Corpse Talk: Ground-Breaking Scientists

By Adam & Lisa Murphy (David Fickling Books)
ISBN: 978-1-910989-60-9

The educational power of comic strips has been long understood and acknowledged: if you can make the material memorably enjoyable, there is nothing that can’t be better taught with pictures. The obverse is also true: comics can make any topic or subject come alive… or at least – as here – outrageously, informatively undead…

The conceit in Corpse Talk is that your scribbling, cartooning host Adam Murphy (ably abetted off-camera by Lisa Murphy) tracks down – or rather digs up – famous personages from the past: all serially exhumed for a chatty, cheeky This Was Your Life talk-show interview that – in Reithian terms – simultaneously “elucidates, educates and entertains”. It also often grosses one out, which is no bad thing for either a kids’ comic or a learning experience…

Another splendid album release culled from the annals of The Phoenix (courtesy of those fine saviours of weekly comics at David Fickling Books) this timely themed collection is dedicated to quizzing a selection of famous, infamous and “why-aren’t-they-household names?” women from history in what would probably be their own – post-mortem – words…

Be warned, as we celebrate 100 years of female suffrage and you absorb these hysterical histories, you may say to yourself again and again “but… that’s not FAIR…”

Catching up in order of date of demise, our fact-loving host begins these candid cartoon conferences by digging the dirt with ‘Hatshepsut: Pharaoh 1507-1458 BCE’, tracing her reign and achievements and why her name and face were literally erased from history for millennia.

As ever, each balmy biography is accompanied by a side feature examining a crucial aspect of their lives such as here where ‘Temple Complex’ diligently details the controversial pharaoh’s astounding and colossal “Holy of Holies”: the Djeser-Djeseru Mortuary Temple of Hatshepsut.

‘Hypatia of Alexandria: Mathematician & Philosopher 360s-415’ sketches out the incredible accomplishments, appalling treatment and tragic fate of the brilliant teacher and number-cruncher, and is supplemented here by a smart lesson in the almost-mystical concept of ‘The Golden Ratio’.

Throughout all civilisations, (mostly male) historians have painted powerful women with extremely unsavoury reputations and nasty natures. Just this once, however, the facts seem to confirm that ‘Irene of Athens: Empress of Byzantium 752-803’ was every bit as bad as her detractors described her. Her atrocious acts against friends, foes and her own son Constantine are offset in the attendant fact-feature ‘Spin Class’ revealing how Irene employed religious industrial espionage to break China’s millennial monopoly on silk production, complete with detailed breakdown of how the Byzantine silk trade worked…

Every comic reader or fantasy fan is familiar with the idea of women warriors but the real-life prototype for them all was the great-granddaughter of Genghis Khan. ‘Khutulun: Wrestling Princess 1260-1300s’ refused to be married off unless a suitor could defeat her in the Mongolian grappling martial art Bökh. So effective a fighter, archer and strategist was she, that the Khan appointed her his Chief Military Advisor and even nominated her his successor on his deathbed – an honour and can of worms she wisely sidestepped to become a power behind the throne.

Her incredible account is backed-up by an in-depth peek into the ferocious wrestling style she dominated in ‘Mongolian Moves’ after which ‘Joan of Arc: Saint 1412-1431’ explains how it all went wrong for her in asks-&-answers ‘How Do You Become a Saint?’

On more familiar ground, ‘Elizabeth I: Queen of England 1533-1603’ recounts her glorious reign and explains the how and why of her power dressing signature appearance in ‘A Killer Look!’ whilst transplanted near-contemporary ‘Pocahontas: Powhattan Princess 1596-1617’ shares the true story of her life before ‘Sad Ending, Continued…’ discloses the ultimate fate of her tribe at the hands of English Settlers.

