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Saturday, 27 September 2008

In Review: Eagle Annual Of The Cutaways

Review by Jeremy Briggs

After last year's uninspiring Eagle Annual: The Best Of The 1950s Comic, its sequel Best of the 1960s Comic has been put on hold to 2009 and this year's offering from Orion is the unwieldily entitled The Eagle Annual Of The Cutaways edited by Daniel Tatarsky.

This is has been a book I have been looking forward to since it was announced as my favourite part of original Eagle is not Dan Dare but the cutaways, all the better if they are by Leslie Ashwell-Wood and best when they are military aircraft. So, after opening the book to find that the frontispiece was six cutaways taken from the original artwork and beginning with a Royal Navy Supermarine Attacker jet being launched from an aircraft carrier... well things couldn't have started better. Indeed, there are eighteen cutaways at the beginning and end of the book taken from the original art boards with no published text other than the circular numbers which Eagle fans know were painted onto the artwork.

Despite them being trimmed at either end due to their length, they are superb reproductions.

After an introduction by Colin Frewin, the chief executive of the Dan Dare Corporation, in which he dedicates the book to the artists who created the cutaways, there is an introduction by Jonathan Glancey, The Guardian's architecture critic. After an unfortunate slip in his second sentence when he names "the world's best boy's comic" as Eagle Cutaways, he tries to place the comic in its historical perspective and compares its optimistic vision of the future with today's reality.

Unfortunately when he describes the idea of setting Dan Dare's Space Fleet HQ in Formby on the Lancashire coast as being "simply very funny", that a "shopping mall, yes, a centre for engineering, design, military and scientific excellence, don't be daft..." he obviously is unaware that such a centre is barely five miles from Formby at Warton where English Electric designed, manufactured and flew the Canberra bomber in those early days of Eagle and where, today, BAE Systems are doing the same for its modern equivalent, the Typhoon.

What little information there is here on the artists, bar a mention of him having had "tentative dealings" with cutaway artist John Batchelor, appears to show that he has read Steve Holland's biography of Leslie Ashwell-Wood on Bear Alley and Will Grenham's piece on the cutaway artists on Eagle-Times, yet he neglects to mention by name over two thirds of those artists, including many whose work appears in the book.

The book then launches into the cutaways in (mainly) all their original printed glory with concerns expressed previously on downthetubes about reformatting being thankfully unfounded. Beginning (strangely) with a bin lorry, various cars, fire engines, missiles, planes and spaceships follow with the original 1950s landscape style of cutaway printed mainly two to a page. Some are a little on the dark side but then the original printing of them in the early days of Eagle could be, too.

Perhaps the most interesting of these are the futuristic ones which include Ashwell-Wood's version of a Channel Tunnel on pages 48 and 49 and Gordon Davies' 10000mph Atomic Airliner on pages 54 and 55.

The 1950s style cutaways are replaced by the 1960s single page style from page 130 onwards. Here, the cutaway style changes made in the Eagle, as the comic went downhill in the mid to late 1960s, are evident as they lose their colour and some are even incorporated into text features. Yet they are still interesting, with two different cutaways of Concorde by Ashwell-Wood and, perhaps the most unusual of the 1960s batch, a hover truck spraying a ploughed field by Geoffrey Wheeler.

However, I can't tell you which page it is on because by this point, the book has abandoned its page numbering, which is one of the greatest drawbacks of the book. With no page numbers on most of the last third of the book, there is no way of indexing the illustrations and so no attempt has been made. While they may be in a vague chronological order between the 1950s and the 1960s, there aren't even any themes to the book where, for example, all the cars are together. As a consequence, there is no easy way of finding any given illustration in the book's 180-odd pages.

There are other issues with it too. Bizarrely the Amphicar, a good cover choice as it is a very unusual vehicle, is not actually featured in the book, while at the beginning, when attempting to explain how difficult such art is to draw Tartarsky condescendingly tells us "easy-peasy it is not". Strangely the text on the one artist he knows a little about, John Batchelor, refers the reader to a Roy Cross cutaway on the same page rather than the Batchelor art on the opposite page, while the two page spread of Televising The Coronation Procession has been folded and so does not show the entire image.

Perhaps the most annoying thing for fans of the original comic will be the lack of any attempt to date the art to the issue of the comic it came from. Although a few of the 1960s pages retain their dates this is more by good fortune than by design.

In general, the book comes across as being done in a hurry for a mass market. Yet how much better could it have been if a little more time had been spent on it with the addition of page numbers, an index, issue dates and, considering that some of them are still alive, a list of the names of the artists that the book was dedicated to.

