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Saturday, 29 January 2011

In Review: Tomorrow Revisited

Steve Winders reviews Alastair Crompton’s new book about Frank Hampson

Published by PS Artbooks at £29.99
Hardback 214 pages

The Book: This is a lavishly coloured celebration of the life and work of Frank Hampson, the creator of one of Britain’s most popular and enduring comic strip characters, the space hero Dan Dare, who appeared in the famous Eagle comic.

Many significant examples of Hampson’s stunning detailed colour artwork are reproduced from the original illustrations in better detail than I have ever seen them before. There are also many photographs of Hampson’s studio, including members of his team posing in costume for pictures for the strip, models of spacecraft and preliminary sketches, some of which are works of art in themselves.

Alastair Crompton brings a lifetime of enthusiasm for Hampson’s work to his text, which examines his career and subsequent life and also explores the character and motivation of this remarkable artist.

The Review: Formerly an advertising copywriter, Alastair Crompton tells Hampson’s story with great clarity and makes all his points forcefully. His personal views are most evident in his attitudes to the various Dare adventures. He enthuses about the first story and he analyses strengths and weaknesses of other early adventures very well, relating them to changes of writer and other developments behind the scenes, such as Hampson’s frequent periods of ill health when he was forced to withdraw from work.

However, while acknowledging the outstanding quality of the artwork he is dismissive of the later stories written by Alan Stranks, such as The Man From Nowhere trilogy. Of this epic he merely writes “… but the story, by Stranks, was not so good.” From these comments a reader would be left unaware that Stranks was a highly regarded and experienced writer of successful radio programmes and comic and newspaper strips, or that many fans regard his work on ‘Dan Dare’ as excellent. While it is entirely appropriate that Alastair should express his own views in his book, I expected more analysis here.

Unlike many other works about Eagle and ‘Dan Dare’, factual errors in this book are negligible. Alastair explains the complicated takeovers that Eagle suffered at the end of the 1950s clearly and accurately, although he writes in his acknowledgements that
“To avoid confusing my readers, I have named the owners of Eagle from 1961-9 as Mirror Group, although the paper continued to carry the Longacre imprint.” In fact, the Longacre imprint was dropped in 1963 and the publishers listed as Odhams. He is nevertheless entirely correct in stating that the real owners were the Mirror Group and he covers this whole period of Eagle and Hampson’s life very well.

Alastair focuses prominently on Hampson’s crucial relationship with Marcus Morris, the originator of Eagle, which he helped him to create and tells the story of the background to its development in great detail. Later he compares Morris’ future success after Eagle with Hampson’s comparative failure and frustration, providing a valuable insight into the characters of the two men.

He does however devote an unnecessary chapter to a future comic project which Morris considered but dropped and which did not involve Hampson at all. While worthy of mention, this project could have been adequately covered in a couple of pages.

Much more relevant to the subject are the examples of Hampson’s work after Dan Dare which are featured here. There are pages from his final Eagle strip The Road of Courage, which tells the story of Jesus and then starter pages from eight other strips he worked on later, none of which ever achieved publication, being locked away in the publisher’s vaults for many years after Hampson left the Mirror Group in acrimonious circumstances. Each strip is accompanied by Alastair’s informative comments.

Finally there are examples of Hampson’s version of the famous newspaper strip Modesty Blaise, produced when he was invited to submit samples with a view to becoming the regular artist. For various reasons his work was not favoured by the writer Peter O’Donnell and Jim Holdaway took on the job instead.

This is Alastair’s second book about Frank Hampson, following his The Man Who Drew Tomorrow twenty five years ago; hence the title. It is a complete rewriting of the first book and incorporates a great deal of previously unavailable material.

I know that he was not entirely satisfied with his first effort. He should be delighted with this!

Buy Tomorrow Revisited from

Thursday, 27 January 2011

John Higgins World War 2 artwork in charity auction

A painting of a famous World War 2 aircraft has been painted by top comics artist John Higgins to raise money for charity.

John's picture of a de Havilland Mosquito NF MkXIII, registration MM550, one of the RAF's night fighters, will be auctioned locally at a fund raising event on 19th February 2011 to raise money for the development and up keep of the Chaucer Memorial in Rustington in West Sussex.

