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Friday, June 29, 2007


Woppit made his debut on 28 March 1953, in the very first issue of Robin, a weekly comic aimed at very young boys and girls. It was published by Hulton Press, who had already enjoyed considerable success with their boy's adventure comic Eagle, and led to their targeting the female audience with Girl. This was followed by Robin which was published every Monday and was extremely popular, due in part to the 'Andy Pandy' strip based on the Watch With Mother series that appeared on the front cover in colour. Woppit's strip was printed inside and, since he wasn't a TV star, he was only ever printed in black and white throughout his fourteen year career.

'The Story of Woppit' began when the little teddy bear fell out of his owner's pram and was left behind on a countryside road. Things looked bleak for the abandoned toy but, as he sat there, lost and alone, along came a little shaggy donkey called Mokey. The pair became instant friends and decided to travel together, exploring the countryside. Later on they were joined by Tiptop, a scarecrow and the three settled down to live at the farmhouse of Mrs. Bumble, where they helped with the chores and continued to have fun learning about the plants and animals.

To begin with, 'The Story of Woppit' started as a half-page strip, with the story written a few lines at a time beneath each illustration. The illustrator at that time remains unknown but he or she rendered the strip in a fairly realistic style with wash and ink. Later, in 1961 the strip expanded to two pages and was illustrated by Roland Davies, whose style was more cartoony. Tiptop changed from a real scarecrow made of two sticks and a turnip head to a more human looking figure with two legs while Mokey looked more like a stuffed Spanish souvenir, minus the straw hat! Woppit himself remained pretty much the same, having always been a rather odd looking teddy - with his pointed ears and prominent snout he sometimes looked more like Winnie the Pooh's pal Piglet. However he was always a kindly and amiable little soul who liked to do good deeds, such as sending a Valentine card to cheer up a lonely old lady. 'The Story of Woppit' came to an end in 1967, although Robin continued for quite a few years longer.

But Woppit hadn't made his final exit yet. His popularity in those days is not as easy to gauge as Andy Pandy's but he must have had some fans for, in 1956, Merrythought produced a Woppit teddy bear. The bears were 9 inches tall, and made of brown plush with blue felt inner ears and matching shoes and the red felt jacket. Woppit only appeared in the Merrythought catalogue for one year and the bears produced are extremely rare today.

One of them at least was to have an extremely interesting life history -- as the mascot of Donald Campbell, famed land and water speed record breaker.

No-one is quite sure how Campbell acquired his little friend, and theories range from his being a gift from Campbell's wife to a publicity gimmick dreamed up by his manager. Another version, mentioned in Sally Morris and Jan Hallwood's Living With Eagles, is that Campbell was given the bear by Peter Barker, who was in charge of merchandising for the Hulton children's paper. Campbell was pictured with his bear in Robin in August 1959.

Woppit travelled with Donald on all of his record breaking attempts in the UK and the US, and together they broke the world water speed record in Australia in 1964, achieving 276.3 mph. All of Donald Campbell's cars and boats were named 'Bluebird' and Woppit had a little bluebird badge sewn on his jacket to mark his role as official mascot. He also had a slight name change, always being referred to as 'Mr. Whoppit' by Campbell; he is often called by this name even today.

Three years later in 1967, Donald Campbell attempted to break the water speed record again, this time on Coniston Water in the Lake District. Mr. Whoppit was accompanying him in the cockpit as usual, but this time disaster struck -- the Bluebird somersaulted and capsized at 300 mph. "She's tramping... the water's not good... I can't see much... I'm going... I'm on my back... I'm gone." These were Campbell's last words over the radio, before he and his mascot overturned with the Bluebird and plunged deep into the waters of the lake. Campbell's body was never found, but during the search, rescuers found Mr. Whoppit, drenched but relatively unharmed, floating on the surface of the lake.

After this tragic accident, Mr. Whoppit was given to Campbell's daughter Gina but his days as 'The World's Fastest Teddy' were not yet over. Gina was continue the record breaking tradition set by her father and grandfather, with Mr. Whoppit once again taking his position as mascot in the cockpit. Fate seemed to repeat itself when during one of Gina's water speed attempts, her Bluebird also capsized at 122 mph. Fortunately both she and Mr. Whoppit escaped uninjured and eventually they both retired for a more sedate lifestyle, Gina opening a small restaurant on the South Coast with Mr. Whoppit placed on display for the visitors to see.

In December 1995, Gina placed many items of Campbell family memorabilia in auction including Mr. Whoppit who, surprisingly, didn't reach his reserve price despite his interesting history. Still, perhaps he would have preferred to stay in the family with whom he had shared so many fur-raising adventures. At least he could console himself with the thought that the Nineties has a whole new generation of Mr. Whoppits, courtesy of his creators Merrythought. Following the success of their replicas of the 'Titanic Bear', the company decided that he would be perfect for their next limited edition series of a bear with a history behind him. As well as referring back to their original Woppit patterns from the Fifties, the designers even visited Mr. Whoppit himself to ensure that they captured his likeness exactly. The result was 5,000 little relatives exactly like their forebears, which all came complete with a presentation box containing Mr. Whoppit's life story with the Campbells.

Woppit has always maintained a low profile compared to other, more famous characters of the bear world, yet he has managed to avoid being lost altogether in the mists of time; although his time in the limelight was brief, it was more spectacular and tragic than anything Rupert or Paddington ever endured. Whether as the lost little bear in Robin or the hero at the helm of the Bluebird, this is one bear who won't be forgotten.

Comic Clippings - 29 June

I'm racking my brains for something to say but I haven't done anything much the last couple of days that would be of much interest to anyone. The latest disc full of images went off today which will take the Look and Learn website Picture Gallery to over 17,500 images. I've been working on more today: lots of Pat Nicolle, Peter Jackson and Angus McBride will follow next week. I was planning to pop up a very short piece about Leonard Gard but I've managed to misplace a stack of photocopies. Anyway, we've already had some "good girl art" this week so I'm thinking that I should put up something a little different. You'll see above what I managed to come up with.

* Eddie Campbell is interviewed by Jody Macgregor for Australia's Rave Magazine (link via Journalista).

* 8-year-old Ben Fuller won a contest on Saturday morning TV show Toonattik and his prize... to appear on the show and meet the editor of the Dandy. Desperate Dan fan Bob asked if he could appear in the strip and, much to his surprise, dad Philip Fuller also appeared -- as a baddie called The Undertaker. ('Dad's battle with Dan in pages of the Dandy', Cambridge Evening News, 29 June)

* "The Beano is launching a bold bid to keep pace with the new generation of computer-fixated youngsters." ('Beano bid to appeal to download generation', The Scotsman, 17 June)

Jeff Wilkinson (1924-2007)

Kevin Patrick has posted news that Jeff Wilkinson, a British-born artist who worked primarily in Australia, died on 22 June 2007, aged 83. Born in Yorkshire in 1924, Wilkinson served with the Royal Navy during World War II. On extended shore leave in Sydney in 1945, he applied to stay permanently and transferred to the Australian Royal Navy.

After the war he found success drawing adventure and humour strips for H. J. Edwards and K. G. Murray before creating 'The Phantom Ranger' for Frew Publications in 1949. The character was hugely successful, spawning his own radio show in 1952. By then, 'Wilkie' as he was known had moved on to create 'The Shadow', 'Kid Champion' and other characters as well as drawing episodes of many other strips. In the 1950s he drew 'Gimlet', based on the character created by Capt. W. E. Johns.

Wilkinson left the comics industry in the early 1960s and became a designer of came0-styled jewellery. However, he was to return when, in the early 1980s, he left Australia for England and began working for IPC Magazines. Leaving them in 1987, he continued to work for D. C. Thomson. Already in his sixties, Wilkinson also began teaching art for local adult education classes, only retiring in 2004 at the age of 80. Wilkinson lived in West Sussex.