Another astonishing character you’ve probably never heard of, ‘Julie D’Aubigny: Swashbuckler 1670-1707’ was a hell-raising social misfit who scandalised and terrorised the hidebound French Aristocracy. The daughter of a fencing teacher, she fought duels, broke laws, travelled wherever she wanted to, enjoyed many lovers – male and female – and even sang with the Paris Opera (now that’s a movie biopic I want to see!). What else could she offer as a sidebar but a lesson on duelling for beginners in ‘Question of Honour’?

‘Granny Nanny: Resistance Fighter 1686-1755’ started life as an Ashanti Princess, but after being taken to Jamaica s a slave, organised the ragtag runaways known as Maroons into an army of liberation. The workings of her rainforest citadel Nanny Town (now Moore Town) is explored in ‘Fortresses of Freedom’ after which a more sedate battle against oppression is undertaken with the interrogation of ‘Jane Austen: Novelist 1775-1817’, complete with cartoon precis of her subversive masterpiece ‘Pride & Prejudice (The Corpse Talk Version)’

‘Ching Shih: Pirate Queen 1775-1844’ tells of another woman who beat all the odds and has since faded from male memory: a young girl kidnapped by China Seas pirates who rose to become their leader. Ravaging the Imperial coast, she created an unshakable pirate code that benefitted the poor, outsmarted the Emperor and ultimately negotiated a pardon for herself and all her men and lived happily ever after! That salty sea saga is accompanied by the lowdown and technical specs on ‘Punks in Junks’ and followed by another bad girl with a good reputation.

‘Princess Caraboo: Con-Artist 1791-1864’ was never the Malayan royal refugee British High Society was captivated by, but rather a Devonshire serving maid who made the most of outrageous fortune and quick wits. Her story is backed up by a delightful opportunity to forge your own faux identity with ‘Caraboo’s Character Creation Course!’

Far more potent and worthy exemplars, ‘Harriet Tubman: Abolitionist 1822-1913’ ferried more than 300 of her fellow slaves from Southern oppression to freedom in America and what we now call Canada, supplemented here by a detailed breakdown of ‘The Underground Railway’ before emancipation martyr ‘Emily Wilding Davison: Suffragette 1872-1913’ shares her brief troubled life and struggle to win women the right to vote and participatory roles in society, backed up by an absolutely unmissable graphic synopsis of the long struggle in ‘A Brief History of Women’s Rights’

Someone who made every use of those hard-won concessions was ‘Nellie Bly: Journalist 1864-1922’, whose sensational journalistic feats and headline-grabbing stunts made her as newsworthy as her many scoops. One of the most impressive was beating Jules Verne’s fictional miracle of modernity by voyaging for ‘72 Days Around the World’ – as seen in the gripping sidebar spread – whereas the career of ‘Amy Johnston: Aviator 1903-1941’ was cut tragically short by bad luck and male intractability. Her flying triumphs are celebrated through a fascinating tutorial on her preferred sky-chariot the ‘De Havilland Gypsy Moth’.

The short and tragic life of ‘Anne Frank: Journalist 1864-1922’ follows, complimented by a detailed breakdown of the secret hideout and necessary tactics employed to conceal Anne, her family and friends in ‘The Secret Annex’.

Thankfully closing on an emotional high note, the rags to riches, riches to rags to riches life of dancer, comedian, freedom fighter and social activist ‘Josephine Baker: Entertainer 1906-1975’ details the double rollercoaster life of a true star and closes this book with her teaching the secrets of how to ‘Dance the Charleston’.

Clever, moving, irreverently funny and formidably factual throughout, Corpse Talk cleverly but unflinchingly deals with history’s more tendentious moments whilst personalising the great, the grim and the good for coming generations.

It is also a fabulously fun read no parent or kid could possibly resist. Don’t take my word for it though, just ask any reader, spiritualist or dearly departed go-getter…

Text and illustrations © Adam & Lisa Murphy 2018. All rights reserved.
Corpse Talk: Ground-Breaking Women will be released on 1st March 2018 and is available for pre-order now.

