Tales from the Dreamspace

By Luke Melia, Vinny Smith, Bobby Peñafiel, David Anderson, Dennis O’Shea, Timothy Conroy, Steve Andrews, Rees Finlay, Jonny Pearson & various (Dreamspace Comics/CreateSpace Independent Publishing Platform)
ISBN: 978-1-97629-398-6

As I’ve frequently proclaimed, I’m a huge fan of creators with the drive and dedication to take control of their own destinies and that’s why it’s such a delight to see another splendid home-grown tome from Luke Melia and his trusty band of cartoon collaborators.

Comprising comic strips, illustrated prose pieces and a scattershot selection of short, sharp, mood-setting epigrams, this particular package of perils stems from a communal spooky story session which grew into an online competition and resulted in the blood-curdling book of fearsome phantasms before us today.

Committed to full-colour paperback form as a macabre and unsettling graphic grimoire, the uneasy experiences begin with the true story of Dreamspace’s inception, after which a few tone-teasing text titbits lead into a darkly twisted hostage situation with ‘It’s in the Basement’.

Scripted by Luke Melia and illustrated by Bobby Peñafiel, the monster is designed by Christopher Wallace. It’s not what you’re thinking…

Following more zingy scary word-salads, Melia then segues into prose to propose a morally confounding challenge with a devastated mother failing in her own eyes and subsequently taking horrific steps to correct ‘The Imbalance’ before David Anderson & Steve Andrews resort to potent monochrome to expose – and expedite – a distressingly Kafkaesque ‘Skeleton in the Closet’

The micro-yarns are by many and varied contributors and suitably divide all the longer tales, which resume now with Dennis O’Shea’s prose piece ‘Motel’ revealing the awful aftermath of a well-nasty Boy’s Night Out, whereas coal black humour and sordid surreality colour an extended strip-saga splatter-fest of misbegotten youth, vengeance paid in full and the ‘Bath time Bastard’, courtesy of Melia, Vinnie Smith & Peñafiel…

Anderson switches to prose mode for a macabre tale of dystopian survival in ‘The Rat Queen’ after which Rees Finlay & Jonny Pearson illumine a shocking plunge into detention, demonic delirium and ‘Damnation’ before Melia & Timothy Conroy revisit Beauty and the Beast via the wedding vows with ‘In Sickness’ to bring the shock therapy to a close…

Like previous outings Oculus and The White Room of the Asylum, this compendium of bloody wit, dark humour and caustic circumstance is judiciously rendered in a range of palettes from full colour to black & red to overwhelmingly stark black-&-white, all combining to highlight the morbid power of narrative in service to night terrors: a menu of compulsive and terrifying tales you’d be absolutely crazy to miss, but wisest to peruse with the doors locked and all the lights on.
© 2017 Luke Melia. All rights reserved.

Comics at War

By Denis Gifford (Hawk Books)
ISBN: 978-0-96824-885-6

Very often the books we write about our comics are better than the stories and pictures themselves: memorable, intensely evocative and infused with the debilitating nostalgic joy that only passing years and selective memory bestows.

That’s not meant in any way to denigrate or decry the superb works of the countless -generally unrecognised and generally unlauded – creators who brightened the days of generations of children with fantastic adventures and side-splitting gags in those so flimsy, so easily lost and damaged cheap pamphlets, but rather because of an added factor inherent in these commemorative tomes: by their very existence they add the inestimable value and mystery of Lost, Forgotten or Buried Treasures into the mix.

A perfect example is this copious chronicle released as an anniversary item in 1988 to celebrate the wartime delights rationed out to beleaguered British lads and lasses, compiled by possibly the nation’s greatest devotee and celebrant of childish pastimes and halcyon days.

Denis Gifford was a cartoonist, writer, TV show deviser and historian who loved comics. As both collector and creator he gave his life to strips and movies, acquiring items and memorabilia voraciously, consequently channelling his fascinations into more than fifty books on Film, Television, Radio and Comics; imparting his overwhelming devotion to a veritable legion of fans.

If his works were occasionally short on depth or perhaps guilty of getting the odd fact wrong, he was nevertheless the consummate master of enthusiastic remembrance. He deeply loved the medium in concept and in all its execution, from slipshod and rushed to pure masterpieces with the same degree of passion and was capable of sharing – infecting almost – a casual reader with some of that fierce wistful fire.

With hundreds of illustrative examples culled from his own collection, this volume was released to commemorate the outbreak of World War II and revels in the magnificent contributions to morale generated by a battalion of artists and (usually anonymous) writers, covering the output – in breadth if not depth – of an industry that endured and persevered under appalling restrictions (paper was a vital war resource and stringently rationed), inciting patriotic fervour and providing crucial relief from the stresses and privation of the times.

Abandoning academic rigour in favour of inculcating a taste of the times, this book reprints complete sample strips of the period beginning with the affable tramps and Jester cover stars Basil and Bert (by George Parlett), covering the start of the war in four strips from January to November 1939, before dividing the collection into themed sections such as Be Prepared: with examples of Norman Ward’s Home Guard heroes Sandy and Muddy from Knock-Out and John Jukes’ Marmaduke, the Merry Militiaman from Radio Fun.

At War With the Army displays the ordinary Englishman’s perennial problem with Authority – with episodes of Koko the Pup and Desperate Dan (respectively by Bob MacGillivray and Dudley Watkins from D.C. Thomsons’ Magic and The Dandy); Weary Willie and Tired Tim (from Chips and superbly rendered by Percy Cocking), as well as stunning two-tone and full colour examples from Tip-Top, The Wonder and others.

Tanks a Million! offers selections from the height of the fighting, and brings us head-on into the controversial arena of ethnic stereotyping. All I can say is what I always do: the times were different. Mercifully we’ve moved beyond the obvious institutionalised iniquities of casual racism and sexism (maybe not so much on that last one though?) and are much more tolerant today (unless you’re obese, gay, a smoker, or childless and happy about it), but if antiquated attitudes and caricaturing might offend you, don’t read old comics, or watch vintage films or cartoons – it’s your choice and your loss.

The strip that sparked this tirade is an example of Stymie and his Magic Wishbone from Radio Fun (a long-running strip with a black boy-tramp in the tradition of minstrel shows) from a chapter highlighting the comic strip love-affair with armoured vehicles and including many less controversial examples from Tiger Tim’s Weekly, Knock-Out, Chips and The Dandy, featuring stars such as Our Ernie, Our Gang, Stonehenge, Kit the Ancient Brit and Deed-A-Day Danny.

