Countdown Annual 1972


By Many & various, edited by Dennis Hooper (Polystyle Publications)
SBN: 85096-018-5

As the 1960s ended, comics editors realised their readership was becoming increasingly sophisticated and sought to keep their attention with upscale rebrandings and style changes. Venerable old TV Comic and even TV21 were no longer dynamic enough and one answer to the situation – from licensing specialist Polystyle – was Countdown.

Running for a mere 58 weeks (beginning 20th February 1971) as a glossy, high end periodical, before its first dramatic makeover – which saw it relaunched on April 1st 1972 as TV Action + Countdown and ultimately TV Action – it subsisted until August 1973 when it was rolled up into TV Comic.

The magazine boasted a rich creative throughput, but the majority of the television-fuelled drama strips were written by editor Dennis Hooper, with additional material from Robin Hillborn, Allan Fennell and possible Angus Allen. However, as the company had access to TV 21’s archive and used reprint material, I could just be misremembering…

This is the only official Annual. The following year it became Countdown Annual… for TV Action, but don’t let that put you off: whether you’re a telly addict or comics fanboy, this book is stuffed with superb entertainment.

The action opens with a full-colour UFO thriller ‘The Circus’ illustrated by Jon Davis. The saga of a predatory alien body-snatcher used as a cash-cow by a failing Irish carnival show is interrupted (like an advert break?) by photo/fact feature ‘The Defenders’, wherein the secrets of Gerry Anderson’s covert anti-extraterrestrial force SHADO (Supreme Headquarters, Alien Defences Organisation) are outlined, but the story finale remains explosive and satisfying.

Rendered in black-&-red on white paper, 2-page gag strip ‘Dastardly and Muttley’ (by Peter Ford?) sees the cartoon clowns still hunting that infernal pigeon, after which a ‘Countdown Quiz’ tests your knowledge of the Space Race.

Staying in the Wild Black Yonder, Don Harley limns tense Thunderbirds thriller ‘Terror at Torreba’ with a crashed meteor bringing madness and destruction to Africa…

Arnold Kingston was the chief writer of extremely contemporary science fact features for the Countdown comic so it’s safe to assume he’s responsible for the ‘Think Tank! News from the Frontiers of Science’ photo noticeboard here, and another ‘Countdown Quiz’ as well as later features in the book.

Dastardly and Muttley then return, afflicted with dreams of cinematic stardom, after which Martin Asbury paints a full-colour ‘Captain Scarlet’ tale as the Mysterons suborn a giant killer robot and let it run amok…

Board game ‘Countdown Rescue Mission’ dovetails into dystopian prose sci fi short story ‘Countdown: Dangerous Friend’ – magnificently illustrated by John M. Burns – whilst ‘Rockets’ provides a potted photo-history of the real march into space.

Abortive Gerry Anderson Property ‘The Secret Service’ (Peter Ford again) finds priest and part-time secret agent Father Unwin leading the charge back into restricted colour as he and his partner Matthew use their Minimiser shrinking ray to steal back microdots from a hostile embassy

Photo feature ‘A Day with Dr. Who’ visits the locations used whilst filming The Daemons, before ‘U.F.O.s in history’offers a more evidential lesson on extraterrestrial encounters, whilst a colour ‘Jon Pertwee pinup’ brings us to a cracking Time Lord tale as Dr. Who battles floral doom in ‘The Plant Master’, brilliantly illustrated by Jim Baikie.

Slim but potent, this box of delight then ends with prose yarn ‘Joe 90 Resigns’ as the 9-year-old breaks the rules to rescue his father from an alpine emergency.

Closing with the ‘Answers’ to all those quiz questions and a stunning UFO photo section, this is a powerful and evocative treat you’d be crazy to miss…
© Polystyle Publications 1971.

Supercar Annual


By Alan Fennel, G. Wood and H.J. Cauldwell (Wm. Collins and Sons)
No ISBN:

For its entire existence British Comics have tapped into and exploited other entertainment icons such as stage, film and radio stars. As television became commonplace in the 1950s and exploded during the late 1960s – especially in the range and variety of children’s shows and cartoons – those programmes increasingly became a staple source for cheap weeklies but especially the Seasonal Annual market, not just for celebrities such as Arthur Askey or Abbott & Costello but increasingly the shows themselves: adding extra episodes to little aficionados’ finite canon.

Moreover, in an era before home recordings of any sort, these were exploits that could be enjoyed over and over again…

During that critical developmental period, Gerry Anderson’s innovative and increasingly 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 our 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 civilisations 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.

Before all that, however, there were far simpler and more inclusive epics for kids at Christmas from the Anderson stable: such as this charming tome, credited to future Anderson staff writer Alan Fennel with cartoon art, strips, puzzles and illustrations by G. Wood and H. J. Cauldwell.

Supercar was Anderson’s (in conjunction with designer Reg Hill and scriptwriters Hugh and Martin Woodhouse) second marionette series, following on from comedy western Four-Feather Falls. Soundly science fictional, it was the first to be internationally syndicated and detailed the exploits of a futuristic flying car, as piloted by dashing test pilot Mike Mercury. His adventure prone entourage included batty boffins Professor Rudolph Popkiss and Dr. Horatio Beaker – who invented and built the mechanical beast – as well as boy sidekick Jimmy Gibson and his mischievous pet Mitch who was a monkey…

Located in a desert base at Black Rock, Nevada, the team had daring adventures all over the world (seen in the 39 episodes recorded between 1961-1962), and frequently faced wicked enemy agent Masterspy and his henchman Zarrin.

Broadcasts began in January 1962 and were eagerly awaited by millions of fans who found solace when the show closed by buying TV Comic for further exploits.

There were three annuals released, of which this is the last, offering an unconventional experience since all the strips and prose adventures comprise one large complete saga.

Following an enthralling painted double-page frontispiece of the wonder vehicle at the bottom of the sea, the action opens with Cauldwell’s full-colour strip ‘Killer Whale’ as the action-ready team save ocean-going scientist Doctor Bombay from one of his own maddened experiments. In the aftermath, they learn the savant has been recently been restored to his previous role as Maharajah of Subahn and agree to escort him home to take up the reins of power…

Before they can set off, however, a fresh emergency occurs, and Supercar is needed to fix a sabotaged trestle in Wood’s 2-colour strip ‘Bridge of Danger’ and their base is plundered of secrets in prose mystery yarn ‘The Workshop Robbery’. Thankfully, Mike is as adept at crimefighting and counterespionage as he is at flying…

Following puzzle page ‘World Flight’, monochrome strip ‘Close-Up on Danger’ finally sees the journey to Subahn begin, but during a stopover in London deposed former dictator Randah Singh deploys a hired assassin to kill Bombay in front of a live studio audience…

Plot foiled, the voyagers resume their flight, leaving us to enjoy a puzzle-maze in ‘S-O-S’ before a flashback prose tale details how Beaker and Popkiss discovered ‘The Treasure of Mesa Verde’ despite the larcenous efforts of Masterspy and Zarrin…

Another full-colour section begins with activity pages ‘What is Wrong with this Picture?’ and ‘Memory Game: Exploring Space’, before ‘Sahara Inferno’ finds Supercar diverted again to help extinguish a blazing natural gas well. General knowledge teaser ‘Nevada Quiz’ then segues into a new restricted colour section foe Wood’s ‘Kidnapped’ wherein Randah Singh hires Masterspy and Zarrin to ensure Maharajah Bombay never takes up his throne…

Rebus page ‘The Lost Diplomatic Plane’ leads to another prose flashback for ‘Mission to Destroy’; revealing how Supercar was instrumental in eradicating an illegal weapons cache in Malaya, after which a return to the present sees Bombay’s triumphal accession procession interrupted by the ‘Eruption!’ of the local volcano…

Memories evoked, a prose tale follows of a time in Switzerland when a souped-up mechanical doll triggered ‘The Avalanche’ before the extended saga concludes in full-colour with ‘The Triumphant Procession’ as Randah Singh plays his last murderous ace…

Blending charm with action and exoticism with big laughs, this is a splendid example of simpler times and all-ages storytelling that no nostalgia-afflicted baby boomer could possibly resist.
© 1963, A.P. FILMS and A.T.V. Ltd. All rights reserved.

