Pow! Annual 1970

By various (Odhams Books)

This splendidly intriguing item is one of my favourite childhood delights: addictively captivating at the time and these days a fascinating indicator of the perceived tastes of Britain’s kids. Most importantly it’s still a surprisingly qualitative read with its blend of American adventure strips playing well with a selection of steadfastly English and wickedly surreal comedy material.

With Scotland’s DC Thomson steadily overtaking their London-based competitors throughout the 1960s, the sheer variety of material the southerners unleashed to compete offered incredible vistas in adventure material and – thanks especially to the defection of Leo Baxendale and Ken Reid to monolithic comics publishing giant Amalgamated Press (created by Alfred Harmsworth at the beginning of the twentieth century) – had finally found a wealth of anarchic comedy material to challenge the likes of the Bash Street Kids, Dennis the Menace, Minnie the Minx and their unruly ilk.

During that latter end of the period the Batman TV show sent the entire world superhero crazy and Amalgamated had almost finished absorbing all its rivals such as Eagle’s Hulton Press to form Fleetway/Odhams/IPC.

Formerly the biggest player in children’s comics, Amalgamated had stayed at the forefront of sales by latching onto every fad: keeping their material contemporary, if not fresh. The all-consuming company had been reprinting the early successes of Marvel comics for a few years; feeding on the growing fashion for US style adventure which had largely supplanted the rather tired True Blue Brit style of Dan Dare or DC Thompson’s Wolf of Kabul.

“Power Comics” was a sub-brand used by Odhams to differentiate those periodicals which contained reprinted American superhero material from the company’s regular blend of sports, war, western adventure and gag comics – such as Buster, Lion or Tiger. During the Swinging Sixties these ubiquitous weeklies did much to popularise the budding Marvel characters and universe in this country, which was still poorly served by distribution of the actual American imports. Fantastic and its sister paper Terrific were notable for not reformatting or resizing the original artwork whilst in Wham!, Pow! or Smash!, an entire 24-page yarn could be resized and squeezed into 10 or 11 pages over two weeks…

Pow! launched with a cover date of January 31st 1967, combining home-grown funnies such as Mike Higgs’ The Cloak, Baxendale’s The Dolls of St Dominic’s, Reid’s Dare-a-Day Davy, Wee Willie Haggis: The Spy from Skye and many others, British originated thrillers such as Jack Magic and The Python and resized US strips Spider-Man and Nick Fury, Agent of S.H.I.E.L.D.

After 53 weekly issues the title merged with Wham!, that combination running until #86 when it was absorbed into Smash! Nevertheless, the title generated a number of annuals, even though, by 1969 when this annual was released, the trend generated by TV Batmania was dying.

Interest in superheroes and fantasy in general were on the wane and British weeklies were diversifying. Some switched back to war, sports and adventure stories whilst with comedy strips on the rise again, others became largely humour outlets.

This was one of the last Odhams Christmas compendia to feature imported Marvel material: from then on the Americans would handle their own Seasonal books rather than franchise out their classics to mingle with the Empire’s motley, anarchic rabble.

The content is eclectic and amazingly broad, beginning with a complete but compacted retelling of Sgt. Fury and His Howling Commandos #5 by Stan Lee & Jack Kirby from January 1964.

The full-colour WWII tale found the doughty warrior ‘At the Mercy of Baron Strucker’; beaten and humiliated in a duel with an Aryan nobleman. Soon filmed footage was used as a Nazi propaganda tool and Fury hero was a broken man – until one of his men realised the nonplussed noncom had fallen for the oldest trick in Hollywood’s playbook. The riotous rematch went rather better…

This was followed by a welter of gag strips beginning with an outing for Graham Allen’s The Nervs (revolting creatures that lived inside and piloted unlovely schoolboy Fatty) after which The Swots and the Blots (probably drawn by Mike Lacey) ushered in the economical 2-colour section with another Darwinian example of schoolboy Good vs. Evil and an unnamed substitute for Mike Higgs rendered the comedy caper The Cloak vs. Cloakwoman

Next up is a short Marvel sci fi thriller as ‘Escape into Space!’ (from Tales of Suspense #42 June 1963 by Lee, Larry Lieber & Matt Fox) sees a convict escape to freedom into the void – or does he…? – before Wee Willie Haggis – the Spy from Skye scotches a plot to nobble Scotland’s prime (in)edible export and Percy’s Pets finds the obsessed animal enthusiast in deep water after getting hold of a hyena and crocodile…

Sgt. Fury and His Howling Commandos #5 provides a factual page devoted to ‘Weapons of War: Light Machine Guns of World War II’ to restart the full colour fun, which continues with another Swots and the Blots romp ‘n’ riot after which idiot espionage continues with The Cloak vs. Blubberman

Back then to red-&-black for the not-resized Amazing Spider-Man #36 (May 1966, by Lee and Steve Ditko) as the Wallcrawler faces deranged super strong thief the Looter in ‘When Falls the Meteor!’

The magnificently strange comic villain Grimly Feendish then fails in another bid to get rich nefariously before tiny terror Sammy Shrink restarts a final segment of full-colour wonders with more boyish pranks, after which the reformatted ‘Death of a Hero’ (Fantastic Four #32, November 1964, by Lee, Kirby & Chic Stone) uncovers the secret of Sue and Johnny Storm’s father: a convict who gains incredible power as the rampaging Invincible Man…

This is a strange and beloved book for me and these are all great little adventures, even though I suspect it’s more nostalgia for a brilliant childhood rather than any intrinsic merit. Feel perfectly free to track this down and contradict me if you like though…
© 1969 The Hamlyn Publishing Group Limited.

Superboy Annual 1964-1965

By various (Atlas Publishing/K.G. Murray)

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

Less common were (strangely) coloured pamphlets produced by Australian outfit K.G. Murray and exported here in a rather sporadic manner. The company also produced sturdy and 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 flat colour).

This particular tome of was of the last licensed UK DC comics compilations before the Batman TV show turned the entire planet Camp-Crazed and Bat-Manic, and therefore offers a delightfully eclectic mix of material far more in keeping with the traditionally perceived interests of British boys than the suited-&-booted masked madness that was soon to follow in the Caped Crusader’s scalloped wake.

Of course this collection was still 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.

The sublime suspense and joyous adventuring begins with a rare treat as ‘The Origin of the Superman-Batman Team!’ (by Jerry Coleman & George Papp from Adventure Comics #275, August 1960) offers an alternate view of the Dark Knight.

Teenaged Bruce Wayne was sneaking out on his still-living parents to fight crime as the Flying Fox and the Boy of Steel undertook to give some pre-heroic training after seeing their future partnership in a time scanner.