…And if you think we were hard on innocent and usually allied non-white people just wait till you see the treatment dealt to Germans, Italians and Japanese by our patriotic cartoonists…

At Sea with the Navy! highlights nautical manoeuvres from Casey Court (Chips, and by Albert Pease); Rip Van Wink (Beano, James Crichton); Lt. Daring and Jolly Roger (from Golden by Roy Wilson; Billy Bunter (Knock-Out by Frank Minnitt); Hairy Dan (Beano, Basil Blackaller) and Pitch and Toss (Funny Wonder, Roy Wilson again) whilst Sinking the Subs takes us below the surface with Our Ernie, Desperate Dan, Koko, Pansy Potter, Alfie the Air Tramp and Billy Bunter.

Britain’s fledgling flying squad takes centre-stage with In the Air with the R.A.F. featuring Freddie Crompton’s Tiny Tots, Korky the Cat from Dandy, The Gremlins (Knock-Out, by Fred Robinson) and yet more Koko the Pup.

Awful Adolf and his Nasty Nazis! demonstrates and deftly depicts just what we all thought about the Axis nations and even indulges in some highly personal attacks against prominent personages on the other side, beginning with Sam Fair’s riotously ridiculing Addie and Hermy, (Beano’s utterly unauthorised adventures of misters Hitler and Goering), whilst Our Ernie, Lord Snooty, Pitch and Toss, Big Eggo (Beano, by Reg Carter), Plum and Duff (Comic Cuts, Albert Pease) and the staggeringly offensive Musso the WopHe’s a Big-a-Da-Flop (Beano, Artie Jackson and others) all cheered up the home-front with macerating mockery.

Doing Their Bit then gathers wartime exploits of the nation’s stars and celebrities (turning Britain’s long love affair with entertainment industry figures into another True Brit bullet at the Boche. Strips featuring Tommy Handley, Arthur Askey, Charlie Chaplin, Jack Warner, Flanagan and Allen, Haver and Lee, The Western Brothers, Sandy Powell, Old Mother Riley (featuring Lucan & McShane), Claude Hulbert, Duggie Wakefield, Joe E. Brown, Harold Lloyd, Lupino Lane and Laurel and Hardy included here were collectively illustrated by Reg and George Parlett, Tom Radford, John Jukes, Bertie Brown, Alex Akerbladh, George Heath, Norman Ward and Billy Wakefield.

The kids themselves are the stars of Evacuation Saves the Nation! as our collective banishment of city-bred children produced a wealth of intriguing possibilities for comics creators.

Vicky the Vacky (Magic, George Drysdale), Our Happy Vaccies (Knock-Out, by Hugh McNeill) and Annie Vakkie (Knock-Out, by Frank Lazenby) showed readers the best way to keep their displaced chins up before Blackout Blues! finds the famous and commonplace alike suffering from night terrors…

Examples here include Grandma Jolly and her Brolly, Will Hay, the Master of Mirth, Ben and Bert, Barney Boko, Crusoe Kids, Grandfather Clock, Constable Cuddlecock and Big Ben and Little Len after which Gas Mask Drill finds the funny side of potential asphyxiation with choice strips such as Stan Deezy, Hungry Horace, Deed-A-Day Danny, Big Eggo, Good King Coke and Cinderella all encountering difficulties with Britain’s most essential useless fashion accessory…

Barrage Balloons! lampoons the giant sky sausages that made life tricky for the Luftwaffe with examples from Luke and Len the Odd-Job Men (Larks and by Wally Robertson), It’s the Gremlins, Alfie the Air Tramp, and In Town this Week from Radio Fun whilst Tuning Up the A.R.P.! deals out the same treatment to the valiant volunteers who patrolled our bombed-out streets after dark. Those Air Raid Precautions patrols get a right (albeit roundly good natured) sending up in strips starring Deed-A-Day Danny, Big Eggo, P.C. Penny, Ben and Bert, Marmy and His Ma, Lord Snooty and his Pals, The Tickler Twins in Wonderland, Our Ernie, Tootsy McTurk, Boy Biffo the Brave and Pa Perkins and his Son Percy.

The girls finally get a go in the vanguard with Wow! Women of War! starring Dandy’s Keyhole Kate and Meddlesome Matty (by Allan Morley and Sam Fair respectively); Dolly Dimple (Magic, Morley again), Tell Tale Tilly, Peggy the Pride of the Force, Pansy Potter the Strongman’s Daughter, Big Hearted Martha Our A.R.P. Nut and Kitty Clare’s Schooldays whilst the Home Guard stumble to the fore once more in a section entitled Doing Their Best with examples from Tootsy McTurk (Magic, John Mason), Casey Court, Lord Snooty, Deed-A-Day Danny and Big Eggo.

The peril of imminent invasion was always in the air and the embattled cartoonists sensibly responded with measured insolence. Hop It, Hitler! displays our pen-pushers’ fighting spirit with examples such as Bamboo Town (Dandy, Chick Gordon), Sandy and Muddy, Pansy Potter, the astonishingly un-PC Sooty Snowball, Hair-Oil Hal Your Barber Pal and Stonehenge Kit, before espionage antics are exposed in I Spy Mit Mein Little Eye! in Laurie and Trailer the Secret Service Men plus even more Sandy and Muddy, Herr Paul Pry, Big Eggo and Lord Snooty.

Wireless War! celebrates both radio stars and enemy broadcasts with a selection from Tommy Handley, Troddles and his Pet Tortoise Tonky-Tonk, Happy Harry and Sister Sue, Crackers the Perky Pup, Our Gang and a couple of examples of John Jukes’ sublimely wicked Radio Fun strip Lord Haw-Haw – The Broadcasting Humbug from Hamburg.

To Blazes With the Firemen! is a rather affectionate and jolly examination of one of the toughest of home front duties with a selection of strips including Podge (whose dad was a fire-fighter, drawn by Eric Roberts for Dandy), Casey Court, Pansy Potter and In Town This Week.

Rationing was never far from people’s minds and an art-form where the ultimate reward was usually “a slap-up feed” perfectly lambasted the necessary measures in many strips. Examples here include The Bruin Boy from Tiny Tim’s Weekly; Freddy the Fearless Fly (Dandy, Allan Morley), Cyril Price’s vast ensemble cast from Casey Court (courtesy of Chips), Our Ernie and Dudley Watkins’ Peter Piper from Magic, all in need of Luvly Grub!