Any bids before this date for this painting would be most welcome: the highest pre-auction bid so far is £100.

"It's just a casual email auction up to the actual live auction on the 19th February," John told downthetubes. "Whoever wants to bid on it can just email me with a bid above £100.

"I will reply to each email giving a weekly up date on the bids to the 19th when we would have the highest 10 read out after the live auction. I want to at least see if we can get a bit of internet interest."

The money would be used to maintain the memorial in remembrance of all who died in World War 2 but specifically for this incidence when a small rural village experienced the impact of war at first hand and five people were killed.

Photo: Richard E. Flagg
At about midday on Saturday, 17th February 1945, with the end of the war in Europe less than three months away, the South Coast village of Rustington experienced its first air crash of the World War Two. As Britain at War Magazine notes here, it was a crash that brought death and destruction to this traditionally peaceful community, when a de Havilland Mosquito NF MkXIII, MM550, from the RAF’s Night Fighter Development Unit based at the nearby former Fleet Air Arm airfield at Ford, crashed into a row of residential bungalows in Chaucer Avenue, Rustington.

Five people had lost their lives, including the crew of the aircraft, pilot Wing Commander William Hudson Maguire DFC and navigator Flight Lieutenant Denis Strickland Lake DFM, both of the Royal Air Force Volunteer Reserve.

Subsequent reports in the local newspapers suggested that the stricken Mosquito had dived into the ground after “apparently trying to land on an open space”, barely six minutes after having taken off.

Determined not to forget any of the victims, the Chaucery Memorial Committee was formed and on 17th February 2010, 65 years after the disaster, a memorial remembering those who lost their lives on that fateful day was unveiled on a small road island directly opposite the bungalows into which the Mosquito had plunged, the destroyed ones having been rebuilt after the war.

The memorial commemorates the death of five people who all in their own way had given their life for their country.

Photo: Richard E. Flagg
Despite the loss of life, which included two air crew, two people, a mother and her three-month-old baby Angela, were miraculously saved from one of the demolished houses, injured and burnt.

Remembered on the plaque are Arthur Sidney Foster, a 57-year-old retired Policeman from London, who had been working in the rear garden of his home when he was killed in the crash; Edward Lennard Vincent, aged 63 and a Special Constable in Rustington; and Florence Mabel Ward, her body discovered under the engine of the ’plane, according to contemporary press reports.

Aboard the plane were Wing Commander William Hudson Maguire DFC RAFVR, the pilot, and Flight Lieutenant Denis Strickland Lake DFM RAFVR, the navigator.

Various people helped John complete the painting, which is on canvas acrylic and measures some 80 x 60cm.

• To make a pre-bid send an email to John via Initial bids must include a full postal address and contact telephone number.

• The live auction will take place at the Chaucery Memorial Jazz Night on 19th February (1930s and 40s Standards by The Jazzooits, featuring Sally Hurst and Barry Prockter) at the Woodlands Centre, Woodlands Road Rustington, West Sussex BN16 3HB

Britain at War Magazine: Wartime Crash Remembered

• Photos on this page by Richard E. Flagg

Preview: Vampire Vixens of the Wehrmacht

VixenVert from Nicola Blackmore on Vimeo.

Here's Wasted magazine's advert for the incredibly impressive Vampire Vixens of the Wehrmacht which will feature in Issue 7 of the magazine. The art is by Alex Ronald and written by the mysterious "Emperor".

Yes, the title tells you pretty much everything you want to know about the story! You've got Nazis, and you got sexy ladies -- run with it!

She's Churchill's hottest secret weapon, a vampire babe snatched from the Nazi's and working on the side of good to thwart her evil sisters and bring Hitler's war machine crashing to a halt.

Her extremely reluctant side kick and chaperone is over zealous Military Chaplain William Morris. A fire and brimstone Presbyterian, Morris is vehemently intolerant of other faiths never mind undead hellspawn creatures!