Genre Annuals

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

It’s a rare and tragic individual who never received a colourful card-covered compendium on Christmas morning; full of stories and comic-strips and usually featuring the seasonal antics of their favourite characters, whether from comics such as The Beano, The Dandy, Lion, Eagle and their ilk, or TV, film or radio franchises/personalities such as Dr Who, Star Wars, Thunderbirds, Radio Fun or Arthur Askey. There were even sports and hobby annuals and beautifully illustrated commemorative editions of the fact and general knowledge comics such as Look and Learn, and special events such as the always glorious Rupert Bear or Giles Annuals.

Here then is a brief celebration of the kinds of genre celebrations which delighted kids and their parents…

Larry Harmon’s Laurel & Hardy Annual #1


By various anonymous (Brown & Watson)
No ISBN:

Stan Laurel and Oliver Hardy comprise the funniest comedy duo of all time. Your opinion may differ, but mine’s correct.

Known all over the world, they became famous for their appearance and filmic characters, which made it pretty easy to establish an intellectual properties license for them after their passing.

Larry Harmon was the stage name of Laurence Weiss (1925-2008), one of a select group of American actors to be legendary icon Bozo the Clown. He was – also albeit unwillingly and to prove a point – a Presidential candidate in 1984. Make of that what you will.

In 1956, Harmon purchased the rights to Bozo, instituting a ferocious marketing strategy for advertising, merchandise and the growing television field. By the 1960s he had made Bozo a star in every US home (using local franchise performers) and generated an animated avatar on those live-action shows.

Harmon’s animation studio then took over the screen rights to Popeye in 1960, releasing a new series of TV cartoons, and in 1961 bought the merchandising rights to Laurel and Hardy. In the subsequent series that resulted, hands-on Harmon voiced Stan, just as he had voiced Bozo in those animated segments of the live action shows. There were 156 episodes which first aired in the US from September 10th 1966 to March 25th 1967.

Although not to my taste, those Laurel and Hardy cartoons were hugely popular, spawning a Gold Key comic book and a 1972 DC Digest Special in the US, and a new comics series in the UK (and presumably, the Commonwealth that British distributor Thorpe & Porter and its affiliated imprints such as Williams exported to) as well as being syndicated to European countries such as Germany where they were Dick und Dorf

From 1969 to 1974 T&P generated their own licensed comic book iteration: at least 136 full-colour issues, 8 double-sized softcover albums (including at least one Christmas Special) and 2 proper hardback annuals – of which this is the first – via licensed properties specialists Brown Watson, who eventually evolved into Grandreams.

Stan and Ollie were certainly no strangers to British comics readers. The Odd Couple were a front-page staple of Film Fun from the 1930s to 1957 (rendered by the astounding George William Wakefield and inherited by his artist son Terry). The starred in Film Picture Stories (1934) and through the 1960s were a big draw in TV Comic.

After their solo comic folded, the puckish pair continued as a supporting feature and occasional headliner well into the 1980s.

In this first official Annual from 1972, an anonymous band of artisans begin the procession of slapstick tomfoolery with prose vignette ‘Mugs of the Legion’ wherein the dopey duo return to the theme of their movie The Flying Deuces, sticking out like sore thumbs in the desert until they accidentally capture the villainous scourge Abdul el Ratta

A brace of pages full of one-off cartoons, ‘Stan & Olly’s Gag-Bag!’ leads to a second prose story wherein ‘Laurel & Hardy Go Camping’ with typically calamitous results, before the strips begin – in full colour – with ‘Rocketship Rumpus’. Here, the best window washers in the Space Program are accidentally sent to another world only to upset aliens and save space dragons…

Once back on Earth, Olly’s biggest mistake is letting Stan have ‘The Puppy’, and when the full-grown beast is stolen by a burglar, he’s not the only happy chappie, after which short strip ‘The Aerial’ proves why some household jobs should never be “do-it-yourself”…

Extended epic ‘The Treasure House’ sees the hapless loyal oafs as destitute beggars, but everything changes when Olly inherits ramshackle estate Fool Hardy Manor and learns there’s a valuable hoard hidden somewhere in its dilapidated walls…

Leaving Stan ‘Washing the Car’ proves a recipe for disaster and their time as ‘Private Detectives’ even more so, but nothing is as crazy as assuming Stan’s lesson’s in ‘Self-Defence’ can ever be successful, before the duo-chrome prose material takes an encore.

‘The Specialists’ see Stan and Olly revive the window washing gig, only to end up on the wrong side (that is INside) of a top-secret super jet, after which two more pages of ‘Stan & Olly’s Gag-Bag!’ and three of assorted puzzles, activities and games take us to the big finish as the eternal idiots agree to clean scary domicile ‘The House of Secrets’ and stumble into terror and criminality in equal measure…

Gentle, unassuming and – admittedly – a touch dated, these old-fashioned efforts are still effective and engaging examples of comedy cartooning and all-ages humorous storytelling that will appeal to the kid in all and most little kids of your acquaintance. Why not seek them out and give them a go again?
© 1972, Larry Harmon Pictures Corporation.

Superman Annual 1986


By Cary Bates, Elliot S! Maggin, Grant Morrison, Pete Milligan, Curt Swan, Barry Kitson, Jeff Andersen, Mike Collins, Mark Farmer, Mike Grell, Brian Bolland & various (London Editions)
ISBN: 978-0-72356-763-9 (HB)

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

Less common were strangely coloured pamphlets produced by Australian outfit K. G. Murray: exported to the UK in a rather sporadic manner. The company also produced sturdy Annuals which had a huge impact on my earliest years (I suspect my abiding adulation of monochrome artwork stems from seeing supreme stylists like Curt Swan, Carmine Infantino, Gil Kane and Murphy Anderson strut their stuff uncluttered by flat colour…).

In Britain we began seeing hardcover Superman Annuals in 1950 and Batman Annuals in 1960. Since then a number of publishers have carried on the tradition. This particular tome comes from the mid-1980s when a number of young British creators were perfecting their skills and looking for work in the home of the Brave…

Thankfully though the UK Annual format remains: offering a delightfully eclectic and inescapably nostalgic mix of material designed to cater to young eyes and broad tastes.