(* Much of the above was derived from an interview with Jeff Wilkinson by Kevin Patrick to be found here. Kevin has also penned a brief obituary which appears here. The image is also from Kevin's blog.)

Thursday, June 28, 2007

Michael Storme

(Mention of Michael Storm the other day reminded me that I had this unpublished piece on Michael Storme (with an 'e'), written... actually I can't remember when it was written. Probably for PBO (the magazine I edited for the British Association of Paperback Collectors) so maybe nine years ago. Anyway, it's nice to have the chance to give it an airing...)


There are two things that immediately spring to mind when I think about Michael Storme. Firstly, the covers—often drawn by the incomparable master of "good girl art" Heade. Heade’s artwork on the Storme novels would stop you in your tracks.

But once you’d raised your eyes from the gorgeous dame on the cover there are the titles: Make Mine A Virgin, Sucker For A Red-Head, Dame In My Bed and the uncompromising Hot Dames On Cold Slabs. Who could resist picking up a book Hot Dames On Cold Slabs? Why would you want to resist?

That one title is probably the only mark that Michael Storme has left on crime literature. The listing of his titles in Crime Fiction Bibliography is his epitaph; nobody, as far as I know, visits or tends his grave. It is now over fifty years since his last book was published. Time to raise a glass in memoriam to Michael Storme.

The Michael Storme novels are now collected for their Heade covers, but it is on the back of some of his books that we find the briefest of biographies:

"Michael Storme was born in England during the first world war. In the second world war he was a radio-engineer in the Royal Air Force and saw service in Egypt, Sudan, Tripoli, Italy, Sicily, Malta and Eritrea. He was also on the aircraft-carrier Indomitable when it made a last minute dash with replacement Hurricane fighter planes for the defence of Singapore. His 1939-45 Star, Africa Star and Clasp, Burma Star and Clasp and Italy Star are proof of his multifarius adventures. He was demobbed with the rank of sergeant."

How much of that is true is difficult to say. What we know for sure is that Michael Storme was the pen-name of George H. Dawson, and certainly a number of George H. Dawsons were born in 1914-18. George H. Dawson never published a novel under his own name but my proof is from correspondence with two authors who knew him. Both Thomas Martin and Lisle Willis linked Dawson to Storme. Hot Dames on Cold Slabs is dedicated to "Cathy and Lisle who like to go adventuring with me" and Tom further noted that Dawson was the co-founder of Tempest Publications, "which no doubt accounts for the name."

Michael Storme first appeared in the spring of 1949 with Make Mine A Shroud from Archer Press, after which Dawson teamed up with Thomas H. Lane to launch Tempest Publishing Company. Lane, then in his late thirties, had worked mostly in the cotton industry around his home town of Bolton. He was also a writer, contributing to the BBC’s In Britain Now programme in 1942 and had penned two short westerns (Chums Ride the Range and Two-Gun Shoots it Out) which were published by R. & L. Locker in 1945. Although there is no evidence that Lane was writing gangster yarns, he may have introduced Dawson to Raymond and Lilian Locker, the publishing partnership behind Archer Press.

With offices established at 120-124 Newport Street, Bolton, Tempest published their first novels in 1949, Ladies Sleep Alone by Lew Della (Dawson) and I’ll Hire the Hearse by Michael Lisle (Lisle Willis), soon followed by Dawson’s new creation, Nick Perrelli. A call for authors brought a response from Norman Lazenby, who contacted Tempest and was told "We require writers who can immitate the style of the tough gangster writers such as Michael Storme, Nick Perrelli, Hank Janson, Nick Carter, etc." at rates of £1 per thousand words, length approximately 45,000. Lazenby didn’t bite, but Thomas H. Martin certainly did.

After the first Nick Perrelli (Virgins Die Lonely, written by Dawson), Martin penned the rest of the series for Tempest, writing his first in under a week ("but I wouldn’t have cared to write one every week," he later told me). Martin had already established himself as an author, writing short occult tales for syndication through the Daily Mirror which appeared in 8 languages, and found the relentless pace of gangster yarns too much; bored by the gangster stereotypes and American backgrounds he was always asked for, he introduced a little variety in Terror in Tokyo. "When Dawson left Tempest I wrote Dope For Dolores for his partner Lane, a much less violent and sex novel in line with Lane’s new policy. But the firm soon went out of business altogether." One further novel—Gorbals Pick-Up—was written and paid for, but never published.

Something of a mystery is why Dawson never wrote more for Tempest than he did. As far as I can tell he wrote only two early novels, both published towards the end of 1949, and the rest of the Tempest’s output was written by Thomas Martin. Instead, Dawson concentrated his writing efforts on Michael Storme and the detective Nick Cranley. Cranley was a Chicago-based private eye straight out of the Lemmy Caution School for Tough Guys. He drives an Airflow (manufactured in the USA in the 1930s by De Soto and Chrysler), carried a luger and – unlike most of his contemporaries – was married to the beautiful Sheila Cranley. Although Sheila often got the spotlight, she was occasionally on vacation or left at home long enough for Nick to get involved with other dames during his adventures, most of which took place in the USA although some took him as far afield as South America and England.

The books were written in the same style as Peter Cheyney’s Lemmy Caution novels: present tense, the action moving insanely fast, the language peppered with Americanisms from the hardboiled school of writing. Guns were gats or rods, legs were gams. Phrases were yapped out in slang that was straight out of the mouths of Damon Runyan’s jazz-age guys and dolls (baller, as a for instance) or Hollywood gangster movies (yegg).

Nick Cranley is obsessed with making women and women who enjoy being made; in some instances the writing goes a little further than some contemporaries in descriptions of Nick’s conquests – he will cup a breast rather than simply describing the mysteries of milky white skin and refers to a woman’s breasts as her dairy more than once ("There’s more value than that in the dairy yuh got!" Cranley tells one blowsy tart in Make Mine Beautiful when she informs him she scratches around for a dollar here, a dollar there).

It was this concentration on breasts that probably earned Michael Storme one of the biggest fines handed out to gangster novels during the Home Office crackdown on obscene books in the early 1950s. Archer Press were taken to court in April 1951 and fined a total of £1,350 over the publication of three of their titles. Storme’s Make Mine A Corpse accounted for £650.

Given the size of the fine (usually in the £20-200 region), Archer Press immediately ceased publishing. Only four more titles appeared in 1951, all from another imprint of the Lockers, Harborough Publishing. Instead, the Lockers set up a deal with an American company and a number of Archer titles were distributed in the USA by Kaywin Publishers Inc.

In January 1952, publisher Bernard Kaye and distributor Kurt Reiter took over the Archer and Harborough imprints and relaunched them both. Michael Storme, whose name had disappeared for a full year since the publication of Satan Buys A Wreath in March 1951, returned with Elvira Digs A Grave and a slew of other Nick Cranley yarns.

The deal with Kaywin seemed to go sour in 1952, or was perhaps curtailed when the Lockers set up Leisure Library in New York and began issuing reprints of Archer and Harborough titles.

Dawson had no doubt learned not to keep all his eggs in one basket. The fine handed out to Archer Press had unnerved a number of other publishers, including Thomas Lane’s Tempest Publishing. Tempest closed down in 1951 and sold the name Nick Perrelli to Scion Ltd. who began issuing a new series with A Blonde For Burial (written by Thomas Martin) in 1952. According to Martin "When Tempest closed down, Dawson turned up at Scion to claim the pseudonym where I was continuing the Perrelli series. [Editors] Peter Dewhurst, Julian Franklyn and I had dinner at a club to sort out the problem of the two Nick Perrellis." During the summer of 1952, a number of new Nick Perrelli titles appeared from Scion (She Sure Slipped, Some Dames Don't, Blonde For Danger) which were almost certainly written by Dawson.

