Sunday, 23 July 2017

The Lost Fleet, A Lost Masterpiece and a Contemporary Classic in the Making.

Its ironic that even once creators move beyond the Small Press and into the world of commercial publishing it can still be difficult for them to get their comics seen.

John Freeman, editor of  the excellent 'Down the Tubes' web-site has been editing a new comic for Titan, "The Lost Fleet: Corsair".  It's written by Jack Campbell and ties in with his own series of science fiction novels.  It's just the sort of space-based scifi that I've always enjoyed, and John has been promoting it pretty hard.

I was surprised therefore when I visited a couple of really quite good comic shops in Belfast to discover that neither of them had stocked any copies of the book.  It just wasn't on their radar.  I think I was the first person to ask about it in both places and it wasn't something they had looked at when the advance solicitations had come out.

In the end I bought copies of issues one and two from Amazon to read online via Comixology, but for a new title, from a writer with a track record of delivering quality novels and an editor who promoted the book carefully and skillfully to be so ignored, shows some of the problems with the comics retail trade.

This is real Science Fiction, a story that is likely to appeal to fans of Star Wars, Star Trek or readers of 2000AD.  But I'm guessing the vast majority of the fans of those comics are totally unaware of the its existence and that is the problem creators have now. 

It's well written, has a plot that moves quickly and the art from Indonesian artist Andre Siregar is typical of the crossover Manga/Western style that is becoming more popular in comics today.  Which is, perhaps, my way of saying its a little too cartoony for me to rave about, but not so much that it irritates or takes away from the story.

But unless you get to see a copy, how will you be able to decide that you want to read it?

Such is the dominance of Superheroes along with TV and movie spin-offs that nothing else gets a look-in.  Corsair is a good book, I prefer the writing to the art, but overall its good science fiction and an entertaining comic.  It should have a wide appeal, but not if you can't pick it up off the shelves and have a look at it. 

And lets be honest, you can't blame the shops.  There are so many titles on sale each month that they simply can't stock everything, not and stay in business.  Its a sad fact that success in the commercial comics field does not depend on quality.  This is among Titan's best books, it strikes me that its a comic 2000 AD fans would really enjoy.  Yet 'The Lost Fleet' stands a real chance of joining other excellent books that are cancelled because people are not getting to see them.

So if it sounds interesting to you I'd suggest that you speak to your local comic shop, or do what I did, and give Lost Fleet, Corsair a go on Amazon or Comixology.  

One of the covers to issue 1 
As an aside, Titan have to be commended for trying experiments like this, there are little gems to be found among their range of TV and game tie-ins.  Their 'Hard Case' imprint publishes some excellent Hard Boiled detective stories, often reprinted from europe where the range of subjects comics will take on are not so limited. 

Additions to Kim Newman's 'Anno Dracula' world and Ben Aaronovitch's "Rivers of London' series, both written by the authors are entertaining and really enjoyable comics.

Lost Fleet, is not the only Scifi comic Titan produce.   Their adaptation of the classic Joe Haldeman novel, 'The Forever War' is one of the most faithful adaptations of a classic science fiction novel I've seen in comics. 

The story of an interstellar war, where relativistic effects cause bizarre time distortions in the lives of the participants, 'The Forever War' draws on the Vietnam experience of Haldeman both 'in-country', where he was wounded, and the difficulties he found readjusting to the world when he returned home.

The influence of Frank Miller?
It was a powerful anti-war novel when it first appeared, probably the work Haldeman never managed to match, and the comic version is almost as impactful.

First published in Dutch in 1988 and reprinted across europe, this Haldeman penned adaptation, has, to my knowledge, been published twice before in English.  It appeared in 1990 in three magazine-sized, volumes from NBM and was then included in the superb, black and white, Dark Horse anthology comic Cheval Noir. 

Titan have restored colour for their mini series and to great effect.  Its fascinating to see some of the storytelling techniques on view.  Without the typically muted european colouring job, the similarities of technique with Frank Miller's, Dark Knight are hidden.  It would be fascinating to discover if artist, Marvano, took his inspiration directly from Miller or whether the two artists shared some other influence.   

 It seems an odd choice for a company who depend on media spin-offs, a nearly thirty year old european adaptation of an old Scifi novel, until you sit down and read it.  This is a great comic, it has not dated and is worthy of reprinting.  I do hope that it does well and we get a chance to finally see the sequel that Haldeman and Marvano produced along with their Donna Barr series neither of which has, to my knowledge, been reprinted in english.