The task was made simple after the Waynes moved to Smallville but soon an odd rivalry developed…

British books always preferred to alternate action with short gag strips and the Murray publications depended heavily on the amazing DC output of cartoonist Henry Boltinoff. Here a jungle jape starring explorer ‘Shorty’ and a court appearance for ‘Casey the Cop’ herald the start of the duo-colour section (blue and red) before ‘Superboy’s First Day at School’ (Otto Binder & Papp from Superboy #75, September 1959) reveals how another attempt by Lana Lang to prove Clark Kent was the Boy of Steel prompts the lads Super-Recall and reveals how, on their first day in primary school, he inadvertently displayed his powers to her several times…

A big hit during the 1950s, Rex the Wonder Dog featured a supremely capable German Shepherd – and his owners – experience a wide variety of incredible escapades. Here ‘The Valley of the Thunder King!’ by John Broome, Gil Kane & Bernard Sachs from The Adventures of Rex the Wonder Dog #14 March-April 1954, finds the dog and soldier Major Danny Dennis discover a lost tribe of Aztecs in Mexico just as a volcano erupts…

‘How Luthor Met Superboy!’ (by Jerry Siegel & Al Plastino from Adventure Comics #271, April 1960) revealed how young scientist Lex and Superboy became friends, and how the genius became deranged after a laboratory fire extinguished by the Teen Titan caused him to lose his hair. Enraged beyond limit, the boy inventor turned his talents to crime…

Boltinoff’s ET gag strip ‘On the Planet Og’ temporarily terminates the two-tone tales and leads into a black-&-white section wherein Rex’s support feature Detective Chimp takes over.

Bobo was the pet, partner and deputy of Sheriff Chase of Oscaloosa County, Florida: a chimpanzee who foiled crimes and here experienced ‘Death Walks the High Wire!’ (Broome, Irwin Hasen & Joe Giella from The Adventures of Rex the Wonder Dog #8 March-April 1953), solving the murder of a circus trapeze artist.

The amazing hound then became ‘Rex, Dinosaur Destroyer!’ (Robert Kanigher, Kane & Sy Barry, from The Adventures of Rex the Wonder Dog #11-September-October 1953) after an atomic test blast opened a subterranean rift packed with survivors from another age…

‘Little Pete’ and another ‘Casey the Cop’ by Boltinoff augur a return to red and blue tones and an epic 2-part Superboy tale as ‘The Mystery of Mighty Boy! and ‘Superboy’s Lost Friend!’ (Binder & Papp; Superboy #85, December 1960) see the Boy of Steel travel to distant planet Zumoor and a teen hero whose life closely mirrors his own. They quickly become firm friends, but Superboy soon finds good reason to abandon Mighty Boy forever…

Comedy courtesy of Boltinoff’s ‘Professor Eureka’ leads into ‘Superboy’s Nightmare Dream House’ (Superboy #70, January 1959 by Alvin Schwartz & John Sikela) which finds the Teen of Tomorrow teaching a swindler a life-changing lesson before ‘Peter Puptent’ and ‘Casey the Cop’, after which Detective Chimp uncovers ‘Monkey Business on the Briny Deep!’ (Broome, Hasen & Giella, The Adventures of Rex the Wonder Dog #10 July-August 1953) whilst Rex and Danny Dennis Jr. head out west to climb a mountain for charity and brave the perils of ‘The Eagle Hunter!’ (Kanigher, Kane & Barry from The Adventures of Rex the Wonder Dog #14 March-April 1954).

This thrilling collection returns to full-colour for one last Boltinoff ‘Doctor Rocket’ funny before ‘The Super Star of Hollywood’ (Siegel & Papp Adventure Comics #272, May 1960) reveals how super-dog Krypto becomes spoiled and big-headed after starring in a Hollywood movie – until Superboy applies a little clandestine reality check…
© National Periodical Publications, Inc. Published by arrangement with the K.G. Murray Publishing Company, Pty. Ltd., Sydney.

These Christmas Chronicles are lavish and laudatory celebrations of good times and great storytelling but at least they’re not lost or forgotten, and should you care to try them out the internet and a credit card are all you’ll need.

Merry Christmas, a fruitful New Year and Happy Reading from Everybody at Now Read This!

Charley’s War: volume 1: 2 June 1916-1 August 1916

New, Expanded Review

By Pat Mills & Joe Colquhoun (Titan Books)
ISBN: 978-1-84023-627-9

When Pat Mills & Joe Colquhoun began their tale of an impressionable lad who joins up just in time to fight in the disastrous Somme campaign, I suspect they had, as usual, the best of authorial intentions but no real idea that this time they were creating sheer comicstrip magic.

According to Neil Emery’s splendid appreciation ‘Into Battle: a Chronology of Charley’s War’, the landmark feature was originally published in British war strip anthology Battle – AKA Battle Picture Weekly, Battle Action etc. – beginning in issue #200, (6th January 1979 and running until October of 1986): recounting in harrowing detail and with shocking passion the life of an East-End kid who lied about his age to enlist with the British Army reinforcements then setting out to fight the Hun in 1916.

Prior to that author Pat Mills’ Introduction reviews the tone of those times and his intent to shake things up by sneaking an anti-war saga into a ferociously successful periodical which featured gritty he-men dealing with “the Enemy” in a variety of memorable effective means and milieus…

The stunning strip contingent – 29 episodes in all – of this magnificent monochrome hardback opens with a 4-page instalment. ‘Charley’s War – the Story of a Soldier in World War One’ sees 16-year-old London Bus worker Charley Bourne join up – despite not being old enough – and enduring horrific experiences in the mud and blood-soaked trenches.

Military life was notoriously hard and unremittingly dull… except for brief bursts of manic aggression which ended so many lives. Closely following the recorded course of the war, Mills & Colquhoun put young Charley and a rapidly changing cast (constantly whittled away by various modes of combat attrition) through weekly hell and showed another, far from glorious aspect of the conflict to the those 1970s readers.

Each episode was cunningly punctuated and elucidated by the telling narrative device of the lad’s letters to his family in “Blighty” and later reproductions of cartoons and postcards of the period.

With veteran soldier Ole Bill Tozer as his mentor Charley narrowly survives shelling, mudslides, digging details, gas attacks, the trench cat, snipers, the callous stupidity of his own commanding officers – although there are examples of good officers too – and the too often insane absurdity of a modern soldier’s life: quickly becoming a “Tommie” with a gift for lucky escapes.

When Tozer leads a party across No-Man’s Land to capture prisoners for interrogation new pal Ginger sustains a frankly hilarious wound in his nether regions. But as a result and despite the sortie establishing the inadvisability of an attack, the Allied Commanders continue their plans for a Big Push. Thus the lad is confronted with a moral dilemma when he catches a comrade trying to wound himself and get sent home before the balloon goes up. This time, grim fate intervenes before the boy soldier can make a terrible choice…

The unit’s troubles increase exponentially when arrogant toff Lieutenant Snell arrives; constantly undermining every effort by sympathetic officer Lieutenant Thomas to make the soldier’s lives tolerable. The self-serving aristocrat takes a personal dislike to Charley after the lad drops his huge picnic hamper in the trench mud…

On July 1st The Battle of the Somme began and, like so many others , Charley and his comrades are ordered “over the top” to walk steadily into the mortars and machine gun fire of the entrenched German defenders. Thomas, unable to stand the stupidity, cracks and commands them to charge at a run. It saves their lives but lands his men in a fully-manned German dug-out…

After ferocious fighting the lads gain a brief respite but the retreating Huns have left insidious booby-traps to entice them. Many favourite characters die before Charley, Ginger and poor shell-shocked Lonely are captured.