Unfortunately, Scion were having problems of their own. In April 1952, Scion had been fined as well over gangster obscenity and the constant issuing of destruction orders against gangster novels was causing orders to fall dramatically. Scion was unable to pay even the authors it had under contract and went into hiatus in the late summer of 1952. A group of Scion editors and writers decided to form their own company, Milestone Publications, headed by Peter Dewhurst, who issued their first titles in December. Amongst the early titles was A Dame Dies Greedy by Nick Perrelli and the Thomas Martin-penned The Frail’s A Phoney. "[Dawson] was willing to share [the Nick Perrelli name] with me, but that didn’t appeal to me," recalled Martin, "so when Milestone was launched I soon launched my own pseudonym, Max Risco, which soon overtook Perrelli in sales. Dawson sold the Perrelli name to Milestone and, I believe, it was used for the work of several authors."

Dawson, instead, was writing for Milestone under his old pen-name of Lew Della and, with Harborough Publishing now maintaining a regular schedule of Michael Storme yarns, Dawson kept up a steady output for both companies.

It was not to last. The publishers of Hank Janson, the best-seller of the gangster paperback boom, were tried and convicted of obscenity in January 1954, and Harborough immediataly ceased trading, leaving at least one Michael Storme novel (Annie Get Your Hearse) unpublished. After twenty-five novels, Michael Storme was laid to rest.

Milestone also allowed their gangster line-up to peter out. By September 1954, they had phased out the old bylines in favour of new names and a rather tamer outlook. The last Lew Della novel had appeared in May and I’m reasonably sure (given the scarcity of the books) that Dawson penned only one more title, Scared Stiff (as by Paul J. Rainier) for the new Merit imprint.

According to Thomas Martin, Dawson "got a job as a travelling salesman… I wasn’t very sorry when the gangster era ended. I think it had been Dawson’s chief or only interest, but Franklyn, Dewhurst and I regarded it as a rather low form of earning money. It was never my chief interest, because from 1950 I was writing and illustrating my own full-page weekly newspaper feature." Martin went on to write over twenty Sexton Blake novels in the sixties, but increasingly bad eyesight put an end to his professional writing career.

I’ve found no further trace of Dawson’s writing. Indeed, no further trace of Dawson. I have discovered that his writing career may have dated back to at least as early as 1941 – Storme was advertised as the author of a novel entitled When Passion Rules, a Paul Renin-esque romance which appeared from Archer under the byline Pierre FlammĂȘche. Two earlier FlammĂȘche novels had been published in 1941 by Gerald Swan, both reprinted by Archer alongside the early Michael Storm novels. Whether Dawson continued writing this kind of salacious material or switched publishers and pen-names unfortunately remains unknown.

Novels by George H. Dawson

Novels as Michael Storme (series: Nick Cranley in at least those marked)
Make Mine A Shroud. London, Archer, May 1949; New York, Leisure Library, 1952.
Unlucky Virgin. London, Archer, Sep 1949; Cleveland, Ohio, Kayewin, 1951.
Make Mine A Harlot (Cranley). London, Archer, Oct 1949; Cleveland, Ohio, Kayewin, 1951.
Make Mine Beautiful (Cranley). London, Archer, Nov 1949; as Curtains for Carla, New York, Leisure Library, 1952.
Make Mine A Virgin (Cranley). London, Archer, Jan 1950; ?as Carmen Was a Virgin, New York, Leisure Library, 1952.
Make Mine Dangerous. London, Archer, Feb 1950.
Make Mine A Corpse (Cranley). London, Archer, Jun 1950; ?as A Corpse Spells Danger, New York, Leisure Library, 1952.
"Sucker For A Red-Head" (Cranley). London, Archer, Aug 1950; ?as This Woman is Death, New York, Leisure Library, 1952.
Dame In My Bed. London, Archer, 1950; Cleveland, Ohio, Kayewin, 1951.
Hot Dames On Cold Slabs. London, Archer, Dec 1950; New York, Leisure Library, 1952.
Satan Buys A Wreath (Cranley). London, Archer, Mar 1951.
Elvira Digs A Grave (Cranley). London, Harborrough, Mar 1952.
Chicago Terror (Cranley). London, Harborough, Apr 1952.
Lovelies Are Never Lonely (Cranley). London, Harborough, Apr 1952.
Stella Buys A Shroud. London, Harborough, Apr 1952.
Make Mine A Redhead (Cranley). London, Harborough, Oct 1952.
Kiss The Corpse Goodbye (Cranley). London, Harborough, Nov 1952.
Baby Don’t Love Hoodlums. London, Harborough, Mar 1953.
Dragons Come Expensive. London, Harborough, Mar 1953.
You’ll Be Better Off Dead. London, Harborough, Mar 1953.
Sweetheart With A Wreath. London, Harborough, Jul 1953.
Me And My Ghoul (Cranley). London, Harborough, Aug 1953.
Tiptoe Thro’ A Graveyard. London, Harborough, Aug 1953.
Baby Don’t Say Goodbye (Cranley). London, Harborough, Oct 1953.
The Devil Has A Racket (Cranley). London, Harborough, Jan 1954.

Novels as Lew Della
Ladies Sleep Alone. Bolton, Tempest, 1949; Cleveland, Ohio, Kayewin, 1951.
Love Comes Lethal. London, Milestone (1034), Feb 1953.
Frenzy!. London, Milestone (1052), 1953.
Temptation. London, Milestone (1076), 1953.
Torment. London, Milestone, 1953.
Dark Angel. London, Milestone, Sep 1953.
Life Is Short. London, Milestone, Nov 1953.
Fast and Loose. London, Milestone, Dec 1953.
Shadows Sometimes Scream. London, Milestone, Jan 1954.
Risky!. London, Milestone, Feb 1954.
Touch And Go. London, Milestone, May 1954.

Novels as Pierre FlammĂȘche
Silken Lure. London, Gerald Swan, 1941; reprinted, R. & L. Locker, Aug 1949; Cleveland, Ohio, Kayewin, 1951.
Spoilt Lives. London, Gerald Swan, 1941; as Spoiled Lives, London, Archer, Mar 1950; Cleveland, Ohio, Kayewin, 1951.
When Passion Rules. London, Archer, Jul 1950.

Novels as Nick Perrelli (house name, titles by Dawson uncertain)
Virgin’s Die Lonely. Bolton, Tempest, Dec 1949.
She Sure Slipped. London, Scion, Jun 1952.
Some Dames Don't. London, Scion, Jul 1952.
Blonde For Danger. London, Scion, Jul 1952.
A Dame Dies Greedy. London, Milestone (1011), Jan 1953.
Who Told The Belle. London, Scion, 1953.
The Lady Is A Tiger. London, Milestone (1024), 1953.
Lady Come Clean. London, Milestone (1041), 1953.
Private Eyeful. London, Milestone (nn), 1953.
Step In, Sister. London, Milestone (1058), 1953.
Take It Easy. London, Milestone, Sep 1953.
Sweet And Low. London, Milestone, Jan 1954.
At Dead of Night. London, Milestone, Apr 1954.
Dead On Time. London, Milestone, May 1954.

Novels as Paul J. Rainier
Scared Stiff. London, Merit Books, Sep 1954.

(My thanks to Todd Gibson and Stephen James Walker for the scans.)