That said, if you are just buying the book for the art then it is a good purchase: but if you are buying the book as reference for the artists or their work, you will be disappointed.

Friday, 26 September 2008

Classics Illustrated Returns to UK

Classics Illustrated, comic adaptations of classic novels, are back in publication in the UK for the first time since 1970. The Classic Comic Store re-launched the Classics Illustrated series this week.

Not to be confused with British publisher Classcial Comics' full length graphic novels, these new Classic Comic editions feature re-coloured artwork with digitally enhanced covers and are available from newsagents such as WH Smiths, Borders and other leading retailers throughout the UK.

The comics will also be in stores in Australia, New Zealand, South Africa and the Republic of Ireland.

Published monthly, the first issue, released this week, are The War of the Worlds and Snow White, followed by Oliver Twist and The Ugly Duckling in October. The new issues, annual subscriptions and back issues are available from the Classic Comic website.

The relaunch of the famous brand began back in In 2002 when Jaak Jarve, trading as Jack Lake Productions Inc., acquired the publishing rights to the Classics Illustrated series and re-introduced Classics Illustrated Juniors, Classics Illustrated and Classics Illustrated Special Issues to a new generation of readers. The aim of the relaunch is to help increase literacy levels in our young people by engaging them in great literature delivered in stunning graphic form.

Classiccomicstore.com is a website and business dedicated to providing information and reference material about Classics Illustrated as well as supplying some of the loveliest comic books produced from the 1940s through to the late 1980s.

"I have been supplying vintage copies of this wonderful series since 2000 to hundreds of collectors across the world," says Jeff Brooks, Publisher and MD of Classic Comic Store, "and I'm sure that the time is right to re-introduce them to new generations of readers.

"The original artwork remains as the true benchmark by which the Graphic novel is measured and we are sure that this wonderful series will captivate people everywhere - whatever age."

Click here to subscribe to the UK Classics Illustrated
Visit Classical Comics, the British publisher of new full length graphic adapatations of Shakespeare, Jane Austen, Charles Dickens and more

Creating Manga in Barrow

Want to draw some manga? For 2008, the British National Year of Reading, Kate from IndieManga will be running a workshop on the basics of character design, scripting, panelling and pencilling your own doujinshi (that’s Japanese for a self-publication).

The event takes place at at Barrow-in-Furness Public Library in Ramsden Square on 29th October, and it’s free! There are only 20 places open so booking is essential. Call 01229 894370 or
email: barrow.library@cumbriacc.gov.uk to see if there are any left.

Visit the IndieManga web site

Holden and Ewing's Eye Candy Project Now on Sale

Paul Holden and Al Ewing's Eye Candy comic - the world's first comic for kids for the iphone (mentioned earlier this week) - is now on sale from the Apple Store.

The first issue of the digital comic features the Masked Marshal in "Mah Pony Must be Punished!", written by Al and drawn by Paul.

"This is the Masked Marshal's return to the comics field with a full seven more panels to play with than he had before," says Al. "I do miss the old hypercompressed days when we tried to fit an entire issue into one panel - top that, Grant Morrison! - but those good times had to end and I'm glad to see all those old characters getting a new lease of life instead of rotting away in Comics Limbo with poor Awkwardman, who can't even get a guest slot in an ultra-high profile 3D comic."

Go to the iTunes store now - if this link doesn't work, look under 'Books' and 'Blue Pilot Software' - and spend just fifty-nine pence (Yes, fifty-nine pence only!) on what Al says will "likely be the future of the kids-comics industry!"

And he argues, it's either this or Dandy Extreme...

Buy Eye Candy #1 from the Apple Store
Comics for more than just the iphone from ROK Comics (look, I work for them, okay? It's my day job. It pays for this site!)

Thursday, 25 September 2008

Reppion and Moore in Manchester

This coming Saturday (27th September) Leah Moore & John Reppion will be appearing at the Golden Orbit sci-fi, comic and card fair in Manchester.

The fair is being held at the Sachas Hotel on Tib Street , Piccadilly, Manchester M4 1SH between noon and 4.30 pm.

Also appearing are DC & Marvel artist James Hodgkins, promoting his new book Civilians NIL, and the Accent UK guys will also be plying their trade.

Leah and John will be signing and selling Raise the Dead hardbacks and they'll be only too happy to sign any other stuff (such as Accent UK anthologies) or just have a bit of a gab!