Released in the Autumn of 1985, this hardback gem opens with a frontispiece montage of the Man of Steel by a host of US luminaries before contemporary comics reprint (taken from Superman #392, February 1984) ‘If a Body Meets a Body…’ (by Cary Bates, Elliot S. Maggin Curt Swan & Dave Hunt) finds the Action Ace scouring the world for his childhood sweetheart Lana Lang. Complicating the issue is the abductor, alien superhero Vartox and a champion more powerful and experienced than the fraught and frantic Man of Steel.

What could possible have triggered this unexpected aberration?

This is followed by an original prose yarn written by then-up-&-comer Grant Morrison and liberally illustrated in full-colour by Barry Kitson & Jeff Anderson. When the Metropolis mob want to get rid of Superman, they back a mad scientist who tries psychological warfare with ‘Osgood Peabody’s Big Green Dream Machine’. Any guesses how that works out?

Returning to strip reprints, ‘This Legionnaire is Condemned’ is by Bates, Mike Grell & Bob Wiacek and originated in December 1976’s Superboy and the Legion of Super-Hero #222. The tales sees new member Tyroc seemingly terrorising 30th century Metropolis with his reality-bending sonic screams, but of course there’s a rational reason for all the cunningly conceived catastrophes…

‘Testing Time for Superman’ is another text adventure, courtesy of Pete Milligan, Mike Collins & Mark Farmer with the overworked Action Ace multitasking alien threats and romantic interludes with Lois Lane, after which a stunning Brian Bolland pinup (from Superman #400) segues into pages of ‘Super Puzzles’ and a bombastic final act from Bates, Swan & Tex Blaisdell as ‘Superman’s Energy Crisis’ (Action Comics #454, December1975) sees the Last Son of Krypton battling a new Toyman just as his powers are mysteriously fading away…

Smart, no-nonsense, solid superhero shenanigans have always been the watchword of Superman Annuals and this one is no exception.
© 1985 DC Comics Inc, and London Editions Limited. All characters © 1985 DC Comics Inc.

Smash! Annual 1975


By many and various (IPC Magazines, Ltd)
SBN: 85037-166-X

Smash! launched with a cover-date of February 5th 1966: an ordinary Odhams anthology weekly which was quickly re-badged as a Power Comic at the end of the year; combining home-grown funnies and British originated thrillers with resized US strips to capitalise on the American superhero bubble created by the Batman TV series.

Power Comics was a sub-brand used by Odhams to differentiate those periodicals which contained reprinted American superhero material from the company’s regular blend of sports, war, western, adventure and humour comics – such as Buster, Valiant, Lion or Tiger.

During the Swinging Sixties the Power weeklies did much to popularise the budding Marvel universe characters in this country, which was still poorly served by distribution of the original American imports.

The increasingly expensive American reprints were dropped in 1969 and Smash! was radically retooled with the traditional mix of action, sport and humour strips. Undergoing a full redesign, it was relaunched on March 15th 1969 with all-British material and finally disappeared into Valiant in April 1971 after 257 issues.

However, the Seasonal specials remained a draw until October 1975 when Smash Annual 1976 properly ended the era. From then on, the Fleetway brand had no room for the old guard – except as re-conditioned reprints in cooler, more modern books…

As I’ve monotonously repeated, Christmas Annuals were forward-dated so this monumental mix of shock, awe and haw-haw was probably being put together between spring and September 1974, combining new strip or prose stories of old favourites with remastered reprints from other Fleetway-owned comics and a wealth of general interest fact features.

Here then, following a contents page/cast pin-up double page spread of the Swots and Blots, the festive fun kicks off with a promise of trouble to come – and a modicum of editorial fourth wall-busting – from ‘Bad Penny’ with what today seems a rather uncomfortable photo spread featuring chimps in human dress entitled ‘Monkey Music Tricks’

Devised by Barrie Mitchell and unbelievably popular, ‘His Sporting Lordship’ was a light-hearted everyman comedy drama and one of the most popular strips of the era. Debuting in Smash!, in 1969 Henry Nobbins survived the merger with Valiant and only retired just before the comic itself did.

Cover-featured Nobbins was only a common labourer when he unexpectedly inherited £5,000,000 and the title Earl of Ranworth. Unfortunately, he couldn’t touch the cash until he restored the family’s sporting reputation… by winning all the championships, prizes and awards that his forebears had held in times past…

Further complicating the issue was rival claimant Parkinson who, with henchman Fred Bloggs, constantly tried to sabotage his attempts. Luckily the new Earl was ably assisted by canny, cunning butler Jarvis…

With art (possibly?) by Douglas Maxted, this red-&-black-hued romp is his last ever appearance as the unlikely toff and his capable manservant attempt a sporting double – in ballooning and knitting – despite the scurrilous efforts of the skulking nemeses…

The first of a series of puzzle pages is next as ‘Smash Quiz No. 1’ asks questions on sporting subjects after which a prose tale of ‘Master of the Marsh’ (illustrated by the Solano Lopez studio) sees enigmatic hermit/P.E. teacher Patchman taking his pack of hooligans and rabble-rousers on an exchange trip to America, after which gags return in a perilous sub-sea lark for the crew of ‘Ghost Ship’ (by Sid Burgon?) and a nasty dose of civic pride causes carnage amidst the ongoing class war on Reg Parlett’s ‘Consternation Street’.

Also splitting sides and tickling ribs is Leo Baxendale’s ‘The Swots and the Blots’ – with a cataclysmic snowy guest shot from minxish Penny – whilst Fool who Fell to Earth ‘Monty Muddle’ (originally Milkiway – The Man from Mars in Buster) explores Earthlings’ obsession with digging holes.

Prose fact-feature ‘Fishing Can be Fun’ – illustrated by Ted Andrews and with photos – leads to history vignette ‘Pursuit in the Snow’ detailing an alpine pursuit during WWII before we enjoy a true gem of British comics suspense.

Written by Scott Goodall with Ken Mennell and Chris Lowder, ‘Cursitor Doom’ is the unquestioned masterpiece of Eric Bradbury – one of our greatest ever stylists. The strip is a darkly brooding Gothic thriller quite unlike anything else in comics then or since. If pushed, I’ll liken it most to William Hope Hodgson’s Karnacki the Ghost Breaker novelettes – although that’s more for flavour than anything else and even that doesn’t really cover it.