Final thing for this post.   Northern Ireland based comic writer Stuart J McCune has just put up the Kickstarter for the third issue of his 'Human Beings' series.  I've talked about Stuart before here.  His comics are unique and complex and beautiful.  This is a great chance to pick up physical copies of the first three issues of his ongoing anthology series,  'Human Beings'.  If the artwork he has on show for issue three is anything to go by its just getting better and better.

Kickstarter can be found here.  

Wednesday, 19 July 2017

Small Press Roundup

The recent Small Press Day event in Belfast's 'Comic Book Guys' store highlighted a number of creators in a local scene that is becoming increasingly diverse and exciting.
I was there representing the 2000 AD fanzine, 'Sector 13' and searching for writers and artists for both it and my own Splank! comic project.  But the work on show that day was only a portion of the excellent comics available from Northern Ireland creators.

Missing were the guys from Back Pocket comics, an ambitious pair of writers from Portadown who have succeeded in producing a number of manga-influenced graphic novels over the past year or so.   Their most recent publication is ‘Tarik’ a post-apocalyptic graphic novel heavily influenced by martial arts movies and with just a touch of the original Iron Fist story.   
Written this time by Steven Young, Tarik is a step up from the guys’ previous foray into the world of manga-style fantasy, both in terms of writing and artwork.  And while I have a personal preference for the black and white version of the art, the colour version works well and will be preferred by almost everyone else.
The world Tarik is born into is well realised and his struggle with the monsters that destroy his family and the attempt to fit into a new society give the opening of the book an interesting dynamic.  The plot moves along quickly and the storytelling of artist, Sherwin Santiago, is deft and effective.  There is a mythological quality to the story, familiar themes and character archetypes abound, but there is a reason why these elements are so recognisable.  In terms of story they work, and they work because they have a truth to them.  Tarik moves quickly and the plot twists and turns and did not go the way I initially expected.  

I’ve said before in Splank! that Manga is generally not my thing, but I thoroughly enjoyed this from start to finish and am keen to see more.

It’s exciting to follow Back-Pocket comics.  The guys work hard to improve their writing skills and to find better and better artists.  Each book is a step up from the one before.  Their ambition is admirable and their effort shows on the page.  They don’t stint on the quality of production, this is a ‘proper graphic novel’, it’s printed well on good quality paper.

Like most self-publishers, raising the money to keep your publication going is always difficult.  Steven and his partner in crime Richard Davidson, are running a Kickstarter Campaign at the moment for Tarik.   It’s one of the most risk-free campaigns you can find as the book is already published and available and the guys have a track record of delivery.  Please take a look and support an ever-improving couple of comics’ writers who have a passion for their medium that shines through in all of their work.

Also missing was the Northern Ireland master of Kickstarter Stuart J McCune.  Stuart, under his Millicent Barnes Comics banner, has produced a series of comics over the past few years that have been among the best I have read.  Thoughtful and beautiful, unique and with real depth, his Monologue series and the one-off comic Cold Colony were stunning pieces of work.  Stuart’s comics look like no-one else’s and are instantly recognisable.  

The writing is uncompromising and unapologetically complex and self-referential.  There is the feeling of an overall wholeness to all of Stuart’s titles.  That they link in a way more profound than the simple shared universes of Marvel or DC.  Most importantly the linkages are subtle in a way that gives a feeling of achievement when you work them out.  There is something of the same pleasure in reading a Millicent Barnes comic that you get from completing a crossword or working out who the killer is in a really, really good whodunit.

His most recent venture is an ongoing anthology series called Human Beings and it has all of the elements that make these comics special dialled up to nine.  There have been two issues so far with a third waiting in the wings for a fair Kickstarter wind.  I tried to write a review of the first issue but found myself with little I could say. 

Human Beings issue one is a set of short, fascinating vignettes that leave the reader with more questions than answers.  With issue two some of those linkages fade into view, nothing solid just yet, just a hint here and there that not is all quite as it seems.    It’s difficult to say more, partially because in a fundamental way any hints would spoil the enjoyment of the comics, but mainly because I’m still not sure if I can put into words just what I’m seeing yet. 

If you are already a reader of Stuart’s comics you’ll know what to expect, if you are not these are something very different, and very special and I envy you your first exposure to them.

 I should also mention some other small press comics that I discovered or received on or about Small Press Day.   

