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Monday, March 31, 2008

Trigan Empire Collection volume 5

Just received a scan of the cover for the next Trigan Collection volume from DLC and thought I'd share it with you. The book will be out in April. Only two more volumes to go and we'll have published the whole of Don Lawrence's run on the series.

(* Trigan Empire © IPC Media.)

Comic Cuts

A few upcoming books announced:

Aurum Press Ltd.

Incredibly Strange Comics by Paul Gravett & Peter Stanbury. ISBN 978-1945133207, Sep 2008.

From purple people-eaters to surreal Japanese baseball dramas, you won't believe your eyes when you look inside "Incredibly Strange Comics". From the creators of "Graphic Novels" and "Great British Comics", this is a delirious collection of the 50 most weird and wonderful comics ever published. Notorious comic book brainiacs Paul Gravett and Peter Stanbury have scoured the world to bring together the strangest comics to be found. Gigantic alien monsters in swimming trunks rub up against the Leather Nun; hip-hop superheroes fight street crime, while peasant-girl Hansi worships the swastika. Also included alongside long-running series are bizarre one-off titles such as "Barnyard of Fear", "Chaplains at War", "Amputee Love" and "Cannibal Romance". Following an entertaining and informative introduction which places the comics in context, Gravett & Stanbury present an ever-changing parade of 50 rare and crazy comics, each featured in a colourful double-page spread with the eye-popping cover shown at full size."Incredibly Strange Comics" will make the perfect quirky gift for comics fans, collectors of curiosities - and anyone with a taste for offbeat humour.

Roy of the Rovers: The 'Biography' by Mick Collins. ISBN 978-1845133610, Sep 2008. Who is Mick Collins? Well, he's the author of various books on sports: The Rise and Rise of Charlton Athletic (2002), Chasing the Chariot: How Clive Woodward Won a World Cup, Changed English Rugby... Then Left (2004) and All Round Genius: The Unknown Story of Britain's Greatest Sportsman (2006), a biography of Max Woosnam. He's obviously a keen fan of Roy of the Rovers and a member of the Roy of the Rovers Fan Club.

Following on from his bestselling "All-Round Genius" about a real life sports man who resembled a comic strip hero, Mick Collins turns his attention to a comic strip hero that many thought was a real life striker. "Roy of the Rovers" delighted fans from the early '50s right up to the strip's closure in the 1990s. This affectionate, entertaining book takes the reader through Roy's many incarnations and gets the inside stories from the editors, illustrators and story creators who worked on the comic through the years. It also has memories and contributions from sports celebrities involved in the comic, such as Bobby Charlton and Gary Lineker. This is a 'biography' of Roy, but it sets the comic in the context of the times showing how the rise in computer games eventually spelled the death knell for Britain's most famous sporting hero. Written in a light, entertaining style and illustrated with strips from across the years and a colour plate section, "Roy of the Rovers" is the perfect guilty pleasure for every childhood fan who is now a nostalgic adult.


Titan Books

Modesty Blaise: Green Cobra. ISBN 978-1845764203, Sep 2008.
Charley's War: Return to the Front. ISBN 978-1845767969, Oct 2008.
James Bond: Polestar. ISBN 978-1845767174, Nov 2008.

Sunday, March 30, 2008

Arthur Jones

After yesterday's cuteness... crime! And none of that "cosy murder mystery" nonsense from the Golden Age of British crime writing although these, too, date from roughly the same era.

I've been reading The Gang-Smasher by Hugh Clevely, an unknown classic somewhere between the 'clubland hero' (as championed by Richard Usborne) and the 'durable desperado' (per William Vivian Butler). The Gang Smasher of the title is John Martinson, a former Colonel in the army stationed in India who arrives back in England penniless and desperate for action. He very quickly becomes involved in a battle against a criminal gang led by the mysterious and unseen Tortoni.