Wednesday, June 27, 2007

Comic Clippings - 27 June

It has been one of those running-to-stand-still weeks where nothing seems to get done and every time I sit down to write my e-mail in-box bleeps at me. After last week's series of disasters things have been going well: good things in my life at the moment include the box-set of The League of Gentlemen and re-reading Sandman Mystery Theater from the beginning. I'm about 20 issues in and it's confirmed my disappointment about the recent 5-issue mini-series -- SMT works superbly as a historical piece set in the age of pulps. I didn't think the modern war setting worked.

Other good distractions: a very nice party on Saturday. I'm not saying my friends are geeks but when you have a six-year-old running around in a cyberman suit and the cake is shaped like a Tardis you know you're seeing the birth of the next generation of Doctor Who fans. (Talking of which: John Simm as The Master. Brilliant.)

Jamie Sturgeon turned up an old Columbine hardcover with a dustwrapper which mentioned a dozen or so novels that failed to appear. Columbine Publishing Co. ran for less than a year in 1939-40 and folded as soon as paper rationing came in in early 1940. But they must have been gathering manuscripts for some months beforehand as they advertised no less than seven novels by Hamilton Teed who had died in 1938. Only three ever appeared but, judging from the titles, the others were all rewrites of old Sexton Blake novels.

Anyway, I dropped a note about these lost titles into an old essay I'd written about the author, G. H. Teed, one of my favourite Sexton Blake writers. Teed had started his writing career as a ghostwriter, writing stories which were being sold as being the work of a guy called Michael Storm.

Thinking about Teed got me thinking about Storm. The late Bill Lofts once told me that more hours had been spent trying to locate authentic information on Michael Storm than all the other Sexton Blake authors put together. I seem to remember writing about various authors who had written under the name Michael Storm (or Michael Storme) back in 1994, so I've been digging for thirteen years -- maybe seriously for seven. And I have to say that Michael Storm managed to live his life without leaving a trace!

I've dipped into my notes on him countless times over the years and finally, last night, I think I may have cracked the mystery. I'm waiting on some additional information that I've had to order (nobody tells you how expensive doing research is!) but hopefully in a day or two I may be able to reveal who Michael Storm was. I'm probably the only person left whose interested.

I've also heard from a couple of people in the last two days who I'm hoping I can persuade to contribute something to the blog.

Aside from digging around into old books I've also been working on the second volume of the Fleetway Libraries series. Volume 2 will be The Adventure Libraries and will feature Cowboy Comics Library, Thriller Picture Library and Super Detective Library. David Roach and I will be signing copies of the first book at the comic mart at the Royal National on 7 October. If you can't wait that long, the Book Palace are now taking pre-orders for The War Libraries (ISBN-13: 9780955159626) and I hear we've already had one order! The book should be out in around six or seven weeks.

While I'm talking about things that are making me happy, I notice that the Battle and War library reprints from Carlton are doing even better than the new Commando book. C'mon, I worked hard on those books. I'm allowed to be a little smug every now and then.

* Artist Keith Robson has created an exhibition of comics and annuals at the Museum of Hartlepool which will run until 2 September. (Link from The Forbidden Planet International blog.)

* Tim Callahan, author of Grant Morrison: The Early Years, is interviewed at the Collected Comics Library podcast (20 July).

* More not-comics: Charles Lee has put up a signed Hank Janson photo on his autograph website. It's the only signed photo (signed by Steve Frances as Hank Janson) I've ever seen.

Monday, June 25, 2007

Writers of the Trigan Empire II

This is something of a postscript to the piece below.

There has been some discussion on's message boards about how much editing has been done on the Trigan Empire: The Collection volumes which I believe was sparked by the entry for 'Trigan Empire' on Wikipedia. Recently it was noted that "The Trigan Empire Collection reprints are edited versions of the originals," which caused some consternation amongst fans of the strip.

The premise behind the Trigan Empire: The Collection series is to give fans the best versions of the strip that we can. That means we've used original artwork wherever possible, even where it was only a half-page -- we've not tinkered or tampered with it as they did with the Hamlyn The Trigan Empire volume, or abridged the strips as they did in the Hawk Tales of the Trigan Empire volume.

However, the lettering on the original boards was often missing or had been stripped off and replaced with Dutch text for the reprints that appeared in Eppo so we knew from the start that we would have to redo all the lettering. It also gave us the opportunity to fix any minor problems in the text -- but I must emphasise that any changes to the text have been minor, almost always for consistency and very occasionally a change of emphasis (a phrase in bold, for instance) or grammar (mostly removing ellipses ("...") where the original typesetter had used them to balance a balloon). In some of the early stories we have removed unnecessary recap captions. Otherwise the text is 100% taken from the original printed copies of the strip.

A second area of confusion is over story titles. The original strip never included titles for the individual stories -- it was always simply called 'The Rise and Fall of the Trigan Empire' or 'The Trigan Empire' until 1974 when it became 'More Adventures of the Trigan Empire'. When I first started indexing the strips that had appeared in comics back in the 1980s I was swapping information with a fellow collector called Gary Armitage and we worked out a reasonably neat way of presenting the information that I went on to use in various indexes published by Bryon Whitworth. This included breaking down long-running titles into individual stories and identifying them with a title -- mostly just the name of the main villain as it made keeping track of and identifying reprints a lot easier.

The editors at Hamlyn created titles for some early stories with their The Trigan Empire reprint in 1978 and Hawk Books did the same for their volume Tales of the Trigan Empire in 1991. The Dutch reprints of the Trigan Empire strip were given titles when they were reprinted in albums. Fan sites such as have also invented titles so they can distinguish between stories when they discuss them on their message board.

So, upwards of five sets of titles have been invented for some strips. When we came to do Trigan Empire: The Collection we used a mixture from various sources which seemed to best describe the stories. I don't think of these as 'official' titles but we try to use them consistently when referring to stories in introductions to the various Collection volumes. Perhaps the question of titles is something we can address in the final (12th) volume when that appears so that we can cross-reference all the titles given to stories to make sure everyone knows which strip is being discussed.

Sunday, June 24, 2007

Writers of the Trigan Empire

I've had some correspondence with Richard Goode over the last week or so concerning the authors who wrote the Trigan Empire strip for Look and Learn some of which is worth repeating here as it's a subject that, as far as I'm aware, hasn't been explored before.

Perhaps the main question that needed answering was: When did Mike Butterworth, the original writer of the Trigan Empire, leave the strip? Mike's style of writing is quite distinct when you read through the strip. Having typed up the texts of dozens of stories for the Don Lawrence Collection Trigan Empire volumes you get to know some of the phrases he favours; I can't tell you how many times I've typed the words "By the demons of Daveli" or "And then... it happened!"

Richard's interest was in a story called 'The Curse of Zonn' which he was convinced was by Mike Butterworth. When I was writing the history of Look and Learn I'd mentioned that Gerry Wood had taken over the artwork on the strip from issue 834 (7 January 1978), which is a poor bit of wording... I should have said he'd taken over the strip full-time from that date as he'd already illustrated the 'Curse of Zonn' storyline in issues 820-825 (1 October-5 November 1977).

This opened up the debate as to when Ken Roscoe had taken over as the author of the Trigan Empire strip as Gerry Wood had posted a message at the fan site The Trigan Empire saying that "The 188 episodes that I illustrated were all scripted by Ken Roscoe. When I agreed to illustrate Trigan in November 1977 Ken Roscoe was the writer and remained so until the magazine's closure."

Gerry, too, is ignoring the first strip -- the six week's lead time from production to publication would mean that he is discussing the strips that began appearing in January 1978. However, 188 episodes encompassed his total contribution, hence the confusion.