“Henry Roscoe issue 1”comes from David Louden and his Belfast City Comics.  Darkly funny, it’s an everyday tale of Belfast folk, their drinking, their sex-lives but mostly their favourite pub-quiz and the use of sex-toys as weapons.  Great fun, dark and most certainly not for kids.   

“A Life in Defence” is a fantasy tale set in medieval times and tells the story of a castle under siege from dark forces.  It’s told by writer Seamus Kavanagh and Northern Ireland artist Colin Langan.   The most striking feature on first reading is that Seamus has trusted Colin with a lot of the storytelling duties.  Large swathes of the comic are wordless and Colin manages to keep the tale going with his cinematic layouts and page design.  He’s not the finished article in terms of his artwork but there is a lot to like and a deft touch with storytelling.   Probably influenced by Games of Thrones, it has that mundane fantasy air to it, in that the fantasy is an element in a well-told story rather than being the main point of interest.  

Finally I have to mention new titles from two of my favourite creators.  

Marc Jackson is a cartoonist from Macclesfield with a style all his own.  His “Goons of the Galaxy” is one of highlights of online comic, Aces Weekly and a must for fans of Star Wars and/or any other space-based hero flix.   But his most recent publication is ‘Here Comes Cat Stevens”, a beautifully produced, magazine-sized comic.  Big and bold, this is a big step forward for Marc.  It retains all the zany humour and the odd-ball action of his previous work, but there is something special about some of the pages in this comic.   

There are full-page panels that deliver real impact this time.  Funded by the Arts Council of England, the comic was published for the ‘Lakes International Comics Festival’ but Marc got permission to launch it at the Macc-Pow Comic festival which he organises in his home town of Macclesfield.

Finally, for now at least, is the first issue of Lew Stringer’s Combat Colin strip which reprints the original strips he contributed to Action Force between 1987 and 1988.    Reviewed already on Phil Boyce’s excellent Oink Blog I’ll only add my endorsement to Phil's words.  Lew is one of the best British cartoonists about at the moment and these strips from his early career have a real vitality and energy.  I can’t wait for the next issue as I missed all of these strips first time round.

I’ve so many other comics I have to write about, but real life and other projects have kept me away from the Blog of late.  In a little pile, with some quick notes beside them are Transdimensional from Lisburn man Michael Gordon and T Pub, Jenika Ioffreda’s charming vampire Free Style graphic novel and a bundle of comics from Accent UK including Dave West’s Stephenson’s Rocket and Colin Mathieson’s Moments of Adventure that deserve a posting all to themselves.  

The small press scene on these islands is very exciting, everywhere you look there is quality material and creators working hard to produce the very best comics they can.   In many cases they leave the big publishers behind, support them because this is where the great comic writer and artists of the next few years are going to come from.


Back Pocket Comics' Kickstarter for Tarik can be found here, as I write they are £40 short, show them some support and check out their Facebook page here.

Stuart McCune's Millicent Barnes Comics can be found here.

Henry Roscoe is available from Amazon or by contacting

You can find Marc Jackson on his Patreon site here or on Facebook here.

Lew Stringer has two excellent blogs, Lew Stringer Comics where he writes about his own work and Blimey! where he shares his vast knowledge of British comics of the past.

Friday, 7 July 2017

Small Press day 2017

A lot has happened since I last made an entry to Splank! and I'll write a little about some of the events in the next couple of weeks.  The Belfast 2000AD fan group which I'm a part of, Sector House 13, had their regular monthly meeting a week early and were lucky enough to have cartoonists Gary Erskine and Jenika Ioffreda along with Dave West and Colin Mathieson (the guys from Accent UK) join us from across the water.  Belfast stalward artists, Ryan (I'm older than look) Brown, Glenn Fabry and Will Simpson were also in attendance.

The meet-ups are always great fun, but it was good to be able to show hospitality to some great visitors.  Gary sketched tirelessly in the dim light of the Parlour Bar while Jenika earned the title of 'the nicest judge in mega-city one' and Dave and Colin fitted in like part of the family.

I've books and comics from all of our guests to review over the next wee while so you'll be hearing more about them in the days to come.

The Sector House 13 crew are a welcoming bunch and any comics fans or creators visiting Befast would be welcome to join us in our monthly gatherings or at our more frequent Sector 13 fanzine planning meetings.  Drop a line to for more details or check out our Facebook page.

As I write, Belfast comic store "The Comic Book Guys" are due to host the first small press day event to take place in Northern Ireland tomorrow.  I'll be in attendance representing the Sector 13 2000AD fanzine and talking about my plans for Splank! the comic.  I'd be delighted to meet some new writers and artists interested in getting involved in either project.  I'll be there from 11:30-2:30 with some very interesting and varied local creators.