The Gang-Smasher was hugely popular in its day (1928). American hardboiled novels were beginning to appear here in the UK for the first time. In 1927, Hodder published Charles G. Booth's Sinister House and Hutchinson published the first of a number of novels by Caroll John Daly, The White Circle (followed a year later by Daly's best, The Snarl of the Beast). It wasn't until 1929 that the genre really took off with the publication of Little Caesar by W. R. Burnett and Red Harvest by Dashiell Hammett.

On 9 February 1929, the Amalgamated Press launched The Thriller, aimed at an audience who were starting to outgrow the adventures of Sexton Blake but who liked their thrillers tough and their heroes two-fisted. For the next eleven years, The Thriller published some of the best crime stories around—they ranged across the board from reprints of Daly, Hammett and The Shadow (in a wholly rewritten form and relocated to London) to reprints of Agatha Christie and Gaston Leroux. The reprints tended to be back-up stories and serials and the main meat of the magazine was the lead story, usually a 28,000-word novella. Editor Percy Haydon gave the magazine a fine send-0ff, paying Edgar Wallace the enormous sum of £2,000 for three stories (worth around £90,000 now). Wallace's 'Red Aces', featuring Mr. J. G. Reeder, took pride of place in The Thriller number one.

Hugh Clevely's 'Lynch Law' was the featured story in issue 2, followed by another Wallace and then Leslie Charteris' 'The Story of a Dead Man'. Although he had already published a number of novels, it was in the pages of The Thriller that Charteris really learned his craft. It was here that he re-introduced Simon Templar, the Saint, who had starred in a so-so novel a year earlier called Meet the Tiger. 'The Five Kings' (in Thriller #13) launched Templar on a stellar career as a crook and crime-fighter.

Another star of The Thriller was its main artist. The rather anonymously named A. Jones signed many of the covers and was associated with the paper for over a decade. Jones, in fact, had been setting the tone for illustrations of all two-fisted crime-fighters for years.

He wasn't the best artist Amalgamated Press had on their books—his work was crude, anatomically inaccurate and he was poor at perspective and proportion--but when it came to depicting menace, Jones was a master. If a story required a sinister figure, hat pulled low over his forehead, to be seen spying from the street or through a window, Jones was the man to do it. As the gangs began to take over the West End of London, Jones was able to depict them in scenes straight out of the movies of the day. Limited in his use of colour, his muted, brooding images become quite addictive.

Jones has remained stubbornly anonymous for years. Building up a picture of the man has to be done from fragments—a brief mention here and a note there—and, at the end, there is still no clear picture.

It is said that Jones was self-taught and he appears to have started working for the Amalgamated Press in 1913, drawing illustrations for The Boys' Friend. He apparently made no secret that he copied his style of drawing from Tom Peddie, whose work appeared in The Strand and, for boys, in The Captain and Chums. Jones was not able to match Peddie as a draughtsman and all his characters look identical but, despite these limitations, he was soon very much in demand.

He established himself quickly and, in 1915, became the artist of choice for the newly launched Nelson Lee Library and Sexton Blake Library. It is with these two series that his name has become most associated with. He was responsible for the first 566 covers of the Sexton Blake Library before passing the baton to Eric R. Parker; similarly, this relative novice was also responsible for a twelve-year run on Nelson Lee Library which began as a detective series but, before long, became a school story series featuring the adventures of Lee's assistant, Nipper, at St. Frank's.

For a relative newcomer this was a choice pair of assignments. The Nelson Lee Library illustrations showed Jones in a slightly lighter mood, as did his illustrations of other school stories (notably the 'Bombay Castle' yarns of Duncan Storm in Boys' Friend). The Blake's, by contrast, are atmospheric and full of action. Jones was clearly one of editor Len Pratt's favourites, as it was an image by Jones that was given away as a commemorative plate with the 1,000th issue of Union Jack, depicting Blake in his dressing gown, pipe firmly between his lips, deep in thought in his study. (The image was originally painted for a 1917 Sexton Blake Library cover.)