Both Richard and I agreed that 'The Curse of Zonn' was written by Mike Butterworth. There are too many common points of style for it not to be his work. But the next story, 'Battle For Survival', is not by Butterworth. It's very apparant from the opening episode that a new writer has taken over. Twice on the opening page, the character Marshal Zetto refers to Trigo as Emperor. Mike Butterworth would have had his military commanders say Imperial Majesty. Similarly, on page two, frame three, the opportunity to include the phrase "And then... it happened" is missed as the caption reads "What happened next was seen at close-quarters by only one man and his dog." (Butterworth would likely have favoured the terms "gelf herd" and "hound" rather than "shepherd" (used in frame 9) and "dog", although it could be a reference to the popular TV show.) And the startled shepherd utters the words, "By the twin moons of Daveli," which is meaningless -- all of Elekton has twin moons -- and, if written by Butterworth, would have been "By the demons of Daveli!"

To my mind, the strip is clearly not by Mike Butterworth and, as I said to Richard, this could indicate the arrival of Ken Roscoe.

Richard, however, remained skeptical that 'Battle for Survival' was written by Ken Roscoe. "I always thought there was a discontinuity between 'Battle for Suvival' and 'The Killer'," he writes and, on closer examination there are differences between 'Battle' and the story that follows which, notably, is the the story where Gerry Wood took over which we know to be by Ken Roscoe.

For instance, in 'The Killer' everyone is now referring to Trigo not as "Emperor" but as "Excellency". It's a small but perhaps telling detail. Richard expands further:

"One reason I think that 'Battle For Survival' is not a Ken Roscoe story is that it has a Butterworth-like twist in it. The adversary is defeated by a radio ham discovering the frequency which controls Thorg Lada's robot monsters. Whereas, five stories later in 'The Voyage of the Perici', the adversary is defeated more crassly by brute firepower.

"Another reason is that the names of the new characters introduced in 'Battle For Survival' -- Marshal Zetto and Thorg Lada -- have a more authentic ring to them than do the names introduced in the following story -- e.g., Brinka and Broz."

I'll add to this the fact that 'The Killer' not only introduces new characters but almost all the action takes place away from the Trigan Empire on a new planet. If this were Mike Butterworth, the hero of the story would have been Janno but Ken Roscoe introduces Brinka, a secret service agent, and allows him to take the lead in the story, as indeed he does two stories later.

It was the repetition of the character Marshal Zetto (who appeared in 'Battle for Survival' and the second of the Ken Roscoe/Gerry Wood stories) that made me think that 'Battle' might be by Roscoe. However, he could simply have introduced the character for continuity. I now agree with Richard that 'Battle for Survival' is most likely not by Ken Roscoe.

This ties in with a comment made by Jack Parker, editor of Look and Learn from 1977, who told me: "Butterworth decided that he'd had enough and that created all sorts of problems. We couldn't find anybody to take it over and we had a number of people try." Ken Roscoe established himself fairly quickly (within a few weeks) as the strip's regular scriptwriter, leaving that one story from the main run of the strip in Look and Learn still to have its author identified.

Who wrote the two stories that appeared in Ranger Annual and the text story in the Vulcan Summer Special is another matter entirely and one that also needs to be explored. None of them strike Richard or I as being by Butterworth.

(* My thanks to Richard for allowing me to plunder our correspondence in order to write up the above. And apologies for the quality of the last scan -- I don't have easy access to that issue and I just had to use what was available. The Trigan Empire and all the above illustrations are © IPC Media.)

Wednesday, June 20, 2007

Comic Clippings - 20 June

This is turning into a really bad week. Tuesday morning I did my back in (recurrent problem I've had since I was in my early twenties) and today, propped up in my chair with pillows, a filling dropped out. No connection between them, just a coincidence. Or can I expect to be run over or struck by lightning as I do my old man's shuffle down to the dentist tomorrow morning. Tomorrow is the longest day. Today just feels like it.

Thankfully it hasn't been all bad news today. The War Libraries book is on its way to the printers and we should have proofs next week. All being well, we will have finished copies in early August. And it looks like we will be giving Frank Bellamy's 'Robin Hood' strip an outing shortly as part of the deal between Look and Learn and ROK. It'll be the first time the strip has been seen since it was reprinted (in an abridged and bowdlerised form) in the mid-1960s. This will be the original Swift version which looks as fresh today as it did back in 1956.

* Titan are launching a new comic entitled DreamWorks Tales based on various characters from their animated movies -- Shrek, Madagascar, Shark Tales and Over the Hedge. The first issue goes on sale 21 June.

* Missed this from a while back: 'Back to the Future' by Neil Gaiman (The Times, 9 June), an abridged version of his introduction to the collection The Country of the Blind and Other Selected Stories published by Penguin Classics on 14 June. Gaiman's short story 'How to Talk to Girls at Parties' has just won the Locus Award (announced 16 June) and he was recently interviewed about the upcoming Stardust movie and various other projects at AICN (14 June).

Monday, June 18, 2007

Don Harley

The arrival of Spaceship Away and my mention of Don Harley recently made me dig out some volumes of Dan Dare reprints I have on my shelves. One is particularly apt for Harley as he was involved in redrawing pages for the first volume of Dare stories published by Dragon's Dream back in 1979. The Man From Nowhere was from my favourite period of the Dan Dare strip -- which is quite a long period as it runs from 1955-59.

I think that Frank Hampson and his studio, and primarily that means Don Harley, was at the peak of his talent. 'The Man From Nowhere' was the first story to appear after a 20-month run of strips drawn by Desmond Walduck, whose contribution to the Dare saga is often forgotten; the saga then continued with Dare classics 'Rogue Planet', 'Reign of the Robots', 'The Ship That Lived', 'The Phantom Fleet' (with more Walduck towards the end), 'Safari in Space' and 'Terra Nova', during which story Hampson quit the strip.

Most reprint volumes -- those put out by Hawk Books and Titan Books -- have reprinted the cover strips as they appeared, i.e. with the Eagle logo taking up a considerable amount of the top left corner. Dragon's Dream didn't. They went to the trouble of hiring Don Harley to repaint the opening panels, repositioning the images and extending them to fill the space taken by the Eagle logo and the Dan Dare title. On some pages, Harley drew an entirely new extra panel.

Unfortunately, I think Dragon's Dream must have found this process too expensive because, after The Man From Nowhere, the next two volumes used enlarged opening panels and repositioned other panels to fill the space. It doesn't look nearly as good.

I hadn't noticed until now that some of the frames have been redialogued slightly. One day I'll have to compile a list of the different versions of the classic Dare strips -- I know the Lion reprints, for instance, were redialogued and the Dan Dare Annual 1974 chopped 'The Red Moon Mystery' to shreds. Mind you, it's the kind of feature that someone might have already written for one of the many fanzines that have featured Dan Dare over the years... if it has already been done, maybe someone can point a copy in my direction.

Ethel Walter

Ethel Walter contributed to Robin Annual 7 (1959). I believe she was the same Ethel Walter who wrote the children's novel Yours Adventurously (London & New York, Frederick Warne & Co., 1956) and was, perhaps, also the author of an earlier book of verse, Twenty-three Poems (1938).

Richard Armstrong

Jim Mackenzie has pointed out that 18 June is the anniversary of the birth (1903) of children's writer Richard Armstrong. A very good 100th anniversary article can be found here. Armstrong's Carnegie Award-winning novel, Sea Change, was reprinted in Ranger in 1965 -- and very good it is, too!

(* The image above is © Look and Learn Magazine Ltd.. Lots more images from Ranger can be found at the Look and Learn website, here.)

