Marvel Storybook Annual 1967

Marvel Storybook Annual 1967
Marvel Storybook Annual 1967

By Douglas Enefer, A. Tyson, John W. Elliott & various (World Distributors, Ltd.)
No ISBN

Here’s a question for all you dedicated Marvelites out there: do you remember how Ant-Man helped troubled boxer Danny Fury go straight? Or when the slaver Abdul Rey captured the Fantastic Four? How about the time Spider-Man captured the arsonists who were torching department stores?

If your memory fails you here it might not be four-colour overload but rather the singular fact that you’re neither old nor British. Please allow me to explain…

When Stan Lee rejuvenated the American comic-book industry in the early 1960s, his biggest advantage wasn’t the small but superb talent pool available, but rather a canny sense of marketing and promotion. DC, Dell/Gold Key and Charlton all had limited overseas licenses (usually in dedicated black-and-white anthologies liked the much beloved Alan Class Comics such as Suspense) but Lee – or his business managers – went further, sanctioning Marvel’s revolutionary early efforts in regular British weeklies like Pow!, Wham!, Smash! and even the venerable Eagle. There were two wholly Marvel-ised papers, Fantastic! and Terrific!, which ran from 1967 to 1968. These slick format comics featured a number of key Marvel properties, and, appearing every seven days, soon exhausted the back catalogue of the company.

Another factor to consider was the traditions of the UK market. US comics had been primarily strip based since the 1930s, but British weeklies had long provided Boy’s and Girl’s “papers” that were prose-based. In fact DC Thompson had persevered with illustrated text periodicals until well into the 1960s. So the seasonal annuals provided a vital sales peak of the publishing year and a guaranteed promotional push (see Alan Clark’s superb The Children’s Annual – ISBN 10: 1-85283-212-9 for more information). Any comic worth its salt needed a glossy hardback on the shelves over the Christmas period…

In future years UK Marvel Annuals would provide full colour reprint strip extravaganzas, but in 1966 the material just wasn’t there. Thus this peculiar novelty: a comforting 96 sturdy pages of bold illustrations, games, puzzles and prose stories featuring Marvel’s mightiest in exceedingly British tales of skulduggery and derring-do.

Back Cover
Back Cover

As well as Ant-man in ‘Fightin’ Fury’, the FF in ‘The Chains of Abdul Rey’ and Spidey against ‘The Fire Raisers’, Prince Namor the Sub-Mariner faced a ‘Howl in the Night’ and Iron Man faced the Bloated Bandit (one of the all-out daftest villains of all time!) in ‘A Cushioned Clash’. Captain America fought with the British Eighth Army in the World War II thriller ‘Tomb of Terror’ and Iron Man travelled to Australia to defeat ‘The Ghost of Ned Kelly’, whilst Doctor Strange rescued two pot-holers who were imperilled by ‘the Guardians of the Tomb’, far beneath the streets of Manchester and Oldham!

Along with many explanatory features providing origin info for the superheroes and related science features on ants and such-like, there’s even more thrills when the Fantastic Four faced ‘The Bull of Minos’, The Mighty Thor crushed pirates in modern day Scotland in ‘North Sea Wolf’, Doctor Strange visited mystic India on a ‘Flight into Danger’ and the book gloriously concludes with a fraught trip to Canada for Bruce Banner and Rick Jones that could lead to ‘The End of the Hulk!’

Behind superb covers by R. W. Smethurst, the interior illustrations are by M.K. Powell, J. Leeder and P. Limbert, ranging from adequate to great, but the stories, communally attributed to Douglas Enefer, A. Tyson and John W. Elliott are quirkily engaging and oddly enjoyable. This is probably hard to find, and might horrify dyed-in-the-wool fans, but I’d like to think that there’s enough of us who can temper our mania with a little nostalgic perspective to enjoy an innocent dip in rare waters, and muse on what might have been if this experiment had caught on…

© 1967 Marvel Comics Group. All Rights Reserved.

Rick Random, Space Detective

Rick Random
Rick Random

Edited by Steve Holland (Prion)
ISBN: 978-1-85375-673-3

During the science fiction boom of the 1950s thrill hungry kids just couldn’t get enough of The Great Beyond. Fuelled by seemingly daily technical advances and the groundbreaking weekly adventures of Dan Dare in the Eagle they devoured everything Outer Spacial and the rest of Britain’s entertainment industries had to adapt or die.