Doom is a fat, bald, foul-tempered, cape-wearing know-it-all who is also humanity’s last-ditch defence against the forces of darkness. With his strapping and rugged young assistant Angus McCraggan and Scarab, a trained raven (or is it, perhaps, something more?), Doom crushes without mercy any threat to humanity’s wellbeing. Here, that’s the sudden rising of ancient pagan gods animating the nations flora and imbuing it with a taste for blood…

Refreshing ourselves with more laughs, a brace of animal antics in Stan McMurtry’s ‘Percy’s Pets’ segues neatly into chilling chuckles in Leo Baxendale’s ‘The Haunts of Headless Harry’

Globe trotting journalist/adventurer Simon Test barely survives the diabolical ‘Revenge!’ of mad millionaire boffin Jabez Coppenger: a breathtaking thriller courtesy of Angus Allen & Bradbury, after which ‘Smash Hits’ doles out a double helping of single-panel gags and ‘Wacker’ (originally Elmer when first seen in Buster) finds the oaf trying out the job of lorry driver in a riotous romp from Roy Wilson, before we pause once more for intellectual stimulation as ‘Smash Quiz No. 2’ tests our affinity ‘For Motorcars’

A full-colour section begins and ends with a brace of strips starring smug know-it-all ‘Big ’Ead’ (another Buster ex-pat, limned by Nadal), bookending a lengthy photo-feature on model railways dubbed ‘Weeny Wonders’ before monochrome returns with ‘Smash Quiz No. 3 (For Animals)’ and another Baxendale (or maybe the legendary Mike Brown? You should look him up…) clash between ‘The Swots and the Blots’: a seasonal shocker as the kids perform a panto…

Another historical photo-feature on the British NRA and the shooting range at ‘Bisley’ follows, after which the spooks of the ‘Ghost Ship’ clash with a seagoing saurian and ‘Sam’s Spook’ gets his adopted mortal into more trouble before ‘Storm Hero’ tantalises in text with the tale of a daring cliff rescue.

‘Percy’s Pets’ (McMurtry or possibly Cyril Price) sees a skunk save the day before ‘Giants of Sport’ offers a roundup of contemporary legends and triumphs and ‘The Swots and the Blots’ indulge again in their own class war and thus won’t join us for ‘Smash Quiz No. 4 – For Soldiers’

Returning to full-colour, Victorian escapologist and showman ‘Janus Stark’ involves himself in a police hunt for a fantastic band of thieves only to discover all is not as it seems…

Stark was a fantastically innovative and successful strip. Created by Jack Legrand, and written by Tom Tully for the 1969 relaunch of Smash!, the majority of the art was from Francisco Solano Lopez’s Argentinean studio (including stints by Francisco Fuentes-Man, Juan García Quirós and Tom Kerr). The eerie moodiness well-suited the saga of a foundling who grew up in a grim orphanage to become the greatest escapologist of the Steam Age.

The Man with Rubber Bones also had his own ideas about Justice, and would joyously sort out scoundrels the Law couldn’t or wouldn’t touch. A number of creators worked on this feature, which survived until the downsizing of Fleetway’s comics division in 1975 – and even beyond – as Stark escaped oblivion when the series was continued in France – even unto Stark’s eventual death and succession by his son!

Back in black & white for the final stages, ‘Smash Quiz No. 5’ tests For Hobbies, ‘Big ’Ead’ goes skiing and photo-essay‘Clowning Around’ clues us in on everything we need to know about making kids laugh and some adults scream.

‘The World-Wide Wanderers’ were a literally international team of footballers drawn from many different countries – talk about prophetic! – who here star in prose yarn ‘Five-A-Side’ as acrimony and resentment between attack and defence divides the team, with unexpected benefits for a local charity before everything ends with ‘It’s Bad Penny Again’ as the tiny terror learns a painful lesson…

As my knowledge of British creators from this time is so woefully inadequate, I wouldn’t be surprised if I’ve misattributed and besmirched the good names of Leo Baxendale, Gordon Hogg, Stan McMurtry, Graham Allen, Mike Lacey, Terry Bave, Artie Jackson and numerous international artists anonymously utilised throughout this period. Even more so the unsung authors responsible for much of the joy in my early life – and certainly the childhoods of millions of others…

Christmas simply wasn’t right without a heaping helping of these garish, wonder-stuffed compendia offering a vast variety of stories and scenarios. Today’s celebrity, TV and media tie-in packages simply can’t compete, so why not track down a selection of brand-old delights with proven track record and guaranteed staying power…?
© IPC Magazines, Ltd. 1974.

TV Comic Annual 1965


By Chick Henderson, Neville Main, Bill Titcombe, Dick Millington & various (TV Publications Ltd)
No ISBN

British Comics have always fed heavily on 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.

Thanks to the vagaries of image licensing, one thing you won’t find herein is a wealth of photographs of any cast member (although the frontispiece and endpapers are spiffy publicity shot spreads of Gerry Anderson’s Supercar and Fireball XL5), but there are plenty of nostalgia-tinged, all-ages sci fi and adventure thrills, dashing derring-do and a horde of hilarious gag strips to delight not just TV devotees and comics fans but also any reader in search of a pictorially powerful grand adventure.

This book from 1963 was produced in a non-standard UK format, with limited 2-colour and full-colour pages but none in simple monochrome: a sign of its high-end book trade aspirations. The make-up is comics, brief prose pieces, puzzles, games and fact-features on related themes. As for the writers and artists of the originated material your guess is, sadly, as good as or better than mine.

TV Comic launched on 9th November 1951, an offshoot of the Beaverbrook newspaper concern and aimed explicitly at toddlers and pre-school children. It expanded its remit over the decade but didn’t really take off until 1960 when Polystyle Publications expanded the adaptations to include television adventures series enjoyed by kids who could read and choose their own entertainments such as Treasure Island, Black Beauty and the Lone Ranger.

Always a huge hit, the magazine absorbed companions and rivals such as TV Land, TV Express, TV Action, Tom and Jerry Weekly and Target. Amongst its most memorable features were early Gerry Anderson series such as Four Feather Falls, Supercar and Fireball XL5, Doctor Who (running from 1964-1979), Tarzan, Space Patrol, The Avengers (John Steed and Cathy Gale/Emma Peel), Star Trek and perennial cartoon hits such as Popeye, Pink Panther and many others.

Often eclectic and esoteric, the comic followed the tone of the TV times faithfully before finally going off air in 1984 with #1697.

This splendid example hails from 1963 and, eschewing bought in pre-existing material, offers British takes on many US icons such as the full-colour Popeye clash with brutish Brutus that gets the ball rolling before a beautifully painted adventure by Neville Main sees the crew of Fireball XL5 captured by alien technology bandits.

Main shows his versatility with a broadside of sci fi gags in Pick of the Jokes before venerable comedy feature Mighty Moth (by sometime editor Dick Millington) puts a strange spin on the traditional roles of man and wife…

A Supercar Christmas yarn (with art by Mike Noble, H Watts or maybe Bill Mevin) sees pilot Mike Mercury and Professor Beaker crush a Yuletide crimewave to close the first full-colour section before autograph-hunting TV TerrorsCuthbert, Buttons and Monica clash once more with mean TV Studio doorman Hoppit in their search for famous names in glorious two-tone orange and black on white…

US soldier Beetle Bailey then gets to act out one of the oldest jokes on Earth before the TV Terrors again clash with their officious nemesis, Beetle Bailey fails a medical and long-forgotten cartoon buddies Foo Foo and Gogo by Halas & Batchelor (or at least from their studio) have fun and fear in the snow…

Millington’s Mighty Moth indulges in some wildlife documentary making whilst a domestic sitcom sneaks in as The Dickie Henderson Family sees his unnamed wife make some radical wardrobe corrections in a strip beautifully rendered by Bill Titcombe.

The TV Terrors join a painful episode of This is Your Life, Foo Foo and Gogo indulge in hat hijinks and (some of) The Dickie Henderson Family enjoy a quiet round of golf and Mighty Moth helps out an enemy to get a bit of peace and quiet before Beetle Bailey revolutionises tank warfare with the aid of canteen utensils, after which the Technicolor turns on with Popeye and Wimpy at a barbecue. Oooh! Bad idea!