Under the miscellaneous sub-headings of Salvage!, Comical Camouflage!, Workers Playtime! and Allies, strips featuring Ronnie Roy the India-rubber Boy, Ding Dong Dally, Desperate Dan, Tin-Can Tommy the Clockwork Boy, Big Hearted Arthur and Dicky Murdoch and other stalwarts all gather hopeful momentum as the Big Push looms and this gloriously inventive and immensely satisfying compilation heads triumphantly towards its conclusion.

V for Victory! sees a telling gallery of strips celebrating the war’s end and better tomorrows; featuring final sallies from Casey Court, Weary Willie and Tired Tim, a stunning Mickey Mouse Weekly cover by Victor Ibbotson, It’s That Man Again – Tommy Handley, Laurel and Hardy and – from Jingles – Albert Pease has the last word with ‘Charlie Chucklechops Speaking… About New Uses for Old War materials’

Some modern fans find a steady diet of these veteran classics a little samey and formulaic – indeed even I too have trouble with some of the scripts – but the astonishing talents of the assembled artists here just cannot be understated. These are great works by brilliant comic stylists which truly stand the test of time. Moreover, in these carefully selected, measured doses these tales salvaged from a desperate but somehow more pleasant and even enviable time are utterly enchanting. This book is long overdue for a new edition and luckily for you is still available through many internet retailers.
Text and compilation © 1988 Denis Gifford. © 1988 Hawk Books. All rights reserved.

Tamsin and the Dark

By Neill Cameron & Kate Brown (David Fickling Books)
ISBN: 978-1-910989-95-1

In January 2012 Oxford-based family publisher David Fickling Books launched a weekly anthology comic aimed at under-12 girls and boys; revelling in reviving the good old days of traditional picture-story entertainment intent whilst embracing the full force of modernity of 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 The 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 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 (Manga Shakespeare: A Midsummer Night’s Dream, Young Avengers, Fish + Chocolate), the eerie tale opens with schoolgirl Tamsin Thomas resuming her part-time job as the last Pellar: magical protector of Cornwall’s human population from creatures ancient and uncanny…

Tamsin first inherited the sacred duty and oppressive pain-in-the-butt responsibility after her brother Morgan was targeted by a malign mystic sea-sorceress who had years previously taken their father. Her newfound power hasn’t come with any extra knowledge however, and being able to fly hasn’t stopped Morgan’s obnoxious new friends from picking on her…

Even sometime mentor and full-time bird King Arthur is no use: preferring to let her learn on the job rather than share anything useful…

After a brief educational interlude detailing the legend of how Mankind and the terrible Cornish Giants came to an accommodation in the Times before Time, Tamsin’s day starts getting ruined when a shadowy monster attacks her dog Pengersek. Happily, her apparently all-powerful Magic Lucky Stick is able to dispel the horror.

King Arthur even tells her it was a “Spriggan” before uttering mysterious warnings, talking technobabble about her stick and flying off to deal with some supposed crisis elsewhere…

Sadly, any tiny sense of triumph dissipates when bullying neighbour Blake Trescothick starts picking on her again and Morgan chooses to side with the jock rather than stick up for his own sister…

He’s even less keen to help her research the legends of Cornwall: despite what he’s seen and been through, Morgan has no time for magic and fairies…

Later when the school goes on a trip to a decommissioned tin-mine, we learn about the ancient pact between man the miner and the ancient Bucca creatures – and so would Tamsin if Blake and Morgan hadn’t started vandalising the site and accidentally re-opened a pit into the darkest recesses of the Earth…

When Morgan is teased into climbing down something awful happens and he’s not the same boy when he comes back up…

And so begins another stunning eldritch thriller blending old-world myth and mayhem with superbly modern and matter-of-fact treatment of properly 21st century kids. Addressing issues of bullying, school-girl pregnancy, and regional job security with primal animosity and terror in a manner suitable and engaging for kids, Tamsin and the Dark reveals how an ancient inimical evil is overwhelmed by good magic and dutiful study, antediluvian bonds and pacts are renewed, old magical allies return to supplement a doughty band of pesky interfering but valiant kids and man’s darkest enemy is repelled. Tamsin even gets to refresh her street cred with the locals mundane and otherwise…

However, her next crisis has already begun…

A mesmerising mix of scary and astounding, the latest exploit of the Last Pellar is bombastic, bold and brilliantly engaging: a romp of bright and breezy supernatural thrills just the way kids love them, leavened with brash humour and straightforward sentiment to entertain the entire family. How and why this series hasn’t been optioned for a TV series or movie is utterly beyond me. Read it and you’ll surely agree…

Text © Neill Cameron 2018. Illustrations © Kate Brown 2018. All rights reser–ved.
Tamsin and the Dark will be released on January 4th 2018 and is available for pre-order now.

Battle Picture Weekly Annual (1976)

By various (Fleetway)
ISBN: 85037-266-6

For most of the medium’s history British comics have been renowned for the ability to tell a big story in satisfying little instalments which nevertheless left the reader hungry for more. This, coupled with superior creators and the anthological nature of our publications, has ensured hundreds of memorable characters and series have seared themselves into that dim corner inside most British adult males that houses the all-important Little Boys’ Psyche.

One of the last great weekly anthology comics was actually dedicated to a single theme: the all-combat Battle, which launched as Battle Picture Weekly on 8th March 1975, and through the traditional forge of absorption, merger and re-branding (becoming Battle Picture Weekly & Valiant, Battle Action, Battle, Battle Action Force and Battle Storm Force) carved itself a place in British comics history.

It was itself combined with Eagle on January 23rd 1988, after 673 blood-soaked, testosterone-drenched issues, having carved its way into the savage hearts of a generation, consequently producing some of the best and most influential war stories ever.

Annuals began immediately and this forward-dated first volume was released in the autumn of 1975: an action-packed compendium featuring opening salvos of some of the very best creators in Fleetway’s international stable and offering a bonanza of war-tinged fact and fiction features: (presumably) a winning blend of such writers as Pat Mills, John Wagner, Gerry Finley-Day, Tom Tully, Eric and Alan Hebden and artists such as Colin Page, Pat Wright, Giralt, Carlos Ezquerra, Geoff Campion and others I’m not savvy enough to recognise…

The literary and graphic conflict diamonds open with a full-colour text-&-picture spread explaining ‘Crete – The Airborne Invasion’ after which vivid strip vignette ‘Two Pints for the Panzers’ (perhaps painted by Carlos Pino?) details a brief Dunkirk skirmish between a deadly Nazi battlewagon and a few infernally devious Tommies…

A brace of prose recollections entitled ‘This Amazing War – Sailing Home!’ and ‘The Invisible Eye… is Shut!’ neatly proceed into monochrome adventure ‘Petty Officer Perkins’ with a bureaucratic quartermaster accidentally saving a British patrol from Japanese ambush through his small-minded penny-pinching whilst ‘The Escapers: Jail Break’ recounts an amazing true tale of a Mosquito raid to liberate Gestapo prisoners…

Legendary, Dirty Dozen-inspired misfit antiheroes Rat Pack (by Finley-Day and perhaps Fred T. Holmes?) muster next, sinking a docked Italian battleship with their usual gritty overkill, after which ‘Boys At War: A Medal for Badgie – Trumpeter Stanley Waldron, DCM, RFA’ honours in prose the achievements of a remarkable young warrior whilst ‘The Experts: The Sniper’ recounts a forgotten tale of the Anzacs in WWI…

Switching to red and black duo-hues, ‘Brothers in Arms’ reveals how two eternally squabbling heirs to an English Baronial Seat bury their animosity in the forge of combat before ‘This Amazing War – Underwater Strike’ regales the avid readership with an exploit of submarine combat.