Sector 13 publishes 2000AD related strips in a high quality, A4 zine.  Issue one has been published and has gone to a second print.  Artists, writers, graphic designers and people interested ijn getting involved are always welcome.

Splank! will feature some excellent artists and writers producing stories that hark back to, or are at least inspired by, the old british comics I read as a kid.  A few of the people in attendance at Small Press day tomorrow have already made contributions.

First up is experienced maker of comics, President of Sector House 13 and award winning author, Andy Luke.  Andy will be promoting his excellent "We will not be Stapled" comic.  An anthology of stories written by Andy's friends and drawn by the man himself. 

Andy's comics are individual, sharply, even cruelly, satirical and very funny. He's been at this for twenty years but his work still has a vitality and excitement often missing in the comics of today.

He's hardly the shy retiring type, so if you call in tomorrow you are going to hear all about his current project, "Ignacz, the Watch Thief".  A novel being published in serial form via the Patreon web-page.

I've been reading it from the start and Andy is really on a roll with his writing.  Its something well worth a look.

War from Reality
Also in attendance will be Roddy McCance, who has recently published 'Tales of the Fractured Mind' with artist Rolands Kalanins.  It's a beautifully produced, squarebound comic containing seven short, some very short, stories dealing with various aspects of mental illness. 

One in four people will suffer from some form of mental illness during their lifetime, and so there will be a very small number of people who will not see, or already have seen, the impact of what is an often forgotten epidemic.   'Fractured Mind' has been written with the stated intention of bringing some degree of understanding of various forms of mental illness.  Some stroies work better than others, I was particularly taken with "War on Reality" with its contrast of homeliness and horror contrasting the mundane and the extreme.  In terms of the artwork, Clock of the World was a real highlight and the shortest story, 'Just Like Everone' hit hard.  How your react to Tales of the Fractured Mind is likely to be heavily influenced by your own interaction with mental illness, it is easy to tell that this is a comic that has come from the heart and its something that will live long in my memory.

Lots of other creators involved tomorrow, either in Belfast or in venues all across the UK and Ireland.  The Small Press is turning out some fantastic material at the moment and the guys involved deserve your support.  The links below go to Andy and Roddy's web pages and to a page that links to all of the events taking place this weekend.  Please support them and go along, it'll be well worth your while. 

Andy Luke

 We Shall Not Be Stapled

Ignacz, The Watch Thief

Roddy McCance


Small Press Day Details

Wednesday, 24 May 2017

Space Ace Volume 8

It was difficult to decide where to start on the little pile of comics I have to write about, so I ended up picking the title that was on my bedside table this morning.   A decision that may have been influenced by the fact that it saved me getting out of bed to start work on the post.  Tablet computers really are a blessing.

Space Ace vol 8 is a full-size, 40 page glossy, colour magazine reprinting some of the best work from one of the top Science Fiction artists ever to work in British comics.

Ron Turner's Space Ace stories were first printed in Lone Star magazine, a science fiction strip in what appears, from the covers, to have been marketed as a Western Comic.  Lone Star was an unusual publication, an early toy tie-in, it was launched by Die Cast Machine Tool Ltd in 1952 to sell their Lone Star toy range.  It was later bought by Atlas Publishing and ran for about 100 issues over ten years.  From the first issue it featured the Lone Star Rider, a western hero, along with Captain Cutlass the Pirate and space hero Ace Hart.  To avoid confusion with another space-based adventurer of the same name, Hart became Space Ace with the third issue.

Turner wasn't the first artist to draw Space Ace, but during his time on the strip he left an unmistakable mark on the hero and made him his own.  Space Ace was aimed at younger readers than some of Turner's comics, the Rick Randon series or the stories in Tit-bit comics, but were equally, perhaps more inventive visually than his previous work.

Turner excelled at drawing machinery and space craft, but also created the most fantastic alien creatures.   This issue features, in the story "Space Ace and the Rescue", a particular favourite of mine, the Kraits.  Long-necked battle mounts, that are dynamic and truly alien, well thought out and superbly drawn.   This story, set as it is on a frozen planet features an alien wearing what looks like to me to be a left over Santa suit, an unusual look to say the least.