Mighty Moth and the TV Terrors revel in their full-colour escapades before a traditionally rendered tale of Robin Hood(but not the TV version with Richard Greene) sees the hero save a beekeeper from the Sheriff of Nottingham…

A Dickie Henderson Family country retreat turns into a rout before we pause for activities, courtesy of a Continental Tourboard game, supplemented by Party Puzzles and two more Main Pick of the Jokes pages, leading to a bizarre personal favourite as Bill Titcombe delineates deucedly deranged pastiche The Telegoons (based on characters devised on radio by Harry Secombe, Peter Sellars, Michael Bentine and Spike Milligan). It’s even more gloriously mad today than it ever was…

A theatre visit goes badly wrong for The Dickie Henderson Family whilst The Telegoons dabble with fortune telling and Foo Foo and Gogo bring the colour to a close with another pointless domestic spat…

Mighty Moth then wrecks dinner and the TV Terrors practise making faces, before more Party Puzzles bracket a short faux advertising episode for Foo Foo and Gogo and Mighty Moth ships out with the Royal Navy.

The Telegoons setting up as firemen segues into a historical battle as little Davie of the Glen attempts to save the doomed army of Bonnie Prince Charlie. Mighty Moth picks up a trumpet and the TV Terrors participate in a game show whilst the The Telegoons go fishing and Foo Foo and Gogo go birdwatching before another Pick of the Jokes selection brings us to a prose thriller set in the world of motor racing.

‘Johnny’s Big Chance’ leads to more Party Puzzles and the commencement of the last colour session, with boating fools Foo Foo and Gogo giving way to a thrilling Supercar yarn involving lost submarines and giant crustaceans.

A suit Mighty Moth can’t eat and a new pet for Popeye’s boy Swee’ Pea lead us to one last parcel of Party Puzzles before Main’s exuberant Fireball XL5 fable posits the risks of letting all kids have their own spacecraft…

A barrel of fun from start to finish, this book concludes with Popeye demonstrating his incredible strength and even has a back-cover Marathon board game to enjoy when the reading concludes.

A true gem from a far nicer and more indulgent time, this is a perfect example of why Christmas Annuals have lasted and should never be forgotten.
© TV Publications 1964.

Follyfoot Annual 1973


By anonymous, illustrated by Mike Noble & various (World Distributors)
SBN: 7235-0138-6

The Follyfoot review was scheduled to run on Christmas Day as part of our annual Annual feature but when news reached us of the death of Mike Noble we decided to retool it and put it somewhere where it could stand on its own.

Mike Noble was born in South Woodford, attended a technical art school in Walthamstow and, after graduating in 1946 and attending St. Martins School of Art, worked as an advertising junior for a firm in Holborn. Called up in 1949, he served with the 8th Royal Tank Regiment in North Yorkshire. During a follow-up three-year stint with the Territorial Army he drew graphics of military hardware.

In the early 1950’s he joined Leslie Caswell at Cooper’s Studio in Oxford Street, learning the sleek, slick techniques of magazine illustration for the likes of Woman’s Own, John Bull, the Birmingham Weekly Post and others.

In 1953 he landed his first comics strip: Simon and Sally for Hulton Press’ Robin. He went full freelance in 1956 and by 1958 was tackling lead features like The Lone Ranger and Tonto for TV-themed Express Weekly and Range Rider for TV Comic.

He was a mainstay of TV Century 21 as Gerry Anderson shows took Britain and the world by storm, illustrating with stunning vividness Fireball XL5, Zero X and Captain Scarlet and the Mysterons. As fads came and went, he proved equally compelling on Star Trek and Joe 90.

His gift for capturing likeness and staging dynamic action made him indispensable as licensed comics dominated UK publications and moving on Look-In (a “junior TV Times” produced by Independent Television Publications) he drew Timeslip, The Tomorrow People, The Famous Five, Kung Fu, The Freewheelers, Robin of Sherwood, Worzel Gummidge, Space: 1999 and others. A huge fan and master of equestrian art, two of Mike’s favourites were The Adventures of Black Beauty and Follyfoot.

Although largely retired from comics since the 1980’s, he kept his hand in – especially during periodic Anderson revivals – and was working on a new Captain Scarlet project when he died on November 15th this year.

Follyfoot was a joint British/West German co-production that aired between 28th June 1971 and 15th September 1973. It was inspired by the Monica Dickens novel Cobbler’s Dream (1963) and its broadcast success prompted her to write four more books between 1972 and 1976.

The series for young teens was set in contemporary North Yorkshire and featured the tribulations of a rest home/sanctuary for horses with clean cut youngsters and their hard-pressed elders keeping barely solvent whilst addressing social issues of the time. When the feature was adapted in Look-In Mike Noble produced some of the most impressive and inspirational art of his career, superbly augmented by top-of-the-line colour printing.

Sadly, that’s not available here, but even so, the strips by the master are bursting with power, grace and authenticity.

The Annual opens with a page reprinting the show’s theme lyrics ‘The Lightning Tree’ after which full-colour strip ‘Odds Against the Favourite’ finds our heroine Dora targeted by crooked bookies as she tries to win a local race and pay off the farm’s latest debts…

‘Storybook Steeds’ then recounts the legends of a quintet of historic horse heroes, before ‘Statues with a Story’ offers a photo feature on famous equine art and ‘Davy’s daring rescue’ sees a new four-footed arrival earn his oats despite being old and blind…

A directory of famous breeds follows in ‘All Kind of Horses’, after which a quiz on ‘Horse Sense’ and a page of ‘Horsing About’ gags segues neatly into another dazzling Noble effort as Dora finds ‘The Mystery Mare’ on the moors and seeks out its negligent owner…

Aging family retainer Slugger’s birthday leads to Dora finding welcome work for an old dray horse and his destitute owner in ‘Mystery at Follyfoot’, after which a cheery diagram aids ‘Getting to Know Your Horse’ and ‘Horseback Holidays’ reveals the long-abandoned joys of kids vacationing on their unsupervised own. More fact features follow: a review of blacksmithing and the farrier’s art in ‘A Country Craftsman’ and another quiz ‘Straight from the Horse’s Mouth’

When Dora and Steve find a frantic mare ‘Lost in the Snow’ it all leads to a big crisis and joyous event before military steeds are acclaimed in ‘Horses from History’, while ‘Stable Record-Breakers’ share some unlikely facts about Man’s other best friend and ‘This is your Lucky Day’ traces the superstitions connected to horseshoes.

Boardgame ‘Gymkhana at Follyfoot Farm’ leads into the truth behind many traditional songs in ‘Horse Rhymes and Reasons’ before Noble’s big finish finds our northern heroes going all cowboy for a good cause in ‘The Wild West Riding’ before this lost treat concludes with a quirkily illustrated final fact file on ‘The History of the Horse’.

Although the annual itself has a certain allure, the main point about this book is that it typifies a problem we have in British comics. Because – I presume – of rights and copyrights issues, there is a wealth of stunning and important comics material that remains in limbo, simply because no prospective publisher thinks it’s worthy of the legal hassles of resurrection.