Looking like early Eric Bradbury ‘Battle Honour: Sixty Minutes of Glory’ was probably culled from Fleetway’s long-running War Picture Library and detailed the valiant holding action of doomed Merchant cruiser Jervis Bay and is followed by text feature ‘The Escapers: Only One Got Away’ which details the astounding true story of German POW Franz von Werra whom no British, Canadian or American prison could hold…

‘Private War’ then details a clash of wills between supposed allies as a commando and British naval officer put personal animosities ahead of the life and mission of a Coast-Watcher stuck behind Japanese lines before ‘Boys At War: The Youngest Rifleman – Rifleman Ronald Bassett, KRRC’ details the accomplishments of a wilful 15-year-old youngster who enlisted three years too early to fight in WWII…

‘Fun Parade’ offers a wealth of cartoon military mirth whilst ‘Lofty’s One-Man Luftwaffe’ (by Kev O’Neill?) finds the undercover cockney still sabotaging the German Fighter Group he’s flying with as Nazi Air Ace Major Ranke after which ‘The First Great War’ is reviewed in an informative text-&-painted illustration feature.

‘Rogues Gallery’ offers visual insight into enemy aircraft ‘Mitsubishi A6M Type 0 Zero’, ‘Junkers 87 Stuka’, ‘Junkers 88’ and ‘Bachem 349 Viper’ and precedes a fictionalised account of the North African campaign via ‘The Experts: The Long Range Desert Group’ whilst ‘The Seventh Earl’ reveals how members of a group of the Canadian Parachute Battalion on a mission in occupied Holland become entangled in a transatlantic succession battle in England…

Geoff Campion’s classic ‘Private Bolt – a Bad Soldier’ details the grim life, controversial service career and glorious end of a true fighting man and leads off a section of short combat strips, followed in close order by ‘Dutchy’s Battlewagon’ which sees a driver in the Western Sahara teach the Afrika Korps a few lessons about desert warfare and how a D-Day soldier offsets one sensible anxiety against a silly but crippling phobia in ‘One Man’s Fear’

Text feature ‘The Escapers: The Trojan Horse’ re-examines the mythic tale of POW ingenuity before ‘Tiger Cubb’ (Mike Western) pits Tibetan-trained British boy martial artist Johnny Cubb against sadistic Japanese invaders in China and ‘The Red Knight: Baron Manfred von Richthofen’ blends fact and legend in a biographical strip before the military annals conclude in spectacular fashion with ‘A Game of Bluff’ as British agent and French Resistance fighters unite to uncover a traitor and expedite the D-Day landings…

This bombastic blend of action, tension and drama hasn’t paled in the intervening years and these gripping gems are as powerful and engrossing now as they’ve ever been…
© IPC Magazines Ltd. 1975.

Captain Scarlet Annual 1969

By various (Century 21 Publishing /City Magazines Ltd)

During the 1960s Gerry Anderson’s high-tech puppet-show dramas revolutionised kids’ TV, and their comics tie-ins did exactly the same for our pictorial reading habits.

TV Century 21 (the unwieldy “Century” was eventually dropped) was patterned on a newspaper – albeit from 100 years into the future – and this shared conceit carried the avid readers into a multimedia wonderland as television and reading matter fed off each other. The incredible graphic adventures were supplemented with stills taken from the TV shows (and later, films) and a plenitude of photos also graced the text features and fillers which added to the unity of one of the industry’s first “Shared Universe” products,

Number #1 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 television shows and healthy sales.

Filled with high quality art and features, printed in gleaming photogravure, TV21 featured previous shows in strips such as Fireball XL5, Supercar and Stingray to supplement currently airing big draw Thunderbirds. In a bizarre attempt to be topical, the allegorically Soviet state of Bereznik constantly plotted against the World Government (for which read “The West”) in a futuristic Cold War to augment the aliens, aquatic civilizations and common crooks and disasters that threatened the general well-being of the populace. Even the BBC’s TV “tomorrows” were represented by a full-colour strip starring The Daleks.

Although Thunderbirds did not premiere on TV until September (with Frank Bellamy’s incredible strip joining the line-up in January 1966) Lady Penelope and Parker had an earlier debut to set the scene, and eventually the aristocratic super-spy won her own top-class photogravure magazine in January 1996.

And as Anderson’s newest creations launched into super-marionated life, their comics exploits filtered into TV21 and even their own titles.

Captain Scarlet and the Mysterons was originally broadcast from September 1967 to May 1968, sold to 40 other countries including the USA, Australia, New Zealand and Japan. In case you aren’t au fait, the series details the struggle between super-security agency Spectrum and disembodied intelligences from Mars. After an Earth survey mission resulted in the accidental destruction of a Mysteron City, the invisible aliens declared a vengeance war on humanity, using their ability to reconstruct matter and reanimate the dead.

Their prime agent is Captain Black, resurrected after he destroyed the Martian base, and their major obstacle is Captain Scarlet. The latter was killed by Mysterons too, but when he was brought back to life, he threw off the alien programming and fights for Spectrum. Thanks to the process, Scarlet can detect the presence of “Mysteron-ised” agents and cannot be killed…

Progressively multi-ethnic and considerably darker in tone, the series made a seamless jump to strip form in TV21 – under the auspices of creators such as Alan Fennell, Mike Noble, Eric Eden, Ron Embleton, Howard Elson, Don Harley, Scott Goodall, Frank Bellamy and Frank Langford.

