goalkeepers.

‘Lazy Bones’ learns that looking up his ancestors is conducive to a quiet nap and the ‘Beat Your Neighbour’ regulars take up fishing with the usual bellicose results after which Wham!’s veteran cave-boy ‘Glugg – He’s First in Everything’ have a few problems with his breakfast egg before ‘Sweet -Tooth’ needs heavy machinery to retrieve his latest batch of stolen treats…

Brown offers one more diversionary puzzle in ‘Two Astro-Twits are trying to get to the Moon!’ and the ‘Super Store!’ vends a cut-price golf course to deflate the town swells and snobs before this years festival of fun concludes with a last ‘Lazy Bones’ lesson as his visit to a Free School soon has him begging to get back to his own humdrum class…

Weirdly timeless amusements and evergreen cartoon magic make this tome a terrific treat for youngsters as well as the nostalgia-besotted oldsters like me: this is well worth a second read and an absolute delight if you’re seeing it for the first time…
© IPC Magazines Ltd. 1978

Victor Book for Boys 1975

By many and various (DC Thomson)
Retroactively awarded ISBN: 978-0-85116-077-1

If you grew up British anytime after 1960 and read comics you probably cast your eye occasionally – if not indeed fanatically – over DC Thompson’s venerable standby The Victor.

The Dundee based publisher has long been a mainstay of British popular reading and arguably the most influential force in our comics industry. Its strong editorial stance and savvy creativity has been responsible for a huge number of household names over the decades, through newspapers, magazines, books and especially its comics and prose-heavy “story-papers” for Girls and Boys.

That last category – comprising Adventure, Rover, Wizard, Skipper and Hotspur – pretty much-faded out at the end of the 1950s when the readership voted overwhelming with their pocket money in favour of primarily strip-based entertainments…

Cover-dated 25th January The Victor premiered in 1961 as a (mostly) comic strip package, running for 1657 weekly issues until finally folding in November 1992. Absorbing in its time fellow publications Wizard, Hotspur, Scoop, Buddy, Champ and Warlord, it was very much the company’s flagship title for action tales and as such had its own immensely popular run of Christmas Annuals.

The Victor Book for Boys began in 1964 and resulted in thirty stout and stunning hardcover editions over the years. As with the comic iteration the content was based on classic “Boys Own” adventure material encompassing fantasy, war, science fiction, sports stories, period drama and everything in between.

This particular edition opens with historical fact feature ‘The Age of the Ironclad’ and follows up with war comic strip ‘The Pigeon That Won the V.C.’, detailing how avian messenger Winkie was responsible for the rescue of four downed airmen in 1942; pressing on with perennial favourite ‘The Tough of the Track’ illustrated by Peter Sutherland.

Alf Tupper ranked high amongst the company’s grittily realistic pantheon of ordinary stars: a perpetually grimy, soot-stained, incorrigibly working class true sportsman who ran for pride and honour, not gain or prestige.

Here he has a nasty clash with rich, spoiled running rival Nigel Fenton who tries to hit Alf with his sports-car even as his equally vile father is attempting to fix a traction engine competition. When Alf allies with Colonel Fenton’s most feared opponent, sparks fly, steam explodes and both generations of bad men learn a much deserved lesson…

This is followed by another exploit of the magnificent ‘Morgyn the Mighty’. The “strongest man in the world” first appeared in The Rover in 1928 in prose form, transferred to The Beano in 1938 (drawn by Dudley Watkins) and, after visiting the reborn comics version of Rover, rocked up in The Victor in 1963.

Here the wandering, loincloth-clad wonder man (drawn by Ted Kearnon, perhaps) is in the Himalayas and uncovers the secret of the legendary Yetis, after which ‘The Ruffies and the Tuffies’ (by George Martin and recycled from The Beezer where they were The Hillies and the Billies) comedically continue their frantic feuding before another WWII yarn depicts a plucky Home Guard hero using ‘The Drainpipe Destroyer’ (the formidable Northover Projector) to quash a burglary by Black Marketeers.