Surely the likes of Mike Noble, Ron Embleton and their illustrious ilk are a big enough draw that we can find some way of collecting and reprinting their unseen works?
© 1972 Yorkshire Television Ltd.

Merry Christmas, Boys and Girls!

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

After decades when only American comics and memorabilia were considered collectable or worthy, the resurgence of interest in home-grown material means there’s lots more of this stuff available and if you’re lucky enough to stumble across a vintage volume or modern facsimile, I hope my words convince you to expand your comfort zone and try something old yet new…

Still topping my Xmas wish-list is further collections from fans and publishers who have begun to rescue this magical material from print limbo in (affordable) new collections…

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

The Dandy Monster Comic (Dandy Annual 1939 Special Facsimile Edition)

By Many and various (DC Thomson & Co/Aurum Press)
ISBN: 978-1- 84513-217-0

This one’s actually older than me – at least in its original incarnation…

Until it folded and was reborn as a digital publication on 4th December 2012, The Dandy was the third longest running comic in the world (behind Italy’s Il Giornalino – launched in 1924 – and America’s Detective Comics in March 1937).

Premiering on December 4th 1937, The Dandy broke the mould of traditional British predecessors by using word balloons and captions rather than narrative blocks of text under the sequential picture frames.

A colossal success, it was followed eight months later (on July 30th 1938) by The Beano and together they completely revolutionised the way children’s publications looked and, most importantly, how they were read.

Over the decades the “terrible twins” spawned a bevy of unforgettable and beloved household names who delighted generations of avid and devoted readers, and the end of year celebrations were graced with bumper bonanzas of the comics’ weekly stars in extended stories in magnificent bumper hardback annuals.

As WWII progressed, rationing of paper and ink forced the “children’s papers” into an alternating fortnightly schedule: on September 6th 1941 only The Dandy was published. A week later just The Beano appeared. They only returned to normal weekly editions on 30th July 1949…

As of this grand festive feast however that’s all in the future. Here, masterfully restored, is a treasure trove of joyous pranks and all-ages adventure to delight and enthral. It should be noted however, that all this buffoonery and jolly japery was crafted at a time socially far-removed from our own, and there are some terms and racial depictions that wouldn’t be given houseroom in today’s world. That was then, this is now, and that’s another thing you can be grateful for…

It all opens in classis DCT manner with the entire cast chowing down to a monumental feast – a staple reward of those leaner, impoverished times – before James Crichton’s ‘Korky the Cat’ kicks things off with spot of calamitous dockside fishing after which ‘Jimmy and his Grockle’ – a kind of Doberman dragon – foils a dognapping ring. Illustrated by James Clark, the strip was recycled from prose “Boys Paper” The Rover (where it was “Jimmy Johnson’s Grockle” in 1932).

Most pages come with riddles, jokes or single panel gags and many of the strips are delivered in the signature two colour process that typifies British Annuals and as usual none of the writers are named and precious few of the artists are credited. As always, I’ve offered a best guess as to whom we should thank, and of course I would be so very happy if anybody could confirm or deny my suppositions…

The prolific Allan Morley then details how ‘Keyhole Kate’ falls foul of a burglar and cowboy superman ‘Desperate Dan’ – by indisputable key man Dudley D. Watkins – braves harsh winter clime, before Morley’s ‘Freddy the Fearless Fly’ thwarts a human bully and thrashes a predatory spider.

These colossal tomes were all about variety and value for money and next up is a heavily-illustrated prose story enthrallingly detailing the feudal adventure of young shepherd-boy Gingan’s dragon-slaying quest with magical weapon ‘The Sword of Crad’ after which wandering tramp ‘Barney Boko’ comes a-cropper after defacing public property in a wordless strip from John R. Mason.

As depicted by the superb Eric Roberts, ‘Podge’s Frame-Up’ sees the junior entrepreneur confusing art galleries with glaziers whilst nattily-dressed ‘Archie the Ape’ deals with a hungry lion and ‘Smarty Grandpa’ (by Watkins and a double for strip veteran Pa Broon) has a racially-charged moment at a minstrel show before anthropomorphic tortoise ‘Dan the Night-watchman’ confronts a gang of thieving rats…

‘The Boy that Beat the Band’ is another prose drama (illustrated by Fred Sturrock?) with a young orphan acrobat saving a disabled boy and rewarded with his heart’s desire – a job – after which Jack Glass’ text-block and pic strip ‘The Daring Deeds of Buck Wilson’ sees the singing cowboy battle kidnappers before the animal antics in ‘Bamboo Town’ see daring duo Bongo and Pongo organise a therapeutic gymnasium in a typically busy romp limned by Charlie Gordon.

Sam Fair’s ‘Wig and Wam the Skookum Kids’ were prank-playing Red Indian lads who here trick the Big Chief into baiting a bear before ‘Flippy the Sea Serpent’ – by Frank Minnitt – settles the hash of a snooty octopus whilst Smarty Grandpa fails to steal a pie…

Boneless Bill was a long-running but sadly anonymous strip starring an affable contortionist. Here he astounds an army recruiting officer before ‘Marmaduke Mean the Miser’ pays painfully for stealing a little lad’s Dandy comic before ‘Hungry Horace’ (Morley) finds his appetite briefly diminished after illicitly tapping the wrong barrel and a cunning old codger prevents a mugging in ‘Old Beaver’s Brainwaves’.

‘Wee Tusky’ was long-running prose feature and here the baby elephant’s propensity for trouble leads to deadly danger but secures him a human friend in the end, after which Roberts’ ‘Helpful Henry’ adjusts seating arrangements despite his history of calamitous consequences just as pompous (idiot) detective ‘Trackem Down’ botches another “case”…

Korky the Cat masters the fundamentals of golf whilst Jimmy and his Grockle find fun – and bananas – at the docks, after which Keyhole Kate’s snooping drenches a helpful bystander and Desperate Dan proves that building sites can be dangerous places… at least for other people…

After another get-rich-quick scheme from Podge, sausage-snaffling ‘Dipper the Dodger’ falls foul of the law. Probably drawn by James Jewell, Dipper is a dead ringer for Beano and The People’s Journal cartoon stalwart Wee Peem (“He’s a Proper Scream”), so there might have been some cross-pollination back then.

Freddy the Fearless Fly turns arsonist to escape a spider’s trap before Helpful Henry learns the perils of electricity, after which Jimmy Denton tries rodeo riding to save the ranch with the invaluable assistance of ‘White Star’s Star Turn’ in a prose thriller that leads seamlessly to Podge setting up his own postal service before ‘Bobby, the Boy Scout’ goes too far in his scheme to help a hobo…

Boneless Bill artfully apprehends a thief and Archie the Ape find busking hazardous to health, whilst Hungry Horace loses his lunch to a quick-witted sprinter, but savvy navies ‘Nick & Nack’ find a smart way to keep the cops from confiscating their grub.

Interfering busybodies Bobby, the Boy Scout and Helpful Henry both get it wrong again, after which we head west to see Wig and Wam the Skookum Kids prank their dad yet again even as Desperate Dan falls asleep in the park but still causes chaos

‘Willing Willie and his Pa’ experience decorating woes before we revisit the days of the Raj in prose thriller ‘Pam the Peace-Maker’ wherein a little girl prevents an outbreak of war after which Helpful Henry confuses radio and electric irons and Korky triumphs over a tiger when he goes on safari.