Garth: The Women of Galba

By Jim Edgar & Frank Bellamy (Titan Books)
ISBN: 978-0-90761-049-6

It’s a big anniversary for Britain’s greatest comic strip adventurer this summer, but other than a few old collections and the online reprints, nobody seems much moved to celebrate the event or revive a genuine original of cartoon entertainment. Here however, with our eyes firmly set on great comics of every era and at least one and a half feet firmly planted in the past, we’re not going to let him slip by without any fanfare at all…

Garth was created in response to America’s publishing phenomenon Superman and debuted in the Daily Mirror on Saturday, July 24th 1943, the creation of Steve Dowling and BBC producer Gordon Boshell. His comic strip page mates at that time were regular features Buck Ryan, Belinda Blue Eyes, Just Jake and the irrepressible, morale-boosting glamour-puss Jane.

A blond giant and physical marvel, Garth washed up on an island shore and into the arms of a pretty girl, Gala, with no memory of who he was, just in time to save the entire populace from a tyrant. Boshell never actually wrote the series, so Dowling, who was also producing the successful family strip The Ruggles, scripted Garth until a writer could be found.

Successful candidate Don Freeman dumped the amnesia plot in ‘The Seven Ages of Garth’ (which ran from September 18th 1944 to January 20th 1946); introducing studious jack-of-all-scientific trades Professor Lumiere whose psychological experiments regressed the hero back through his past lives.

In sequel tale ‘The Saga of Garth’ (January 22nd 1946-July 20th 1946) his origin was finally revealed. Found floating in a coracle off the Shetlands, baby Garth was adopted by a kindly old couple and grew to vigorous manhood. On reaching maturity he returned to the seas as a Navy Captain until he was torpedoed off Tibet in 1943.

Freeman continued as writer until 1952 and was briefly replaced by script editor Hugh McClelland until Peter O’Donnell took over in 1953. O’Donnell wrote 28 adventures before resigning in 1966 to devote more time to his own Modesty Blaise feature. His place was taken by Jim Edgar; who also scripted western strips Matt Marriott, Wes Slade and Gun Law.

In 1968 Dowling retired and his assistant John Allard took over the drawing until a permanent artist could be found. Allard had completed ten tales when Frank Bellamy came on board with the 13th daily episode of ‘Sundance’ (reprinted in Garth: The Cloud of Balthus). Allard remained as background artist and general assistant until Bellamy took full control during ‘The Orb of Trimandias’.

Professor Lumiere had discovered something about his patient which gave this strip its unique and distinctive appeal – even before the fantastic artwork of Bellamy elevated it to dizzying heights of graphic brilliance: Garth was blessed – or cursed – with an involuntary ability to travel through time and experience past and future lives.

This concept gave the strip infinite potential for exotic storylines and fantastic exploits, pushing it beyond its humble origins as a US mystery-man knock-off.

This second (1985) Titan Books collection of the Frank Bellamy era spans the period from 7th September 1972 to 25th October 1973 with the artist at the absolute peak of his powers. It opens here with eerie chiller ‘The People of the Abyss’ wherein Garth and sub-sea explorer Ed Neilson are captured by staggeringly beautiful naked women who drag their bathyscaphe to a city at the bottom of the Pacific. These undersea houris are at war with horrendous aquatic monstrosities and urgently need outside assistance, but even that incredible situation is merely the prelude to a tragic love affair with Cold War implications…

Next up is eponymous space-opera romp ‘The Women of Galba’ wherein an alien tyrant learns to rue the day he abducted a giant Earthman to fight and die as a gladiator. Exotic locations, spectacular action and oodles more astonishingly beautiful females make this an unforgettable adventure…

‘Ghost Town’ is a western tale, and a very special one. When Garth, vacationing in Colorado, rides into abandoned mining outpost “Gopherville”, he is irresistibly drawn back to a past life as Marshal Tom Barratt who lived, loved and died when the town was a hotspot of vice and easily purloined money. When Bellamy died suddenly in 1976 this tale – long acknowledged as his personal favourite – was rerun until Martin Asbury was ready to take over the strip.