Following a general knowledge ‘Quick Quiz’, ‘The Jalopy with a Jinx’ reveals how a young man uses a vintage car to foil a modern jailbreak before ‘Killer Kennedy R.N.’ triumphantly trades his motor torpedo boat for a German bomber after being captured at sea and Queen’s Messenger Peter Hazard runs into a little trouble in modern Afghanistan and has to recover precious papers and treasures before completing his ‘Escape from the Red Assassin’

‘Night run to Fort Luton’ offers a prose yarn about a motorbike despatch rider in WWII Britain, followed up by sports feature ‘Goal!’, a fact-file on rescue procedures entitled ‘Guardians of the Mountains’ and comedy capers from Michael Barratt in a reprint of ‘Tall Tales from Toad-in-the-Hole’: a Topper revival/reprint featuring a little village cut off from progress since the time of Cromwell and poorly adjusting to modern developments such as the unfortunate bill-poster of this episode…

‘Splashdown to Danger!’ finds a modern British salvage vessel on site when a space capsule plunges into the ocean and quickly embroiled in a sinister scheme by leftover Nazi rocket scientists before ‘The Sea Shall Not Have Them!’ describes contemporary air-sea rescue procedures.

Next up is an example of fabulously engaging, long running comedy adventure ‘The Hammer Man’ superbly illustrated by Richard Terry “Ted” Rawlings. Set in the 15th century the strip detailed the rise of blacksmith Chell Puddock whose services to King Henry V saw the commoner elevated to the knighthood as the most peculiar noble of all time…

Here it’s 1415 and he’s still a commoner on the battlefields of France, but his valiant deeds make him many noble friends as he unhorses a rogue English knight, single-handedly breaches the stubbornly impregnable castle of St. Pol and defeats the terrifying Wolf of Picardy in single combat…

Another light-hearted comedy drama was ‘Fred Kay’s Crazy Railroad’ (art by Josep Marti) which described the exploits of a determined British transport sergeant and his crew of misfits and rejects who constructed a makeshift transport line in Burma in 1944. This time his immediate problem is a load of unstable dynamite a pushy American Colonel wants anywhere but where he is…

‘Gorgeous Gus’ (by Bert Vandeput?) was English aristocrat the Earl of Boote who owned and played for First Division Redburn Rovers. When the team travelled to Buenos Aires for an international fixture, Sportivo’s scurrilous director tricks Gus into a polo match and dislocates his shoulder, thinking that it will keep the Rover’s star player out of the game.

Devious Don Juan has no concept of True Brit grit…

Prose skit ‘Chipper’s Time Machine’ reveals why you should never buy a time/space engine from the back of a market stall and ‘Sports Quiz’ tests your knowledge on a wide variety of subjects before Rawlings turns in a typically robust and rambunctious job dramatising the incredible career of Nova Scotian Negro William Hall V.C. who was born the ‘Son of a Slave’ in 1827 and became one of the Royal Navy’s greatest heroes…

‘The Ruffies and the Tuffies’ then briefly suspend hostilities to appear on a TV show whilst ‘It’s a Funny Old World!’ offers crazy clipping of strange –but-true events before ‘The Flying Cowboy’ joins the British Royal Flying Corps in 1916 to show the Boche how things are done back home on the range…

‘Tall Tales from Toad-in-the-Hole’ sees an aged dotard experience the terrors of modern heating before our learning experience kicks in again with optical shenanigans in ‘Your Eyes Tell you Lies!’ whilst ‘Build a Battle Gun’ offers patterns and instructions for the budding model-maker.

The strip action wraps up with a tale of ‘Kenny Carter’s Kayo Kids’ as the dedicated boxing coach takes under his wing a brace of constantly battling troubled twins who only want to fight each other before the tome steams to close with another spread detailing more amazing vessels from ‘The Age of the Ironclad’.