John Ward (1917-2007)

John Stanton Ward, born 10 October 1917 in Hereford, died on 14 June at the age of 89. As well as landscapes and portraits, he was also a book illustrator, providing dust jacket illustrations for such books as Laurie Lee's Cider With Rosie and H. E. Bates' The Darling Buds of May. His illustrations for Lee's famous biography appeared in the Penguin edition (#1682, 1962) and Ward produced at least one original cover for Penguin for Monica Dickens' My Turn to Make the Tea (#1751).

Full obituaries have appeared in The Independent (16 June), Daily Telegraph (18 June), The Guardian (21 June), The Times (22 June).

Friday, June 15, 2007

Elizabeth Skottowe

Elizabeth Skottowe was a regular contributor to Robin Annual, writing and illustrating stories in annuals 2-5 (1954-57).

Elizabeth Skottowe was born in 1912, the eldest child of Arthur Bellinger Skottowe (1868-1925) and his wife Winnifred (nee Hack) (1879- ). She was the great-grand-daughter of John Barton Hack. Her brother Nicholas was born in 1915 and died in 1939. Elizabeth lived in Shanghai as a small child as her father worked for the East India Company and may have been born in China as it has proved impossible to find a birth certificate for her in Australia.

Elizabeth Skottowe was an Aussie and attended the Adelaide School of Design (later known as the SA School of Arts and Crafts) in the late 1920s and, in the 1930s, was among the enrolling members of the Girls' Central Art School in Adelaide. She was the sub-editor of the Forerunner, an art periodical which ran from 1930-38.

In about 1934, Skottowe came to England to further her study of art. She had a series of children's stories published in the Advertiser's Saturday Magazine and, in 1936, returning to Australia, won second prize in The Advertiser's Centernary Novel competition with Family Coach, which was inspired by stories she had been told in her youth by her grandmother, Mrs. Charles Hack.

In the late 1930s she had an exhibition of her work which included a number of illustrations to accompany the writings of Noel Coward.

At the beginning of World War II, Skottowe left again for England to study at the Central School of Art in London, returning briefly to South Australia in 1947 but then moving permanently to live in England. In 1947 she drew a poster for Southern Railway.

She contributed 'Timothy Rabbit Adopts a Baby' to TV Comic Annual 1958 (also appearing in the 1954 and 1956 volumes and perhaps others) and a story, 'Koala Baby' to Top Top Jack and Jill My Playtime Book (n.d., probably 1950s).

Skottowe married Charles Hobson, possibly in the 1950s; in the alphabetical listing of contributors in Robin Annual for 1957 she is listed amongst the authors whose surnames began with the letter 'H'. This wasn't uncommon -- in the same volume Jessica Dunning was listed under 'M' (her married name was Morris).

Skottowe died in 1970.

Me an' Tim an' Caroline. Adelaide, (printed by Reliance Printery), 1932?
The Dormouse Book. London, Hampster Books (Early Reader 39), 1950.
Millicent Mouse Makes a Christmas Pudding. London, News of the World (Betterbook for Children), 1952.
Timothy Rabbit Builds a House. London, News of the World (Betterbook for Children), 1952.

Illustrated Books
My Own Storybook by Enid Blyton. The Sunshine Series, n.d.
More Stories to Read Aloud. London, Spring Books, 1961?
Dilly's Picnic Party. London, Young World Productions, 1968?

(* With thanks to Anne Chittleborough of Flinders University, Adelaide, for information on Elizabeth Skottowe's career in Australia.)

Thursday, June 14, 2007

In the Post

The latest issue of Rod Barzilay's Spaceship Away (#12, Summer 2007) has just arrived. Colourful and in the spirit of the original Eagle, the main focus of Spaceship Away is Dan Dare, with no less than eight related stories -- three adventure, four humour, one text serial. I guess if you don't like Dan Dare this will be something to avoid! But for fans it's a very welcome tri-annual publication.

Spaceship Away also includes articles and illustrations relating to Dare and space flight in general (a quick plug: one of the regular features is 'Designed for Flight' by Bear Alley contributor Jeremy Briggs) plus reprints of 'Journey Into Space' from the pages of Express Weekly and a recoloured 'Hal Starr' by Sydney Jordan (which originally appeared in a Dutch weekly... I think it was Eppo and was originally entitled 'John Start' but I'll need to check that with Syd).

The magazine has plenty of highlights, and it seems churlish to pick one, but for me it's the lead strip, 'Green Nemesis', which slots neatly into the run of Dan Dare's original adventures. Of the four pages in this issue, two are drawn by original Frank Hampson studio member Don Harley, eighty years young this year and deserving of some kind of major overview or interview (someone?). Backing up Harley is Tim Booth who has produced the other two pages and, more than any other artist, seems to be the natural successor of the Hampson studio. His own strip, 'The Gates of Eden', which is running concurrently, is also incredibly well drawn, although occasionally you will find a frame where he hasn't quite got the correct reference material from the comic -- if he had the resources that the Hampson studio had (photographs, models, etc.) I think he'd be able to mimic the quality as well as he does the overall style. I don't mean that last to sound quite as nit-picky as it does, but you can occasionally find a frame where you think a photo reference might have come in handy as in the two frames below: whilst Dan is a pretty good 'Hampson studio' depiction, Perkins isn't and it's that slight clash that detracts from an otherwise superb production.

Spaceship Away has its own website where you can pick up subscription details.

* A news report (Champion Media Group, 14 June) reveals that Southport now has two busts of Dan Dare. Both are at present being stored at the Atkinson Art Gallery, Lord Street, Southport. The second bust is to be exhibited at the Botanic Gardens Museum whilst the original (donated by the Eagle Society in 2000 to commemorate the 50th anniversary of the founding of Eagle) will now be placed in the Wayfarers Arcade. Dan had previously been on display at the entrance to Cambridge Walks Arcade but was subject to some abuse and has recently had to be restored to his former glory.

* Apparently Dan Dare Corporation have a big announcement to make relating to Dan Dare and it would seem to have some connection with Virgin. Could this be Virgin Comics? The company was set up by Richard Branson, writer Deepak Chopra, filmmaker Shekhar Kapur and south Asian comics publisher Gotham Entertainment Group and released their first titles in the summer of 2006 to reasonably good reviews. Garth Ennis has been associated with the company, writing the 5-part series John Woo's 7 Brothers (the idea was from film director John Woo, based on a Chinese folklore tale about seven brothers with special powers) which ran in 2006-07 and it was Garth's name that has recently been mentioned in connection with a possible Dan Dare comic strip. But who could the artist be? Not, it seems, Chris Weston who did a very nice retro-SF series Ministry of Space with Warren Ellis a while back and who recently posted a nice pic. of Dan Dare on his blog but who has subsequently said "There's a long list of characters I'd like to draw at some point in the future: Strontium Dog, Flash Gordon, The Steel Claw, Doctor Strange, Superman and Frank Hampson's Dan Dare (although that ain't gonna happen anytime soon)."

Ernest Aris

(* Back in March, whilst writing about Philip Mendoza, I mentioned that Mendoza's artwork seemed to owe something to the robust animal artwork of Ernest Aris. I'm pleased to present here a piece about Aris written especially for Bear Alley by Dudley Chignall answering the question: who is (or, rather, who was), Ernest Aris.)

Ernest Aris

Ernest A. Aris (1882–1963) was a talented and prolific illustrator (author & illustrator of some 140 titles – almost all books for children) who possessed a mischievous sense of humour. He was also an unscrupulous opportunist and plagiarist who exploited any opportunity to achieve a commercial advantage.

Unlike many of his contemporaries he does not appear to have been a member of any of the artists clubs or societies such as The London Sketch Club or the Savage Club where his life long pal Charles Bayne was a member. Was he shunned for his opportunism or did his contemporaries see him as a 'hack'. Was The Art of the Pen his way of seeking to place himself more into the world of art and achieving a place too in posterity?

