Tuesday 27 April 2010

Achtung Commando!!!

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


  1. The first thing I noticed on seeing today's blog was that your title was taken from one of the few British journals devoted to comics history that was as well-produced and informative as the best that are produced on the continent. However you could have knocked me down with a feather when I reached for my Spring/Summer 1999 copy of 'Achtung! Commando' no.1 only to discover that it had been edited, printed and published by a certain Peter Richardson!!!

    I must admit that I was more of a fan of the Fleetway titles like Air Ace during the 1960s - mainly because other DC Thomson boys' comics such as Victor had rather put me off with their steady diet of sports and war (at school I was decidedly more 'Arty' than 'Hearty'!).

    As a result a great many of Commando's unique attractions passed me by the first time round, and my ignorance was compounded by the publishers insistence on strict anonymity when it came to writers and artists. It's only now, as a result of the painstaking cultural archeology practiced by pioneers such as yourself and David Roach (not to mention a more enlightened regime in Dundee) that I'm beginning to appreciate just how many very talented people worked for the series over the years.

    (...Oh dear! - and I swore I was going to limit my responses here for a while! :-( Can't you do a blog about something in which I have no interest at all Peter? How about a Warren story drawn by Tony Williamsune for a change???)

  2. I'm not sure, Phil. The modern "style" seen in most top-selling US comic books is so relentlessly corporate and samey that I'd view even a Tony Williamsune strip with considerable nostalgia :-)

  3. Yes Dave, I've now got this insatiable desire to locate a Tony Williamsune strip.

    Actually I did chance upon a really beautiful Jeff Jones strip from Witzend - "Alien".

    Any takers???

    (while I'm trying to locate that Tony Williamsune epic).

  4. Hmmm, come to think of it Dave those weird sixties superhero versions of Frankenstein, Dracula and Werewolf that Williamsune/Tallarico and Bill Fracchio drew for Dell really *do* have an awful fascination...! :-)

    In the meantime I'll happily accept anything by Jones as a substitute - as long as it's Jeff and not Tom! ;-)

  5. A Jeff Jones strip from Witzend!?! Peter, do you really have to ask?

  6. It'll be up soon - it's a real gem!

  7. Are their still copies of Achtung Commando the ultimate guide to commando comics. If so where can I buy copies 3 and 4. Will there be further copies?