As they await their fate the traumatised veteran at last reveals the horrific events of the previous Christmas and why he wants to die. Moreover the root cause of that atrocity was the same Snell who now commands their own unit…

Through Charley’s dumb luck they escape the Boche, only to blunder into a gas attack and rescue by British Cavalry. The mounted men then gallop off to meet stern German resistance (resulting in some of the most upsetting scenes ever seen in comics) whilst Bourne and Co. are miraculously reunited with their comrades.

The combat carnage has not ceased however and the hard-pressed British are desperate to get a vital message to HQ. Charley volunteers: pushing his luck as the “thirteenth runner”…

To Be Continued…

This stunning first volume – happily still readily available – concludes with a heavily illustrated ‘Strip Commentary’ with Mills’ wonderfully informative chapter notes and commentary revealing background detail and production secrets and a historical feature by Steve White on ‘The Battle of the Somme: Putting Charley’s War in Context’.

Charley’s War closely followed actual events of the war, but this s not the strip’s only innovation. The highly detailed research concentrated more on the characters than the fighting – although there was still plenty of appalling action – and declared to the readership (which at the time of original publication were categorically assumed to be boys between ages 9-13) that “our side” could be as monstrous as the “bad guys”.

Mills also fully exercised his own political and creative agendas on the series and was always amazed at what he got away with and what seeming trivialities his editors pulled him up on.

There is no (anti) war story as gripping, engaging and engrossing, and certainly no strip which so successfully transcends its mass-market, popular culture roots to become a landmark of fictive brilliance. We can only thank our lucky stars that no Hollywood hack has made it a blockbuster which would certainly undercut the tangibility of the “heroes” whilst debasing the message.

There is nothing quite like it and you are diminished by not reading it.

Charley’s War is a true highpoint in the narrative examination of War through any artistic medium: a timeless classic of the art form and now let’s unite to make sure that it’s NOT all over by Christmas…
© 2004 Egmont Magazines Ltd. All Rights Reserved.

The Broons Annual 2014

By Morris Heggie & Peter Davidson (DC Thomson)
ISBN: 978-1-84535-506-7

Last-Minute Christmas Dilemmas Solved: How the Holidays Have To Be celebrated… 10/10

The Broons is one of the longest running newspaper strips in British history, having run almost continuously in Scottish newspaper The Sunday Post since its first amazing appearance in the March 8th 1936 edition: the same issue which launched mischievous wee laddie Oor Wullie.

Both the boisterous boy and the copiously populated, engaging working class family comedy under discussion here were created by journalist, writer and Editor Robert Duncan Low with DC Thomson’s greatest artist Dudley D. Watkins and, once the strips began to be collected in reprint editions as Seasonal annuals, those books alternated stars and years right up to the present day.

This Christmas it’s a Broons year and the latest compilation is just as packed with all-ages fun, rambunctious slapstick hilarity and comfortably gentle domestic warmth, courtesy of current custodians of mirth Morris Heggie & Peter Davison, scrupulously continuing the tradition of inviting, resplendent and amusing Scots cultural domination…

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

In 1936 his next bright idea was the “Fun Section”: an 8-page pull-out comicstrip supplement for the Sunday Post.

The clear stars were The Broons and Oor Wullie and Low’s most brilliant notion was to devise both as comedies in the charismatic Scottish idiom and broad unforgettable vernacular where, supported by features such as Auchentogle by Chic Gordon, Allan Morley’s Nero and Zero, Nosey Parker and other strips, they laid the groundwork for the publisher’s next great leap.

In December 1937 Low launched the first DC Thomson comic weekly. The Dandy was followed by The Beano in 1938 and early-reading title The Magic Comic in 1939. War-time paper shortages and rationing curtailed the strip periodical revolution, and it was 1953 before the next wave of cartoon capers releases. The Topper started the ball rolling again in the same year that Low & Ken Reid created Roger the Dodger for The Beano

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

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

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

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

For all those astonishingly productive years he had unflaggingly drawn a full captivating page each of Oor Wullie and The Broons every week, so his loss was a colossal blow to the company. DC Thomson reprinted old episodes of both strips in The Sunday Post and the Annuals for seven years before a replacement was found whilst The Dandy reran Watkins’ Desperate Dan stories for twice that length of time.

Instantly an undeniable, rock solid facet of Scots popular culture, the first Broons Annual (technically Bi-Annual) appeared in 1939, alternating with Oor Wullie right up to the present day, and for millions of readers the year doesn’t end well without them.

What’s the Set Up?: the multigenerational Broon family inhabit a tenement flat at 10 Glebe Street, in the timelessly metafictional Scottish industrial everytown of Auchentogle (or sometimes Auchenshoogle): based in large part on the working class Glasgow district of Auchenshuggle and an ideal location in which to tell gags and relate events to sentimental Scots wherever they might actually be residing.

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

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

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

Although there’s still a wealth of older editions still available and many great spin-offs and merchandise such as The Broons Days Oot Travel Guide or Maw Broon’s Cookbook, there’s no lack of quality in modern annuals and always something worth seeing in these grand tomes.

This year’s model (by Heggie & Davidson) comprises a softcover monochrome collection featuring 96 pages of gentle gags, family frolics and gloriously slapstick shenanigans including plumbing disasters, fireplace fiascos, food foolishness, dating dilemmas, appliance atrocities, fashion freak-outs, exercise exploits and childish pranks by young and old alike…

In the town there’s a wealth of traditional problems like getting girls into Burns Night suppers, sporting specialities, pimples and plooks, grievances and dalliances with good friends, nosy neighbours and total strangers, confrontations with the constabulary and shopping shocks.

Moreover in the two years worth of strips included here all the usual holidays are honoured: Valentine’s Day, Easter, Christmas and Hogmanay. Musical moments and pet perils abound and there are even a few landmark developments such as Grandpaw’s secret lady-friend Annie

And whilst in the country the hunt for cheap Christmas trees cause grief, hiking gets heavy, lost strangers are welcomed, family members are temporarily mislaid, animals uproariously intrude, gardens are tended – and abused – and the legendary Scottish weather takes full advantage of the timorous mortals subjected to it…

This comfortable, nigh-unchanging bastion of happy certainty and convivial celebration of a mythic (almost) lost life and time persists in these pages despite the grudging, sneaky infiltration of such hedonistic, technological and sociological interlopers as flat-screen TVs, mobile phones, dating websites and Winnebagoes, but at least you can be certain that whenever the tawdry present does intrude on proceedings, the happy multitude of the Clan Broon can be relied upon to break, lose or rubbish the offending article…

These books are timeless examples of perfect cartoon magic and you can’t really have a happy holiday without at least one of them in your life…

© 2013 DC Thompson & Co. Ltd. All rights reserved.

Giles: the Collection 2014

By Giles (Hamlyn)
ISBN: 978-0-600-62456-1

Your Last-Minute Christmas Dilemmas Solved!

For the latter part of the 20th century, cartoonist Carl Giles owned Christmas. His annual end of year collections of wry social commentary through engaging graphic brilliance epitomised everything English for us and a truly global population of fans and admirers.

Ronald Giles – AKA Karloff/Karlo AKA “Carl” (aren’t school friends simply the best?) – was born in Islington in 1916 and left school at 14 to work as an office-boy for Superads: a company which supplied cartoonists for companies needing animation commercials.