This is Turner at his artistic best.  John Lawrence,  publisher of Space Ace and friend and agent of the artist, has said that Space Ace was a labour of love for Turner, and it shows.  A huge amount of credit must go to John who has gone to great efforts to show his friends' work to best effect.  Most of the Space Ace strips were printed in black and white or with a single colour.  John Ridgeway has been brought in to colourise the strips, re-letter then and give them a more modern look.  The effect is stunning and this issue is particularly good.  The colours added to Turner's artwork make this one a must have for fans of old scifi strips.  A John Ridgeway article on how he goes about colourising the strips is a great addition to a great issue.

The stories in volume 8 have an interesting origin. When the Lone Star magazine came to an end in 1961 Ron found himself making most of his income from covers for Popular Mechanics magazine and the original paintings on which the 'paint-by-numbers' sets were based.

'Paint-by-Numbers' was the sixties equivalent of the adult colouring books of today and must have been quite lucrative.  But science fiction art was Turner's passion and when in 1963 he was offered the chance to draw Space Ace again, he did not hesitate. 

The stories in this issue were all drawn for an Atlas Annual publication, the Book of Space Adventures that was supposed to be the first in a series, as far as I can tell only one issue appeared.   I've not seen a copy, but John Lawrence reports in his introduction to Space Ace vol 8 that the artwork was spoiled by a terrible use of colour overlays, all but destroying some of Turner's best work.  We should be grateful that John, and especially John Ridgeway, have rescued this work and made it available to British comic fans. I hope there is more to come as each issue I've seen so far has been a delight. 

Copies of Space Ace vol 8 can be obtained direct from John Lawrence priced at £8.95 (UK), £13 (Europe), £14 (International) including postage and packing.  Payment by PayPal

Friday, 19 May 2017

Normal Service Will Be Resumed As Soon as Possible....

The Splank! blog has spent the past couple of weeks sitting in the corner feeling neglected.  I've been ignoring it and I can feel the disapproval each time I pass the PC.

I think I've had a decent excuse.  I've spent a lot of my free time during that time on a couple of projects that I've been very excited about.

To start with I've been involved with a 2000 AD fan group from Belfast, "Sector House13, The Pit Crew" and the production of their fanzine "Sector 13".   We launched the first issue at the excellent Enniskillen Comics Festival and did well in terms of sales.  Since then we've had steady orders arising through word of mouth and are expecting to sell out of the first print pretty soon.  The main stock is down to single figures but with more on the way in the next couple of days.

We involved as many members of the group as possible as writers or artists, but also got the Cosplayers involved in a unique photostory which looks so much better than any photostory I've ever seen before.  Two stories from Belfast writer W. D McQuade and his cadre of artists along with a couple of excellent posters round out the issue.  All in all we are very proud of the zine and are already hard at work on a second issue.

It did come as a bit of a shock as to just how much work was involved and how long it took to get everything done. but we got there, with just days to spare. 

I do have to say a huge thank you to our printer, Cathedral Graphics, in Belfast.  We made quite a few mistakes and the guys there managed to cover most of them up for us and do a great job. 

I also want to that John Farrelly for his superb Fitztharg illustration.  Fitztharg is our editor and was lured to Belfast to take advantage of the excellent quality of the Guinness.  perhaps it was a few too many pints that allowed him to let a few of the typos in Sector 13 through....

Fitztharg in all his glory
Sector 13 issue 1 is available from Sector House 13 for £6.50 post-paid (UK only).  We will, and have, sent copies the USA and Australia, but please contact us for prices.   Payment is by Paypal only to, the same address to use for all correspondence.  Sector 13 is a loss making publication and only exists because of the enthusiasm of a small group of 2000AD fans.  Going from conception to realisation in just a few months was a remarkable achievement and a lot of people gave up a lot of time.  There will be a second issue and with the lessons learnt this time it'll be bigger, better and will feature fewer typos!

We're trying to line up writers and artists for future issues so if any readers of the Splank! blog are interested in contributing to a 2000AD fanzine as writers, artists or as graphic designers, please do contact us on the Sector13 e-mail address.    

John Robbins art for Splank
I've also been working on Splank!, the comic, with a few new writers and artists becoming involved.  I've even been trying my hand at script-writing myself and am gaining more and more respect for the art of the comic writer.  It really isn't easy to turn what seems like a simple idea into a script.

I'm delighted with our new recruits, John Robbins from Dublin has supplied a beautifully drawn three page strip and I'm working with a painter named Steve Viner on a 'Look and Learn' type factual piece for the comic that I'm totally thrilled with.