After 15 years depicting the Baker Street detective, Jones became the main illustrator on The Thriller, where he remained for the next eleven years. Because of his long associations with magazines, Jones appeared elsewhere only sporadically and a rough chronology of his work shows his loyalty to the A.P.'s boys' detective papers:

Boys' Friend in 1913-25, The Dreadnaught (1914), Red Magazine (1914), Union Jack (1914-31), Nelson Lee Library (1915-27), Sexton Blake Library (1915-29), Detective Library (1920), The Detective Magazine (1922-24), Chums (1928), The Thriller (1929-38), Detective Weekly (1934), Sexton Blake Annual (1938).

It is said that Jones often lived beyond his means and was fond of a drink; despite this, he was considered a very pleasant fellow. He was a Londoner, living at St. Quintin Park, not far from the famous Wormwood Scrubs prison. Short, of stocky build and with a ruddy complexion, he worked best at his studio with a wireless turned on full blast, seeming to draw inspiration from the blaring music. A wireless was something of a novelty in the 1920s.

His great love was cars and he owned quite a few in his time; he was always tinkering and experimenting with them, and in his own way was a very skilled mechanic. A keen motorist, he spent much of his spare time at Brooklands, the famous motor racing track.

He is said to have died before the Second World War, although I'm not wholly convinced. 'Arthur Jones' is a rather common name and establishing his dates has proven tricky. For example, there are two artists of that name in the 1901 census: A. Jones, a 46-year-old "Artist", born in Liverpool, Lancashire, who was living in Flint, Rhyl; and Arthur Jones, a 17-year-old "Litho Artist", born in Birmingham and living in Aston.

However, since Arthur Jones was said to have been a newcomer when he started working for the A.P. in 1913, neither of these artists are likely to be "our" Arthur. A better clue is his location: St. Quintin's Park was the name of an underground (subway) station in North Kensingtonin fact it was called St. Quintin's Park and Wormwood Scrubs Station until its closure in 1940. This was located in North Kensington, London, and an A. Jones was living at 25A Kelfield Garden, N. Kensington, London W.10 during the period Arthur Jones was most active. I can trace him to that address via telephone directories for October 1923 to August 1938.

There is a death registered around that time: one Arthur S. Jones
died, aged 68, in late 1938, his death registered at Kensington. My collection of The Thriller wouldn't fill a shoe box so I'm not able to say with any certainty when his last cover appeared but others have credited Jones as the artist of covers appearing as late as May 1939. I'm nagged by doubts: why didn't that middle initial show up in the telephone book? He'd have been in his early 40s when he started out as an artist which doesn't seem to match the young newcomer Jones is thought to have been in 1913. That said, was his rise so rapid because he was not called up for service during the Great War? His output during the years 1914-18 would appear to me to indicate he was not.

I will have to leave these questions unresolved for nowbut I'm sure I'll come back to Arthur Jones in the future.

(* pics © IPC Media)

Saturday, March 29, 2008

Noah's Ark Annual

This was a children's annual from the early- and mid-1930s containing stories for youngsters about animals and often featuring some gratuitously cute colour illustrations like the one that heads our column.

(* illustrations (c) IPC Media)

Friday, March 28, 2008

Comic Cuts

As it's a slow news week, you'll have to put up with me just rambling. So, no change there...

I spent last weekend writing the last couple of pages for the next Trigan Empire book (a look at Trigan City); we got the final page proofs Tuesday and the book is now on its way to the printers. It usually takes around a month so the book, Trigan Empire: The Red Death, should be out around the end of April.

I also spent some time putting together a collection of stories by a guy called Maxwell Scott—but as it consists of two stories the main editorial decision was to put them in chronological order. Yeah, a tough job but somebody's got to do it. This is another little project that I've been thinking about for some time... I think most people know that I'm a fan of old crime novels and old story papers and this combines both passions. Since it's the kind of thing no self-respecting publisher would touch, I've got no other option but to do it myself. I'm under no illusion about this: the audience probably numbers in the single digits but it does mean that me and the three or four other people who might be interested (and know who Maxwell Scott is) can have a book on their shelves if they want.

