Tuesday, 22 May 2012

Achtung Alonso!

As in Matias Alonso. Having just received the latest list of Commando comics from the ever pro-active team, located in their sand bagged bunker in deepest Dundee, I am pleased to report that their inspired decision to reprint their earliest stories is delivering up some real classics, which have up until now been locked away in the vaults of DC Thomson for over fifty years.

Here's the cover of their most recent reprint of these golden age stories and as you can see by the Ken Barr cover, this one promises action and suspense aplenty. The contents really live up to the brooding dynamism of Barr's cover art. In fact if anything, the artwork actually eclipses Barr's painting in terms of sheer over the top, jaw clenching, all out manic in-your-face seismic action drawing. The only artist that was capable of outdoing Barr in this department was Matias Alonso and as mentioned in previous postings Alonso's primary influence was Burne Hogarth and not that of Milton Caniff, which so many of his colleagues appeared to be in thrall to.

Alonso's work has been conspicuous by it's absence from Commando's recent reprint roster save for the relatively anodyne Johnny the Jinx and D Day Plus, which isn't 100% Alonso as it features Luis Bermejo's pencils, which when combined with Alonso's lush and inventive inking made for one of the finest jobs either of these two artists produced for Commando.

However both of these stories lack the sheer visceral fury of Alonso's earlier Commando output, his work made even Hogarth's beetling brow'd, muscle tensed and mascara rimmed Tarzan look fairly supine. Night Raider, then is a pleasant surprise and distinguished not just by the fact that it is Alonso's debut story for the title but also by the fact that there are women in the story, one of whom is a very fetching French resistance fighter, so go over to Commando's website and check out the new releases and if you have an iPad you can start reading it now, if you want to subscribe.

OK that's it for the moment and back to working on issue 2 of Illustrators. More on this shortly...

Here in the meantime is the rest of the current crop of Commandos courtesy of Commando editor Calum Laird, who is doing such an incredible job with this title:

Commando No 4499

Hunting Mussolini

The Convict Commandos — Jelly Jakes, Titch Mooney, Smiler Dawson — and their commander Guy Tenby had been given another job. This time they were to hunt down Mussolini in his hide-out. Easier said than done when they weren’t the only ones doing the same.
   Guy, as usual, had a plan…but it wasn’t supposed to include Jelly hanging from the undercarriage of an airborne Fieseler Storch!

Story: Alan Hebden
Art: Manuel Benet
Cover: Manuel Benet

Commando No 4500

Lightning Strike

The war in the Far East was almost over. Japan’s armed forces had been ground down and the country was on its knees. The Japanese hadn’t given in though, they hoped super-fighters like the Kyushu Shinden — Magnificent Lightning — could stem the flow of US bombers ravaging their country.
   They could never have guessed that the Shinden’s finest moment would come protecting the very enemies it had been designed to destroy.

Story: Alan Hebden
Art: John Ridgway
Cover: John Ridgway

Commando No 4505

Night Raider

Out of the night sky he came – a man with no mercy in his heart and a blazing tommy-gun in his hands, whose one ambition was to wreak destruction on all things Nazi. He became the Scarlet Pimpernel of German-occupied Europe.

Introduction by Calum Laird, Commando Editor

Women in Commando are a rare sighting but, like buses, when they do turn up there’s more than one. I counted at least three in here, and a bit of romance.
   Don’t think that it means that Stainton’s story isn’t an all guns blazing story as it is, running from the beaches of Dunkirk to a full-on Commando raid in France, and with barely time to reload along the way. His touch means that the espionage, beautifully pointed up by Ken Barr’s dramatic night drop cover, manages to be action-packed, not tension-filled.
   Add to that Alonso’s 100mph inside art and you have a solid gold winner. Makes you proud to be part of the Commando Team.

Night Raider originally Commando No35 (April 1962)

Story: Stainton
Art: Alonso
Cover: Ken Barr

Commando No 4502

Battle Flag

The Second Battalion, Daleshire Light Infantry, had something to be proud of — their very own “battle flag”, a standard given to them after their heroic triumph over Napoleon’s finest troops. Carried into action, it would inspire the men to further brave deeds.
   So when one young officer’s courage failed him and the flag was captured, the thought of it in enemy hands made him vow to keep it safe — even after his death!

Introduction by Scott Montgomery, Commando Deputy Editor

Gritty action is undoubtedly what Commando does best. However, over the decades there have also been comedies, capers, historical epics, science-fiction and…ghost stories. Battle Flag is a good example of the latter. After a detailed framing sequence, veteran writer Cyril Walker cleverly weaves a tale with an eerie thread that runs throughout but does not overwhelm the action and adventure. Interestingly, the working title for this story was “The Flintshire Phantom”. That’s a good one and, had it been pitched today, I’m sure that it would have been used! Enjoy.   