Jimmy and his Grockle clash violently with shopkeepers and Old Beaver’s Brainwaves sees the gamey geezer getting back at the thug who pinched his job after which itinerant Barney Boko pays through the nose for watching football without a ticket.

Dipper the Dodger meets a theatrical strongman and the Bamboo-Town boys convene a swimming class that would certainly have benefitted ‘Sandy Starfish, the Shipwrecked Sailor’ before Fred Sturrock illustrates a prose battle of wits between stubborn old men in ‘The House that Jack the Joker Built’.

More musical mayhem from Archie the Ape precedes Hungry Horace outwitting municipal bylaws in search of a big scoff, even as Podge dupes another crowd of sensation hungry oafs and Helpful Henry wrecks a house before it’s even built: a trick even Desperate Dan can’t match, even if he wasn’t so thirsty…

Mini vignettes for Podge, Barney Boko and Boneless Bill lead into a riotous schoolboy romp in prose – probably illustrated by George Ramsbottom – that I want you to be grown up about. ‘Invisible Dick Spoofs the Spoofer’ is a smart tale from a venerable feature that ran in The Rover for years and when he turns the tables on a cruel stage magician humiliating his school chums you should be proud and not titter or snigger…

A rapid-fire tranche of cartoon antics, starring Bobby the Boy Scout, Podge, Marmaduke Mean the Miser, Flippy the Sea Serpent, Boneless Bill and Willing Willie and his Pa, lead us to another text tale as animal-raised orphan ‘Buffalo Boy’ discovers toffee and begins his slow march back to civilisation…

From here it’s cartoon strip all the way with Korky, Keyhole Kate, Freddy the Fearless Fly, Helpful Henry, Wig and Wam the Skookum Kids, Smarty Grandpa and Dipper the Dodger all doing what they do best before Bamboo-Town brings down the curtain as Bongo and Pongo build an all-animal skating rink…

A marvel of nostalgia and timeless comics wonder, the true magic of this facsimile edition is the brilliant art and stories by a host of talents that have literally made Britons who they are today, and bravo to DC Thomson for letting them out for a half-day to run amok once again.

The DANDY is a trademark of and © D. C. Thomson & Co. Ltd. 2006. Associated characters, text and artwork © D. C. Thomson & Co. Ltd. 2006. All rights reserved.

Valiant Annual 1968

By Many & various (Fleetway)
No ISBN

From the late 1950s and increasingly through the 1960s, Scotland’s DC Thomson steadily overtook their London-based competitors – monolithic comics publishing giant Amalgamated Press.

Created by Alfred Harmsworth at the beginning of the twentieth century, AP perpetually sought to regain lost ground, and the sheer variety of material the southerners unleashed as commercial countermeasures offered incredible vistas in adventure and – thanks to the defection of Leo Baxendale and Ken Reid to the enemy – eventually found a wealth of anarchic comedy material to challenge the likes of the Bash Street Kids, Dennis the Menace, Minnie the Minx and their unruly ilk.

During the latter end of that period the Batman TV show sent the entire world superhero-crazy. Amalgamated had almost finished absorbing all its other rivals such as The Eagle’s Hulton Press to form Fleetway/Odhams/IPC and were about to incorporate American superheroes into their heady brew of weekly thrills.

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

Even though sales of all British comics were drastically declining, the 1960s were a period of intense and impressive innovation with publishers embracing new sensibilities; constantly trying new types of character and tales. At this time Valiant and its stable-mate Lion were the Boys’ Adventure big guns (although nothing could touch DC Thomson’s Beano and Dandy in the comedy arena).

Valiant was conceived as a “Boys’ Paper” in 1962 as the indigenous comics industry struggled to cope with a sudden importation of brash, flashy, full-colour comics from America. A weekly anthology concentrating on adventure features and offering a constantly changing arena of action, the magazine was the company’s most successful title for over a decade: absorbing many less successful periodicals between its launch and eventual amalgamation into new-styled, hugely popular Battle Picture Weekly in 1976.

There were 21 Annuals between 1964 to 1985, combining original strips with prose stories; sports, science and general interest features; short humour strips and – increasingly from the 1970s onwards – reformatted reprints from IPC/Fleetway’s vast back catalogue.

From their creative heyday (this book would have been on sale from the autumn of 1967) and sporting a gripping Don Lawrence cover, the all-boys excitement begins with a frontispiece spread of medal-winning British hero war heroes: a typical illustrated historical feature of the era.

The drama continues with a fictionalised full-colour tale of smugglers and the development of the customs men in ‘Contraband’ before ‘Kelly’s Eye’ – sublimely painted by Carlos Cruz (I think) – sees the indestructible adventurer saving beleaguered Coroba from revolutionaries and radioactive doom.

Kelly’s Eye featured ordinary, thoroughly decent chap Tim Kelly who came into possession of the mystical “Eye of Zoltec”: a fist-sized gem that kept him free from all harm… as long as held on to it.

You won’t be surprised to discover that, due to the demands of weekly boys’ adventures, Tim lost, dropped, misplaced and was nefariously deprived of that infernal talisman pretty darned often – and always at the most inopportune moment…

The moody and compelling artwork of Argentinean Francisco Solano Lopez was the prime asset of this series, with Tom Tully and Scott Goodall the usual scripters for this little gem of a series.

Resorting to economical monochrome, we come to ‘The House of Dolmann’. The weekly strip was a curious and inexplicably absorbing blend of super-spy and crime-buster strip from Tully and utterly wonderful master illustrator Eric Bradbury. Dolman’s cover was as a shabby ventriloquist (I digress, but an awful lot of “our” heroes were tatty and unkempt – we had “Grunge” down pat decades before the Americans made a profit out of it!) who designed and constructed an army of specialised robots which he disguised as his puppets.

Using these as his shock-troops, the enigmatic Dolman waged a dark and crazy war against the forces of evil…

Here, he and his hand-crafted squad hunted a scientific maniac pulling satellites out of the sky with a super-magnet.

The first photo/fact feature of the book is a thinly-disguised infomercial for a popular outdoor activity charity, propounding readers get ‘Outward Bound – to Adventure’ after which ‘The Steel Claw’ battles a madman and his gang determined to destroy Britain’s navy (illustrated, it seems to me, by Massimo Belardinelli).