The work appealed to the boy Giles and he eventually graduated to cartoonist and animator himself, working with film mogul Alexander Korda and latterly newspaper star Roland Davies, who was then adapting his own beloved strip Come On, Steve into a string of animation short features.

In 1937 Giles joined socialist Sunday periodical Reynolds News; producing topical cartoons and the strip Young Ernie and, exempted from military service because he was deaf in one ear and blind in one eye, mastered his craft there through the darkest days of WWII.

In 1943 his work caught the eye of the editor of the Sunday Express, who invited Giles to work on the Evening Standard before changing his mind and offering him a more prestigious and lucrative position with the Daily Express as well as the Sunday edition.

Reluctantly quitting Reynolds News (he was never at ease with his new employers’ Right Wing political stance), “Karlo” began his meteoric rise to wealth and household namehood with his first panel cartoon appearing on Sunday, October 3rd 1943.

Although unable to serve as a soldier, Giles contributed to the War Effort through animated films for the Ministry of Information and cartoons for the Railway Executive Committee and in 1945 became the Daily Express’ “War Correspondent Cartoonist”, embedded with the 2nd Army and Coldstream Guards – a job which took him to the concentration camps Bergen/Belsen when they were liberated by the Allies…

Throughout that traumatic time his drawings kept the Allies amused and, once hostilities ceased, Giles began carving out a comfortable, unassailable position in the consciousness of the nation, with his gently scathing, joyously seditious, outrageously busy and brilliantly rendered panels poking fun at the reader and the changing world through the collective lens of a hilarious hoi-polloi family dominated by a terrifying matriarch known as “Grandma”…

Although he also worked on commercial ads (Fisons, Guinness and others), freelanced for magazines such as Men Only and produced Christmas cards and other material for charitable institutions such as the Royal National Lifeboat Institution (of which he was made Life President), the Royal National Institute for the Deaf and the Game Conservancy Research Fund, the Daily and Sunday Express became his home for the next half century and he produced rare gems and marvels there.

From August 5th 1945 to his retirement in 1991 the “Giles Family” reigned supreme in the nation’s comedy consciousness, with the artist practically dictating how a vast swathe of the population reacted to the news, and from 1946 the best of each year’s output was collected into an annual, with all material selected – and sometimes remastered – by the artist himself.

The series was phenomenally popular and every year celebrity fans (Politicians, Heads of State, the Royal Family and the Great and Good of Sport and Entertainment) would vie for the honour of writing a Foreword, before another tumultuous rib-tickling year was reprised and recapped with genuine warmth, sly sarcasm and biting wit…

When the artist retired in 1991, later editions – no longer released by Express Newspapers – began to include some of his other works and, following Giles’ death in 1995, the volumes switched to thematic compilations rather than strictly chronological reportage.

This year’s model was compiled by John Field – who also contributed the Introduction: Giles and Society - whilst political commentator John Sergeant follows in the footsteps of such notables as Frank Sinatra, Margot Fonteyn, Spike Milligan, Sean Connery and Sir Malcolm Sargeant (no relation) in supplying a pithy appreciative Foreword before the latest selection of best bits begins with a selection of cartoons starring ‘Police’

Reprinting selected gags from Christmas Eve 1945 to March 28th 1989, Giles reveals how much and how little the common man’s relationship to the “Boys in Blue” has changed, after which ‘Sport’ features in a string of palpable hits – and no misses – spanning August 1950 to July 1988.

The cartoonist frequently turned his eagle eye upon his own profession and ‘Journalism’ offers some of the most trenchantly effective jabs and barbs from November 15th 1945 through to February 23rd 1989, after which a special section entitled ‘Giles and Journalism’ features cartoons from the war years and some later events when the artist was the news and not merely its interpreter…

‘The Economy’ always provided great material for classic cartoons and the panels culled from June 2nd 1946 to March 29th 1987 recall some of the grimmest and most hilarious moments in modern memory, whilst the related topic of ‘Shopping’ (December 13th 1951 – December 9th 1990) offers full reign to the lovable anarchists of the Giles Family to be on their best and worst behaviour to end this latest outing on a raucous, riotous high…

With a biographical essay on the author’s ‘Cartoons at the British Cartoon Archive’ this book is another superb example of genius at work and proves once more why Giles was voted “Britain’s Favourite Cartoonist of the 20th Century”. If you’ve never been exposed to the artistic brilliance of the man and our collective history, this tome might well be your year…
Text and images © 2013 Express Newspapers. Giles® is a registered trademark of Express Newspapers. All rights reserved.

The James Bond Omnibus volume 005

By Jim Lawrence & Yaroslav Horak (Titan Books)
ISBN: 987-0-85768-590-2

Win’s Christmas Gift Recommendation: A Traditional Licence To Thrill… 8/10

There are sadly very few British newspaper strips to challenge the influence and impact of classic daily and Sunday “funnies” from America, especially in the field of adventure fiction. The 1930’s and 1940’s were particularly rich in popular, not to say iconic, creations. You would be hard-pressed to come up with home-grown household names to rival Popeye, Dick Tracy, Buck Rogers, The Phantom, Mandrake the Magician, Flash Gordon or Steve Canyon, let alone Terry and the Pirates or the likes of Little Lulu, Blondie, Li’l Abner, Little Orphan Annie or Popeye and yes, I know I said him twice, but Elzie Segars’s Thimble Theatre was funny as well as thrilling, constantly innovative, and really, really good.

What can you recall for simple popularity let alone longevity or quality in Britain? Rupert Bear? Absolutely. Giles? Technically, yes. Nipper? Jane? The Perishers? Garth?

I hope so, but I doubt it.

The Empire didn’t quite get it until it wasn’t an empire any more. There were certainly very many wonderful strips being produced: well-written and beautifully drawn, but that stubborn British reserve just didn’t seem to be in the business of creating household names… until the 1950’s.

Something happened in ‘fifties Britain – but I’m not going to waste any space here discussing it. It just did.

In a new spirit that seemed to crave excitement and accept the previously disregarded, comics (as well as all entertainment media from radio to novels) got carried along on the wave. Eagle, the regenerated Dandy and Beano, girls’ comics in general: all shifted into creative high gear, and so did newspapers. And that means that I can go on about a graphic collection with proven crossover appeal for a change.

The first 007 novel Casino Royale was published in 1953 and subsequently serialised in the Daily Express from 1958, beginning a run of paperback book adaptations scripted by Anthony Hern, Henry Gammidge, Peter O’Donnell and Kingsley Amis before Jim Lawrence, a jobbing writer for American features (who had previously scripted the aforementioned Buck Rogers) came aboard with The Man With The Golden Gun to complete the transfer of the Fleming canon to strip format, thereafter being invited to create new adventures, which he did until the strip’s ultimate demise in 1983.

The art on the feature was always of the highest standard. Initially John McLusky provided the illustration until 1966’s conclusion of You Only Live Twice and, although perhaps lacking in verve, the workmanlike clarity of his drawing easily coped with the astonishing variety of locales, technical set-ups and sheer immensity of cast members, whilst accomplishing the then-novel conceit of advancing a plot and ending each episode on a cliff-hanging “hook” every day.