Battle Flag, originally Commando No 2063 (February 1987) Commando 4502

Story: Cyril G. Walker
Art: Cecil Rigby
Cover: Jeff Bevan

Monday, 7 May 2012

Once Upon A Time In A Land Faraway...

there lived a  storyteller who brought to life his fantastic tales with the aid of the world's greatest artists, writers and musicians. They all lived together in the storyteller's Magic Kingdom located in Burbank California, where with the aid of devices that projected their fantasies all around the world they devised their entertainments.

However, not all the work that occurred in the Magic Kingdom was free from tribulation and sometimes the dark forces beyond its gilded walls threatened it's very existence. Wars and labor disputes as well as hostile takeovers had created deep divisions that threw a shadow across otherwise sunlit corridors. But despite these troubles the dwellers inside the Magic Kingdom were contented in their work as they continually strove to ensure that their realizations of the storyteller's dreams matched his expectations.

In their constant strive to fulfill this remit, no amount of effort was too much. New and ever more potent means of delivering the storyteller's dreams to audiences far and wide were explored and as a consequence more and more of the storyteller's accumulated gold was gambled in the making of these stories.

And here dear reader (assuming you are still with us) is just such an example of this phenomenon, in 1959 Walt Disney's Sleeping Beauty was released having had a huge production budget lavished on it, with extensive use of the Disney Studio's multiplane camera, six channel stereophonic sound and wide angle Technirama pumping up the budget to $6,000,000, making the film the biggest financial gamble the studio had taken since recovering from the near wipe-out that the War had inflicted on their export markets nearly twenty years earlier.

Well if you didn't already know, you have probably guessed, the film's reception at the box office wasn't the ringing endorsement the Studio were hoping for and the Company posted it's first loss for over a decade in it's 1959-60 report to it's shareholders. As a consequence the axe was taken to the animation department and huge layoffs resulted but ironically one of the facilitators of the rise of the Disney studio and accessory to one of the greatest betrayals of King Mouse was left in place to bring his considerable technical expertise to helping the studio work within a hair shirt budget. Ub Iwerks, first name pronounced You - Bee, had worked with Disney when they were both teenagers at a commercial art studio in Kansas City. While Iwerks was a highly talented artist with an inventive and inquiring mind, he was shy and introverted. Disney in contrast, whilst never possessing the artistic talents of Iwerks was a visionary and a natural businessman with the ability to sell himself and his ideas and with Disney's innate ability to spot a good opportunity when he saw one,  it it wasn't long before he and Iwerks still on the cusp of their twenties had formed their own company producing a line of films entitled Laugh-O-Grams. When that company went belly up Iwerks returned to the Kansas City Film Ad Company whilst Disney with typical enterprise took himself off to California to set up a new venture which he was convinced would seal his fortune.

It wasn't long before Disney was writing to Iwerks to offer him a job at the newly formed Disney Brothers Studio (Walt's brother Roy, who had a good head for figures and was a tempering influence on some of Walt's more extravagant schemes had also moved to California to work as the studio's accountant). The somewhat ironically titled Oswald the Luck Rabbit was the first hit that the studio had, but the joy was short lived when the character and most of Disney's animators were stolen from them by their distributor. Disney took the distributor to court but lost. Iwerks was one of the few who remained loyal to Disney. It was therefore really devastating when a few years later another unprincipled distributor attempted a similar heist with Disney's even more successful Mickey Mouse. Disney hung onto the character whose copyright ownership was beyond dispute but this time Iwerks left (with most of Disney's key animators) disillusioned with the endless toil and studio tensions and convinced that he could make a better living for himself running his own studio.

Several years and several animated flops later Iwrks returned to work with Disney and this time he devoted himself to pioneering new visual effects including a way of melding film and drawing together in such films as Song of the South and more spectacularly Mary Poppins. But the innovation he created which was to really slash their production costs and enable the studio to continue producing animated feature length films was the xerographic process for cel animation, which was first presented to cinema audiences with the release in 1961 of 101 Dalmations.

By the time that film came out the book that I am sharing with you today had been sitting on the shelf of my local bookshop, come newsagent, come stationer for about three years. Like the film it celebrated the Giant Golden Book of Walt Disney's Sleeping Beauty had overblown it's budget and much to the supposed chagrin of King's Stationers, located in St Leonards on Sea, Sussex, it's 25 shilling price tag was just too steep for the average shopper. So there it languished next to it's other over priced for it's locality, neighbor Tales of the Greeks and Trojans. Both handsome books, both quietly pining for a good home.

Well, eventually (albeit several years later) I weakened and fortified with funds from a paper round I treated myself to this book, which I have never seen anywhere else (try Googling for it to see what I mean).

So here's your opportunity to savor one of the most exquisite Disney children's books ever published, in an era when a book like this could appear with one of stylist Eyvind Earle's superb artworks as cover and endpapers with more of his illustrations accompanying stills and character sketches from this commercially flawed but nonetheless beautiful film.