The final adventure re-presented here – ‘The Mask of Atacama’ – sees Garth and Lumiere in Mexico City. Whilst sleeping the blonde colossus is visited by the spirit of beautiful Princess Atacama who escorts him through time to the vanished Aztec city of Tenochtitlan where, as the Sun God Axatl, Garth attempts to save their civilisation from the voraciously marauding Conquistadores of Hernan Cortés. Tragically, neither he nor the Princess have reckoned on the jealousy of the Sun Priests and their High Priestess Tiahuaca

Adding extra value to this volume are a draft synopsis and actual scripts for ‘The Women of Galba’, liberally illustrated, of course. There has never been a better comic adventure strip than Garth as drawn by Bellamy, combining action, suspense, glamour, mystery and the uncanny in a seamless blend of graphic wonderment. In recent years, Titan Books has published a superb line of classic British strips and comics and I’m praying that with Modesty Blaise and James Bond now completed, they’ll return to Garth (and while I’m dreaming, Jeff Hawke too) on the understanding that it’s up to us to make sure that this time the books find a grateful, appreciative and vast audience…
© 1985 Mirror Group Newspapers/Syndication International. All Rights Reserved.

The World of Pont

By Graham Laidler, with an introduction by Richard Ingrams (Nadder Books)
ISBN: 0-90654-038-0

Graham Laidler was born in Jesmond, Newcastle upon Tyne-on July 4th 1908, son of a prominent painter and decorator. Educated at Newcastle Preparatory school and Glenalmond in Perthshire, he was 13 when his father died and the family relocated to Buckinghamshire. Always captivated by cartooning, he channelled his artistic proclivities into more traditionally profitable avenues to support his widowed mother: training as an architect at the London School of Architecture from 1926-1931.

Perpetually dogged by ill-health, Laidler moonlighted as a cartoonist and in 1930 began a long-running domestic comedy strip entitled The Twiffs for The Women’s Pictorial. In 1932 he was diagnosed with a tubercular kidney and advised to live in healthier climates than ours. By August of that year he had sold his first cartoon to that most prestigious bulwark of British publishing: Punch.

Laidler was so popular that editor E.V. Knox took the unprecedented step of putting him under exclusive contract. With financial security established and his unique arrangement with Punch in place the artist began travelling the world. On the way he drew funny pictures, mostly of “The English” both at home and abroad, eventually generating 400 magnificent, immortal cartoons until his death in 1940, aged 32.

A charmingly handsome and charismatically attractive young man, Laidler visited Germany, Austria, Italy, Switzerland, Norway, Sweden, America and many other exotic, exceedingly not British places. He won his nickname and nom-de-plume in Rome during an incident with two “Vestal Virgin” travelling companions after which he was forevermore “Pontifex Maximus” or “Pont” to the likes of you and me…

His greatest gift was an almost-surgical gift for observation of social and cultural minutiae: gleaning picaresque detail and broad attitude which he disingenuously translated through his gently humorous graphic commentaries into simultaneously incisive and genteel, baroque and subtle picture-plays encapsulating the funniest of moments on every subject pertaining to the great Enigma of Being English in Public and Getting Away with It…

His work was collected into a number of books during his lifetime and since, and his influence as humourist and draughtsman can still be felt in many areas of comedy and cartooning.

Although he excelled in the strip cartoon format, Pont’s true mastery was in telling a complete story with a single perfect drawing. His carefully crafted images exemplified the British to the world at large and – most importantly – to ourselves.

During World War II the Nazis, with typical sinister efficiency, used his drawings as the basis of their anti-British propaganda when they invaded Holland, further confirming to the world the belief that Germans Have No Sense of Humour.