• For more information visit www.goldenorbit.co.uk

Wednesday, 24 September 2008

Virgin turned to Liquid

Geoff Boucher of the Los Angeles Times reports that Virgin Comics, publishers of the new Dan Dare, are definitely no more, and that visitors to the Virgin web site are now directed to Liquid Comics.

The good news appears to be that the Eagle hero is, currently, still one of the characters listed as continuing with the publisher that has bought Virgin Comics' assets. The online web comic of the first issue is still running on the updated, if spartan, web site.

"This is the news that Virgin editor-in-chief Gotham Chopra was hinting at when I spoke to him a few weeks ago," Boucher reports."...I exchanged e-mails this morning with Gotham Chopra (who is the son of author Deepak) and he told me about some other things coming up that I will be able to share with you soon. Essentially, though, my sense is that he, publisher Sharad Devarajan and their team have lost the corporate backing of Branson's sprawling Virgin empire (which is grappling with the grim financial realities of the day) but that they were in comic-book business before they had Branson as a partner and they will solider now without the British conglomerate."

Liquid Comics completed the management buyout of Virgin Comics this week, led by the founding management team of Gotham Chopra, Sharad Devarajan and Suresh Seetharaman. In a press release on the web site, Liquid Comics says it will continue to develop innovative digital, film, animation, and gaming projects for its original character, stories and other properties.

Commenting on the change, Sharad Devarajan said, "Virgin Group has been a fantastic partner with whom to work and together we have established a strong foundation of great character properties and media partnerships.

We remain fully committed to continuing our mission to provide a home for innovative creators and storytellers across the world."

Virgin Group senior vice president of corporate development Dan Porter added, "The management team has a track record of great relationships with artists and media partners. Under this new ownership structure, the company is well positioned for future growth in the rapidly changing global comic space. As Virgin Group focuses on its core activities in North America, we wish them well in building their exciting business."

Founded in 2005, Virgin Comics forged partnerships with Warner Brothers, New Regency, Sony Online Entertainment, Sci Fi Channel, Studio 18, UTV and others. Under the new Liquid Comics name, the management team plans to proceed with a number of the projects previously announced as Virgin Comics and will make announcements shortly regarding those projects and the restructured launch dates.

Most of the Virgin titlesare still listed on the site, including Dan Dare, Guy Ritchie's Gamekeeper, John Woo's Seven Brothers, and scifi title The Stranded.

More news as we get or find it!

CancerTown Graphic Novel Update

CancertownNic Wilkinson has just been in touch with an update on the Cancertown graphic novel we previously featured on downthetubes.

Scheduled for release by Insomnia Publications at the end of the year, this original graphic novel is the work of British comic writer Cy (Starship Troopers) Dethan with art by Stephen Downey, colours by Melanie Cook and letters by Nic Wilkinson.

Insomnia have put chapter one up as a free myebook "taster" for the book and there are new sketches etc up at www.cancertown.co.uk.

Writer Cy Dethan is delighted with the way the project is shaping up, but none more so than when the cover of the book, pictured above arrived.

"There are moments when it's truly great to be alive," he recently wrote on his blog. "Waking up early on a Saturday morning is a particular favourite of mine, as is the instant you recognise the very distinctive sound of an Amazon parcel dropping heavily through the letterbox. Hell, even getting through the last few sets of a particularly difficult workout gives me a couple of seconds of genuine joy.

"You'd have to go a long way, however, to match the sensation of opening an innocent-looking email and having this test version of Paul Cartwright's cover to your first creator-owned graphic novel explode onto your screen."

• More about the project on www.cancertown.co.uk

Declan Shalvey Interviewed

Over on the Forbidden Planet blog, Joe Gordon has just posted a fascinating interview with artist Declan Shalvey, who has carved a good name for himself on titles such as Andy Winter’s Hero Killers which went on to win an Eagle Award, and work for the Judge Dredd Megazine.

Declan now has a high-profile gig working for Classical Comics, illustrating their new adaptation of Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein.

"I was very apprehensive when starting out and very conscious of all the other takes on the Monster," he says of the project. "I was certainly pointed towards different interpretations of the character when starting out. Coming up with a look for the monster was the very first thing I had to do and was also obviously the most important. I really tried to ignore any reference material when it came to the monster to be honest."

Talking in detail about the project, Declan also reveals just some of the projects he's now working on. "I’m actually nearly finished a full-colour one shot with Andy Winter, called Tim Skinner: Total Scumbag, which will be out later in the year, in time for the Dublin Comic Con in November. I’m also about to start work on a new graphic novel for Classical Comics; this time it’s Sweeney Todd, so that’s a lot of work on the horizon.