He was succeeded by Yaroslav Horak, who also debuted on Golden Gun with a looser, edgier style, at once more cinematic and with a closer attention to camera angle and frenzied action that seemed to typify the high-octane 1960’s.

Titan books have re-assembled the heady brew of adventure, sex, intrigue and death into a series of addictively accessible monochrome Omnibus editions and this fifth compilation finds the creators on top form as they reveal how the world’s greatest agent never rests in his mission to keep us all free, safe and highly entertained…

The frantic derring-do and dark, deadly diplomacy commences with ‘Till Death Do Us Part’ which first ran in the Daily Express from July 7th to October 14th 1975. Solidly traditional 007 fodder, it found Bond assigned to kidnap/rescue Arda Petrich, the comely daughter of a foreign asset, and keep vital intelligence out of the hands of the KGB.

This pacy thriller is most notable more for the inevitable introduction of the eccentric gadgets which had become an increasingly crucial component of the filmic iteration than for the actual adventure, but there are still thrills and flesh aplenty on view.

Hard on the heels of that yarn is brief but enthralling encounter ‘The Torch-Time Affair’ (October 15th 1975 – January 15th 1976), wherein the hunt for a record of all Soviet subversion in Latin America leads to bodies on the beach, a mountain of lies and deceit, breathtaking chases on roads and through jungles, and an astonishingly intriguing detective mystery as Bond and female “Double-O” operative Susie Kew must save the girl, get the goods and end the villain.

But which one…?

‘Hot-Shot’ (January 16th – June 1st) finds the unflappable agent assisting Palestinian freedom fighter Fatima Khalid as she tries to clear the name of her people of airline atrocities committed by enigmatic Eblis terrorists. Their cooperative efforts uncover a sinister Indian billionaire behind the attacks before Bond recognises an old enemy at the heart of it all… Dr. No!

In ‘Nightbird’ (2nd June – 4th November) sporadic attacks by what appear to be alien invaders draw 007 into a diabolical scheme by a cinematic genius and criminal master of disguise apparently in search of military and political secrets and weapons of mass destruction. However a far more venal motive is the root cause of the sinister schemes and reign of terror…

Despite surreal trappings, ‘Ape of Diamonds’ (November 5th 1976 – January 22nd 1977) is another lethally cunning spy exploit as a deadly maniac uses a colossal and murderous gorilla to terrorise London and kidnap an Arab banker, leading Bond to a financial wild man determined to simultaneously destroy Britain’s economic prosperity and steal the Crown Jewels. Happily for the kingdom, Machiavellian Rameses had completely underestimated the ruthless determination of James Bond…

‘When the Wizard Awakes’ finds bad guys employing supernatural chicanery, when the body of a Hungarian spy – dead for two decades – walks out of his tomb to instigate a reign of terror that eventually involves S.P.E.C.T.R.E., the Mafia and the KGB until the British Agent unravels the underlying plot…

In 1977 the Daily Express ceased publication of the Bond feature and the tale was published only in the Sunday Express (from January 30th -May 22nd 1977). Later adventures had no UK distribution at all, only appearing in overseas editions. This state of affairs continued until 1981 when another British newspaper – the Daily Star – revived his career. Presumably, we’ll deal with those cases in another volume.

The first of those “lost” stories are included here, however, beginning with ‘Sea Dragon’, produced for European syndication: a maritime adventure with geo-political overtones wherein crazed billionairess and scurrilous proponent of “women’s liberation” Big Mama Magda Mather tried to corner the World Oil market using sex, murder and a deadly artificial sea serpent.

In ‘Death Wing’ Bond is needed to solve the mystery of a new and deadly super-weapon employed by the Mafia for both smuggling contraband and assassination. Despite a somewhat laborious story set-up, once the tale hits its stride, the explosive end sequence is superb as the undercover agent finds himself used as a flying human bomb aimed at the heart of New York City. His escape and subsequent retaliation against eccentric hit-man Mr. Wing is an indisputable series highpoint.

This astounding dossier of espionage exploits ends in ‘The Xanadu Connection’ (1978) as the daring high-tech rescue of undercover agent Heidi Franz from East Germany inexorably leads the super spy down a perilous path of danger and double-cross.

When Bond is tasked with safeguarding the wife of a British asset leading resistance forces in Russian Turkestan, the mission inevitably leads 007 to the Sino-Soviet hotspot where he is embroiled in a three-sided war between KGB occupation forces, indigenous Tartar rebels and their ancestral enemies of the Mongol militias led by insidious, ambitious spymaster Kubla Khan.

Deep in enemy territory with adversaries all around him, Bond is hardly surprised to discover that the real threat might be from his friends and not his foes…

Fast, furious action, masses of moody menace, sharply clever dialogue and a wealth of exotic locales and ladies make this an unmissable adjunct to the Bond mythos and a collection no fan can do without. After all, nobody does it better…
© 1975, 1977, 1977, 1978, 2013 Ian Fleming Publications Ltd/ Express Newspapers Ltd. All rights reserved.

Egmont Classic Comics Postcard Sets

Battle 100 Postcards, 70’s Girl Comics 100 Postcards, Thunderbirds 100 F.A.B. Postcards
By various (Egmont)

ISBNs: 978-1-4052-6837-0, 978-1-4052-6838-7 & 978-1-4052-6893-6

Win’s Christmas Gift Recommendation: Fun and useful – a gift that keeps on giving… 10/10

I like to fool myself that I have a pretty good idea of what the Now Read This! regulars are like – (love art, adore stories, cherish childhood, never get enough exercise, never grew up…).

If that’s you, I think I’ve solved all your Christmas present quandaries.

Well, not me exactly, but hundreds of talented artists, years of accumulated nostalgia and those devilishly clever people at Egmont publishing…

Egmont UK’s Classic Comics library offers a huge variety of unforgettable British strips such as the iconic Roy of the Rovers, combat chronicles Charley’s War, Johnny Red and Major Eazy from legendary war comic Battle, spooky sagas from girls comic Misty and The Thirteenth Floor from kids’ horror anthology Scream – but only be accessed digitally via the iTunes store….

Now however the company has produced a trio of superb full-colour postcard sets: each providing 100 stunning recreations from the memory-mired vaults and all beautifully packaged in stylish commemorative caskets.

Seminal girl’s weekly Misty ran from February 1978 until 1980 when it merged with Tammy. The amalgam carried on until 1984 when it was subsumed into Princess.

In many ways Misty presaged today’s obsession with supernatural, doomed love: blending eerie chills with relationship dramas in such memorable serials as The Cult of the Cat, Moonchild, The Black Widow,  Hush, Hush, Sweet Rachel, The Sentinels, Mr. Walenski’s Secret and Sticks and Stones as well the comedy witch Miss T.

Even with scripts from Pat Mills, Malcolm Shaw and Barry Clements, the big draw was always the stellar art from international artists including John Armstrong, Joe Collins, Brian Delaney, John Richardson, Ken Houghton, Peter Wilkes, Eduardo Feito, Bob Harvey, Honiera Romeu, Badia, Barrera Gesali, Mario Capaldi & Jesus Redondo.

Misty is the most revered these days – hence the preponderance of pictures included here – but AP/Fleetway/IPC ran for decades and even if material from Princess, Girl, Pink, June and Sandie might have passed some sort of sell-by date, the assorted accompanying images and illustrations culled from Tammy, Penny, Jinty and Sally stuffed into this darkly delightful hope chest are truly timeless.