As Pont, for eight far-too-brief years, Graham Laidler became an icon and global herald of English life and you would be doing yourself an immense favour in tracking down his work. If you like Ealing comedies, Alistair Sim and Margaret Rutherford, St. Trinian’s and the Molesworth books or the works of Thelwell, Ronald Searle or Flanders and Swann, you won’t regret the effort.

Incomprehensibly, despite his woefully small output there still doesn’t seem to be a definitive archival collection of Pont’s work. One again I implore any potential publisher reading this to take the hint, but until then, for the rest of us there’s just the thrill of the hunt and the promised bounty in seeking out slim tomes such as The British Character, The British at Home, The British Carry On, Most of us are Absurd, Pont or this particularly rare magical compendium.

The World of Pont is the perfect primer of his historical hilarity; sampling the best of Laidler’s drawn divinations from his themed Punch series’ ‘The British Observed’; ‘The British at War’; ‘Popular Misconceptions’; ‘The British Woman’ and last but certainly not least, ‘The British Man’.

If you love great drawing and excoriating observational wit you’ll thank me. If you just want a damn good laugh, you’ll reward yourself with the assorted works of Pont.
© 1983, 2007 the estate of Graham Laidler.

The Incredible Adventures of Professor Branestawm

By Norman Hunter, illustrated by W. Heath Robinson (Puffin/Red Fox and others)
ISBNs: PSS33 (1969 Puffin edition)              978-1-86230-736-0 (Red Fox 2008)

In a year packed with anniversaries pertinent to comics and related fantasy entertainments, I’d be remiss if I didn’t note the particular delights of this worthy British institution, originally illustrated by a veritable giant of world cartooning and recently the freshly revived star of BBC television.

The venerably traditional illustrated novel used to be a happily inescapable staple of bedtime for generations in this country and this particular example is particularly memorable, not simply because it’s a timeless masterpiece of purely English wit and surreal invention, but also because most editions are blessed with a wealth of stunning pictures by an absolute master of absurdist cartooning and wry, dry wit.

Norman George Lorimer Hunter was born on November 23rd 1899 in Sydenham; a decade after that part of Kent was absorbed by the ever-expanding County of London. He started work as an advertising copywriter before moving into book writing with Simplified Conjuring for All: A collection of new tricks needing no special skill or apparatus for their performance with suitable patter; Advertising Through the Press: A guide to press publicity and New and Easy Magic: A further series of novel magical experiments needing no special skill or apparatus for their performance with suitable patter. They were all published between 1923 and 1925.

Hunter was working as a stage magician in Bournemouth during the early 1930s when he first began concocting the genially explosive exploits of the absolute archetypical absent-minded boffin for radio broadcasts. These tales were read by the inimitable Ajax – to whom the first volume is dedicated – as part of the BBC Home Service’s Children’s Hour.

In 1933 The Incredible Adventures of Professor Branestawm was published in hardback, including 76 enthrallingly intricate illustrations by W. Heath Robinson to great success, prompting the sequel Professor Branestawm’s Treasure Hunt (illustrated by James Arnold & George Worsley Adamson) four years later.

During WWII Hunter moved back to London and in 1949 emigrated to South Africa where he worked outside the fiction biz until his retirement. Following the release of Thames Television’s Professor Branestawm TV series (which adapted many of the short stories from the original books in the summer of 1969) Hunter returned to Britain in 1970, and resumed writing: another 11 Branestawn tomes between 1970-1983, plus a selection of supplemental books including Dictionary (1973): Professor Branestawm’s Compendium of Conundrums, Riddles, Puzzles, Brain Twiddlers and Dotty Descriptions (1975); Professor Branestawm’s Do-it-yourself Handbook (1976) and many magic-related volumes.

Norman Hunter died in 1995.

William Heath Robinson was born on May 31st 1872 into something of an artistic dynasty. His father Thomas was chief staff artist for Penny Illustrated Paper. His older brothers Thomas and Charles were also renowned illustrators of note.