There were three annuals during the1960s first run and this middle edition – released for Christmas 1968 – employed the company’s policy of total immersion in the subject matter. Every strip, story, fact feature and photo all worked under the assumption that the reader was enjoying a piece of journalism, not drama…

Opening with a Contents spread teeming with series stills, the thrills come quickly following as full-colour strip ‘The Mysterons Will Destroy International Engineering’s Workshops’ finds Captains Scarlet and Blue striving diligently to stop an insidious scheme to eradicate the company supplying Spectrum’s incredible vehicles, after which the first of three quizzes tests your potential as a Spectrum Agent in ‘Counterpoint 7 part 1’

Following cartoons and jokes in ‘Spectrafun’ schematics and blueprints for a new patrol jet are revealed in ‘Spectrum Research SPJ’ before ‘We, the Mysterons Will Destroy the Entire Northern Hemisphere’ finds our heroes racing against time to stop the deliberate detonation of Earth’s mothballed nuclear arsenal.

A text-&-photo profile of ‘Captain Black’ then segues into prose thriller ‘We, the Mysterons Will Cause a Germ War Throughout Earth!’ wherein the indestructible agent faces a diabolical biological weapon. Balancing the tension comes the specs for ‘Spectrum Research Saloon Car’ and an exploded cutaway technical feature on the ‘Spectrum Clam Sub’, after which colour strip ‘We, the Mysterons Will Destroy Kalipur’ results in a partial victory for the extraterrestrial aggressors…

A tense prose yarn sees the Free World’s greatest freelance spy hired to breach the ‘Security’ of Earth’s most advanced organisations including W.A.S.P. and Spectrum, after which a rapid response is called for in strip form when ‘In Six Hours Time, We, the Mysterons, Will Assassinate Colonel White!’

Faux road ‘Signs of Fun’ and details of Scarlet’s jet pack in ‘Spectrum Research SPV’ leads to photo feature ‘Operation Jigsaw’, disclosing how agents like Captain Ochre are recruited before prose yarn ‘We, the Mysterons Will Destroy World Peace!’ shows just how devious the implacable aliens can be…

More technical info follows: designs for the ‘Spectrum Research Helijet’, an exploded view of a ‘Spectrum Hovercraft’, anticipate strip thriller – and Martian triumph – ‘We, the Mysterons, Will Use Wallis Simpson to Flood the Atlantic Tunnel’ (by John Cooper) before more tests in ‘Counterpoint 7 part 2’

An exploded view of Spectrum’s ‘Radar Van’ and more ‘Spectrafun’ gags segue neatly into plans for the ‘Spectrum Research MSV’ and Mike Nobel’s enticing strip ‘Tomorrow Morning as Big Ben Chimes, the City of London Will be Destroyed’ sees Captain Scarlet perform one of his most daring feats…

More ‘Spectrafun’ leads to the job assessment concluding with ‘Counterpoint 7 part 3’ and details of ‘Spectrum Research Angel Craft’ before the future shocks spectacularly end with Cooper’s cataclysmic strip saga ‘We, the Mysterons, Will Destroy the New Houston Oil Depot!’

Crisp, imaginative writing, great characters and some of the most evocative 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. This fabulous album is a superb example of the quality of those old British comics and there can be no greater argument of the necessity for a new and permanent collection of these strips books.
© 1968 Associated Television (Overseas) Ltd.

Logan’s Run Annual

By anonymous, illustrated by David Lloyd (Rainbow Book/Brown Watson)

British Comics have always fed from other media and as television grew during the 1960s – especially the area of children’s shows and cartoons – those programmes increasingly became a staple source for the Seasonal Annual market. There would be a profusion of stories and strips targeting not readers but young viewers and more and more often the stars would be American not British.

Much of this stuff wouldn’t even be as popular in the USA as here, so whatever comic licenses existed usually didn’t provide enough material to fill a hardback volume ranging anywhere from 64 to 160 pages. Thus, many Annuals such as Champion the Wonder Horse or Lone Ranger and a host of others would require original material, or as a last resort, similarly themed or related strips. Logan’s Run was one that relied on solely British-sourced talent for both solutions…

Following a successful 1976 movie adaptation of William F. Nolan and George Clayton Johnson’s dystopic novel, the concept was adapted to television in a 14-episode series starring Gregory Harrison, Heather Menzies, Donald Moffat and Randy Powell.

The premise was simple and traditionally effective. When state enforcer – AKA – “Sandman” Logan discovers the shocking secret of his enclosed past atomic war city-state (all citizens enjoy a perfect sybaritic life until they turn thirty at which time they are expected to die) he escapes into the wilderness with dissident Jessica to find a mythic paradise dubbed Sanctuary.

As they stumbled from one fantastic enclave of survival to another, the “runners” were relentlessly pursued by Logan’s dogmatic and implacable former partner Francis

All of this is superbly recapitulated in duo-coloured opening strip ‘Logan’s World’ by the magnificent David Lloyd in his pre-V for Vendetta days, after which a photo pin-up and maze puzzle ‘City of Domes’ leads into prose thriller ‘All in the Mind’ (possibly written by Steve Moore, as is the rest of the book) wherein the wanderers stumble into an all-female settlement dominated by a vile male telepath…

More photos and games take us to another prose tale with Lloyd providing full colour illustrations. ‘Reawakenings’ sees the fugitives and their trusty cyborg companion Rem fall into danger after entering a long-abandoned museum and giving entirely the wrong impression to its ancient robotic Caretaker…

Photo text features follow. ‘Star File: Gregory Harrison alias Logan’ offers an interview with the show’s star whilst ‘Logan’s Forerunners’ explores previous large and small screen Sci Fi hits including Star Trek, Flash Gordon, Doctor Who, Planet of the Apes and Close Encounters of the Third Kind and wraps up with eponymous board game Logan’s Run

Drama resurfaces in full-colour strip ‘Sunrise… Moonset’ with the runners encountering a hidden sect of devout Samurai just as the relentless Francis traps his prey and forces a final showdown…

‘Depths of Terror’ is another prose-&-colour illustration escapade as the Runners are lured into a mountain cave and almost become food for some extremely unpleasant mutant pets, and is followed by fact-features ‘Rem and the Robots’ – discussing the differences between cyborgs and fully mechanical man-servants – and ‘Space Age Travel’ highlighting the vehicles of Logan’s world after which pin-up ‘Deadly Truce’ leads into ‘Logan’s Runners’ providing interviews with Heather (Jessica) Menzies and Donald (Rem) Moffat.