Dave Windett, ex of the Dandy and often to be seen in the pages of the excellent Phoenix weekly, is drawing a strip based on a script by Northern Ireland writer Glenn Matchett.  So far I've only seen the character design page and pencils of the first page. I think its an understatement to say that I'm thrilled.

I spoke to a few potential artists and writers at the Enniskillen Festival, and will be getting in contact with them soon to see what work I can wrangle out of them.  I'm pretty excited about Splank!, there are some very talented people already involved with more to come I think. 

With the Blog taking a back seat I've missed out on writing about some of the excellent self-published comics that have come out in the past few weeks.  I'll be putting that right in the next few days.  The self-publishing scene in the British isles continues to be incredibly exciting with a huge variety of high-quality comics coming out on a regular basis.   

In the pile to be reviewed in the next week or so are three of the best comics about, from any source, Chris Baldie and Michael Park's Space Captain, the wild and exciting GalaXafreaks back with the Timesongs mini-series and the first issue of S J McCune's ongoing anthology title "The Human Beings".    All are very different from each other and all are worthy of any comic fans attention.

From Northern Ireland there is, at last, the second issue of Solstice from Revolve comics to cover and a brace of ambitious graphic novels from Back Pocket comics.   Author of the Axel America novel and all around good guy, Andy Luke,  has published a collection of scurrilous stories and objectionable material named "We Shall Not Be Stapled" which I'll have to find a way to be kind about!

Then there is is the eighth volume of re-coloured reprints of top fifties science fiction artist Ron Turner's Space Ace stories and colourist John Ridgway.  (anyone have a copy of vol 1 they can spare to complete my collection?)

And all of this without mentioning the news of some exciting new collections of old British comics from Rebellion.

I'll have to get down to some reading (and writing) just now.


Monday, 24 April 2017

Clerics, Critters and Daytime TV

Since retiring and becoming a gentleman of leisure, I have become quite taken with one or two Daytime TV shows.  Not Jeremy Kyle and nothing to do with antiques, house renovations or cookery.  No, my interest has been peaked by some of the original crime drama shows that BBC puts on in the afternoon.     Nothing too bloody or gory but some of the shows have real wit to them and some very good writing.

Our first glimpse of the poster
One show I'm particularly fond of is Father Brown, a (very) loose adaptation of stories by G K Chesterton and a show that is both gentle and entertaining.  I missed part of this year's series and am only catching up now.  While watching episode 14, "Lights in the Sky", I noticed something that may of interest to comic fans.

The story involves an Indian family, a murderous doctor and a locked room killing.   The usual fare for a weekday afternoon.  At one point we catch a glimpse of a science fiction poster on the wall of the young Indian boy who is always seen reading 'those dreadful comics".  Something about it caught my attention, I remember thinking to myself, "I know that picture", but where from?

And now in focus
Later on we get a much better, and in focus, look and all become clear.  The image is a version of the cover of Unknown Worlds of Science Fiction number one.  A Marvel magazine cover-dated January 1975.  A better view appears later in the show and we get to see the changes that have been made.

The poster now appears to be for a movie, "Monsters From Mars" and the whole thing has been reversed, forming a mirror image of the original cover.  The terrified couple, facing out towards the viewer on the magazine cover, are replaced by a slightly unconvincing man with his back to us.

The poster is nothing to do with the story, other than establishing that the kid had an interest in space stories.  In the end the plot revolves around a 'Chinese Lantern' that is advertised in the back of the some of the comics in the room which Father Brown is seen reading eagerly at one point.

There is, perhaps, a minor point being made about the moral panic that surrounded comics in the fifties, but overall this is yet another mild-mannered murder mystery totally suitable for watching with afternoon tea and a few nice scones.

The Freas/Romita collaboration
But this is not the first time that changes have been made to this painting.  "Unknown Worlds of Science Fiction" was  a strange comic.  It was created following the cancellation of the Marvel colour comic, 'Worlds Unknown', an anthology title that published adaptations of classic short stories from the Golden Age of the Science Fiction Magazine.  It had featured stories by L Sprague DeCamp, Theodore Sturgeon and A E van Vogt.  It also had an adaptation of the Frederick Brown story which became the Arena episode of Star Trek.

The colour comic failed and the Black and White magazine must have been seen as a rival to the Warren comics which had begun to feature a little more science fiction.

The first issue contained only a little new material.  A framing sequence based on Bob Shaw's 'Slow Glass' and the first part of two episode adaptation of "Day of the Triffids", probably intended for the cancelled colour comic, were all there was.