Super Detective Library was a pocket-sized black-and-white digest magazine launched in 1953, and published fortnightly by Amalgamated Press as companions to Thriller Picture Library and Cowboy Picture Library. As the name suggests the complete picture stories starred a number of famous crime-busters including Sexton Blake, The Saint, Nick Barton, Bulldog Drummond and even Fu Manchu – although obviously the steely-eyed Nayland Smith was the titular star there – as well as newspaper strip heroes such as Rip Kirby, Buck Ryan and others.

In response to the demand for outer space drama editor Edward Holmes created Rick Random, who worked for the Interplanetary Bureau of Investigations and the Interplanetary Council. Set in 2040 after a cataclysmic global war, the adventures dealt with a society expanding into unknown space bringing civilisation with it: A realm of pure adventure on the borders of comfortable safety and security.

Originally scripted by Holmes and Conrad Frost with art from Bill Lacey and the brilliant Reg Bunn (whose masterpiece The Spider: King of Crooks ISBN 1-84576-000-X is still available from Titan Books) Rick Random reached a peak of excellence when the Canadian Bob Kesten and American Harry (Stainless Steel Rat) Harrison were teamed with the artist Ron Turner, whose sense of style and colossal imagination made it the only real rival to Dan Dare.

This too brief volume (the first of many, I hope) collects ten of the best in its 650+ pages. ‘Kidnappers from Mars’, ‘Emperor of the Moon’, ‘Planet of Terror’, ‘Space Pirates’, ‘Perilous Mission’, ‘Mystery of the Frozen World’, ‘Mystery of the Robot World’, ‘Killer in Space’, ‘Threat from Space’ and ‘Kidnapped Planet’ are reproduced here about half as large again as when they first appeared and on much better paper stock.

These are wonderfully clear, crisp, uncomplicated romps that will appeal as much to your granddad as your kids, but you’d best get everyone their own copies so they won’t steal yours!

© 2008 IPC Media. All Rights Reserved.

Dragon’s Claws

Dragon's Claws
Dragon's Claws

By Simon Furman, Geoff Senior, Bryan Hitch & David Hine (Marvel/Panini UK)
ISBN13: 978-1-905239-99-3

In the late 1980s Marvel UK, primarily a reprint arm for the American parent company, was starting to stretch itself. There had been some new material generated in comics such as Hulk Weekly, Dr Who Weekly/Monthly, and the licensed titles, but now the lads were ready to produce US style full comic books.

Yet rather than dive in with full-blown costumed cut-ups like the abortive Captain Britain, they wisely looked for a premise that would also resonate with established comics tastes. Thus was born The Dragon’s Teeth, which due to an unforgiving Rights clash became Dragon’s Claws.

The premise is simple: in the doomed and weary world of Earth AD8162, a dystopian society is gradually falling into chaos and anarchy, just as the planet itself is slowly falling into the sun. Lawlessness is rife and the populace is pacified by watching brutal gladiatorial combats known as The Game, devised by the World Development Council.

The greatest team to play the Game was Dragon’s Claws: Mercy, Digit, Scavenger and Steel, led by the ultimate warrior and tactician… Dragon. Now as anarchy increases the disillusioned sports star is asked to reform his team and become a more pure and traditional hero… a savior.

Collecting issues #1-10 of their own series, plus a crossover from Death’s Head #2 and featuring a rare single page adventure from a recent charity publication, plus copious data pages, these are raw and energetic tales of sci-fi action, uncomplicated and comfortingly satisfying, produced by Simon Furman, Geoff Senior, Bryan Hitch and David Hine during their fresh formative years, and provide rousing straightforward thrills and spills for 10 year olds of all ages.

 
© 1988, 1989, 2008 Marvel Characters, Inc. All Rights Reserved. (A BRITISH EDITION RELEASED BY PANINI UK LTD).

Paying Through the Nose

Paying Through the Nose
Paying Through the Nose

By Andrew Nichol & Stephen Woodman (Sphere)
ISBN: 978-0-77216-374-6

Hard to believe but sometimes the most obvious things just make you laugh out loud – and that’s never a bad thing with cartoon books. This sweet little tome takes everyday phrases and illustrates them in a fearsomely literal and more often than not waggishly amusing manner.

To see Making friends, Pulling a face, Bringing up children, Concentration Camp, Bottom Drawer and a host of others, interpreted in a crisp amalgam of Rick Geary and the fabled Mr. Benn’s David McKee, why not track down this tempting piece of eye-candy (an image not included) via your preferred internet retailer, shop or jumble sale?

© 1983 Andrew Nichol. Cartoons © 1983 Stephen Woodman. All Rights Reserved.

Broomie Law

Broomie Law
Broomie Law

By Cinders McLeod (Luath Press)
ISBN: 0-946487-99-5

Scottish by way of Canada, Cinders McLeod is an astute and empathic observer of the human condition, especially as expressed through politics. She’s also a damn fine cartoonist as these brilliant sallies against Life, The Universe and Everything from the Glasgow Herald will attest.