Divorcing the sheer variety of content and entertainment quality of this book from simple nostalgia may be a healthy exercise but it’s almost impossible. I’m perfectly happy to luxuriously wallow in the potent emotions this annual still stirs. It’s a fabulous thrill-packed read from a magical time and turning those stiffened two-colour pages is always an unmatchable Christmas experience… happily one still relatively easy to find these days.

You should try it…
© DC Thomson & Co., Ltd., 1974.

Batman Storybook Annual

By various and Mick Anglo (World Distributors)
No ISBN

Before American publishers began exporting directly into the UK in 1959 our exposure to their unique brand of fantasy came from licensed reprints. British publishers/printers like Len Miller, Alan Class and others purchased material from the USA – and occasionally Canada – to fill 68-page monochrome anthologies – many of which recycled those same stories for decades.

Less common were the flimsy, strangely coloured pamphlets reprinting the same stuff, produced by Australian outfit K. G. Murray and exported and distributed here in a rather sporadic manner. They also produced sturdily substantial Christmas Annuals which had a huge impact on my earliest years (I strongly suspect my adoration of black-&-white artwork stems from seeing supreme stylists like Curt Swan, Carmine Infantino, Gil Kane and Murphy Anderson uncluttered by cheap, flat colour).

The first Batman Annual came out in 1960, but in the heyday of “Batmania” two separate publishers were releasing hardback Holiday Editions. This delightful oddment comes from just after Batmania ruled the Earth, thanks to the power of the Adam West/Burt Ward Batman TV show. Another publisher had the rights to reprint the current crop of DC comic strips – which bore only superficial resemblance to the TV iteration anyway – but World Distributors secured a license to publish prose books directly based on the screen escapades…

British comics have always fed heavily on other media and as the popularity of television burgeoned during the 1960s – especially children’s shows and cartoons – those shows increasingly became a staple source for the Seasonal Annual market. There would be a profusion of stories and strips targeting not simply readers but young viewers and more and more often the stars would be American not British…

After three seasons (perhaps two and a half would be closer) the overwhelmingly successful Batman TV show ended in March, 1968. It had clocked up 120 episodes and a movie since the US premiere on January 12th, 1966 and triggered a global furore for all things zany and mystery-mannish.

At this time DC, Dell/Gold Key, Marvel and Charlton all had limited overseas licenses – usually in dedicated black-&-white anthologies. Another factor to consider was the traditions of the UK market. American comics had been primarily picture-strip based since the 1930s, but British weeklies had been providing Boy’s and Girl’s “papers” that were prose-based for all that time and longer.

DC Thompson persevered with illustrated text periodicals until well into the 1960s and every British company continued to shave costs by padding comics and annuals with text stories and features well into the 1970s.

Seasonal annuals provided a vital sales peak of the publishing year and a guaranteed promotional push (see Alan Clark’s superb The Children’s Annual for further details). Any comic worth its salt needed a glossy hardback on the shelves over the Christmas period, but they didn’t have to be picture-packed…

Not yet, at least. In future years various outfits would publish DC and Marvel Annuals: mostly full colour reprint strip extravaganzas with a little UK-originated material, but in the 1960s the prose tradition was still worth pursuing – especially if another company had the licences to publish strips but had neglected to secure rights to storybooks and text tales…

Thus this peculiar and delightful novelty: a comfortingly sturdy 96 page parcel of bold illustrations, games, puzzles and prose stories featuring the Dauntless Dynamic Duo in exceedingly British, goggle-box inspired tales of skulduggery and derring-do, flavoured with the OTT wackiness of the TV show at its madcap height.

This was the last of four; released in 1969 by Manchester-based World Distributors. The company was formed by Sidney, John and Alfred Pemberton after WWII and their main business was licensed Annuals; usually released in Autumn for the Christmas trade and ranging over the decades from Doctor Who to Star Trek to Tarzan, as well as choice selections of comics properties like Fantastic Four, Superman and The Phantom. They became World International Ltd in 1981 but changing market conditions put them out of business by the end of the decade.