The action concludes with another two-colour Lloyd strip as ‘City of the Nighthawks’ finds the wanderers in peril of their lives after entering a settlement infested with vampire-like cannibals before one last photo pin-up page and another maze challenges the reader to ‘Find Your Way to Sanctuary’

Packed with monochrome stills, publicity bumph and a variety of non-comics material, annuals like these proliferated in the late 1970s and pretty much became the standard form for the following decades: combining celebrity cachet and cheap production costs in books about popstars, TV shows and even sports stars. Nevertheless, the early albums do feature strips world and illustration from young mega stars such as Lloyd, John Bolton, Paul Neary, Alan Davis and many more.

If you ever see annuals dedicated to long-gone shows like Kung Fu, Kojak, Grange Hill, The Professionals or so many others, do yourself a favour and look inside before passing on to the next back issue bin. You may be pleasantly surprised as well as nostalgically overwhelmed…
© 1978 Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer.

The Children’s Annual

By Alan Clark (Boxtree)
ISBN: 978-1-85283-212-4

The comic has been with us a long time now and debate still continues about where, when and exactly what constitutes the first of these artefacts to truly earn the title. There’s a lot less debate about the children’s annual, a particularly British institution and one that continues – albeit in a severely limited manner – to this day.

It’s a rare person indeed who never received a sturdily reassuring colourful card-covered compendium on Christmas morning, full of stories and comic-strips and usually featuring the seasonal antics of favourite characters, whether from comics such as Beano, Dandy, Lion, Eagle and their ilk, or television, film or radio franchises and personalities such as Dr Who, Star Wars, TV21, Radio Fun or some hallowed star of a bygone age.

There were even sports annuals and beautifully illustrated commemorative editions of the fact and general knowledge comics such as Look and Learn, and special events such as the always glorious and awe-inspiring Rupert Annuals.

The history and development of this glorious holiday tradition are lovingly shared by the enthusiastic and erudite Alan Clark in this wonderful book. Never lapsing into too much detail, Clark introduces his subject – always lavishly illustrated – offers a tantalising taste and then moves on.

His goal is always achieved. Once you’ve seen, you will want to see more. This kind of nostalgic paean is our industry’s best weapon in the fight to build sales, both of new material and back issues.

When was the last time you bought something old or untried at a comic shop? Give your Nostalgia Vision a workout for a change, and if you’re still a little dubious, this book should be your guide to tip the scales.
© 1988 Alan Clark.

Lion Annual 1974

By many and various (Fleetway)
No ISBN – SBN 85037-067-1

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 1970s adventure material from Fleetway Publications seems to me the most imaginative and impressive of a long line of pictorial pleasures.

Fleetway was a small division of IPC – then the world’s largest publishing company – and had, by the early 1970s, swallowed or out-competed all other English 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.

The 1950s had 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 graced with lush photogravure colour was exorbitantly expensive, however, and when London-based publishing powerhouse Amalgamated Press retaliated with their own equivalent, it was (understandably) a more economical affair.

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

Like The Eagle, Lion was a mix of prose stories, features and comic strips and had its own cover-featured space-farer… 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; even swallowing Eagle itself in April 1969 before merging with Thunder in 1971.

Despite its being one of the country’s most popular and enduring adventure comics, Lion vanished in 1976 when Valiant was amalgamated with Battle Picture Weekly.

Despite the weekly’s demise, 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 – reformatted reprints from IPC/Fleetway’s vast back catalogue.

This edition is technically the penultimate “proper” Lion Annual. In May 1974 the long-running title was merged with Valiant as very much the junior partner.

Valiant itself would be absorbed into Battle Picture Weekly two years later but although the title itself was on its uppers, 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 1974 was released in Autumn 1973, the 21st volume since the comic began. There would be nine more before the hallowed name finally vanished from vendors’ shelves…

Boasting the traditional blend of full-colour, duo-tone and monochrome sections, this titanic tome kicks off in procedural manner and rainbow hues as ‘Spot the Clue with Zip Nolan’ (art by Ted Kearon) finds the motorcycle cop spectacularly solving theft at a logging camp after which a prose outing for ‘The Spellbinder’ (probably written by Tom Tully and spot-illustrated by regular strip artist Geoff Campion) reveals how young Tom Turville and his ancient alchemist ancestor Sylvester accidentally activate – and thwart – a terrorist fifth column menacing Britain…

‘Mowser the Priceless Puss and his Enemy James the Butler’ sees Reg Parlett’s cosseted kitty score another hilarious win in his ongoing war with malign manservant (and obnoxious, obstreperous, uppity snob) James after his cat-loving boss suggests a picnic, before ‘Secrets of the Demon Dwarf’ (Alfonso Font art) finds time-displaced WWI mad scientist Doktor Gratz still trying to reverse the result of the Great War by attacking modern-day Britain with robot stormtroopers, mole machines and his infamous armoured Zeppelin…

Campion’s ‘World Beaters: Peugeot Bébé’ delivers a fact-filled profile of the tiny foreign car after which Ian Kennedy depicts ‘Paddy Payne and the Battle of Eagles’ with the Air Ace seconded to the Maginot Line and embroiled in a grudge match between obsessed officers on both sides fighting to retain or retrieve a hotly contested battle standard…

‘Mowser’ then puts paid to James’ spotless reputation and – following two pages of general ‘Jokes’ – prose thriller ‘The Giant Dog of the Mause Valley’ explores the legend of a mythical hound before a bunch of irrepressible youngsters dubbed the ‘Can- Do-Kids’ thwart a conniving property tycoon in text treat ‘Moving House’…

Created by E. George “Ted” Cowan & Alan Philpott, The Jungle Robot debuted in the first issue of Lion in 1952, before vanishing until 1957. On his triumphant return in the 1960s as Robot Archie, “old tin bonce” became one of the most popular and long-lasting heroes of British comics.

Here the amazing and iconic automaton and his hapless handlers Ted Ritchie and Ken Dale find themselves fighting fake sharks and cunning gold thieves on the Amazon River in a sterling strip limned by Ted Kearon, after which photo-feature ‘Waterspeed’ outlines the intrinsic allure of powerboats.