This tiny tome features the wary, weary observations of wee lass and habitual street urchin Broomie Law and the reactions of her doll Annie Land and diary Molly Cate. There’s also a rather cynical and uppity handbag called Hag’s Castle and just to counter the youthful views of our 5 year old star, the surly old lady Mary Hill often can be seen venting a more seasoned spleen.

Subtle and charming, these cartoons question the injustice and stupidity of the world with the kind of power that only an innocent can. This is the first of many books, and as they’re all readily available, you’ve no reason not to get them all.

© 2000 Cinders McLeod. All Rights Reserved.

Alex Knows the Score

Alex Knows the Score
Alex Knows the Score

By Charles Peattie & Russell Taylor (Headline)
ISBN: 0-7472-7796-6

As we’re all heading for Heck in an economic hand-basket I thought I’d take the opportunity to cover a small British cartoon success story. Alex was created by Charles Peattie and Russell Taylor in 1987 for Robert Maxwell’s short-lived London Daily News (February 24th – July 23rd) which flourished briefly before succumbing in a cut-throat price-war: A portentous start for a strip about the world of business.

Alex promptly resurfaced at The Independent before being poached – or perhaps “head-hunted” to use a popular theme of the series – by The Daily Telegraph in 1992, where it has lurked ever since.

Alex Masterly is – or perhaps I should say was, as the strip occurs in “real-time”, and the characters live at the same speed as the audience – an obnoxious, status-hungry, right-wing yuppie oik. He is older, more successful but no wiser now. His young son Christopher is now a ghastly teen-aged oikling in the throes of higher education and his long-suffering trophy wife Penny is still with him despite his obsessions and constant philandering.

The humour in Alex derives from the daily confirmation that business types and fat-cats are as ghastly, shallow and irredeemably venal as we’ve always suspected. Despite their excesses and blunders the slickest rats always seem to float to the top where the cream is and the British psyche seems to favour this sort of chancer (everything from Alan B’Stard/Rick Mayall in The New Statesman all the way back to Dickens’ rogues and monsters like Fagin, Uriah Heap or Wackford Squeers): following them religiously, waiting for the hammer to finally fall.

There have been very few modern strip successes, but this subtle, informative and scrupulously researched creation has gone from strength to strength, with 17 collected volumes (released annually) two omnibus editions covering 1987-1998 and 1998-2001 plus a stage play which incorporates animated strip drawings with human actors. This technique will apparently be extended to a full motion picture in 2009.

Despite a close and solidly sustained continuity, Alex remains a strip that can be picked up at any point – the featured volume which contains, drink, sex, sport, betrayal, one-upmanship and naked greed is from 1995 – but the themes will never date. If you want a sustained laugh at a world you don’t want to be a part of this is the best way to go about it.

© 1995 Charles Peattie and Russell Taylor. All Rights Reserved.

Mister Men

Little Miss Stubborn and the Unicorn
Little Miss Stubborn and the Unicorn

LITTLE MISS STUBBORN AND THE UNICORN
ISBN: 978-1-4052-3791-8
MR. STRONG AND THE OGRE
ISBN: 978-1-4052-3792-5

By Roger Hargreaves, written and illustrated by Adam Hargreaves (Egmont)

Just because things look simple doesn’t mean they are. The superbly pared down stories and art of the Mister Men as crafted by Charles Roger Hargreaves (1935-1988) from 1971 whilst working as an advertising Creative Director are a prime example of how much effort is needed to make things seem easy.

Colourful and simplified to the point of abstraction, the first book Mr. Tickle told a solid, if basic story that instantly captured young minds, and spawned a global franchise. Within three years the series had been turned into a BBC television series (narrated by the wonderful Arthur Lowe) starring one character of the burgeoning cast per episode. The books had sold over a million copies at this juncture.

By 1976 Hargreaves had left his job and turned to full-time cartooning. In 1981 he launched the ancillary Little Miss (adapted for television in 1983) series, which continued the tried-and-tested formula of a simple picture-story starring a character whose name perfectly described them. As well as the 46 Mr. Men and 39 Little Miss books he also produced 25 Timbuctoo books, the adventures of John Mouse and the Roundy and Squary series. With more than 100,000,000 books sold he is Britain’s third best-selling author. The books have been translated into many languages: some are not available in English at all.

When Hargreaves died of a sudden stroke in 1988 his son Adam took over the franchise, creating new characters until 2004 when the family sold the rights to an entertainment company.