One of the most fondly-remembered British strips of all time, the Steel Claw, ran from 1962- 1973 with Jesús Blasco and his small family studio enthralling the nation’s children through the breakneck adventures of scientist, adventurer, spy and even costumed superhero Louis Crandell. Initially written by novelist Ken Bulmer, the majority of the character’s career was scripted by Tully. Crandall had an artificial hand packed with gimmicks and possessed the disquieting ability to turn invisible whenever he was electrocuted…

‘The Astounding Jason Hyde’ was a series that ran in prose form, written by Barrington J. Bayley with spot illos from Bradbury. Hyde was a blind telepath with an “X-Ray mind” who here tracks missing potholers to an unsuspected cave civilisation populated by brutes and monsters…

After all that action and suspense it’s past time for some light relief and a brace of comedy capers follows: frenetic trend-chasers and backyard inventors ‘The Nutts’ cause carnage with their climate-challenging antics in a superb extended yarn from Spanish cartoonist Ángel Nadal whilst the astoundingly slick and wonderful ‘Sporty’ by Reg (Sporting Sam) Wootton learns a lesson about truth in advertising…

Appalling racist by today’s standards, ‘Captain Hurricane’ was a hugely popular strip for its entire decades-long run. Written by Scott Goodall or Jon Rose, he was originally drawn by R. Charles Roylance, but I think it’s either Jack Pamby or Fred T. Holmes limning this bizarre yarn as – thanks to skiving batman Maggot Malone – the marines are forced to fight their way through Japanese-controlled Malayan jungles to Singapore, armed with nothing but cricket equipment……

Brilliant Reg Parlett’s ‘The Crows’ see the youngest corvid cavorting with bats before – in scintillating pink duo-tones – ‘The Wild Wonders’ (Mike Western and probably Tully on script) offer comedic drama capers. Here Rick and Charlie Wilde and their long-suffering guardian Mike Flynn face ski-slope thrills with a side-order of kidnap and skulduggery… Shipwrecked on remote Worrag Island in the Hebrides, two toddlers were raised by animals and survived to become almost superhuman specimens. When rescued by Olympic swimmer Mike they became sporting sensations able to out-compete most adult athletes in any discipline. They could also talk to animals…

‘Tatty-Mane, King of the Jungle’ offers raucous animal antics as the regal rogue seeks to update his look, but the artist remains a mystery to me. Likely candidates include Nadal or Martz Schmidt (suggested by Steve Holland – you really should read his Bear Alley blog)…

A ‘Sporting Roundabout’ of facts lead into a prose tale of exploration and treasure hunting – illustrated by Weston – with the good guys using an ambulatory super-jeep dubbed ‘The Jungle Walker’ after which venerable schoolboy comedy property ‘Billy Bunter’ quits school and heads out to sea, encountering spies in a quirky yarn possibly illustrated by Parlett but it seems reminiscent of Frank Minnitt to me…

‘Legge’s Eleven’ was a typical example of the humorous freak-show football strip. Lanky player-manager Ted Legge took over failing Rockley Rangers and fields a team of misfits and individualists he struggles to make work together. Here the lads are trapped in a spiral of superstition and missing mascots in the run-up to a crucial international second leg…

Following ‘The Crows’ fowling up a wildlife film, ‘Operation “Rescue”’ (by Mike White?) recreates the 1957 efforts to save Royal Army Air Servicemen lost in the jungles outside Kuala Lumpur before a double dose of ‘“Horse” Laughs’ gags segues into a photo-packed footballing essay on ‘Great Moments with Great Clubs’.

Back in comics, ‘Captain Hurricane’ and crew are in the Western Desert in 1940, battling Italian infantry even as Maggot Malone spreads disorder with his latest fad: weightlifting…

‘Sporty’ disastrously discovers Squash and ‘The Nutts’ cause carnage on a film set before ‘Billy Bunter’s enforced diet creates carnage for the entire county after which another ‘Sporting Roundabout’ leads to a prose thriller about a multi-talented circus performer battling crooks attempting to fix his championship boxing match in ‘The Flying Fighter’.

‘Gabby McGlew – his yarns aren’t true’ is an example of recycled Buster strip Barney Bluffer by Nadal with boastful braggart channelling his inner Baran Munchausen after which photo-history feature ‘A Champion Champion’ details the career and achievements of Henry Cooper before everything wraps up with what I’m sure is another re-tread, even if I can’t find out where.

‘No. 13 Grimm Street’ sees Fleet Street reporter “Hack” Mackenzie struggling to solve a spree of daring art robberies and a house that seems to vanish at will: the answer to both mysteries leads to madness and death…

Eclectic, wide-ranging and always of majestically high quality, this blend of fact, fiction, fun and thrills is a splendid evocation of lost days of joy and wonder. We may not be making books like this anymore but at least they’re still relatively easy to track down. Of course, what’s really needed is for some sagacious publisher to start re-issuing them…
© Fleetway Publications Ltd., 1967

Star Trek Annual 1976

By John David Warner, Allan Moniz, Alberto Giolitti & various (World Distributors)
SBN: 7235-0325-7

British Comics have always fed heavily on 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 Daktari, Champion the Wonder Horse, Lone Ranger and a host of others required original material or, as a last resort, similarly-themed or related strips.

This book was produced in a non-standard UK format, with limited but full-colour for both the American comics reprints and the remainder: brief prose pieces, puzzles, games and fact-features on related themes. As for the writers and artists of the originated material your guess is, sadly, as good as or better than mine, but almost certainly generated by the wonderful Mick Anglo’s publishing/packaging company Gower Studios (these yearly slices of screen-to-page magic were an intrinsic part of growing up in Britain for generations and still occur every year with only the stars/celebrity/shows changing, not the package.

Star Trek launched in the USA on September 8th 1966, running until June 3rd 1969: three seasons comprising 79 episodes. A moderate success, the show only really achieved its stellar popularity after going into syndication; appearing in all American local TV regions perpetually throughout the 1970s and beyond.

It was also sold all over the world, popping up seemingly everywhere and developing a fanatically devoted fanbase.

Comicbook franchising specialist Gold Key produced a series which ran for almost a decade beyond the show’s cancellation. Initially these were controversially quite dissimilar from the screen iteration, but by the time of the tales in this sturdy Holidays hardback (reprinting Gold Key’s Star Trek issues #27and #30 from November 1974 and May 1975), quibbling fans had little to moan about and a great deal to cheer as the series was the only source of new adventures starring the beloved crew of the Starship Enterprise.

John David Warner scripted ‘Ice Journey’ and it was illustrated by the ever-amazing Alberto Giolitti. Here the Enterprise is conducting a highly-suspect population survey on sub-arctic world Floe I which soon drops Captain Kirk, Mr. Spock and evolutionary specialist Dr. Krisp into the middle of a eugenics-fuelled race war…

Dividing the tale are a brace of UK generated features a compendium of ‘Star Facts’ offering seven salient snippets of astronomical amazement and a ‘Cosmic Crossword’ to challenge your knowledge of the infinite unknown.

Following the conclusion of ‘Ice Journey’, there’s a board game to play at ‘Warp Factor Eight’ before a second serving of ‘Star Facts’ ushers in another comics adventure.

Bisected by an illustrated glossary of ‘Space Age Vocabulary’, Death of a Star’ (by Allan Moniz & Giolitti) comes from Star Trek #30 and finds Enterprise on site to observe a star going nova. The ship is subsequently catapulted into calamity as sensors pick up a planet full of life-readings where none should be. Moving swiftly to evacuate the endangered beings, the crew are astonished to discover only one creature: an old woman who claims to be the dying sun…

Thanks to the vagaries of image licensing, one thing you won’t find herein is a single photograph of any cast member, but there are plenty of nostalgia-tinged, all-ages sci fi thrills and dashing derring-do to delight not just TV devotees and comics fans but also any reader in search of a pictorially powerful grand adventure.
© MCMLX, MCMLXI, MCMLXXII, MCMLXXV Paramount Pictures Corporation.
(These days Star Trek and related marks are trademarks of CBS Studios, Inc.) All Rights Reserve

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.