After schooling William tried unsuccessfully to become a watercolour landscape-artist before returning to the family trade and, in 1902, produced the fairy story ‘Uncle Lubin’ before contributing regularly to The Tatler, Bystander, Sketch, Strand and London Opinion. During this period, he developed the humorous whimsy and a penchant for eccentric, archaic-looking mechanical devices that made him a household name.

During the Great War William uniquely avoided the Jingoistic stance and fervour of his fellow artists, preferring instead to satirise the absurdity of conflict itself with volumes of cartoons such as The Saintly Hun.

Then, after a 20-year career of phenomenal success and creativity in cartooning, illustration and particularly advertising, he found himself forced to do it again in World War Two.

He died on13th September 1944.

Perhaps inspired by the Branestawm commission, Heath Robinson’s 1934 collection Absurdities hilariously describes the frail resilience of the human condition in the Machine Age and particularly how the English deal with it all. They are also some of his funniest strips and panels. Much too little of his charming and detailed illustrative wit is in print today, a situation that cries out for Arts Council Funding or Lottery money, perhaps more than any other injustice in the sadly neglected field of cartooning and Popular Arts.

The first inspirational Professor Branestawm storybook introduces the dotty, big-domed, scatty savant as a ramshackle cove with five pairs of spectacles – which he generally wears all at once – gadding about with his clothes held together by safety pins …as the constant explosions he creates blow his buttons off.

The wise buffoon spends most of his days thinking high thoughts and devising odd devices in his “Inventory” whilst his mundane requirements are taken care of by dotty, devoted, frequently frightened or flustered housekeeper Mrs. Flittersnoop. Branestawm’s best chum is the gruff Colonel Dedshott of the Catapult Cavaliers, although said old soldier seldom knows what the big thinker is babbling on is about…

The over-educated inspirationalist and his motley crew first appeared in ‘The Professor Invents a Machine’ which featured the debut of an arcane device that moves so quickly that Branestawm and Dedshott are carried a week into the past and accidentally undo a revolution in Squiglatania, upsetting everybody on both sides of the argument.

In ‘The Wild Waste-Paper’ Mrs. Flittersnoop’s incessant tidying up causes a spill of the Professor’s new Elixir of Vitality: with the consequent enlargement and animation of a basket full of furiously angry bills, clingy postcards and discarded envelopes, whilst in ‘The Professor Borrows a Book’ the absent-minded mentor mislays a reference tome and has to borrow another copy from the local library.

A house full of books is the worst place to lose one, and when the second one goes AWOL Branestawm must borrow a third or pay the fine on the second. By the time he’s finished the potty Prof has checked out fourteen copies and is killing himself covertly transporting it from library to library…

When his stuff-stuffed house is raided by Burglars!’ the shocked and horrified thinker concocts the ultimate security system. It is the perfect device to defend an Englishman’s Castle – unless he’s the type who regularly forgets his keys or that he has built and installed an anti-burglar machine…

After losing a day because he hasn’t noticed his chronometer had stopped, the Professor devises a new sort of timepiece that never needs winding and becomes something of a business success. Even the local horologist (look it up) wants one.

Sadly, the meandering mentalist forgets to add a what-not to stop them all striking more than twelve and as the beastly things inexorably add one peal every hour soon there are more dings than can fit in any fifty-nine minutes. ‘The Screaming Clocks’ quickly become most unwelcome and eventually an actually menace to life and limb…

Branestawm often thought so hard that he ceased all motion. Whilst visiting The Fair at Pagwell Green’ Mrs. Flittersnoop and Colonel Dedshott mistake a waxwork of the famously brilliant bumbler for the real thing and bring “him” home to finish his pondering in private. Conversely, the carnival waxworks owner alternatively believes he has come into possession of a wax statue which has learned to talk…