Hopefully, if the printing tests all work out (and I'm confident that they will), Bear Alley the blog will blossom—in a very small way—into Bear Alley the publisher. Not my first foray into self-publishing but I'm putting cut 'n' paste layouts and photocopying behind me—this time it's proper books.

I've spent most of the week scanning and transcribing—the latter a couple of interviews I did at the end of February for The Mike Western Story. I'm hoping that you'll get to see the results real soon now. I'm hoping that the book on Mike will be one of the first of these self-published projects to appear and, as comics are never far from my thoughts, you can bet there are a few other comic-related projects I'm actively working on. Here's a frame from one of them...

Here's all the news. Really... I couldn't find any more...

* The Carol Day website has posted three more stories since I last linked to it. Wonderful David Wright artwork throughout. Go visit now.

(pics © IPC Media.)

Thursday, March 27, 2008

Recycled covers

Here's another example of recycling of artwork at Fleetway.

(With thanks to Richard Sheaf for the pics. which are © IPC Media.)

Beano makes "Most Loathed" List

A study of the reading habits of 11 to 14-year-olds has revealed that their favourite reading material is Heat magazine, the celebrity gossip mag. The top 10 also includes a mixture of reading books (Harry Potter (5), Anne Frank's diary (6), Anthony Horowitz (8), The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe (9) and the 'Confessions of Georgia Nicolson' books by Louise Rennison (10=)) and reading online (song lyrics (2nd= with reading Bliss magazine), computer game cheats (3), "my own blog" and fan fiction (4), film scripts (7) and BBC Online (10=).

The Most Loathed Reads list includes some you'd expect: Homework comes out top, Shakespeare second and "Books of over 100 pages" third, adding weight to the notion that kids nowadays suffer from short attention spans. But most kids books have been shorter than their adult counterparts for years: the standard length for library fodder used to be 80,000 words for an adult novel and 40-60,000 words for a kid's novel; many of these were edited down for reprinting in paperback where the page count was rarely above 128 pages.

The Beano makes the most loathed list at #7 which I find most disappointing. I'm guessing that most 11 to 14-year-olds think they've outgrown The Beano as most of us did; by the age of 14 I was heavily into reading science fiction novels and I was spending more on books than comics (I was reading Action and Vulcan at that time, plus the magazine Speed & Power).

"Loath" is a really strong adverse reaction. In 1976, when I was 14, comics were still fairly prevalent; there had been something of a crash in the early 1970s but there were still a variety of boys' comics (Valiant, Battle Picture Weekly, Victor, Wizard, War, Battle and Commando picture libraries). Most of us had grown up on comics and had simply outgrown some of them. They certainly didn't have the negative connotations that they seem to have these days.

Mind you, it's a weird list and I suspect it was not a "free vote" (as they say in Parliament): one of the dislikes is music scores... and how many children have even seen a music score, let alone learned to hate them. My guess is that Beano was part of a pre-compiled list: "Which of the following do you love or loath?" I just can't imagine that, even in a group of 1,340 kids, enough of them have read music scores or maps or the Financial Times to have made an informed view of their merits.

This is post #666. Maybe it's not surprising that, on a comic-loving blog, we learn that kids hate comics.

You can find the full top 10 lists here.

(* Beano characters © D. C. Thomson Ltd.)

Wednesday, March 26, 2008

Gordon Jim

I'm hoping that one of our Italian readers will be able to help out with this query. In 1956, the British weekly Knockout reprinted Rinaldo (Roy) D'Ami's "Gordon Jim" strip. I believe this first appeared in 18 issues of its own title between 31 May and 28 September 1952 in Italy; the strip was originally published in a landscape format, so there must have been some rejigging of the strip to fit the portrait page of the UK weekly. If I'm right, each issue was 32 pages and—not a coincidence, I'm sure—the British run also lasted 32 pages. But did the British strip reprint only one issue, or possibly two issues once the pages had been reworked to fit the new format?

