Editor Chick Checkley was, like many of the staff at the Dundee based firm of D.C. Thomson, wedded to the company and the affairs of D.C. Thomson. It's myriad young people's publications had occupied most of his adult life, barring a wartime posting to Canada with the R.A.F. where he contracted emphysema and was invalided out. Sadly he never fully recovered from the illness and eventually succumbed to it's ravages at the relatively early age of 63.
But, the illness notwithstanding his zest for life remained undimmed, a passionate golfer who had six holes in one to his credit at Carnousti golf course, he was always brimming with ideas and his last great idea for Thomson's would outlast the rival publications which had spawned it.
When Checkley first considered the idea of Thomson's producing a 64 page digest sized war comic, their number one rival Amalgamated Press, now Fleetway had been producing War Picture Library and Air Ace Picture Library for the previous couple of years and their comics dominated the market for 8 year old boys and upwards who wanted a one hit story rather than a weekly serialisation.
The comics had proven so successful that Fleetway were on the cusp of launching yet another title (Battle Picture Library) and there were already a whole slew of second and even third banana imitators. There was most immediately Micron's Combat Picture Library, with it's distinctive red bar extending down the left hand side of each cover, the covers themselves always hinting at more than the comic would ultimately deliver, not to mention the truly horrible Pearson's Libraries, whose covers sported a distinctive checkerboard strip across the top, thereby distracting your gaze from the mediocrity of the paintings that adorned them, the contents being so terrible that even the pedestrianism of Micron's artists shone like beacons of inspiration in comparison.
The idea that Checkley was formulating was Commando, a title that is still with us to this day albeit in a much less lurid incarnation. What Checkley did was rather than following the trend of imitating Fleetway's product, he actually reworked the formulae and in doing so created a classic comic.
We'll pick up this story again tomorrow, focusing a little more on the extraordinary story behind the artists who helped flesh out Checkley's vision but here in the interim are the first ten covers by the legendary Ken Barr, who like Denis McLoughlin had been well and truly seduced by U.S. pulp and comic art.
Also check out the excellent Commando website.
All images © DC Thomson 2010
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