The two examples included here, Little Miss Stubborn and the Unicorn and Mr. Strong and the Ogre are both products of the second generation with glitter-enhanced covers designed to further captivate the young reader. In the former our heroine lives up to her name by disregarding all the evidence and refusing to believe in Unicorns, whilst trusty Mr. Strong has to be rather firm when a trio of boisterous ogres start rough-housing and annoying people…

Thirty-two pages with sparkly covers, divided equally into easy-to-read pages and colourful illustrations, designed for small hands, these addictively collectable books are a great reading experience and a marvellous stepping stone to a life-long love-affair with books and comics. Every child should start here…

 

Both © 2008 THOIP (a Chorion company). Printed and published under licence from Price Stern Sloan, Inc., Los Angeles. All Rights Reserved.

The Best of Eagle

Best of Eagle
Best of Eagle

Edited by Marcus Morris (Mermaid Books)
ISBN: 0-7181-22119 (trade paperback) ISBN:0-7181-1566X (hardback)

A little hard to find but well worth the effort is this upbeat pictorial memoir from the conceptual creator of arguably Britain’s greatest comic. Eagle was the most influential comic of post-war Britain, and launched on April 14th 1950, running until 26th April 1969.

It was the brainchild of a Southport vicar, The Reverend Marcus Morris, who was worried about the detrimental effects of American comic-books on British children, and wanted a good, solid, Christian antidote. Seeking out like-minded creators he jobbed around a dummy to many British publishers for over a year with little success until he found an unlikely home at Hulton Press, a company that produced general interest magazines such as Lilliput and Picture Post.

The result was a huge hit spawning clones Swift, Robin and Girl which targeted other demographic sectors of the children’s market, as well as radio series, books, toys and all other sorts of merchandising.

A huge number of soon-to-be prominent creative figures worked on the weekly, and although Dan Dare is deservedly revered as the star, many other strips were as popular at the time, and many even rivalled the lead in quality and entertainment value.

At its peak Eagle sold close to a million copies a week, but eventually changing tastes and a game of “musical owners” killed the title. In 1960 Hulton sold out to Odhams, who became Longacre Press. A year later they were bought by The Daily Mirror Group who evolved into IPC. In cost cutting exercises many later issues carried cheap Marvel Comics reprints rather than British originated material. It took time but the Yankee cultural Invaders won out in the end…

With the April 26th 1969 issue Eagle was merged into Lion, eventually disappearing altogether. Successive generations have revived the title, but never the success.

Here Morris has selected a wonderfully representative sampling of the comic strips that graced those pages of a Golden Age to accompany his recollection of events. Being a much cleverer time, with smarter kids than ours, the Eagle had a large proportion of scientific, historical and sporting articles as well as prose fiction.

Included here are over 30 pages reprinting short text stories, cut-away paintings (including the Eagle spaceship), hobby and event pages, sporting, science and general interest features – and it should be remembered that the company produced six Eagle Novels and various sporting, science and history books as spin-offs between 1956 and 1960. Also on show are many candid photographs of the times and the creators behind the pages.

Of course though, the comic strips are the real gold here. Morris has selected 130 pages from his tenure on Eagle that typify the sheer quality of the enterprise. Alongside the inevitable but always welcome Hampson Dan Dare are selections from his The Great Adventurer and Tommy Walls strips.

Other gems include The Adventures of PC. 49 by Alan Stranks and John Worsley, Jeff Arnold in Riders of the Range, by Charles Chilton & Frank Humphris, Chicko by Norman Thelwell, Professor Brittain Explains…, Harris Tweed and Captain Pugwash by John Ryan, Cortez, Conqueror of Mexico by William Stobbs, Luck of the Legion by Geoffrey Bond & Martin Aitchison, Storm Nelson by Edward Trice & E. Jennings and Mark Question (The Boy with a Future – But No Past!) by Stranks & Harry Lindfield.

There are selections from some of the other glorious gravure strips that graced the title: Jack o’Lantern by George Beardmore & Robert Ayton, Lincoln of America by Alan Jason & Norman Williams, The Travels of Marco Polo by Chad Varah & Frank Bellamy, The Great Charlemagne and Alfred the Great (both by Varah & Williams).

Extracts from Bellamy & Clifford Makin’s legendary Happy Warrior and the less well known The Shepherd King (King David), run beside The Great Sailor (Nelson) by Christopher Keyes, as well as The Baden Powell story (Jason & Williams) and even David Livingstone, the Great Explorer (Varah & Peter Jackson), and the monochrome They Showed the Way: The Conquest of Everest by Peter Simpson & Pat Williams makes an appearance.