Another ‘Jokes’ selection segues into sinister drama ‘The White-Eyes’ with wicked mad mastermind Ezra Creech using his super-strong zombie mind-slaves to steal army weapons and further his war against humanity. Happily, plucky teens Nick Dexter and Don Redding still have the measure of the malign maniac and his shambling myrmidons…

After ‘Mowser’ enjoys a spot of fishing, ‘The Spellbinder’ returns in strip form to lay a few unhappy ghosts at a Suffolk stately home after which another Campion ‘World Beater’ – ‘Meganeura Super Bug’ offers a glimpse at a prehistoric dragonfly before we all head back to WWII where schoolboy strategic prodigy ‘General Johnny’ (illustrated by Renato Polese perhaps?) sees the modern Alexander caught behind German lines and forced to fight his way back to safety…

Fire alarm foolishness makes ‘Mowser’ all warm inside and out after which ‘The Last of the Harkers’ finds hapless last surviving heir Joe and his ghostly coach attempting to reclaim a dead ancestor’s trophy and title for the Arduous Training and Obstacle Course in Glen Sporran. Joe was attempting to recover all the clan’s past prizes as a legal requirement to save the family seat, whilst villainous speculator Bert Swizzle saw the contests as his opportunity to take over the ancient pile…

This time, the rogue thought swapping dummy ordnance for the real thing would stop Joe, but he couldn’t be more wrong…

Brits of this period much preferred fantastic villains and antiheroes to straight do-gooders, and prose yarn ‘The Shadow of the Snake’ here heralds the return of an extremely popular serpentine super-crook.

Angus Allan & John Catchpole’s had begun the ophidian epic in the weekly Lion in 1972; cataloguing 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 reptilian denizens.

Here the bizarre bandit’s plan to plunder a bullion train is countered by his mortal nemesis and former lab assistant Mike Bowen, who regularly advises the bewildered, overmatched police…

A text examination of Alexander Selkirk – ‘The Real Robinson Crusoe’ – leads into a moth-eaten episode for ‘Mowser’ after which ‘Spot the Clue with Zip Nolan’ monochromatically features the canny cop scotching a criminal scheme operating as a civil war re-enactment whilst prose account ‘Anchored to a Blazing Hurricane!’ retells a shocking event from the Battle of Britain.

Following a prose outing details Robot Archie liberating a Burmese ruby mine from river pirates, photo-feature ‘Do It Yourself War’ celebrates table-top military gaming, ‘Mowser’ meets a snooty pedigree mutt and a full-colour match starring underage professional footballers ‘Carson’s Cubs’ (art by Fred T. Holmes) details how a subversive dietician can wreak more havoc than a bent referee on a successful team…

Stuntmen brothers Joe and Sandy then earn their title as ‘The Speed Kings’ after stumbling into a plot to sabotage a powerboat record attempt whilst text thriller ‘Noah’s Ark’ reveals how survivors cope with a flooded world before this walk down memory lane wraps up with the surely prophetic ‘“Stop this Man” Say the Camelot Clan’ wherein wealthy American speculators plan to turn the entire United Kingdom into a giant gasworks.

Only a disparate and slightly bonkers Historical Preservation Society stand in their way, but these fulminating little Englanders have a few tricks up their sleeves and the latest foray – to pave over Loch Ness and build a power station – flops for the strangest and most obvious reasons…

This is a glorious lost treasure-trove for fans of British comics and lovers of all-ages fantasy, filled with danger, drama, hobby-data and diverse delights, 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.

The Dandy Book 1982

By various

For many British readers – comics fans or not – the Holiday Season means The Beano Book, but publisher D.C. Thomson produced a wide range of weekly titles over the decades, most of which also offered superb hardcover annuals.

Way back when, most annuals were produced in a wonderful “half-colour” which British publishers utilised in order to keep costs down. This was done by printing sections or “signatures” of the books with only two plates, such as Cyan (Blue) and Magenta (Red) or Yellow and Black.

The sheer versatility and range of hues provided was simply astounding. Even now this technique inescapably screams “Holiday Extras” for me and my aging contemporaries. This particular example boasts the barely-yesterday year of 1982 (and would have hit shop shelves in late August 1981) when printing technology was still expensive and complicated, and full colour a distant dream.

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

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

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

As WWII progressed, rationing of paper and ink forced “children’s papers” into an alternating fortnightly schedule. On September 6th 1941 only The Dandy was published. A week later just The Beano appeared. The normality of weekly editions only resumed on 30th July 1949 but before long the bonnie books were once more an unmissable part of the Christmas experience.

The frolicsome fun begins on the inside front cover as veteran star Desperate Dan (illustrated by Charles Grigg?) gets the ball rolling with some typically macho pancake racing endeavours – which wrap up with a powerful punchline at the show at the end – before Korky the Cat graciously introduces the forthcoming festivities.

Rather than the usual set of gag-favourites, this edition properly commences with light-drama yarn ‘Tufty’s Lucky Terrier’, revealing how a lonely lad’s school sporting career takes a bold turn thanks to his beloved pet pooch…

The Smasher is a lad hewn from the same mould as Dennis the Menace and in the first of his vignettes (drawn by Hugh Morren or perhaps David Gudgeon) the bombastic boy carves a characteristic swathe of anarchic destruction to beat sporting bullies and win a heaving table full of goodies to scoff. Then well-meaning cowboy superman Desperate Dan (limned by Peter Davidson?) moves heaven and earth to join the town band in another typically destructive and traumatic extended outing…

Larcenous snack addict Tom Tum (Keith Reynolds) keeps fit by outsmarting and burgling his parsimonious neighbour whilst Grigg’s Korky the Cat confounds a gamekeeper before popping back to introduce cartoon puzzle ‘A Super “Ice” Scream from Korky’ after which feuding fools The Jocks and the Geordies (Jimmy Hughes) renew their small nationalistic war in a wax museum infested with dull exhibits and nasty teachers…

David Mostyn’s Bertie Buncle and his Chemical Uncle finds the prankish lad having fun with his inventive relative’s super vacuum cleaner, and Harry and his Hippo (Andy Fanton?) sees the exiled African animal outsmart his human hosts to secure a warm bed on a cold night before mighty pooch Desperate Dawg (George Martin) spars with a circus strongman.

Jack Silver (by Bill Holroyd) then finds the alien schoolboy and his human pal Curley Perkins still on fantastic planet Marsuvia and battling a giant thieving Fuzzy Face covertly employed by super-villain Captain Zapp.

A game of cowboys goes typically wrong for Bully Beef and Chips (Gordon Bell?) whilst Tom Tum briefly indulges in tape-recording fun before reverting to hunger-fuelled type, Korky renews his decades-old conflict with the house mice and Peter’s Pocket Grandpa (Ron Spencer) sees the pint-sized pensioner creating a chaos-prone circus act using white rats as his savage beasts.

Korky’s Gallery of Schoolboy Howlers precedes Holroyd’s young DIY enthusiast in The Tricks of Screwy Driver, after which Greedy Pigg (George Martin), makes his mark as the voracious teacher (always attempting to confiscate and scoff his pupils’ snacks) switches targets and swipes the headmaster’s dinner instead.