The cards here include many covers but there’s also a selection of beguiling single-page strips (such as the dubiously un-PC Bessie Bunter), Horoscopes, stunning single panels and posters, title pages like Guitar Girl and so very much more…


The aforementioned Battle is synonymous with British comics, which have always had a solid tradition for top-notch strips about the World Wars. However the material produced by this radically subversive and decidedly different publication in the 1970s and1980s surpassed all previous efforts and has been acknowledged as having transformed the entire art form.

Battle was one of the last great British weekly anthologies (the other of course being 2000AD). The all-combat comic began as Battle Picture Weekly on 8th March 1975 and through absorption, merger and re-branding survived becoming Battle Picture Weekly & Valiant, Battle Action, Battle, Battle Action Force and finally Battle Storm Force before itself being combined with the too-prestigious-to-cancel Eagle on January 23rd 1988.

Over 673 gore-soaked, epithet-stuffed, adrenaline drenched issues, it gouged its way into the bloodthirsty hearts of a generation, consequently producing some of most memorable and influential war strips ever conceived, including Major Eazy, D-Day Dawson, The Bootneck Boy, Johnny Red, HMS Nightshade, Rat Pack, Fighter from the Sky, Hold Hill 109, Fighting Mann, Death Squad!, Panzer G-Man, El Mestizo, Joe Two Beans, The Sarge, Hellman of Hammer Force and the stunning, landmark Charley’s War among so many others.

The list of talented contributors is equally impressive: writers Pat Mills, John Wagner, Steve McManus, Mark Andrew, Gerry Finley-Day, Tom Tully, Eric & Alan Hebden, collaborated with artists such as Eric Bradbury, Colin Page, Pat Wright, Giralt, Carlos Ezquerra, Geoff Campion, Jim Watson, Ian Kennedy, Mike Western, Joe Colquhoun, Carlos Pino, John Cooper, Mike Dorey, Cam Kennedy and many more too numerous – or uncredited – to mention.

The battered war-chest for this pack houses hordes of reproduction covers, electrifying series ads, cutaway-drawings featuring Master Plan, quizzes, single page strips such as This Amazing War, some stunning single panels and title pages and much, much more.


The last box is slightly different, featuring a century of scintillating photos and stills from Gerry Anderson’s astounding Thunderbirds TV series, and whereas I’d have liked to see captures from the superb comics associated with the show, these classic images are immensely evocative too – and there’s always room for a second set, right?

Contained herein are snaps from the unforgettable title sequence, portraits of the Tracy clan and their extended network of allies and companions, the malign, sinister Hood, and of course all those astounding, breathtaking wonder machines employed by the  International Rescue outfit to make the future a kinder, safer place.


At least one of these smart, sharp, impossibly satisfying packs are a perfect present for anybody in “our” set and you could even use them to send good old-fashioned thank you notes for your other presents…

But I’ll bet you won’t be able to…

70’s Girl Comics Collection © 2013 and published by Egmont UK Ltd. All rights reserved.

Battle Collection © 2013 and published by Egmont UK Ltd. All rights reserved.

Thunderbirds ™ and © ITC Entertainment Group Limited 1964, 1999, 2013. Licensed by ITV Ventures Limited. All rights reserved. Published by Egmont UK Limited.

Thunderbirds – the Comic Collection

By Alan Fennell, Scott Goodall, Frank Bellamy, John Cooper, Eric Eden, Graham Bleathman & various (Egmont)
ISBN: 978-1-4052-6836-3

Win’s Christmas Gift Recommendation: 10/10 because it just is.

Stand By For Frothing!
Growing up in 1960’s England was the best of all possible worlds for a comic lover. As well as US imports you were treated to some frankly incredible weekly publications, and market bookstalls sold second-hand comics for at least a third of their cover price. We also had some of the greatest artists in the world working on some of the best licensed properties around. A perfect example is the TV – primarily Gerry Anderson – anthology comic TV Century 21.

For British kids of a certain vintage – it varies from eighty to four and three quarters – the Anderson experience is a large and critical component of the DNA of childhood. The TV episodes, toys, bubblegum cards, movies and especially the comic strips all irresistibly evoke and re-manifest the thrill and fevered anticipation of juvenile ecstasy in the millions of kids who enjoyed the weekly rush of mind-boggling, mouth-watering adventure – even decades after the initial hit.

Thus this latest glossy compilation, collecting some of the greatest strips in comics history is probably going to leave a lot of people gurgling in delight as they revisit or – if they’re incredibly lucky – see for the first time a spectacular panorama of futuristic fantasy thrills, spills and chills.

TV Century 21 (the unwieldy “Century” was eventually dropped) was patterned after a newspaper – albeit from 100 years into the future – and this shared conceit carried avid readers into a multimedia wonderland as television and comics fed off each other.

The incredible illustrated adventures were often supplemented with colour stills taken from the shows and photos also graced all text features and fillers which added to the unity of one of the industry’s first “Shared Universe” products. Even the BBC’s TV “tomorrows” were represented in a full-colour strip starring The Daleks.

The first issue launched on January 23rd 1965, instantly capturing the hearts and minds of millions of children and further proving to British comics editors the unfailingly profitable relationship between TV shows and healthy sales.

Filled with high quality art and features, printed in gleaming photogravure, TV21 featured such strips as Fireball XL5, Supercar and Stingray as well as a strange series about a posh future lady spy and her burglar chauffeur.

In an attempt to be topical, the allegorically Soviet and terribly totalitarian state of Bereznik was used in many strips, acting as an overarching, continuity-providing bad guy. Behind numerous plots and outrages, the TomorrowTerrorState constantly schemed against the World Government (for which read “The West”) in an eerily advanced Cold War espionage scenario which augmented the aliens, aquatic civilizations, common crooks and cataclysmic disasters that threatened the general well-being of the populace.

Although Thunderbirds did not premiere on TV until September of that year (with Frank Bellamy’s incredible strip joining the comic’s line-up in January 1966 with #52) Lady Penelope and Parker (subtitled as and promising “Elegance, Charm and Deadly Danger”) had been running since issue #1.

The aristocratic super-spy was promoted to her own spin-off, top-class photogravure publication in January 1966 – just as Anderson’s newest creations launched into super-marionated life: their comics exploits becoming the big draw in the already unmissable TV21.

All that is further explained in an expansive ‘Introduction’ before the procession of weekly wonderment – two staggeringly intoxicating pages every seven days! – begins in this massive (290 pages, 297x222mm) full-colour luxury hardback.

It all begins with the thirteenth adventure, which ran from #141-146 (30th September to November 4th 1967, scripted by Scott Goodall and illustrated by Frank Bellamy) and details how an avaricious madman intends splitting Persia in two with ‘The Earthquake Maker’.

The unforgettable alien invader story ‘Visitor from Space’ (#147-154) follows, with one of the most memorable monsters in comics history stealing the show on every page, after which ‘The Antarctic Menace’ (6th January-17th February 1968, #155 to 161) begins a brand new year with the same tried and true thrills as the Tracy boys are called in to save the day after the Australia-Antarctica highway is sabotaged!