Check out the Vampire Vixens of the Wehrmacht on Facebook

Wasted Comic blog

Panel Borders: Charlie Adlard and the Walking Dead

Concluding UK comic radio show Panel Borders month of shows looking at depictions of masculinity in America comics, Alex Fitch talks to British artist Charlie Adlard about his ongoing zombie comic The Walking Dead, recently turned into a TV series by Frank Darabont, director of The Shawshank Redemption.

Alex and Charlie also look at the latter’s work on 2000AD, The X-Files and CodeFlesh plus the evolution of The Walking Dead over the last seven years. The talk was recorded live at the London Print Studio, Harrow Road as part of 2010′s Comica Festival.

Talking of Panel Borders, online now is Chase Promethea, Batwoman!, an episode of Panel Borders from November 2010 now available as a three part video. Alex Fitch talks to comic book artist and graphic designer J. H. Williams III about his work from early forays into the superhero genre for DC’s imprint ‘Milestone’ to his acclaimed renditions of female characters in Chase, Detective Comics and Alan Moore’s epic Promethea. Alex and Jim talk about the latter’s approach to creating sequential art, from the layout of a page to the relation of a sequence to its surrounding comic or graphic novel and the delegation of work on his new ongoing Batwoman comic.

• Panel Borders: Charlie Adlard and the Walking Dead: 5.00pm, 27th January 2011, Resonance 104.4 FM (London) / streamed at / podcast at

• Panel Borders: Chase Promethea, Batwoman! is at: (audio only podcast here: )

Wednesday, 26 January 2011

In Review: It Was The War Of The Trenches

Jacques Tardi's graphic novel of the Great War, It Was The War Of The Trenches, is one of those books that is critically lauded appearing in 'Best Of' lists as well as reviews of the year and with its complete translation into (American) English we get the chance to see just what all the fuss is about.

Rather than one story the book is a collection of moments in the lives, and all too often deaths, of the French troops on the front line fighting again "the Boche" which range from short two page vignettes to longer tales lasting up to ten or more pages. This anthology style is due to the fact that while C'Etait La Guerre Des Tranchees was originally published as one book in France in 1993, it was compiled from stories by Tardi that had appeared in various magazines and books from 1982 onwards.

Like the conditions the men were fighting in, the stories are grim and invariably end in death. This is a book about World War that is more in the thoughtful style of Maus than the more uplifting style of Commando. Tardi's art style is detailed but does not have the intense level of detail that Joe Colquhoun used in Charley's War while his writing is much more matter of fact and to the point than Pat Mills weaving of reality with fiction in the same strip, but then Trenches is aimed at making an adult audience think rather than keeping boys buying a comic each week.

Indeed if there is a flaw in this book it is the relentless introduction of a new character whom we get just enough time with to discover a little about before he is killed. As such it is the stories that break this mould that stand out in the memory, be it the jovial artisan who creates beauty from the destruction around him in an attempt to make enough money to buy his wife a pair of earrings, or the French troops marching into Belgium in the earliest days of the war who are confronted by German troops using women and children as human shields.

Tardi's grandfather fought in the war and while he never talked of it to his grandson, Tardi's fascination with the conflict comes his grandfather's stories that his grandmother passed onto him along with the books that he read as a child, books of bravery and heroism that, as an adult, he could see the flaws with. This isn't a book of men achieving medals and glory, rather it is a book of men trying to live to see the next sunrise. With a book so realistically downbeat full marks must go to Fantagraphics for translating and publishing it in an American market that it so fixated on the generally upbeat fantasy of superheroes.

For all its depressing tone It Was The War Of The Trenches leaves you with a sense of accomplishment of getting to the end and of having read something worthwhile, and that perhaps is what sets it apart from so many other war stories.

• There are more details of the book on the Fantagraphics website including a 10 page PDF excerpt.

• Details of other books by Jacques Tardi are on the Casterman website (in French).

Tuesday, 25 January 2011

Lew Stringer previews this week's Dandy

Dandy(Info via Blimey! It's another Blog about Comics, re-published here with the kind permission of Lew Stringer): Here's a sneak peek at the cover of this week's issue of The Dandy, on sale from Wednesday 26th January.

Under a new cover by Nigel Parkinson there's the usual mixture of strips including Bork, Desperate Dan, Pre-Skool Prime Minister, and more.