This entire package – like most of their 1960s offerings – was produced in the cheap and quirky mix of monochrome, dual-hued and weirdly full-coloured pages which made the Christmas books such a bizarrely beloved treat. As for the writers and artists of the material your guess is, sadly, as good as or better than mine, but it was certainly generated by the wonderful Mick Anglo’s publishing/packaging company Gower Studios and therefore offered a delightfully eclectic mix of material far more in keeping with the traditionally perceived interests of British boys than the suited-&-booted masked madness which usually followed in the Caped Crusader’s scalloped wake.

The madcap all-ages mayhem opens with ‘The Archer Hits the Target’ wherein the Caped Crusader escapes an bizarre bowman’s death-trap through a liberal application of “batdope” after which the ‘The Riddler Riddles’ provide a page-full of wicked brainteasers. ‘The Joker Laughs Last’ but still fails in pulling off a million-dollar bank raid and we take a quick break by enjoying some arcane natural history facts in featurette ‘How Odd!’

An invasion of animated umbrellas presages ‘The Penguin’s Biggest Flap’ but once he’s properly thumped a brace of divertissements begins with more gags in ‘The Caped Crusader’s Conundrums’ and ends with speed records quiz ‘Fast, Faster, Fastest’ after which the Gotham Gangbusters scupper a modern buccaneer and leave ‘No Plunder for the Pirate’

A fact-file on ‘Queer Birds’ then leads into gripping board-game ‘Catch the Joker’ (still got those counters and dice?) whilst a sartorially superior super-crook meets his match when ‘Batman Buttonholes the Gent’ after which the not-so-Dark Knight offers a lecture on natural gimmicks and animal adaptations in ‘Crime Fighters, Please Note’.

‘Bus Ride – by Water’ is a photo-feature on hovercraft and ‘Know your Sports’ tests your knowledge on games before the Bird Bandit bounces back in ‘A Parry for the Penguin’, kidnapping Commissioner Gordon and Chief O’Hara before a second seductive board-game pits the Caped Crimebusters against the Fowl Felon and Mountebank of Mirth who are ‘Cruising for a Bruising’

‘No Safety in Numbers’ examines conspiracies from Guy Fawkes to the German plot to kill Hitler via the betrayal of Jesse James, whilst ‘Sharpen your Mind’ provides another batch of riddles before we charge back into action as Batman rescues Bruce Wayne’s Aunt Harriet from a medieval-themed malcontent in ‘A Bleak Outlook for the Black Knight’

‘A Joke Isn’t a Joke’ offers another board-game and language-skills are tested in ‘Every Kind of Bat’ and crossword ‘Words Up and Down’ before a deadly card-based cad hits town and ‘Batman Outshines the Ace’ after which another photo-spread details the job of divers in ‘Splash! It’s the Police’ and the underwater theme concludes with ‘The Penguin’s Fishy Facts’

‘Wiping the Smile from the Smiler’s Face’ finds Batman battling a bomb-planting maniac after which general knowledge is assessed in ‘Battle of Wits’ and the Dynamic Duo become ‘Big Game for the Catwoman’ (and her sultry Cat-Girls!) before we all suffer the corny pangs of wit from ‘The Joker Jokes’

This quirky fun-fest then concludes on a high note (A-flat, I suspect) as ‘The Minstrel Plays it Hot’ but still falters before the keen wits and fast fists of Batman and Robin…

Odd and truly daft, this titanic tome is probably only of interest to comics completists and incurable nostalgics, but I’ll bet there are more of us than anybody suspects out there and what’s wrong with a little sentiment-soaked reminiscing anyway?
© MCMLXIX by National Periodical Publications Inc. All rights reserved throughout the world.