‘Brains is Dead’ (#162-169, running until 13th April) features the skulduggery of the sinister Hood in a deadly game of industrial espionage, after which artist Graham Bleathman provides a captivating glimpse at those longed-for technical details with double-page cutaway spreads and single page strip sequences ‘Thunderbird 1 Technical Data’, ‘Launch Sequence: Thunderbird 1’, ‘Launch Sequence: Thunderbird 2’ and ‘Thunderbird 2 Technical Data’.

The suspenseful strip stories resume with ‘The Space Cannon’ (Goodall & Bellamy, from TV21 #170-172 April 20th to May 4th 1968) as the team have to stop a continually firing neutron cannon that’s crashed into the Thames, whilst follow-up yarn ‘The Olympic Plot’ by Howard Elson & Bellamy (#173-178) finds the great games – held in the crater of Vesuvius – disrupted not only by a lake of fire but also a madman digging up a pirate treasure hidden since the 17th century…

TV21 #184-187 (27th July-17th August 1968) offered ‘Devil’s Crag’ (Goodall & Bellamy) and saw International Rescue save a lost schoolboy; a spectacular visual extravaganza that belies its deceptively simple plot, after which ‘The Eiffel Tower Demolition’ (#188-191) goes dreadfully wrong and Scott and Virgil find themselves endangered by thieves and saboteurs…

Bleathman returns with more pictorial top secrets in ‘Specifications of Thunderbird 3’, ‘Launch Sequence: Thunderbird 3’, ‘Launch Sequence: Thunderbird 4’ and ‘Specifications of Thunderbird 4’ after which Goodall & Bellamy expose ‘The Nuclear Threat’ (TV21 #192-196, 21st September-19th October 1968) of an out-of-control drone ferrying atomic weapons to their intended deep sea dumping ground, whilst the ‘Hawaiian Lobster Menace’ (#197-202) outrageously reveals a plot to turn tasty crustacean treats into explosive anti-personnel weapons…

‘The Time Machine’ (December 7th 1968 to January 11th 1969) used by Jeff and Scott Tracy malfunctioned in a most unfortunate manner, whilst from #209-217 a more domestic disaster saw ‘The Zoo Ship’ which foundered off Tracy Island lead to crewmen trapped aboard ship and savage beasts loose on shore with our harried heroes trying to save lives whilst keeping their secrets safe from the ever insidious Hood…

Bleathman has more artistic innovations to display in ‘Specifications of Thunderbird 5’, ‘The Construction of Thunderbird 5’, ‘This is Tracy Island’ and ‘Tracy Island’ giving us all the detail and data we desire before ‘City of Doom’ (Goodall as “Spencer Howard” & Bellamy from #218-226, 22nd March to May 17th) finds a top secret, ultra-futuristic Andean science metropolis endangered by a wild nuclear reaction…

Scripted by Goodall or (perhaps John W. Jennison?), ‘Chain Reaction’ ran in TV21 and TV Tornado #227-234, May 24th-12th July 2069) wherein the Tracy team had to stop an out of control 50,000-ton space freighter from impacting in the middle of San Francisco – and that’s just the start of an epic calamity which threatened to destroy the entire Pacific Rim…

There’s a big jump here to October 1968 for ‘The Big Bang’ by Geoff Cowan & John Cooper, possibly explained by the fact that once Bellamy left the strip, his cruelly underrated replacement rendered the strip in black and white. When Fleetway revived the Anderson franchise in the early 1990s the comics featured artwork from TV21 supplemented with new original material from another generation of fans and creators, but as Thunderbirds was far and away the biggest hit, some of Cooper’s strips were reprinted with the artist at last getting the chance to colour his efforts.

Thus this, his second original yarn from TV21 & Joe 90 #5-8 (25th October-15th November 1969), involving smuggled diamonds and a boy trapped on a building both sinking and about to explode…

The endeavours of the Tracy clan then conclude with ‘The Mini Moon’ (Richard O’Neill & Cooper (TV21 & Joe 90 #22-28, 21st February to April 4th 1970) as a roving planetoid menaces Earth and Brains, Alan and Gordon have to blow it up while it’s still far enough away to pose no extinction-level threat…

Happily there’s still plenty for fans to enjoy as, after Bleathman’s revelatory ‘The Secrets of FAB 1’ and Creighton-Ward Stately Home’, the adventures of Lady Penelope and her invaluable manservant Parker begin with ‘Mr. Steelman’ by Alan Fennell & Eric Eden. Originally seen in TV Century 21 #1-11, January 23rd to April 3rd 1965, this is a complex thriller involving espionage and a deadly robot, after which Bellamy handles ‘The Isle of Arran Riddle’ (#35-43, September 18th to November 13th 1965) wherein the Honourable Lady Creighton-Ward attempts to solve an ancient puzzle and inherit a fabulous ruby.

Eden returned for ‘The Vanishing Ray’ (#44-51) as the stately spy was mysteriously sent a torch that turned objects transparent, unaware that the wicked Hood was hot on its trail.

The deadly games end with ‘The Enemy Spy’, illustrated by the legendary Frank Hampson from the July 1965 Lady Penelope Summer Extra, wherein an idle glance at the TV news sets Her Ladyship on the trail of Bereznik’s top assassin…

But of course the real treasure is the phenomenal and unparalleled work of Frank Bellamy, whose fantastic design, drawing and painted colour (which holds up rather well here, despite the limitations of modern print technology to accommodate the subtleties of the photogravure process) steals the show – and usually one’s breath away!

The work of Bellamy and his successors are a cherished highpoint of British comic-making. Crisp, imaginative writing, great characters and some of the very best science-fiction art of all time make this a must-have book for just about anybody with a sense of adventure and love of comics. It doesn’t get better than this.
Thunderbirds ™ and © ITC Entertainment Group Limited 1964, 1999, 2013. Licensed by ITV Ventures Limited. All rights reserved.

Brahma Dreaming

By John Jackson, illustrated by Daniela Jaglenka Terrazzina (JJBooks)
ISBN: 978-0-9569212-8-4

Win’s Christmas Gift Recommendation: Lavish, luxurious and utterly special – a book the entire family will adore … 10/10

I love books. I always have. I also had tremendously understanding parents.

When I was kid each birthday and every Christmas brought fantastic volumes that assaulted all the senses my podgy young body was prey to. The 1960s were a golden age for fabulous books for kids or adults…

The feel of shiny, sturdy card-covers and solidly reliable paper pages, the reassuring weight of a tome, the smell of printers ink and faint crack of a thick, solid spine opening for the very first time always overwhelmed me with each fresh acquisition. (I quickly got over licking my books – it made the pages soggy and smoosh together…)

Most important of course were the contents: words and pictures which could transport a reader to worlds ancient, modern or even futuristic, comfortably familiar and fantastically alien.

Like most of my compatriots I consumed everything, but I always harboured a particular affinity for stories about mythical Heroes, Gods and Monsters…

Now decades later, after a seeming eternity of books getting gradually smaller, duller, flimsier – but certainly not cheaper – the good old days seem to be returning. It’s obviously the time and season for books that look and feel like something special…

Case in point is this magnificent construction – a colossal 304 x 216mm, 248 page monochrome prose-&-illustration hardback from advocate, barrister, businessman, campaigner and writer-turned-publisher John Jackson.