‘The Professor Sends an Invitation’ sees the savant ask Dedshott to tea yet forget to include the laboriously scripted card. By means most arcane and convoluted, the doughty old warrior receives an ink-smudged blotter in an addressed envelope and mobilises to solve a baffling cipher. Of course, his first port-of-call must be his clever scientific friend – who had subsequently forgotten all about upcoming culinary events…

‘The Professor Studies Spring Cleaning’ finds Branestawm applying his prodigious intellect and inventive acumen to the seasonal tradition that so vexes Mrs. Flittersnoop and inevitably perfecting a way to make an arduous labour far worse. He thus constructs a house-engine that empties and cleans itself. Sadly, it can’t differentiate between sofa, couch, cupboard or housekeeper…

‘The Too-Many Professors’ appear when the affable artificer invents a solution which brought pictures to life. Flittersnoop is guardedly impressed when illustrations of apples and chocolates become edibly real but utterly aghast when a 3-dimensional cat and elephant commence crashing about in the parlour.

So it’s pretty inevitable that the foul-smelling concoction be spilled all over the photograph albums…

In a case of creativity feeding on itself, ‘The Professor Does a Broadcast’ relates how the brilliant old duffer is invited to give a lecture on the Wireless (no, not about radio, but for it…). Unaccustomed as he is to public speaking, the tongue-tied boffin has Dedshott rehearse and drill him until he can recite the whole speech in eleven minutes. Unfortunately, the scheduled programme is supposed to last half an hour…

A grand Fancy Dress Ball results in two eccentric pillars of Pagwell Society wittily masquerading as each other. Naturally ‘Colonel Branestawm and Professor Dedshott’ are a great success but when the Countess of Pagwell’s pearls are pinched whilst the old duffers change back to their regular attire nobody notices the difference or believes them…

‘The Professor Moves House’ relates how the inventor is forced to rent larger premises because he has filled up the old one with his contraptions. However, Branestawm’s attempts to rationalise the Moving Men’s work patterns prove that even he doesn’t know everything…

At least the disastrous ‘Pancake Day at Great Pagwell’ rescues his reputation when his magnificent automatic Pancake-Making Machine furiously feeds a multitude of friends and civic dignitaries. The Mayor likes it so much he purchases the chaotic contraption to lay all the municipality’s pavements…

This gloriously enchanting initial outing ends with ‘Professor Branestawm’s Holiday’ as the old brain-bonce finally acquiesces to his housekeeper’s urgent urgings and indulges in a vacation at the seaside. Keen on swotting up on all things jellyfish, the silly savant sets off but forgets to check in at his boarding house, resulting in a desperate missing-persons search by Dedshott, Flittersnoop and the authorities.

Things are further complicated by a Pierrot Show which boasts the best Professor Branestawn impersonator in Britain: so good in fact that even the delinquent dodderer’s best friends can’t tell the difference…

With the actual performer locked up in a sanatorium claiming he isn’t a Professor, it’s a lucky thing the one-and-only wandering wise man is unable to discern the difference between a lecture hall and a seaside show-tent…

As I’ve already mentioned, these astonishingly accessible yarns were originally written for radio and thus abound with rhythmic cadences and onomatopoeic sound effects that just scream to be enjoyed out loud. Augmented by some of Heath-Robinson’s most memorable character caricatures and insane implements, this eternally fresh children’s classic offers some of the earliest and most enduring example of spiffing techno-babble and fantabulous faux-physics – not to mention impressive iterations of the divine Pathetic Fallacy in all its outrageous glory – and no child should have to grow up without visiting and revisiting the immortal, improbable Pagwell Pioneer.

In 2008 a 75th Anniversary edition of The Incredible Adventures of Professor Branestawm was released by Red Fox but you’re just a likely to find this uproarious ubiquitous marvel in libraries, second-hand shops or even jumble sales, so by all means do…
© 1933 Norman Hunter. All rights reserved.

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.