"I actually have written small stories of my own; a three pager recently featured in this year’s Tripwire annual, and some for a self-published comic called Your Round. that’s a project that’s really fallen on the back-burner because of all the paying work I’m getting, but Your Round is basically an anthology of pub-stories I’ve been putting together, along with contributions from Bob Byrne, James Hodgkins and David Baillie. I really must get the first book, Tequila, distributed!"

Read the interview on the Forbidden Planet International blog
Visit the Classical Comics web site

Doctor Who Behind the Scenes Contest Launched

(Via the BBC): Fans of Doctor Who, Torchwood and The Sarah Jane Adventures are being offered a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to go behind the scenes at the studios where the shows are filmed.

On Saturday and Sunday, 8 and 9 November, the BBC will be opening the studio doors just outside Cardiff to 100 lucky competition winners and their friends and families.

The money-can't-buy-experience is being run to help raise money for this year's BBC Children in Need appeal.

Doctor Who: Backstage will take fans to the heart of the action at the BBC Wales studios.

Visitors will tour the closely-guarded sets, come face-to-face with some of the Doctor's mortal enemies, and meet the behind-the-scenes teams who make it all happen – including the set designers, costumiers and make-up artists.

"This is so exciting," says Doctor Who producer Russell T Davies "giving fans the opportunity to take a behind the scenes look at where we film Doctor Who, Torchwood and The Sarah Jane Adventures is just brilliant.

"It'll be the perfect opportunity for the whole family to experience something unique and truly extraordinary. It will be a once-in-a-lifetime experience – and the best thing is that all the money raised will go towards BBC Children in Need."

To be in with a chance of winning a place on the tour, all people have to do is answer one multiple-choice question which will be announced on Friday 26 September, live on the Chris Moyles show on BBC Radio 1 and on BBC Radio Wales and BBC Radio Cymru.

It will also be available on the Doctor Who website – bbc.co.uk/doctorwho – along with the full terms and conditions.

The competition phone lines will be open from 8am on Friday 26 September 2008. Callers must be over 16 and have the bill-payers' permission. Each winner will be able to bring up to three guests who must all be aged five or over.

The tour is taking place during a brief gap in the production schedule.

Doctor Who will return to BBC One this Christmas in The Next Doctor and filming resumes early in 2009 on a number of specials, followed by season five.

BBC Children in Need's aim is to positively change the lives of disadvantaged children and young people in the UK.

The 2008 BBC Children in Need television show is on Friday 14 November.

• This year's fundraising theme is "Do Something Different" and in the weeks and months leading up to the televised appeal people are being encouraged to get creative and take up the challenge. For inspiration there are lots of fantastic ideas in the new fundraising pack – go to bbc.co.uk/pudsey or call 0345 607 3333.

New Wasteland On Sale

Wasteland #20, the latest issue of the monthly comic book series published by Oni Press is on sale this week, written by Antony Johnston and drawn by Christopher Mitten, with covers by Ben Templesmith.

Wasteland takes place one hundred years after the Big Wet, a disaster that destroyed most of the world as we know it. Half the world is now covered by poisonous, rising oceans. What dry land remains is a broken, infertile world of hard ground and harder living.

Over on his official web site Anthony ("Author, designer and all-round British person" whose credits include Dead Space and the Alex Rider graphic novels) describes the story, Apocalyptic City as "another of our 'interlude' one-off issues with a very special guest artist, Eisner award-winner Chuck BB of Black Metal fame."

"This issue is also a bit special because we've approached it differently," he adds. "For the first time in these interludes Christopher contributes some art too, and Chuck's art illuminates the actual fables and stories of how Newbegin was founded. It's something I've wanted to try for a while, so I hope you enjoy it."

• The Diamond order code (tell your local comic shop) for Wasteland #20 is JUL084167.

Tuesday, 23 September 2008

20 Years and Celebrating!

Canterbury comic shop Whatever Comics is holding a grand re-opening celebration on Saturday 18 October to mark its 20th anniversary and relocation to a fantastic new spot on the city's main high street.

Laurence "Punisher" Campbell and comic book writer and journalist Rob "Indy /2000ad Jones" Williams are confirmed guests at the event, along with Cy "Starship Troopers" Dethan, Nic "Cancertown" Wilkinson and Ian Sharman, co-founder of Orang Utan Comics.