Between nostalgically welcoming substantial card covers rests a captivatingly retelling of tales from the Hindu Holy Trinity the Trimurti, augmented and embellished with 50 spectacular full and double-page ink illustrations by Italian artist Daniela Jaglenka Terrazzina (A Little Piece of England, Animals Marco Polo Saw, Tales for Great Grandchildren: Folk Tales from India and Nepal and others).

Her stark, lush style is reminiscent of Aubrey Beardsley, Sidney Sime, Edmund Dulac and other past masters of elegant fantasy and will instantly transport you to places long away and far ago…

The captivating recapitulations begin in Tales of Creation: dealing with the earliest days of the universe when the grand cosmic sound Aum echoed in the void and brought forth the Lords of Creation Brahma the Creator, Vishnu the Preserver and Shiva the Destroyer.

In ‘The Beginning’, we learn how, after dreaming, Brahma brought forth Seven Wise Men and their wives. From these came the races of Gods and Demons. After this Brahma dreamed again and the First World was created, populated with animals and mankind.

When Wise Man Durvasas brought his haughty nephew Indra, King of the Gods a gift it was unappreciated and resulted in ‘The Curse’ which tipped the balance in the eternal war between Gods and Demons. The deities beseeched Brahma to intercede, and the Lord of Creation delegated the task to Vishnu who revealed all could be made well if the Gods found a way to churn ‘The Milk Ocean’

‘The Lie’ tells of Kadru, the Mother of all Snakes and her sister Vinata, revealing the dangers of excessive pride and arrogance, whilst in ‘The Sons of King Sagara’ a king with no heirs consults the Wise Man Bhrigu with spectacular results.

Indeed Sagara and his wives Kerini and Somati then begat so many sons that, as an army, they could conquer the Earth and challenge Indra himself…

As everyone knows, the First World ended in a mighty flood with only the healer Manu warned in time to preserve the Seven Wise Men and all the seeds of life and knowledge in a great boat. To ensure the Second World after the deluge Brahma became ‘The Fish’ which guided them all to safety on Mount Himavan

Tales of Destruction deals with the harsh existence of Shiva the Destroyer, beginning with the lonely, unlovable bachelor’s search for a wife in ‘Sati’. That brief happy union was destroyed by the callous pranks of Wise Man Narada whose meddling tongue led to the bride’s death of ‘Burning Love’ – and the fiery vengeance of Shiva…

It also resulted in more celestial war, but the overwhelming campaign of the demon warlord ‘Taraka’ produced in turn a rebirth of the Destroyer’s wife in the young goddess ‘Uma’

The Destroyer was, however, unable to create a child even though it was prophesied that such a paradoxical progeny was the only being who could win the Demon War and kill Taraka. It took the inspired intercession of Fire God Agni to finally quicken the saviour child who would be ‘Kartikeya’ God of War…

The fallout of this impossible conception was fury on behalf of Shiva’s second wife. The betrayed goddess showed hidden strength by losing her temper and, in a special dance, revealing her terrifying submerged aspect as Kalee, Destroyer of Time before finding proper stability in ‘How Uma Became Parvati’

The grisly origins and acts of ‘Ganesha’ the Elephant-headed god then lead us into an astounding story of passion and devotion in ‘Yama and the Love Girl’. Then the convoluted tale of how prankster sky-maiden Anjana was turned into a monkey before she and Wind God Vayu conceived the mighty ‘Hanuman’ takes us full circle when easily-slighted Ganesha takes vengeance on the cruelly teasing Moon God in ‘Chandra’s Shame’

This staggering and enthralling compendium concludes with some exploits of Vishnu in Tales of Preservation, beginning with the story of his manifested earthly aspect Krishna‘The Blue Boy’

The boy’s aunt was blessed – or cursed – with a complex divinely-orchestrated fate and ‘The Loves of Queen Pritha’ details how the poor woman bore five children by different gods and became the root cause of a tragic and appalling war between families.

The epic search that reunited ‘Rama and Sita’ also includes the last great exploit of Hanuman, after which ‘The City of Dwaraka’ reveals how Krishna grew into a mighty hero and demon killer, although even he struggled to quell the all-encompassing strife between Pritha’s warring offspring the Kauravas and Pandavas

Retired in Dwaraka, Krishna had many children. When one of them, Samba, annoyed a Yogi with his mischief the wayward boy was repaid in brutal kind by “giving birth” to ‘The Iron Rod’ which ended his father’s life…

The fable of ‘Little Gopala’ ends our mythological voyage, relating how a small and very ordinary boy became blessed of a ghostly brother with skin the colour of the sky, and the wheel turns full circle with The End describing how works of The Lords of Creation are with us still…

Epic, engaging and astonishingly enthralling, this is the kind of book entire families read; and yours should be one of them…
© 2013 John Jackson. All rights reserved.

Violent Cases

By Neil Gaiman & Dave McKean (Escape Books)
ISBN: 978-0-9509568-6-2

As this entire book is all about stories, memories, perception and self-deception, I’m concentrating on the original Escape Books release, although the tale has been re-issued a number of times. Moreover, difficult sod that I am, even though the artwork was created in a muted tonal colour-palette of blues, greys and browns, which were restored for those subsequent releases, I actually prefer the black and white version I first saw, so I’m going with that one rather than later, corrected as-the-artist-intended versions…

There’s actually very little to say about this enigmatic and compelling little teaser other than the basic facts.

Initially published by the aforementioned and sorely missed Escape outfit in 1987, it marks the first collaboration of two relatively unknown creators who shared a more literary aspiration for comics than traditional newcomers to the craft, married to a novel approach and genuine, raw, hungry storytelling talent.

It’s short, sweet, disturbing, utterly absorbing and probably impossible to translate into any other medium… and that is, of course, a Very Good Thing.

There’s this guy see, and he’s reminiscing about his childhood in the 1960s…

Years ago in Portsmouth a little lad hurt his arm rather badly whilst exchanging words about bedtime with his father. To fix the problem daddy took the 4-year old to see an osteopath. The elderly gentleman was an interesting fellow with an accent who told great yarns and mentioned that he had once treated somebody famous…

As the narrator tries to sort out the half-forgotten details – fragments of life and films and games congealed now with clearly conflated circumstances – the facts, fictions and shadily obscured misunderstandings concerning his difficult childhood, growing maturity and awareness and those hours with Al Capone’s bone-bender begin to emerge and coalesce… or do they?

Flickering back and forth, the narrative proffers a miasma of mixed memories and misapprehensions involving a memorably troubled old man, Men in Dark Suits, a party, a magician, unexplained appearances and subsequent disappearances, unforgettable physical discomfort as a young arm was coaxed back into correctitude, tales of tailors and gangsters and Tommy Guns… which were always carried in Violent Cases…

Most of all it deals with unsolvable mysteries – because even the things we recall, we don’t always remember…

Complete with an Alan Moore Introduction, this slight but unforgettable pictorial memento mori – or is that topica tragoedia? – beguiles and enchants and subtly distresses in ways no lover of the comics medium could possibly resist.

If you haven’t read it, you must. If you have, read it again – it’s not at all what you remember…
© 1987 Neil Gaiman & Dave McKean.