A brand new strip debuts this week: Graeme Reaper, and there's the second episode of Stan Helsing by Nik Holmes. A reader's page also makes its return, under the new name Mailbag.

With a script by Philip Madden and artwork by Lew Stringer, Postman Prat has fun teasing dogs with a dog whistle. Will it rebound on him with well-deserved hilarious consequences?

This is The Dandy. Of course it will!

The Dandy No.3519 32 full colour pages £1.50 On sale Wednesday

• Check out The Dandy online at:

The Dandy on Facebook

(Info via Blimey! It's another blog about comics! - cross posted with Lew's kind permission.)

In Review: Crusade - Simoun Dja

Crusade, written by Jean Dufaux and illustrated by Philippe Xavier, is a new series of Franco-Belgian bandes dessinee albums that Cinebook is translating into English for the first time. The first book, Simoun Dja, was originally published in French in 2007 and the series currently runs to four books that Cinebook intend to publish over the next twelve months. Set in the Middle East at the start of the second millennium, it tells of a crusade to the Holy Land that has been left out of the history books.

The holy city of Hierus Halem is controlled by Sultan Abdul Razim and a Christian crusader army led by Gregoire of Arcos has been raised to take it back. Gregoire's power hungry daughter Elenore and Robert, Duke of Taranto, persuade him to lead his army against the Muslims across the desert at the time of the Simoun Dja windstorm. Elenore's husband Gauthier and Gregoire's other daughter Syria realise the futility of attacking during this time but are overruled. Meanwhile Razim uses the powers of the Mufti of Alkar to give his men supernatural protection against the oncoming storm and, as the two armies clash and the storm begins, all does not go well for the Christians.

The book begins with two pages of text outlining the historical reality of the Crusades which takes in rather more that just Richard the Lionheart and Saladin. With this factual grounding writer Jean Dufaux then weaves a complex web of spirits and demons around the Christian and Muslim armies as they battle for control of Hierus Halem/Jerusalem. The political intrigue on the Christian side vies with the supernatural intrigue on the Muslim side as much as the two armies vie with each other on the battlefield and yet, as more and more characters and situations are introduced, you realise that, other than the initial battle, nothing is going to be resolved here, that most of the questions that the story raises are going to be left unanswered.

Philippe Xavier's art is clear and detailed, with his female characters appearing very much in the style of early John Bolton, while his layouts can be remarkably striking. His battle scenes are particularly well laid out with short fast vertical scenes differentiating the chaos of combat from the horizontal and more languid scenes of the battle's aftermath.

Crusade - Simoun Dja seems to be somewhat of a prequel to a bigger story that will happen in the rest of the books of the series and so, despite the complex storyline and excellent art, in itself it feels a little lacking. Yet with any luck this series will blossom as the story continues straight into the second book due to be published in February 2011. It certainly appears on its first outing to be a series worth watching.

• The are more details of Crusade - Simoun Dja on the Cinebook website.

• There are more details of the original Croisade books on Le Lombard website (in French).

Monday, 24 January 2011

In Review: XIII - All The Tears Of Hell

Who is XIII? Presidential assassin? Special forces soldier? Psychotic killer? The questions continue in the third part of the XIII saga, All The Tears Of Hell, written by Jean Van Hamme and illustrated by William Vance.

Amnesiac XIII spent the previous book being told by everyone that he was soldier Steve Rowlands before being framed for the murder of two of Rowlands' family. All The Tears Of Hell sees XIII imprisoned in a high security mental prison for the crime while the American establishment try to discover exactly who he is and why he assassinated the President. However prison may not be the safest place for XIII as the prison doctor attempts to break him with electro-convulsive therapy while the man known as the Mongoose, who XIII believes is out to kill him, threatens him with death by someone on the inside. In the meantime the mysterious Lt Jones has infiltrated the prison hospital...

Only three books into the nineteen book series and the plot threads are already getting convoluted with many of the characters from the previous two books making fleeting reappearances here. After a book as Steve Rowlands, XIII's identity is back to being a mystery to both himself and virtually everyone else while the main plot element, a jail break, could so easily have let the book down it is to Van Hamme's credit that it does not. While the ending to the jail break make be just a little too convenient, it sets the scene for yet another change of identity with, finally, potential allies for XIII to work with.