In a posting on the shop's blog (boy, these guys are organised when it comes to making the most of their web presence), shop owner Manny Amariohas written about the reasons for the continued existence of what has become known as Whatever Comics and the decision to relocate in such uncertain times for retailers. Here are the edited highlight...

"The answer is simple. Faith," he writes. "I started Whatever Comics at a time when everyone told me that it was insane to start a business of any kind, let alone a comic shop. 'A what shop? is that like, jokes?'

""No, it's like in paper pamphlets which tell cartoon style stories,' was the easiest way to try to explain it to the average Sun Reader.

"'You're MAD!' was the usual reaction."

"'You need to grow up was another,' and this coming from someone clutching the Sunday Sport. Yeah right.. We had, negative equity in those days, not to mention unemployment, banks and stock markets crashing and burning... bit like a credit crunch, same soup, but in a different kitchen.

"It had come to a point where I could have walked away, or stayed doing what I do... so in the spirit of Whatever, in the face of all opposition, and also finding myself without any ties, I decided that now would be a good time to go mainstream and hit the high street.

"...So why not walk away, after twenty years? Simple answers is, I wasn't ready too, after years of believing in something, and then seeing that something become mainstream, with blockbuster movies, TV shows, and Superhero outfits available at Argos for your Friday Night fancy-dress party, it would have been rude not to have stayed, after all, it was down to the likes of myself and other forward thinking people that made it has come to pass... I may be at the bottom run of this industry as a retailer, but I am working in comics. I like to think that I have in some small way helped to open the doors of perception which could have very easily have been closed.

"...What was it like to move twenty years of life in three days? Hellish, much blood sweat and heated moments. Was it worth it? Hell yes, I am doing what I want to do, rather than doing what I am told to do, it doesn't get much better that, discounting a date with Gillian Anderson that is... so as a summing up, wanting to believe is not enough, you actually have to believe."

Congratulation to the Whatever Comics team and if you're in Kent, look them up. Especially on the Saturday 18 October!

• Full details of the event can be found on the Whatever Comics website. The shop is located at 9 St. Peters St. High Street, Canterbury, CT1 2AT.
Telephone 01227 453226.

Monday, 22 September 2008

Jeff Hawke's Cosmos Reached Fifth Year

The latest issue of Jeff Hawke's Cosmos will soon go to press, featuring the usual splendid assortment of strips from the Daily Express and back up features about the space-faring RAF pilot.

Coming in at 84 pages with three complete strips a subscription to Volume 5 costs just £18,50 for UK members (for three issues) and £28 for overseas members £28. Please pay in £GB.
The editor can be contacted at: The Jeff Hawke Club, 6 The Close, Alwoodley, Leeds, LS17 7RD
Please enclose an sae for a reply, or you can email him at: jeffhawke@billybee.plus.com
• More info at www.jeffhawke.com

Tube Surfing: 22 September 2008

Judge Dredd: the Megazine Issue 276• One of downthetubes contributor Matthew Badham's two articles in the new Judge Dredd Megazine (article entitled The Nu Brit Comics Revolution) pimps Blank Slate, The DFC, ROK Comics, Trains are Mint and Garen Ewing's Rainbow Orchid. You should be able to find a copy, which comes complete with a spiffing free gift -- a copy of Snow/Tiger: Pax Americana By Andy Diggle & Andy Clarke and includes Part 4 of an all new Judge Dredd strip, Ratfink, Part 2 of Tank Girl: Skidmarks, Part 1 of Black Atlantic: Rig and Part 5 of Anderson, Psi Division: Wiierd.

• Talking of Trains Are Mint, belated congratulations to Mr Oli East, who is among the nominees in the Promising Newcomer category in the Ignatz Awards for Trains Are Mint from Blank Slate. Nice one.
The Ignatz Awards, named for the character in the classic comic strip Krazy Kat by George Herriman, is a festival prize that recognizes outstanding achievement in comics and cartooning. The ballot is created by a panel of five cartoonists and is then voted on by the attendees at the event. This offers a unique reflection of the views the professionals and their fans. The award winners will be announced on Saturday, 4th October, 2008.