Perhaps someone can identify the origins of the story from the two pages reproduced here: at the top, the first page which appeared in Knockout, below the last. And can anyone confirm whether this was D'Ami working on his own? It's around that time (1952) that he began using assistants but I've seen some episodes credited to Gino D'Antonio (or maybe I'm misreading the Italian website I spotted that on)... but it seems too early for D'Antonio who, as far as I'm aware, didn't join D'Ami's studio until 1955. He may have worked on the strip later, but not on this strip ... unless it has been redrawn from the original, which is an option I've only just thought of.

Anyway, if anyone can help, please drop me a line.

(* © Creazioni D'Ami)

Tuesday, March 25, 2008

Sinking of the... whatever

I originally posted this back in December of 2007 citing the various illustrations of examples of how Fleetway Publications recycled artwork. I've just stumbled upon another example, so I thought I'd repost... see whether you agree with me. Update: David Roach has pointed out that I've got this the wrong way round. The original Look and Learn illustration was inspired by a picture by Fortunino Matania (drawn, I believe, for The Sphere) at the time of the sinking of the Lusitania. It was this Matania illustration that was reprinted in the Battle Picture Weekly Summer Special for 1975. The Matania picture now has pride of place at the head of this column.

The 13 April 1963 issue of Look and Learn (no. 65) featured an article on the sinking of the Lusitania, as can be seen in the extract above.

The main illustration, by Peter Jackson, was then recoloured and used as a cover for issue no. 566 (18 November 1972). Note the new figures at the bottom of the picture filling the space left by the removal of the caption.

And in the Look and Learn archive we have a third version of the same artwork -- an original board -- in which the name Lusitania has been replaced with that of the Titanic on the lifeboat.

I'm not sure where the latter appeared, probably another issue of Look and Learn in the late 1970s.

And here, finally, is the Matania illustration as it appeared in Battle Picture Weekly Summer Special 1975.

The cover to issue 65 of Look and Learn was also reused in issue 566 as a feature illustration.

So a black & white illustration was coloured up and a colour illustration was printed in black & white.

Monday, March 24, 2008

Comic Cuts

The BBC are reporting on the discovery of a painting of the crucifixion by comics' artist Dudley D. Watkins. The ink and watercolour painting, which measures about 2 ft x 3 ft, was discovered by change when a visitor spotted it in the house of Mrs. Jean Kinnell in Lochgelly, Fife. Watkins was a family friend and gave Mrs. Kinnell the painting in 1951. Mrs. Kinnell's late husband, Jack, was also a painter whose work is to be exhibited at the Lochgelly Arts Centre. The story has a twist that the BBC have not included: apparently Mrs. Kinnell contacted the Sunday Post--published by D. C. Thomson for whom Watkins drew his most famous characters, Oor Wullie and The Broons--about the painting some years ago when it published a piece about Watkins' artwork fetching high prices at auction. She said: "When they heard it was a religious picture, they weren't interested."

* Alan Moore was interviewed on the BBC Inside Out East programme recently. The show is available on the BBC's iPlayer for another couple of days if you want to see what they made of Moore. The interview begins about 19 minutes in. Further information from the BBC News website.

* Raymond Leblanc, publisher of Tintin magazine in Belgium, died on 21 March. Leblanc launched Tintin in September 1946 with the serialisation of 'The Seven Crystal Balls' following Hergé's troubled war. Leblanc was also responsible for rescuing the ailing Pilote in 1962. Fleetway Publications made use of reprints from both magazines. Full obituaries have appeared in The Independent (24 March), The Guardian (28 March) and The Times (5 April). It hasn't been a good week for Belgian comics as Maurice Maréchal, creator of 'Prudence Petitpas' also died on 21 March. As far as I'm aware, none of Maréchal's work was ever reprinted in the UK.