The reprints, however, were something special.  Taken from Fanzines and small print-run alternative comics were stories by Neal Adams, Frank Brunner and Al Williamson along with an early work by Mike Kaluta.

Admission of the changes from issue 3
All this behind a cover by one of the best known Science Fiction Artists of the time.  Frank Keely Freas' art had first appeared in Weird tales, over the next fifty years he painted covers for Astounding Science Fiction, Mad magazine and countless books and magazines.

He painted the insignia for Skylab, portraits of more than 500 saints for the Franciscans and the cover of Queen's album News of the World.  He was the winner of eleven Hugo awards, the science fiction equivalent of the Oscar, as best science fiction artist and yet when he handed in his cover for Unknown Worlds of Science Fiction issue one Marvel felt they had to change it.

The version published is credited to Frank Kelly Freas and John Romita and it is obvious that the couple cowering behind the wall as the freakish, and heavily armed, aliens approach have been added by Romita.   The team admitted as much in issue three when they published a look at the original version.  Perhaps the girl's mini-skirt was deemed too racy, but personally I think the style of the humans was simply too different from the Marvel style of art.

The 1979 Aussie Version
A better reproduction of the original cover turned up in an unusual place.  In 1979 the Yaffa publishing company in Australia published a complete reprint of Unknown Worlds of Science Fiction number one.  Somehow the wrong cover proof had been sent to them by Marvel and the original Frank Kelly Freas cover was published in full colour for the first time on the Australian edition of a comic that had been published in America almost five years earlier.

I find it fascinating that this cover was selected by art directors for different purposes over a space of almost fifty years and changed, twice.  First by Marvel comics, when the human characters were judged inappropriate in some way, and then by the art department on the Father Brown TV show.

Some of the modern changes were totally necessary, the seventies garb of the replacement figures would have been out of place on the wall of a fifties school-boy.  But I'm not quite sure why the image was flipped as if in a mirror.

It is interesting that all the way through the weird, frightening aliens that were a feature of Frank Kelly Freas' work remained unchanged.  Funny thought, I didn't see his name on the credits.  

More details of the Australian version of Unknown Worlds can be found on Daniel Best's excellent blog, 20th Century Danny Boy 

And in a case of great minds thinking alike, I discover that John Freeman has already covered the same story in his excellent Down the Tubes web-site, the most comprehensive web-site on British comics.

Saturday, 22 April 2017

SPLANK! The Comic

I began this Blog just over a year ago, on April 1st 2016.  It started with a post about Splank!, a totally imaginary Irish version of “Pow!”, one of a trio of unique and, by fans of a certain age, very fondly remembered comics of the sixties.

The three titles, “Wham!”, “Smash!” and “Pow!” were a mixture of anarchic humour strips by some of the best cartoonists the UK had to offer, some off the wall British adventure stories and one of the first regular and organised reprinting of the Marvel Superheroes.  

The first of title “Wham!, had its origins in an offer made to Leo Baxendale by the Odhams management in an attempt to lure him away from D C Thompson, publisher of the monsters of humour comics, The Beano and The Dandy.

Baxendale had totally revitalised the Beano with the creation of characters like The Bash Street Kids, Minnie the Minx, Little Plum and its excellent spin-off strip The Three Bears.  He had been one of a number of artists who had embraced a wilder style that had given British comics a fresh new look and who’s influence would be felt for many years.

But Baxendale still faced restrictions at the more conservative and controlling D C Thompson, and when he was offered a better page rate, more editorial freedom and a comic with bigger pages and better printing he jumped at the chance.
Ken Reid's Frankie Stein
Wham! kicked off in June of 1964 and Baxendale was tasked with gathering the talent to fill its pages.  From the Beano he brought Ken Reid, who drew the remarkable Frankie Stein, in his own grotesque style but Baxendale ended up drawing too much of the comic himself.  He felt he was compromising or repeating himself.  Readers were delighted, I recall a real thrill at the obvious difference between these comics and everything else that was available.  Even as a six or seven year old I could tell that these comics were special.  But for Baxendale the comics were not what he had envisaged. 

In his autobiography “A Very Funny Business” Baxendale’s frustrations with the politics and compromises of the Odhams group are made clear.  Wham! was never quite of the quality he wanted it to be and when financial issues caused the inclusion of Marvel Comics Superheroes, in the form of Fantastic Four reprints, he felt the title was spoilt.