The book is peppered with nostalgic memorabilia and such joys as George Cansdale’s beautiful nature pages plus a host of cartoon shorts including the wonderful Professor Puff and his Dog Wuff by prolific Punch cartoonist David Langdon. Also included is The Editor’s Christmas Nightmare by Hampson, a full colour strip featuring every Eagle character in a seasonal adventure that is fondly remembered by all who ever saw it…

These may not all resonate with modern audiences but the sheer variety of the material should sound a warning note to contemporary publishers about the fearfully limited range of comics output they’re responsible for. But for us, it’s enough to see and wish that this book, like so many others, was back in print again.

Text © 1977 Marcus Morris. Illustrations © 1977 International Publishing Corporation. All Rights Reserved.

Marshal Law: Origins

Marshal Law: Origins
Marshal Law: Origins

By Pat Mills & Kevin O’Neill (Titan Books)
ISBN: 9781-84576-943-7

Though not strictly a graphic novel this copiously illustrated book finally collects the prose stories starring the deeply troubled superhero hunter that appeared on Nick Percival’s Cool Beans website between 2000 and 2002. A continuation of the character first published by Epic Comics and Dark Horse as well as the British Apocalypse Comics, these stories are intended for adult readers – whatever that means, these days.

In the dystopian metropolis of San Futuro, the returned dregs of America’s latest war litter the streets. Once again soldiers have been abandoned by their country as soon as the conflict ended, but his time drugs trauma and stress aren’t the only long-term problems. Genetic engineering made US troops into superheroes, but it couldn’t unmake them so now they’re just a dangerous problem the Authorities would love to ignore.

Joe Gilmore is one such returnee who took a different route. He’s a cop who uses his cursed abilities to remove the worst of the super-scum from the streets. He is Marshal Law and far too infrequently since 1987 he’s been a tool of brutal criticism and satire on the overweening cult of superheroes in American comicbooks.

In the comics incarnation the series is characterised by nudity, creative profanity, barbed parody, sexual situations (I don’t think I’ve ever typed that phrase before!) extreme violence and fabulous hilarity. O’Neill’s art is always stuffed with extras and both creators blatant dislike for costumed heroes shines out like a batsignal.

This book then is a mixed blessing. It’s great to see two more canonical tales ‘The Day of the Dead’ (a showdown with a band of superhero serial killers) and ‘Cloak of Evil’ (the suspicious suicide of San Futuro’s top Sex Worker leads to way more than anybody expected) but Mill’s choppy prose won’t be to everybody’s taste. Moreover even with O’Neill’s wonderful illustrations (19 black and white double page spreads) a vital story element is absent. On a Marshal Law page as much goes on in the backgrounds and margins and the scenery walls as in front of the camera, but that simply isn’t possible here.

This compilation is interesting and powerful, but not as effective as a new comic would be. We’re waiting…

™ & © 2008 Pat Mills & Kevin O’Neill. All rights reserved.

Shaun the Sheep: Championsheep Games

Shaun the Sheep: Championsheep Games

Published by Egmont
ISBN: 978-1-4052-3085-2

Here’s another great activity book for three year olds (and over) that’s a huge bunch of fun and–as the subject is also that rarest of animals: a British kids franchise with his own newsstand comic–well worth a mention in my never-ending crusade to teach kids to love comics, books and reading.

In case you haven’t seen the stop-motion adventures of Shaun the Sheep let’s recap: He first appeared in the Wallace and Gromit film A Close Shave in 1997 (he’s the one that got shorn – get it? – in the knit-o-matic machine). After a guest-shot on the 2002 series Cracking Contraptions he finally graduated to his own show on the BBC in early 2007.

Shaun is a sheep of singular intellect yet he lives on a farm where he has worryingly surreal adventures which pay mute tribute to those timeless silent classics of slapstick comedy. They are extremely entertaining for both adults and kids alike.

This attention-riveting tome is a Sticker Activity Book, which means that there are full colour peel-off adhesive images which can be placed in relevant – or not – places to great effect. The body of the book is a series of black and white pages stuffed with colouring puzzles, spot-the-difference tests, mazes, join-the-dots, finish-the-picture scenes, tracing games, word-searches, hidden-object quests, counting games, comparison quizzes and even a fold-out race-track. I’m nearly three hundred and fifty-two and even I found this to be a dazzling display of captivating teasers. And some of the kids who get this book will want to graduate to the comic afterward…

In a world where books are increasingly alien to people, the combination of great characters, compelling stories and pictures, plus every darn trick in the book, is a welcome tactic in getting kids reading. Forget video games, buy that child a book!

© and ™ Aardman Animations, Ltd 2008. All Rights Reserved. Based on a character created by Nick Park.