Ernest’s early drawing of animals, and rabbits in particular, were poor in the extreme but he came to develop a flair that achieved him a place in the history of illustration. Where did he draw his inspiration? What remains to be revealed about his relationship with Beatrix Potter? Why did she confide to her publisher that Aris was "an artlessly conceited little bounder?" Whilst he has certainly influenced later illustrators just how much does he owe to his contemporaries? And intriguingly why did he adopt pseudonyms - first of all Robin A. Hood (1916) & shortly after Dan Crow (1917)?

He moved in a circle that included such famous names as John Hassell, Harry Rountree, Cecil Aldin and E. H. Shepard. Rountree and Hassell had been Presidents of the London Sketch Club and both were members of The Savage Club.

At Art School Aris maintained a scrapbook collection on the work of Phil May who he felt "stood supreme, his drawings are in a class by themselves." His influence can be seen in some of his postcards. It is in Aris's early work (1904-1905) as a postcard artist that we see how versatile he was in mimicking the style of other popular postcard artists to produce several series of cards with contrasting artistic styles.

His contemporaries were all established by the time that Ernest came on the scene. Hassell was his senior by some 14 years; Aldin had been born 12 years before Aris whilst Rountree was 4 years older than Ernest. Like Aris, Rountree found strong admirers in the Editors of Little Folk; S. H. Hamer, a predecessor of Ernest's partner Charles Bayne, commissioned him regularly, whilst Bayne employed his skills in 1915 to illustrate a selection of My Book of Best Fairy Tales. These included: The Three Bears; Little Snow-White; Ugly Duckling; Rumplestiltskin; Puss in Boots; Aladdin; Sleeping Beauty; The Emperor's New Clothes; and many more. Ernest would have enjoyed this commission had he not been very busy at that time.

I have long speculated on the extent to which the early illustrators collaborated and shared ideas. Perhaps just as today’s scriptwriters hold closed sessions and bounce ideas around to stimulate creativity so too did the illustrators over a coffee in the offices of the Editor or the publisher. Lilian Amy Govey (1886–1974) was an illustrator who specialised in fairies and children and some of her work shares common elements with that of Ernest. Whilst he published A Bold Bad Bunny she published Bunny the Bold. They both illustrated The House That Jack Built albeit Ernest’s was Jack Rabbit. Both were recognised by Henry Frowde Hodder & Staughton and also Humphrey Milford and both contributed to the Sticks Books; Lilian’s titles being The Acorn Elf and Little Pink Petticoat. Govey’s cute postcards are popular with collectors. The Mice in The Little Mouse Family series published by HFHS bear a resemblance to Ernest's Willie Mouse.

In the above illustration by Rountree the wide-eyed and mischievous Snowballing Bunny has baggy trousers with a patch to the knee; his tail appears seamlessly from the rear (in an age when Velcro had yet to be invented). Whilst the debt owed by Tasseltip (Ladybird Books) and his ancestors to Harry Rountree may be purely co-incidental the similarity cannot be denied.

Ernest Aris gave a lot of pleasure to many families over several generations. Long may he continue to do so.

(* My thanks to Dudley for taking the time to write the above. The images are, from the top, 'Bunnikin Brown' (1909), 'Wee Beny Brown' (1916), both by Aris; the postcard by Harry Rountree was mailed in 1906.)

Wednesday, June 13, 2007

Grant Morrison's Captain Clyde

Tim Callaghan, author of Grant Morrison: The Early Years, posted a comment following my recent mention of his book. I mentioned Morrison's early strip, 'Captain Clyde', and wondered out loud whether it would be in the book. But, to quote Tim, "I had to start with Zenith because that was the earliest complete work I could get my hands on over here in the U.S."

I don't imagine anybody would have a complete run of 'Captain Clyde'. But here are a couple of episodes (sorry about the quality).

If you've never heard of 'Captain Clyde', he was a Scottish superhero written and drawn by Morrison for a number of local weekly newspapers in 1979-82. The strip ran for some 150 episodes during which time Grant began writing (and drawing) for Starblazer. In fact, 'Captain Clyde' wasn't his first published comics work as he'd already contributed three strips to Near Myths in 1978-79. Now I'm showing my age...

Look and Learn mobile phone wallpaper

John Freeman has just released the following news about a team-up between Look and Learn Magazine Ltd. and ROK Media to produce content for mobile phones:

You might be interested to know that some of various images from Bible Story and Look and Learn and other associated titles are now available as wallpapers for mobile phones.

The wallpapers are being produced under license from Look and Learn Magazine Ltd. by ROK Media here in Lancaster, who I work for.

Direct links to Look and Learn Magazine Ltd. wallpapers are as follows (with more being added over the next few months):

Bible Story Images. This sample "Noah" image is by James E. McConnell.
Wild West.
Some Travel Images.

Artists include Don Lawrence.

(* We have plans for more material to be made available this way, including comic strips as well as wallpaper illustrations. The top image is the Noah piece mentioned by John as it originally appeared on the cover of Bible Story no. 2. The ROK wallpaper is taken from a high quality scan of the original artwork which you can see here. The artwork is © Look and Learn Magazine Ltd.)

Wilf Hardy

Jeremy Briggs is back with a piece on Look and Learn artist Wilf Hardy...

Royal International Air Tattoo

On 14 and 15 July RAF Fairford will host the 2007 Royal International Air Tattoo, billed as the world's largest military air show. What was then called the International Air Tattoo began in 1971 at North Weald aerodrome before moving in 1973 to the much larger RAF Greenham Common. It was held there intermittently until 1983 when the combination of cruise missiles and peace campaigners put that base into the headlines. In 1985 RAF Fairford became the IAT's new home and, barring a two year move to RAF Cottesmore when Fairford's runways were being repaved, it has stayed there ever since. The air show became an annual event in 1993 and was granted Royal status in 1996. While this may not be the sort of information that Bear Alley normally imparts, there is a connection.

Prepublicity is a major part of any air show and the advertising poster for the event is often used as the front cover of the air show brochure available on the day. Today most air shows use photomontages for their publicity but in years gone by many, including RIAT, used painted illustrations. RIAT's traditional artist was Wilf Hardy, better know to us for his work in Look and Learn in which, towards the end of the magazine’s life, he had his own ongoing two page feature entitled Hardy’s Drawing Board.

Indeed if you care to put Wilf Hardy's name into the picture search engine of you will see that the vast majority of his art is technological - planes, ships and spacecraft.

Hardy's connection with what was then IAT goes back at least to 1976 with an illustration of a Harrier GR1 jump jet taking off. By the time of the move to Greenham Common in 1983 Hardy's approach to the cover design, whether by his own choosing or by committee decision, had evolved into what would become a regular style of aircraft travelling directly towards the viewer. Looking back on this early cover its design looks sparse compared to what was to come with three Spitfires flying above a Phantom jet and other aircraft barely noticeable in the background. He refined this style over the years, increasing the number of aircraft and making it more of a concentrated image. By 2000 you could imagine that his image was designed with the potential idea of it being used on such items as t-shirts and mugs as well as the more normal poster advertising and on the cover of the brochure.

Prior to the advent of the internet these air show images would not have been widely distributed. Unless you were in the local area to pick up advertising leaflets or see the posters, or were actually at the one or two day air shows, there was little chance of coming across them. Indeed the only way of buying a brochure was to be there on the day, with no doubt the vast majority of them being discarded within a week of being purchased. Whilst this makes them rare it does not follow that it makes then valuable.