Spy Spoof, The Man from B.U.N.G.L.E.
But Wham! was successful enough to spawn two sister titles.  Both Smash! and Pow! featured the same mixture of humour and superheroes.  Ken Reid provided a trio of the best strips with his career with “Queen of the Seas”, Dare a Day Davy and my own favourite “The Nervs”.   Baxendale gave us Grimly Fiendish, the spy spoof “The Man from BUNGLE and a number of successful riffs on his old Beano strips. 

There was also Mike Higgs and his superhero send-up, The Cloak, which to this day remains one of my favourite comics.   Mix that with Spider-Man, Daredevil and Nick Fury and you have the comics that I regard as about the best Britain has ever had to offer.
The Cloak, by Mike Higgs
My April 1st post was inspired by these comics and they deserve a much longer and more detailed article.  That will either appear here at some stage or as the boring bit at the back of my next project.  For while in reality, Splank! may never have appeared in the Sixties, I’m planning to bring it to life now.

Ideally I want to produce something in the format of the old British Annuals.  I've already begged, borrowed and, not quite, stolen strips from a number of top cartoonists including Belfast’s own Davy Francis.   From the Beano, Nigel Parkinson and Leslie Stannage have helped me out and, much to my delight, Mike Higgs who wrote and drew that very special Cloak strip for Pow! and Smash! has written a strip based on a plot which I put together.

I've got some excellent work from current masters of the self-publishing scene.   Andrew Pawley, creator of the GalaXafreaks comics and Marc Jackson, whose very distinctive style can be seen in the online comic Aces and in every issue of Comic Heroes, have both made excellent contributions.

I have a great set of designs for characters I’m planning to use in place of the Marvel Superheroes which Duncan Scott, the very talented former Dandy artist put together for me and I am already working with the creator of Captain Wonder, John Farrelly from Newry in Northern ireland 

But I’m greedy and I want more.  I’m asking comic writers and artists who would like to get involved in this project to contact me. 

I’d like to represent as many of the styles and genres of British comics as possible. The book/magazine will be printed in a mixture of colour and black and white and at A4 format. 

I’m looking for offers of contributions from writers artists or complete stories that fit into any of the following categories.

-          Humour strips, think Wham!, Smash! and Pow! but also Beano, Dandy, Monster Fun and the like. Be anarchic, bring old concepts up to date or hark back to memories of great strips of the past.  The Power comics featured spy spoofs that fed off the movie and TV craze at the time.  Something that mirrors that, or other TV memes that are current now.  I’m looking for single page strips, half page gags or longer stories where warranted.  I’m also looking for an artist to help me with a newspaper style strip that I may scatter through the pages.

-          Adventure stories. Think the old British Hero sets, Robot Archie, Black Max, Janus Stark and Adam Eterno were my favourites.   I’ve no formal page limits at the moment, but think 7-8 as a sort of maximum with 3-5 being a norm.

-          Sports Stories. I always liked football comics more than I liked football. But a good sports strip would be a great addition.  My own preferred sport is Rugby Union and I think I could come up with a few good Rugby gags if I had an artist to work with, but I’d be delighted to look at ideas about almost any sport.  But please, bear in mind that any strip about international Rugby Union should end with an emphatic Irish Victory.

          Spooky stuff. I maintain that Misty, and to a lesser degree, Spellbinder were among the best comics produced in the UK. A Misty style ghost or supernatural story would be a superb addition and very much welcomed.

-          Factual strips.  Remember Look and Learn, Tell Me Why, World of Wonder?  Strips that tell stories from history or science or current affairs. 

-          Nursery Comics – I learnt to read with comics.  Things like Rupert the Bear and Tiger Tim.  I don’t want a strip for young kids but perhaps something that is done in that style would be interesting.

All of these are just ideas and I’m willing to look at anything.  I'm especially keen to get strips with female protagonists, so far I have none and it stands out like a sore thumb. 

I’m aiming for a PG-13 vibe so bear that in mind and if you have any questions please do contact me and we’ll see if we can bring Splank! back for the first time. 

All characters should be original, I’m not looking to tread on any copyrights here, and will remain the property of the creators.

If you are interested in becoming part of this project please do contact me.  Writers should send a proposal for their story or, get in touch to discuss what they might look at.  Artists should send some samples of their work and an idea of which story types they are most interested in working on.
This could be fun, let us see what we can do. 

Physical Samples (if your prefer) to:
Peter Duncan
16 Belmont Church Road
Belfast  BT4 3FF