• And talking of Judge Dredd: The Megazine, comic conisseur Paul Gravett has posted the full interview with Matthew Badham quoted in the article in Issue 276 about his new books, Best Crime Comics and The Leather Nun & Other Incredibly Strange Comics, on his own official web site.
"The Leather Nun & Other Incredibly Strange Comics is not a thick anthology of complete comics but a small hardback, really a gift book or stocking filler," says Paul, "showing 61 weird and wacky comic covers and alongside them some quotes, panels and info all about them.
"I've amassed some real oddities over my many years of exploring comics, I seem to be drawn to them, as I'm constantly surprised by what people have done in this medium. The idea was to appeal to people's taste for the tasteless and bizarre or simply odd, so all the comics had to have a striking title and/or cover. But they had to be incredibly strange inside as well, so I could explain the stories and the history behind each comic and its creators."

Following last month's debut of Sarah Oleksyk's Previously Possessed at MySpace Dark Horse Presents, Comic Book Resources reports September's issue of the free webcomics anthology features another rising star discovered by the publisher at the Stumptown Comics Festival back in April. Steak and Kidney Punch by Liz Greenfield, a Netherlands-born cartoonist living in Manchester,who says being approached by Dark Horse on my 21st birthday "Was a better gift than I could ever have asked for, and I'm very glad it led to Steak and Kidney Punch." Read the CBR article and more from Liz

• A chap called Eamonn Clarke has, off his own bat, created a website containing annotations for all the references in Ian Edington and comic artist D'Israeli's Scarlet Traces trilogy, plus Leviathan, Stickleback and Kingdom of the Wicked. D'Israeli is, we're told, amazed...

• UK newspaper The Times ran an article on Doctor Who last week (yes, another one), based on e-mail exchanges between outgoing producer Russell T. Davies, who revived the show, and journalist Benjamin Cook. The e-mails, all part of preparation for the writing of Doctor Who: The Writer's Tale, to be released later this week from BBC Books,
provide a unique insight into the show - and reveals some of its most closely-guarded secrets. (While on the subject of Doctor Who, check out Lew Stringer's pictures of the Dalek and TARDIS forming part of this year's Blackpool Illuminations and a big Happy 400th Issue Birthday to Doctor Who Magazine! The first pro magazine I ever edited and tremedous fun to to do thanks to the readers and the cast and crew of the show.

• Lew also notes that latest Viz annual (sub-titled The Last Turkey in the Shop) is out now, featuring 160 pages packed with comic strips from issues 152 to 161 of the ongoing monthly. Priced at £10.99, the large hardback includes characters such as The Fat Slags, Sid the Sexist, The Real Ale Twats, Elton John's Bandit Beater, Roger Mellie, and many more. Artists include Paul Palmer, Cat Sullivan, Davey Jones, Simon Thorp, Alex Collier... and Lew, of course!

Broadcast reports Merlin, the enjoyable new Saturday night tea time drama currently occupying the family viewing slot carved by Doctor Who and Robin Hood, worked its magic over 6.6m viewers (30% share) on Saturday night but was no match for ITV1's The X Factor. The opening 45-minute episode of the BBC1 drama featuring John Hurt as the voice of a dragon, Richard Wilson and Anthony Head, began with 6.9m (31.9%), dropped to 6.4m (28.9%) at 7.45pm but managed to rally in the final 15-minutes with 6.6m (29.3%). That rating is up by 24.5% on the channel's slot average for the year so far of 5.3m (25.4%).
Is a comic based on the show in the works we wonder? Or, now armed with three top drama series and countles other BBC-owned shows to draw from, how about a weekly title in the tradition of TV Comic and Look-In? Surely someone's considered it? Meanwhile, check out the official Merlin web site...

News bytes by Matthew Badham and John Freeman

Sunday, 21 September 2008

Thunderbirds: Action Alert!

FTL Publications in the USA have that announced the second of their officially licenced Thunderbirds novels, Action Alert! will be released in November 2008. The previous novel, Countdown To Action!, was published in June 2008 and was the first new Thunderbirds novel since the Lady Penelope paperback The Albanian Affair which had been published by Armada in 1967.

Priced at $15.95, Action Alert! is once again written by Joan Marie Verba and features a cover by Thunderbirds The Comic and 2000AD artist Steve Kyte. While the first novel featured the creation of International Rescue by Jeff Tracy, the second concentrates on his eldest son, Scott Tracy, pilot of Thunderbird 1.

Under their licence with Granada Ventures, FTL will only be distributing the novels to Canada and the United States Of America, however that hasn't stopped copies of the previous book making their way across the Atlantic to be sold by Gerry Anderson retailers in the UK or for British fans to order them directly from Amazon.com.

More details are available at the FTL website.

Tube Surfing: Beano Merchandising

The range of Beano merchandising in this its 70th year continues to expand. While many of the items are aimed at the younger fans there are things of interest for the more mature readers of the title.