Sunday, March 23, 2008

Comic Firsts: Kev O'Neill

Doing a bit of random tidying up and found the following from the pages of Worlds of Horror, a short-lived horror mag. that ran in 1974-75. The following were, I think, Kev's first professional sales, two illustrations (from issue 4 and 6) and a 1-page comic strip from issue 6 which pre-dates his work in Legend Horror Classics. I think Kev's first ever strip appeared in a fanzine called Eureka way back in 1971 and he also contributed to Fantasy Advertiser and Interplanetary News; this was a few years before Kev came to everyone's attention in 2000AD and, later as the only artist whose style of work was unacceptable to the Comics Code Authority. Not anything specific in his work, but the actual way he worked. How mad is that?

(* I imagine these are probably © Dallruth Publishing Group and /or Kevin O'Neill)

World's slowest time-lapse photos

Today's weather as seen when I was making coffee throughout the day.

If only I had a time-lapse camera...

Wednesday, March 19, 2008

Arthur C. Clarke (1917-2008)

Arthur C. Clarke, science fiction author and science fact visionary, died at 1.30 am, 18 March 2008 at his home in Sri Lanka, aged 90.

Arthur Charles Clarke, born 16 December 1917 in Minehead, Somerset, sold an article entitled 'Extra-terrestrial Relays' in March 1945 to Wireless World (publiushed in October) in which he set out the principals for satellite communication by placing a series of satellites in geostationary orbit. That same month—March 1945—he wrote 'Rescue Party', which was sold to Astounding Science Fiction, appearing in May 1946; a second sale to Astounding, 'Loophole', became his first professional appearance, in April 1946.

Clarke had joined the British Interplanetary Society in 1936 after moving to London to work as an auditor with HM Exchequer and had contributed to the BIS Bulletin and science fiction fanzines. In 1949 he became the assistant editor of Physics Abstracts and his first non-fiction book, Interplanetary Flight, appeared in 1950.

A series of novels in the 1950s established his name firmly at the forefront of science fiction. He was never one of the genre's stylists but an ideas man producing, as Peter Nicholls once wrote, "optimistic propaganda for science." But within those bounds he produced a number of classics, including Against the Fall of Night (1953), Childhood's End (1953), Rendezvous with Rama (1972) and, Clarke's personal favourite, The Songs of Distant Earth (1986).

His most famous work was 2001: A Space Odyssey (1968), which was developed from a short story entitled 'The Sentinel' (although it had originally appeared, in 10 Story Fantasy in 1951, as 'Sentinel of Eternity'). This was optioned by Stanley Kubrick who co-wrote the screenplay with Clarke which Clarke subsequently novelised. I always thought it ironic that Clarke—devoted to science and the benefits thereof—should be most famous for HAL, the killer computer, and the transcendence of Dave Bowman.

At 11 years old I became a huge fan of Clarke when his stories began appearing in Speed & Power magazine. I picked up issue 3, containing the first part of his story 'Into the Comet' and read every single issue after that, mostly for the stories by Clark and the illustrations by Michael Whittlesea. The fifth issue began an epic serialisation of 'A Meeting with Medusa' which was the cause of much frustration as Speed & Power only came out every fortnight; I was desperate to know how the story progressed and my local library had the story in a collection... but in the adult section of the library (and I only had a children's ticket). The kindly librarian (and I wish I could remember her name) upgraded me to an adult ticket which not only meant that I could take books out from the grown up's section but I could borrow four books at a time (rather than the stingy two you could get as a 'child'). I read just about every novel and short story collection Clark had produced that summer.

I met him once. At Seacon '79, the World Science Fiction Convention held in Brighton, I was sitting in the audience for a talk by Greg Benford, who kept on glancing over at me. I was becoming quite self-conscious and it was only when the lecture had finished that I realised that Arthur had arrived in the hall and had sat down next to me. I wish I could say that something momentous happened but all I managed was "Can you sign my programme book?" Which he did... and was then whisked away by his friends.

Clarke's connection to British comics is slight but will probably get a mention in most of his obituaries. One I noticed this morning (Daily Telegraph, 19 March 2008) mentions "In 1950 he advised the creators of the comic strip Dan Dare on technical matters."