This is the last of the XIII series that had been translated into English by other publishers previous to Cinebook getting the rights to the books. From now on Cinebook are pushing into uncharted territory with XIII, in English at least. All The Tears Of Hell shows that the XIII story continues to be both thrilling and fascinating and that those 'new' stories really can't come quickly enough.

There are more details of the English language XIII books on the Cinebook website.

There are more details of the original French XIII albums on the official XIII website (in French).

Sunday, 23 January 2011

In Review: The Amulet of Samarkand

By Jonathan Stroud and Andrew Donkin (script), Lee Sullivan (art) and Nicolas Chapuis (colour)
Publisher: Corgi Children's (UK, paperback) Disney Hyperion (US, hardcover)
Out: Now (hardcover) 3rd February 2011 (paperback)

The Book: The first volume in the brilliant, bestselling Bartimaeus sequence, now adapted into a stunning graphic novel format - this is Bartimaeus as you've never seen him before!

Nathaniel, a young magician’s apprentice, has revenge on his mind. Desperate to defy his master and take on more challenging spells, he secretly summons the 5000-year-old djinni, Bartimaeus. But Bartimaeus’s task is not an easy one – he must steal the powerful Amulet of Samarkand from Simon Lovelace, a master magician of unrivalled ruthlessness and ambition. Before long, Bartimaeus and Nathaniel are caught up in a terrifying flood of intrigue, rebellion and murder.

Set in modern-day London controlled by magicians, this brilliant adaptation of Jonathan Stroud’s bestselling novel will enthral readers of all ages.

The Review: I had better declare my allegiances before you continue reading this review: I worked with script writer Andrew Donkin while editing Doctor Who Magazine - I believe his co-authored story, Train Flight, was one of his first professional commissions. Lee Sullivan is a superb artist but someone I have also worked with many times on Doctor Who (if you need Daleks drawing, he's your man...). So you can imagine I might be a little biased in my comments.

Reviewed here is the paperback edition of a hardcover edition released last year by Disney Hyperion, based on story in the world famous Bartimaeus Trilogy by Stroud, consisting of The Amulet of Samarkand, The Golem’s Eye and Ptolemy’s Gate. Stroud says these are his most popular books, published in 38 countries worldwide, so it's perhaps no surprize the first has now been adapted into graphic novel form - and a very enjoyable adaptation, too.

The story itself is superb – centring as it does on the exploits of the devious djinni, Bartimaeus,  summoned by a young apprentice, Nathaniel, and directed to steal the Amulet of Samarkand from the powerful magician, Simon Lovelace. (At first, Nathaniel's motive is pure revenge for the way Lovelace has treated him – but as the story develops, it quickly turns out that the older magician deserves everything he gets).

Set in an alternate Britain where magician defend the realm (a tradition begun by Liberal Prime Minister William Gladstone, it seems), Lee Sullivan - who describes the most intensive comic work he's ever produced – brings Stroud's glorious fantasy novel to life with aplomb, and Stroud and Donkin's script makes good use of the different narratives in the story, with Bartimaeus telling his side and Nathaniel his.

Of course, even at 144 pages, it's some challenge to bring the full depth of Stroud's story to life and I'd have to say that with a higher page count the team might have been able to make more of some of the action sequences; and the final publication size of the book is a disappointment. This is a production crying out for the print equivalent of wide screen, in my opinion.

Despite this, Lee's art is stunning, especially his realization of alternate London, which includes Crystal Palace and overviews of the House of Commons and more. His character work is great, particularly Bartimaeus, the various fantasy creatures such as letter-delivering imps and magician-guarding sentries. He also brings some real wamrth to scenes between Natahnie and the kind-hearted Mrs Underwood, the only person who shows the young boy any decency. Chapuis' colouring more than does the work justice: although a more subtle palette might also have suited some older readers, the target audience will enjoy the brighter colour choices, especially when things explode and demons manifest.

All in all, a terrific adaptation of a great novel (and one I'll now be hunting down to read in original form).