Fine and Dandy have been mentioned on downthetubes before since they sell adult size Tough Of The Track t-shirts as well as a surprising selection of other DC Thomson related t-shirts for adults and children. For the adult Beano fan they also have a mouse mat, golf head covers and belt buckles featuring Dennis and Gnasher and some really nice fridge magnets featuring the covers of old Beano annuals.
More details are on the Fine and Dandy website.

While it is the time of the year for the latest batch of annuals to appear there are other Beano books available. Meadowside Books have a range of junior novels featuring Beano characters available. Written by Rachel Elliot and illustrated by Beano artist Barrie Appleby, there are ten softcover novels featuring Dennis and Gnasher, two featuring Minnnie the Minx and one featuring the Bash Street Kids. In addition some of the Dennis stories have been compiled into a hardback entitled The Complete Menace. It is worth pointing out that the street in Dundee that DC Thomson's Courier Building headquarters is located on is simply called Meadowside and that Meadowside Books is indeed a DC Thomson company.
More details are available at the Meadowside Books website and the books are available on Amazon UK.

Boots of all places are getting in on the act with a selection of tie-in merchandise. While the inevitable socks are there, albeit in very nice packaging, there is also a Gnasher mouse mat, a presentation pen and pencil set, an apron and bottle opener set, cuff links and, for the Dandy fan, a Desperate Dan mug that is big enough for Dan himself.
More details are on the Boots website.

And finally, despite not having seen a copy yet, the one piece of Beano merchandise that we would expect to stand head and shoulders above everything else in the run up to Christmas is The History Of The Beano: The Story So Far. Written by DC Thomson archivist Morris Heggie who showed his in depth knowledge of the subject during the gallery talk at Beano exhibition in Dundee's Lamb Gallery and published by Ron Grosset's Waverley Books who made 2007's Maw Broon's Cookbook not just a delight to behold but also a major crossover hit sales-wise, this book is due to be published this week.


In Review: Commando and Starblazer Calendars 2009

Two years ago I began the review of the last Art of Commando calendar with "You wait years for a Commando calendar to come along, and then two arrive at once!" After nothing last year save for the usual Beano and Broons calendars, this year we get two digest related calendars, another Art Of Commando and, to everyone's astonishment, Starblazer.

Taking The Art Of Commando first, this is styled along the lines of the classy 2007 Art Of Commando with full colour square illustrations of the original art complete with original publishing details and the artist credited. Dates are simple white boxes at the bottom of each A3 page with no holiday details or the unusual World War II dates of the previous incarnation. The illustrations were chosen by Commando's editor, Calum Laird and as DC Thomson's premier cover artist Ian Kennedy gets six of the twelve illustrations covering planes, tanks and submarines, Jeff Bevan provides two including a terrific Motor Torpedo Boat attack on enemy shipping while Chaco, Jose Maria Jorge, Keith Page and Gordon Livingstone provide one each.

Indeed the art is so original that in Ian Kennedy's Sub Chaser for July you can see where the Commando title logo was stuck on and then removed again. The only niggle with the calendar is that some of the illustrations are already available on the official Commando website as high quality wallpapers and it would have been nice to see others in their place. That said the calendar is a top quality product and does show that Commando covers are as good as, if not better than, the IPC combat Picture Library covers that are celebrated in David Roach's books Aarrgghh! It's War and The Art Of War. A similar title for Commando would be an essential purchase if it was ever published.

The Starblazer calendar is of a similar high quality with art chosen by Starblazer editor Bill McLoughlin. Here again Ian Kennedy is celebrated with nine of the twelve illustrations and the other three are all by Colin MacNeil. In fact all but the cover illustration are from very late on in the title's history, issue 196 onwards - the cover being from issue 33, The Lost Planet. Again the layout is similar to the Commando calendar with the rectangular illustrations taking up more than half of each A3 page and the credits consigned to the bottom of the page. Interestingly while DC Thomson are normally considered to retain all their original artwork one of the Colin MacNeil covers from this calendar is currently available for sale on eBay. The calendar is an excellent reminder of why we used to buy Starblazer all those years ago and does make you wish that DC Thomson and Carlton/Prion would get their act together and give us a big Starblazer reprint book along the lines of Commando: Dirty Dozen.

Both calendars are available from Unique Comic Collectibles and cost £13.50 each including postage. More details are available at their website.

In Review: Classics From The Comics 149

It has been out for a while but it is still worth giving the latest issue DC Thomson's monthly reprint magazine Classics From The Comics a hearty pat on the back. Issue 149 includes two sections that are new to the title.

