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Monday, 30 March 2009

It Crept Up on Us!

downthetubes reader John Owens reminds us that last week was the 25th anniversary of the first publication of the short-lived but long-remembered Scream!, published by Fleetway. The date crept up on us and almost passed us by!

First published on 24th March 1984, Scream!'s credits included writers Alan Moore, Gerry Finley-Day, Simon Furman and Tom Tully and artsists such as Eric Bradbury (perhaps better known for his work on New Eagle's Doomlord), Jerry Ortiz, Redondo and Cam Kennedy.

Yet, after just 15 issues, Scream! mysteriously ended, a victim of dark forces beyond its control, as editor Barrie Tomlinson recalled the title back in 2005 for the fanzine, Eagle Flies Again...

"As Group Editor of the Boys' Sport and Adventure Department at Fleetway, I had always been responsible for 'Family' comics," he noted. "My titles were always a strong parent buy and I'm sure those parents felt they could trust us to produce safe publications such as Tiger, Roy of the Rovers and Eagle. Titles they would have no problems allowing their children to read.

"All that changed when the management asked me to produce a horror comic! Scream! was the title we came up with and I thought the logo was very effective!

"I was aware that we had to tread carefully with the contents," he recalled. "Coming from a mainstream publisher, they were certain boundaries we could not cross." Barrie would also have been well aware of the controversy from the previous decade when Action! over stepped the mark as far as the nation's 'moral majority' were concerned, resulting in it being taken off the shelves, then re-launched as a pale shadow of its former self.

"The build-up to producing issue one went well," Barrie reveals of the title's origins. "I was able to call upon a top team of contributors who were already working for me, on other titles. I appointed 'Ghastly McNasty' as the Editor of Scream!. I think this hooded figure came across really well and provided a good character to host the title. (In real life, I asked Ian Rimmer to be the Editor – he later went on to work at Marvel UK to edit Captain Britain. He had already worked in my group and I was impressed with his editorial skills).

"Of course, there is always great interest in a new title and I knew this one would be looked at more closely than usual," Barrie remembers. "I would usually show a new title to the Editorial Director but on this occasion, I was pointed in the direction of another editorial executive. Managing Editor Gil Page and myself took the first issue to the office of this executive, feeling confident we had a good publication.

"But it was ripped to pieces and after about an hour we left with tails between our legs, to meet with Ian Rimmer and tell him the vast amount of alterations that had been asked for."

Management censorship was just the start of the title's woes, it seems.

"It was unique for me to send a first issue to the printers behind schedule, but it happened this time, due to the many amendments," Barrie recalls. "Alas, this situation was repeated with every issue. We had to make constant changes to artwork and storylines. If it started as a Horror comic with a capital 'H', it very soon became a horror comic with a very small 'h'!

"The publication got later and later. My titles had always had the reputation of being good timekeepers, but with Scream! that reputation was in shatters. At one time, Gil Page and myself were told to get our act together, stop competing with each other and concentrate on the publication. That was really annoying, as we had worked together on Scream! and produced pages we thought were up to our usual high standard. But senior management did not agree!"

Despite the fears of management, there was little negative response to the new title from the public. "We had a few complaints from readers and their parents but nothing much at all," Barrie said.

"I think the publication was popular and would have gone on to be a success, despite the falling circulations of most comics at that time, as we reached the end of the glorious comic era, with youngsters looking towards television and computer games for their entertainment... it could have gone on for years. The stories and artwork, such as Thirteenth Floor, Dracula, Monster, Library of Death etc were well written and well drawn."

With the title late to the printers with every issue and management censorship, it was a strike that finally put paid to the short-lived title, which was cancelled and absorbed into the New Eagle. "NUJ industrial action caused problems for many Fleetway titles," Barrie noted. "Was it totally because of the strike that the decision was made to kill Scream! and merge it into Eagle? It may have been. Or it may have been that the content was too strong. Or maybe, even, that Mr Page, Mr Tomlinson and Mr Rimmer had failed to produce a winner. I don't know the answer. There were only a few issues. It was a very brief excursion into the world of horror!

"But how nice it is that people still remember the title... That makes all the effort, work, sweat and tears well worthwhile!"

For more about Scream!, visit the fan site Back from the Depths

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