Buy The Amulet of Samarkand from

Buy the hardcover edition from
Buy The Amulet of Samarkand from

Buy The Amulet of Samarkand from amazon.comBuy The Amulet of Samarkand from

Buy the hardcover edition from

The official Bartimaeus website

Creator Web Links

Jonathan Stroud

Andrew Donkin

Lee Sullivan
View production work and some final pages from the book here on his site

Nicolas Chapuis

• There will be a signing and Q&A by Jonathan Stroud to promote this book, plus live art by Andrew Donkin and Lee Sullivan at the Forbidden Planet Megastore, 179 Shaftesbury Avenue, London, WC2H 8JR, on Thursday 24th February 6 – 7.00pm. More info on the Forbidden Planet web site

Comics @ Aye Write! Glasgow's Book Festival

Hot on the heels of the Glasgow Film Festival with its impressive comics strand comes Aye Write! Glasgow's Book Festival with an equally impressive selection of comics names appearing over the course of the festival's nine days.

After his appearances at the Edinburgh International Book Festival last year, political cartoonist Steve Bell returns to Scotland to talk about his own work while no Glasgow festival these days would be complete without an appearance by writer Mark Millar. The last Saturday of the festival is busiest with DC Thomson writer and editor David Donaldson returning to Aye Write with his popular Broons and Oor Wullie team quiz, cartoonist David Shrigley talking about his work and, perhaps the highlight of the comics events, Asterix translator Anthea Bell will be talking about fifty years of the famous Gaul.

All the Aye Write! events take place in the Mitchell Library near Glasgow's city centre. Tickets for each event are £8 for adults (£6 for concessions) and more details and booking instructions are on the Aye Write! website.

Steve Bell
Saturday 5 March
In a talk illustrated by his brilliant cartoons he covers politics from the death of New Labour to the arrival of the ConLibDemolition. Steve Bell is our funniest cartoonist on politics, media and life. In a talk illustrated by his brilliant cartoons he covers politics from the death of New Labour to the arrival of the ConLibDemolition. Marvel at Gordon Brown’s progress from saviour of the world to the Rochdale disaster, ogle Silvio Berlusconi’s false breasts, celebrate the end of Dubya and cheer as Obama bounds on stage, thrill at the three party leaders’ hairstyles and gasp as Nick Clegg is buried beneath a humping heap of toads.​

Mark Millar
Monday 7 March
Multi award-winning writer Mark Millar has revamped the X-Men, launched a number one Spider-Man title, brought Captain America into the 21st century and made Superman a communist. He is the writer of the US industry’s biggest-selling comic book of the past decade, Marvel’s Civil War. His comic series Wanted and Kick-Ass were sold as movies before the first issues hit the stands. He talks about his work and takes questions from the audience.

The Broons and Oor Wullie: 75th Birthday
Saturday 12 March
Since 1936 The Broons and Oor Wullie have kept Scottish readers laughing at home and abroad. Now in the second quiz to be held at Aye Write!, (open to all the family) come and test your knowledge about our much loved characters, led by David Donaldson, scriptwriter of the The Broons and Oor Wullie for over three decades. Free and open to teams of no more than six. Prizes for the winners. Free tickets for this event are limited and only available from The Mitchell Library in person (Monday to Thursday 9am-8pm and Friday and Saturday 9am-5pm).

David Shrigley
Saturday 12 March
Harry Hill said ‘If you’re looking for a humour/art crossover, then David Shrigley’s stuff is spot on’. In What the Hell are You Doing?, Shrigley provides a beautifully designed and darkly comic collection of work, bringing together the best of his work, old and new. He talks about this work in a celebration of the surreal world of one of our finest contemporary artists, now living and working in Glasgow.

A Tribute To Asterix
Saturday 12 March
Asterix the Gaul is over 50 years old in 2011. All 34 books remain immensely popular across Europe and have been made into films and television series. Anthea Bell, translator of the Asterix books, provides a tour of the work, joined by Rob Shearman, author of the 2005 Doctor Who episode Dalek and huge fan and (another fan) Stuart Kelly of Scotland on Sunday. So, come and join Asterix, Obelix, Dogmatix and others for ninety minutes of fun.

More details and booking instructions for all the events are on the Aye Write! website.

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