As a black and white humour reprint magazine they normally cover the eight DCT humour titles - Dandy, Beano, Topper, Beezer, Sparky and the three less well remembered, Nutty, Cracker and Buzz. The title is 68 pages of reprints from these titles and have recently started putting the originating comic and year on each reprint. Eagle eyed readers with see the usual DCT publishing date on each page which means that, for instance, we now know that the reprint of Baby Crockett on page 22 of the current issue was originally printed in the issue of Beezer dated 24 April 1965.

Now while some of the old style humour titles also printed adventure strips aimed at a slightly younger audience than the adventure comics themselves, Classics has appeared to be wary of reprinting these. However this issue things have changed and, heralded by a page entitled Best For Boys where they mention adventure heroes such as the athlete Wilson, pilot Matt Braddock, amateur sportsman Bernard Briggs and DCT's Tarzan character Morgan The Mighty, the issue reprints the original three pages of The Tough Of The Track comic strip drawn by Pete Sutherland and published in the 30 June 1962 issue of The Victor. They also ask for suggestions as to who else should be featured. Let us hope that this will be popular enough to be continued as it is something of a stretch for a humour title.

Something that isn't so much of a stretch for the title is another new section entitled Classic Artist. This features Dennis The Menace's artist creator David Law with a one page biography and photograph plus five pages of art that are credited to him covering Dennis, Corporal Clott, Beryl The Peril and Cap'n Hand. While it would be good for Classics to credit all the artists for their work this is a good starting point.

From its Ken H Harrison tug of war cover featuring Desperate Dan vs various other characters to its (oddly) coloured Korky The Cat back cover, at only £2 Classics From The Comics is a title worth looking out for and certainly dipping into at least now and again.

Classics From the Comics is a 68 page A4 black and white magazine published monthly by DC Thomson and should be available in newsagents. It is also available on subscription directly from DC Thomson.

Solar Wind: The Last Hurrah

The are some constants in life: night follows day, the episode written by Steven Moffat will be the best story in any given season of new Doctor Who, and original Eagle fans will always hate any new version of Dan Dare.

Here is another one - Paul Von Scott will send a copy of his latest fanzine to SFX magazine and they will make it Fanzine Of The Month.

We have reported before that each of the four issues of his excellent A4 SF anthology title Omnivistascope have received the award, while his previous humorous title Solar Wind was also well received by the magazine's reviewers as well as winning a National Comic Award in 2004 and being an Eagle Award nominee in 2005.

The latest issue of SFX, number 175, has the Bumper Book Of Solar Wind as the Fanzine Of The Month. The pair of softcover annual size books between them reprint the entire 500+ pages of the long running fanzine and are available from the Omnivistascope page at Lulu.com. Priced at less than £6 each these are remarkably good value and don't be put off by the print-to-order supplier as the print quality is excellent.

In the meantime Paul plans to have issue 5 of Omnivistascope available in time for the Hi-Ex comics convention in February 2009. We are looking forward to both it and the convention.

The Bumper Book Of Solar Wind Volumes 1 and 2 are available at Lulu.com

Omnivistascope issue 1 to 4 and the few remaining back issues of Solar Wind are available direct from Paul at the Omnivistascope website.

Scotland's Celebrity Chef

The latest cookbook from Scotland's newest celebrity chef, Maw Broon, has just been released. Last year's offering, simply entitled Maw Broon's Cookbook, sold over 170000 copies and so Mrs Brown has released a second this time entitled Maw Broon's But An' Ben Cookbook featuring recipes from their holiday cottage in the country.

Last year BBC Scotland viewers were treated to the sight of DC Thomson managing editor David Donaldson putting on his pinny and chef's hat to cook one of the recipes when Maw was unable to make an appearance.

Some of the recipes from the first book can be found on Scotland.org and it did take some criticism for the perceived unhealthiness of some of the recipes, so this year there is a push to emphasise the healthier recipes. This such a large family to cook for Mrs Brown was unable to come to the BBC Radio Scotland studio this year and so her publisher, Ron Grosset, appeared on her behalf.

To tie in with the release of the first book, the newspaper that The Broons appear in, The Sunday Post, published a Burns Supper supplement and a version of this is now being made available to the wider public as a paperback entitled The Broons' Burns Night.

Both of the Maw Broon's Cookbooks are currently available from Amazon and the The Broons' Burns Night is due to be released on 9 October 2008.

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