By various (Titan Books)
Here’s another superb collection of British comic strips from the glory days of the 1960s courtesy of Titan Books, with thanks, I’m sure, to the profile-raising of the recent American Albion collection’s success (ISBN 1-84576-351-3).
Here we have four selections from the early careers of some of Britain’s weirdest comic strip heroes. Kelly’s Eye featured ordinary, decent chap Tim Kelly who possessed the mystical ‘Eye of Zoltec’, a 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 that infernal thing pretty darned often – and always at the most inopportune moment.
The spectacular artwork of Argentinean Francisco Solano Lopez was the major draw of this series, and the story reprinted here is of a Seminole Indian uprising threatening modern Florida. Complete with eerie evil with doctor, supernatural overtones from a demonic drum and consumer America imperilled, this story is a classic. Tom Tully and Scott Goodall were the usual scripters for this little gem.
And yes, due to the pressure of these weekly deadlines, occasionally fill-in artists had to pinch-hit a most British strip-series every now and then. Such was the breakneck pacing though, that we kids hardly even noticed and I doubt you will either, now. Still. If you are eagle-eyed you might spot such luminaries as Reg Bunn, Felix Carrion, Carlos Cruz, Franc Fuentesman, and Geoff Campion in this volume. But you probably won’t
House of Dolman was a curious blend of super-spy and crime-buster strip from Tully and the utterly wonderful Eric Bradbury. Dolman’s cover was 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 had built specialised robots which he disguised as puppets. Using these as his shock-troops he waged a dark and crazy war against the forces of evil.
Featured here are a number of his complete 4 page thrillers wherein he defeats high tech kidnappers, protection racketeers, weapons thieves, blackmailers and the sinister forces of arch super-criminal ‘The Hawk’.
Janus Stark was a fantastically innovative and successful strip. Created by Tully for the relaunch of Smash in 1969, the majority of the art was from Solano Lopez’s studio, and the eerie moodiness well suited this tale of a foundling who grew up in a grim orphanage only to become the greatest escapologist of the Victorian age. The Man with Rubber Bones also had his own ideas about Justice, and would joyously sort out those scoundrels the Law couldn’t or wouldn’t touch. A number of creators worked on this feature which survived until the downsizing of the publisher’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. We however, get to see his earliest feats and I for one was left hungry for more. Encore!
The last spot in the book falls to the Spooky Master of the Unknown, Cursitor Doom. This series is the unquestioned masterpiece of Eric Bradbury – an artist who probably deserves that title as much as his visual creation. Ken Mennell, who usually invented characters for other writers to script, kept Doom for himself, and the result 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, cape-wearing know-it-all who just happens to be humanity’s last ditch defence against the forces of darkness. With his strapping young assistant Angus McCraggan and Scarab – a trained (or was it, perhaps, something more…?) – Raven, he destroyed without mercy any threat to our wellbeing. Represented here is the ‘Dark Legion of Mardarax’ as a cohort of Roman Soldiers rampages across the countryside, intent on awaking an ancient and diabolical monstrosity from the outer Dark!
These tales are a thrill for me because I first read them when I was just an uncomprehending nipper. So it’s an even bigger thrill now to realise that despite all the age, wisdom, and sophistication I can now muster, that these strips really were – and are – as great if not better, than most of the comics I’ve seen in fifty-odd years of reading.
© 2005 IPC Media Ltd. All Rights Reserved.