Radio-tagged golf and cricket balls cause carnage in Bertie Buncle and his Chemical Uncle after which Desperate Dan clashes with a cow-pie snaffling escaped circus lion and George Martin’s Izzy Skint – He Always Is! finds the youthful entrepreneur failing spectacularly to monetise the family dog.

More food theft preoccupies The Smasher before Korky tests your wits once more with visual brainteasers in Here’s a Hoot! Spot the “Owl”! and Holroyd – or perhaps Steve Bright – conjures up equine excitement starring schoolboy Charley Brand and robotic pal Brassneck when the manmade schoolboy wins a racehorse and opts for a career as a steeplechase jockey.

Bully Beef and Chips finds both terroriser and perennial victim suffering from poetry homework even as Greedy Pigg comes to a slippery end in pursuit of illicit dinners. The Jocks and the Geordies play nocturnal pranks on UFO spotters and The Tricks of Screwy Driver result in an uncontrollable powered snow cart and icy duckings all around…

Desperate Dawg then employs a giant cowbell to stop a stampede, Korky’s crockery mishaps win him a most unwelcome new job and Peter’s Pocket Grandpa foils a jewellery heist with his micro roller-skating skills before the show closes with Izzy Skint – He Always Is! who sagely allows thieving bullies to defeat themselves in another masterful mirth moment from George Martin.

Stuffed with glorious gag-pages and bursting with classic kids’ adventure, this is still a tremendously fun read and even in the absence of the legendary creators such as Dudley Watkins, Leo Baxendale and Ken Reid, there’s still so much merriment on offer I can’t believe this book is nearly four decades old. If ever anything needed to be issued as commemorative collections it’s such D.C. Thomson annuals as this…
© 1968 D.C. Thomson & Co., Ltd. All rights reserved.

Superman Annual 1969 with Batman and Superboy

By Jerry Seigel, Leo Dorfman, E. Nelson Bridwell, Edmond Hamilton, Jerry Coleman, Al Plastino, Curt Swan, Wayne Boring, George Papp, Jim Mooney, Bob Brown & various (Top Sellers, Ltd by arrangement with the K. G. Murray Publishing Co.)
No ISBN – ASIN: B00389XM8C

Before DC and other American publishers began exporting comicbooks 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 Top Sellers 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: exported to the UK in a rather sporadic manner. The company also produced sturdy Annuals which had a huge impact on my earliest years (I suspect my abiding adulation of monochrome artwork stems from seeing supreme stylists like Curt Swan, Carmine Infantino, Gil Kane and Murphy Anderson strut their stuff uncluttered by flat colour…).

In Britain we began seeing hardcover Superman Annuals in 1950 and Batman Annuals in 1960. Since then a number of publishers have carried on the tradition. This particular tome emerged at the close of the Batman TV phenomenon which briefly turned the entire planet Camp-Crazed and Bat-Manic; offering a delightfully eclectic mix of material designed to cater to young eyes and broad tastes.

This collection – proudly proclaiming second billing for Batman and Superboy – is printed in a quirky mix of monochrome, dual-hued and full-colour pages which made Christmas books such bizarrely beloved treats and opens with ‘Clark Kent’s Great Superman Hunt’ by Leo Dorfman & Al Plastino and originally a back-up in Superman #180 (October 1965).

Here, to the disgust of his friends, the Daily Planet star reporter seemingly exhorts the public to come forward with information to unmask the Man of Steel. Of course, there’s a deeper scheme in play here…

‘Prison for Heroes’ and ‘The Revenge of Superman’ come from World’s Finest Comics #145 (November 1964): an enthralling and dramatic thriller where Batman is hypnotically pressganged to an alien internment citadel: not as a cell-mate for Superman and other interplanetary champions, but as their sadistic jailer…

Edmond Hamilton, Curt Swan & George Klein shine in this potent yarn, delivering a superb team-up tale to excite fans of all ages.

Switching from full-colour to black-&-magenta, ‘You Too can be a Super Artist’ (Superman #211, November 1968) sees Frank Robbins, Ross Andru & Mike Esposito offer advice and starter tips on depicting the Action Ace, after which ‘Batman Kwizzlers’ test your general knowledge and short strip ‘The Superboy Legend: Superboy’s Secret Hideaways’ (by E. Nelson Bridwell, Bob Brown & Wally Wood from Superboy # 161, December 1969) reveals the secret treasures stored in the Boy of Steel’s Smallville home.

Drastically modified and abridged from Superboy # 147 (May-June 1968 and illustrated by George Papp), ‘The Origin and Powers of the Legion of Super Heroes’ offers a pictorial checklist of the Future’s greatest champions, supplemented by Bridwell’s prose history lesson ‘The Lore of the Legion’.

Next comes some participation events beginning with ‘Superman’s Christmas Quiz: Christmas in Many Lands’ (most likely written by Jack Schiff and definitely illustrated by Ruben Moreira from many different contemporary venues) and ‘Superman… and his Space Zoo!’ puzzles.

Then, again truncated and culled from many separate tales, ‘The Origin of the Bizarro World’ takes clips drawn by Wayne Boring and John Forte to precis the whacky backwards super-clowns; ‘Metropolis Mailbag’ answers readers’ questions about all things Kryptonian and the activity section closes with brain-busting conundrums in ‘The Batman Whirly-Word Game’.

Full colour comics action resumes with ‘The Spell of the Shandu Clock’ (Superman #126, January 1959: by Jerry Coleman, Boring & Stan Kaye) providing spooky chills, supposedly supernatural chills and devious ploys to outwit a malevolent criminal mastermind.

From Superboy #109 (December 1963) Jerry Seigel & Papp revealed how a timid Earth orphan is transported to another world to become planetary champion ‘The Super-Youth of Brozz’ after which ‘The Sweetheart Superman Forgot’ by Seigel & Plastino (Superman #165, November 1963) aspires to the heady heights of pure melodrama as the Man of Tomorrow loses his powers, memories, and the use of his legs before loving and losing a girl who only wants him for himself.

In a most poignant moment, the hero recovers his lost gifts and faculties and returns to his old life with no notion of what he’s lost and who waits for him forever alone…

Romance is also on the cards in Dorfman & Mooney’s ‘Zigi and Zagi’s Trap for Superman!’ (Action Comics #316. September 1964) wherein juvenile alien delinquents lure the hero to their homeworld and set him up romantically with their spinster aunt Zyra

With their eclectic selection of tales, Annuals like this one introduced generations of kids to the wild wonderment of the American comics experience and to readers of a certain age remain a captivating, irresistible lure to more halcyon times and climes.
© National Periodical Publications Inc. New York.