Hardy produced images for many different air shows beyond the International Air Tattoo. His other style of air show image was a aerial shot looking down on the display location with as many aircraft in the image as possible - many more than could safely be in the air in reality. His cover for the 1984 International Air Show at the Army Air Corps base at Middle Wallop does rather take this image style to the extreme.

I will leave you with one final Hardy image, not because it is from an air show brochure but simply because it is one of my favourites. In the immediate aftermath of the Falklands War, Britain stationed a fighter squadron on the islands to protect them from any further belligerence from the Argentines. This left the RAF one squadron short of their NATO commitment and as a stop gap measure a squadron's worth of ex-US Navy Phantom aircraft were purchased. Those aircraft were assigned to 74 Sqn RAF and its emblem was a tiger. Hardy may be best known for painting technology but this shows that he could turn his hand just as easily to the natural world.

(* Jeremy has recently been invited to blog via John Freeman's Down the Tubes Blog so keep your eyes open for even more net contributions from him in the future.)

Comic Clippings 13 June

David Bishop has posted the cover (a montage by Brian Bolland) for his Thrill-Power Overload history of 2000AD on his Vicious Imagery blog. Rebellion's 2000AD Online website notes its release on 1 June as a £34.99 hardback. ISBN 1905437226.

* Paul Gravett has posted his introduction to Rian Hughes' Yesterday's Tomorrows.

* 'Digging Into the Black Diamond Detectives' by Kiel Phegley. Interview with Eddie Campbell (Wizard Universe, 8 June).

* 'Writing for (and with) a Teenaged Girl -- part 3' by Sam Moyerman. The third part of an interview with Mike Carey (Broken Frontier, 8 June).

Sunday, June 10, 2007

Upcoming Books

I spotted a couple of upcoming books in the latest issue of Previews:

Charley's War Vol. 4: Blue's Story by Pat Mills & Joe Colquhoun (Titan Books, 30 Oct 2007)
Renowned UK comics writer Pat Mills (Marshal Law, Slaine) and legendary artist Joe Colquhoun (Johnny Red) continue the thrilling, humorous and horrifying story of World War One soldier Charley Bourne. Home from the war thanks to an injury, Charley escapes from a terrifying air-raid, only to run into a deserter from the Foreign Legion - who tells him of the awful siege of Fort Vaux, even as both men run for their lives from the Military Police! Rich in the detailed minutiae of the terror-punctuated existence of a Tommy, this fourth volume of Charley's War features a brand new introduction by Tariq Goddard and director's commentary by Pat Mills, plus exclusive bonus content.

Cult Fiction by Paul Gravett (Hayward Gallery Publishing, 11 May 2007)
The comic book, the cartoon strip and the single-panel gag are recurring motifs in twentieth-century art, providing a platform for narrative, political critique, graphic clarity, and, of course, fun. Cult Fiction: Art & Comics examines the work of artists who produce comics and cartoons as part of their practice, as well as those who employ the language of the comic in their work, borrowing from stylistic sources across high and low culture. Accompanying a U.K. exhibition tour, and designed by Fantagraphics art director Jacob Covey, this catalogue's bold layout complements the artworks included in its pages. An essay by Paul Gravett, a writer and curator who has worked in comics publishing and promotion for over 20 years, illuminates the long-standing love affair between fine art and comics, emphasizing contemporary practitioners in Britain and the U.S., including Laylah Ali, Glen Baxter, Daniel Clowes, Liz Craft, R. Crumb, Adam Dant, Julie Doucet, Debbie Dreschler, Marcel Dzama, Mark Kalesniko, Kerstin Kartscher, Killoffer, Chad McCail, Paul McDevitt, Kerry James Marshall, Kim Pace, Raymond Pettibon, Olivia Plender, Jon Pylypchuk, James Pyman, Joe Sacco, David Shrigley, Posy Simmonds, Richard Slee, Carol Swain, Stephane Blanquet, Melinda Gebbie, Alan Moore and Travis Millard. Specially commissioned self-portraits and question-and-answer forms filled out by hand by all contributing artists make Cult Fiction one-of-a-kind.

You can find out more about the latter book and the touring exhibition at Paul Gravett's website.

Not much news to add from here in Colchester. I had the colour sections of The War Libraries book to proof this weekend and as far as I'm concerned it's finished. It's now up to the printers to do their thing and hopefully the book will be in our hands (and from there into your hands) some time towards the end of July. Unbelievable to think that my very first attempt at a list of the old Fleetway war libraries was way back in 1984 and the first published version appeared in The Fleetway Companion in 1991. The years haven't been kind to that book and I'll be glad to see it replaced along with all the other photocopied indexes I did for Bryon Whitworth. The new series of books will be properly printed with flexiback covers (similar to the Commando books published by Carlton); and this volume will contain two 16-page colour sections featuring covers from the various libraries alongside a selection of original artwork as can be seen in the page proof below.

The plan -- if you can call it that -- is to try and get the second volume completed over the summer and the third volume of the Fleetway Libraries series finished for next year. I've also been dipping my toes into some of the other lists to begin upgrading them for republication. I want to do Lion, Valiant and the 'Power Comics' group as a matter of urgency, all as stand-alone volumes. Sun and Comet will probably come out as a joint volume and, once they're done, I'll start looking at some of the other titles in the back catalogue and thinking about what else we can add to the series. The photocopied indexes were always horribly expensive because they were hand-made (Bryon even used to colour the covers himself!); the new series won't be cheap because our deal with IPC/Time-Warner limits us to 250 copies but I think the new volumes will be worth the price.

The latest issue of the Italian magazine Fumetto has come out (#62, May 2007) which includes a nice special section on Franco Caprioli by Caprioli's daughter, Fulvia, concentrating on his British work, plus a 4-page feature on Look and Learn by Paolo Gallinari "in collaborazione con Steve Holland." There's also a second bite at the British comics apple in "La setella e la corona" by Alberto Becattini about some of the westerns that used to appear as strips in British newspapers. It's nice to see examples of 'Gun Law', 'Wes Slade' and 'Matt Marriott', albeit translated into Italian. Fumetto is published by ANAFI (the Associazione Nazionale Amici del Fumetto e dell'Illustrazione) who have a website here with subscription details.

The latest issue of Book and Magazine Collector is out with articles about Tintin by Vic Pratt and Wonder Woman by Mike Gent and a survey of the 100 Most Valuable Children's Books (part 1) compiled by Richard Dalby. The Dandy Monster Book (1939) and The Beano Book (1940) both make the list with estimated values of £4,000, with "slightly defective well-handled copies" fetching £2,000-3,000. Both books make the cover of this issue, as does Tintin.

Some features from elsewhere:

* Bryan Talbot's Alice in Sunderland was reviewed by Michel Faber in The Guardian (9 June).

* Down the Tubes carries news of a limited edition print created by Andrew Skilleter which is "dedicated to the genius of Frank Hampson."

* The Zone has an interview with Sydney J. Bounds conducted by Andrew Darlington in 2005 in which he talked about some of the wide range of stories he wrote over his lifetime.

* Bridgid Alverson says: "I ♥ British girls' comics" (6 June).

* A bunch of interviews (mostly noted from the last couple of days at Dirk Deppey's Journalista): Rian Hughes (Newsarama, 6 June), David Hine (Wizard Universe, 6 June, plus an earlier interview I've not noted before at Pop Culture Shock, May 28), Richard Starkings (Newsarama, 7 June) and Mike Carey (Broken Frontier, part 1, 6 June, and part 2, 7 June). There's also a 9-minute video interview with Garth Ennis & Darick Robertson talking about The Boys (Pop Culture Shock, 7 June) and a 1:45m solo interview with Garth talking about the Preacher HBO series (7 June).

* QuickTime trailer for Eddie Campbell's new book, The Black Diamond Detective Agency.