Clarke was indeed hired as an adviser on the strip; however, his involvement has been exaggerated over the years. Neil McAleer, in Clarke's authorised biography Odyssey (London, Gollancz, 1992) says that Clarke was "science and plot adviser". Fred Clarke, Arthur's brother, has been quoted (in The Man Who Drew Tomorrow, p.84) as saying: "I know Arthur used to receive the Dan Dare strip regularly, for checking, but I don't think he ever found a mistake in it. In the end he suggested to Frank Hampson that as the standard of the work and research was so high, they were wasting their money getting him to check it, so from then on, Arthur had to buy Eagle for himself to keep up with what was happening."

Clarke himself would later say (in a letter to David Westaway published in Eagle Times): "I worked with Rev. Morris and Frank Hampson. I advised on science articles and Dan Dare plots. I think I invented the 'Therons'! But it's all so vague now..."

According to Chad Varah, Clarke's involvement with the paper came about when his agents submitted some stories ('The Fires Within' by 'Charles Willis' appeared in Eagle vol.1 no.17, 4 August 1950, reprinting a story that had originally appeared in Fantasy in August 1947); Clarke's first book, Interplanetary Flight appeared in May 1950 so it is likely that Frank Hampson was aware of him at around the time a new writer, Guy Morgan, took over the writing of the Dan Dare strip to relieve some of the pressure on Hampson and his studio. To my mind, it seems likely that Clarke was brought on board at the same time to help plot the story and make sure that Morgan did not introduce anything scientifically implausible.

Hampson took over the scripting chores again a few weeks later; since Frank researched every nut and bolt of his stories, Clarke's involvement in the strip would likely have been to rubber stamp the latest episode. He was also busy with his next two books, The Exploration of Space and The Sands of Mars (his first novel), both of which appeared in 1951 and remained as assistant editor of Physics Abstracts until turning freelance that year following the successful publication of Interplanetary Flight in America.

Clarke's involvement is generally thought to have lasted only a matter of six months or so; his appointment around May of 1950 would mean he was on the strip for most of Dan's early adventures on Venus, including the time when the Therons (brown-skinned, technologically advanced Venusians separated by the planet's flamebelt from the cold, reptilian Treens) were introduced into the storyline and one of their number, Volstar, explains how Treens kidnapped Earthmen from Atlantis. Atlantine rebels blow up an atomic-powered Treen spaceship causing their valley to flood, creating the Mediterranean Sea. (Alan Vince has said that he recalls Clarke telling an audience of Eagle fans that he had created both Therons and Atlantines.)

Clarke had probably departed the strip by the end of the year; I cannot imagine a freelancer (as Clarke became in 1951) turning down a weekly cheque from Eagle for doing little or no work. Only someone with a steady income, which he was receiving from Physics Abstracts, turns down free money.

(* photo © The New Mexico Museum of Space History where Arthur C. Clarke was inducted into the International Space Hall of Fame in 1989; the two Pan Books covers were by Gerard Quinn © Pan Books; illustration from Speed & Power © Look and Learn Magazine Ltd.; Dan Dare © Dan Dare Corporation.)

Tuesday, March 18, 2008

Comic Cuts

It has been a relatively slow news week elsewhere on the web so I'm grabbing this chance to mention a few projects that will be upcoming from The Book Palace. A couple you will already know about, namely The Thriller Libraries, which is the follow-up to The War Libraries, and Frank Bellamy's King Arthur and His Knights: The Complete Adventures which is the follow-up to the Frank Bellamy's Robin Hood book which snuck out at the ABC Show.

Geoff West has announced four new projects that he's working on: The Art of Warfare (the history of conflict through military illustration), The Art of Piracy (an illustrated history of corsairs, buccaneers, plunderers and freebooters), Drawing from History—about the forgotten art of Fortunino Matania—and, one which I hope will make your ears perk up, The Art of Ron Embleton.

I don't have all the details—and certainly there are no release dates yet for any of these—but I know that Geoff has been working on the Matania volume for some time and the idea of doing something on Embleton has been floating around for a while. After being a vague notion for some time, it has now taken that great step forward from "Wouldn't it be nice to do..." to "Well, we've got to do it now because we've announced it."

The Matania is, as I said, in active production. Beyond that I can't really say anything until all the details are nailed down. Update: According the Geoff, the Art of Warfare is likely to be the first release, followed by The Art of Ron Embleton, although neither book has a release date yet.

What I can say is that I'm still busy on The Mike Western Story. I put together a few test pages a couple of week's ago as it will be the first time I've used this computer and 'In Design' to put together a book. Having proved to myself that I can do it I'm in that weary process of transcribing interviews with some of the folk who worked with Mike over the years; it's taking a little longer than I hoped because I've had to work on a couple of other things at the same time to keep a little cash rolling in. However much I'd love to do this full time, this is definitely a project that's being done for love, not money.

For entertainment I've been working on a second project: an old penny dreadful from the 1870s which I'm hoping to bring back into print. That'll probably be finished before the Mike Western because (a) I've only had to write a couple of short pieces for it and (b) I don't have to source illustrations because someone else did all the hard work. So that's almost finished and hopefully I'll have learned from all the mistakes I made doing it (which were many), which will mean that I won't make them on the Mike Western book!

As a little teaser, below is a pic from Mike's sketchbook; I'm hoping to run a few of these unseen pieces alongside the artwork that many of you will know so that even the most hardcore fan of Mike's work will have something new to look at.

Some bits of news from around the web...

* Adrian Banfield has posted an interview with James Halley, the editor of The Victor at his Victor and Hornet tribute site. Halley worked at D. C. Thomson for four decades (1953-92), working on The Hotspur and Adventure before becoming editor of Victor in 1964, where he remained until its last issue in 1992.

* It's that time of the month again: Dan Dare sales figures for the Virgin Dan Dare comic. After all the fuss over last month's figures--when part of February's reorders were incorporated into the calculations and skewed all the numbers—hopefully this month's will be definitive. Or as definitive as they can be because they only cover orders made through Diamond Distributors US. In the case of DD, that won't be all they're selling as they don't take into account sales via Diamond UK, which for DD should be a significant number (maybe another 20% on top). However, it should offer a reasonably good guide to the magazine's sales trends.

ICv2 has estimated that sales of the February-released issue 4 are 7,885 up from the revised 7,657 figure for January (see link above); the sales have taken up upward bounce, clawing back the small percentage that sales fell between issues 2 and 3. It might be that a retailers are showing a little more confidence in the title after the announcement that issues 1 to 3 are to be re-released as a collection in April.

* Rich Johnson is reporting on Lying in the Gutters that whilst Gary Erskine is to remain as artist for a second volume of Virgin's Dan Dare, due to begin in December, Garth Ennis won't be writing it and his replacement has yet to be assigned. Garth will, however, be doing a panel at the New York ComicCon along with Peter Hampson, son of Dan's creator Frank Hampson.

* Rich also seems to be of the opinion that there may be some other repackagings of old (New) Eagle characters, possibly 'The Computer Warrior'. But likely not from Virgin. The superb reimagining of Dan Dare created by Grant Morrison and Rian Hughes is also likely to be repackaged.

* Talking of Grant Morrison... back in the 1980s he fronted a band called The Fauves and their single, 'Tortured Soul' (co-written by artists Dannie Vallely), has just surfaced on YouTube:



Not to be mistaken for the Australian band of the same name, by the way. (heads up via Lying in the Gutters). A few more of Grant and Dannie's songs can be found at Dannie's Spirophone website.

(* Thriller Comics Library © IPC Media; 'King Arthur' © Look and Learn Magazine Ltd.; Mike's sketch © Mike Western; Superman © DC Comics; The Fauves 'Tortured Soul' probably © Morrison/Vallely, 1988; sorry about the quality of the first two pics—I forgot to ask for scans!)