Wednesday 29 June 2011

Crime Does Not Pay (Or Does It???)

Regular visitors to this blog will bear with me I am sure when as I am doing today, I deviate from the world of comics and fantasy art in general to talk of matters which affect us all.

I am not going to bore you with too much introductory blather, but for people like myself who have been completely pissed off and disaffected with the under-reporting of the world's biggest ever financial deceit as it slowly unfolded over the last ten years, Charles Ferguson's film, Inside Job is an absolutely essential piece of viewing. This documentary is brilliantly conceived, Ferguson's technique being to simply allow the power brokers at the heart of this disaster to talk and what they have to say is a devastating indictment of the greed and hubris of a group of people who have literally become a law unto themselves, whilst lesser mortals have to pick up the tab.

Here is a link to the film on YouTube, which I suspect won't be around for much longer. But this film is available via Netflix or LoveFilm or via Amazon as either a DVD or online rental. Buy it and watch it and pass it on.

And as regards U.K. TV which used to be the envy of the world (or so the BBC still regards itself), here is the sort of reporting they could have been doing a few years ago, it might have at least forewarned savers about where not to locate their hard earned pension funds.


Now bear in mind this aired in August of 2007.

There's plenty more financially prescient journalism from Max Keiser, to be accessed via YouTube and the web in general.

Artwork © Sony Pictures Classics

Monday 27 June 2011

Further Demands on Flexible Friends

There are so many beautifully realized books devoted to classic comic strips that it is nigh on impossible to keep apace of all of them. But referring back to an earlier posting on this blog about the life and troubled times of Bob Wood and Charles Biro and their excessively lurid Crime Does Not Pay comic, I thought I ought to mention a forthcoming collection from Dark Horse Books.

Titled Blackjacked and Pistol Whipped, the cover for this collection is by the superb designer/ illustrator Peter Poplaski and brilliantly pastiches Charles Biro's luridly mundane cover art as he depicts the moment when Biro's publishing partner Bob Wood murdered his girlfriend in a drunken brawl in room 91 of NYC's Irving Hotel. There is a fascinating article by the legendary publisher Denis Kitchen which accompanies this book and sheds further light on the dodgy dealings and nefarious activities that helped spawn this horrible but nonetheless fascinating line of comics. If the editorial team of
a notorious boozer with a succession of violent and abusive relationships and a hyper driven chancer whose tawdry crime covers were knocked out with a pet monkey on his shoulder seems a little unlikely, then there are further surprises in store as you read about some of the other players in the story of one of the U.S.'s most infamous lines of comics. There are moments when the lives of the men behind this title seem at times to upstage the stories that are re-presented in this excellent book.

Definitely on my list of must have items the book will be published on September 13th.

Friday 24 June 2011

Aces High

Here for your delectation are some of the earliest Air Ace Picture Library covers by among others Giorgio De Gaspari, Nino Caroselli and Alessandro Biffingandi. These covers first appeared from January 1960 onwards and were part of the astonishing renaissance of post war pocket libraries, which was due in no small measure to the vision and drive of Leonard Matthews and his launching of Thriller Comics Library and Cowboy Comics Library some ten years earlier.

More details on these extraordinary comics and their stablemates can be read in Volumes 1 and 2 of The Fleetway Libraries Index edited by Steve Holland and available from Book Palace Books.

Tuesday 21 June 2011

Commando - A Birthday Looms.

We've been running news and covers of Commando, the UK's longest running pocket war comic as it celebrates it's 50th birthday. The actual date of the first ever appearance of Commando was the 27th July 1961, when Walk or Die and They Called Him Coward first appeared with covers by Ken Barr, signalling a new and more much US Pulp styled approach top  pocket library covers.

So this coming Monday is the old guy's birthday and along with the non alcoholic celebrations that will enliven the Commando HQ in Dundee's Albert Square, there s a special of the comic (No 4404) going under the title of The Misfit Squad which has been specially written for this momentous occasion and long time Commando afficionados will have a lot of fun spotting some of the more cyptic references contained within the story.

Meanwhile Commando's excellent series of early and key issue reprints continues and amongst the latest eight issues to appear is the reprint of The Ship They Couldn't Sink, which for all those sad anoraks like me, I'm also including a scan of the original cover.

And if that isn't enough reason to get excited there is also an upcoming exhibition at The National Army Museum featuring 70 of the very best Commando covers spanning it's 50 year run commencing on September the 1st. A book featuring 50 of the best Commando covers will be published in October.

 Commando No 4399



The mighty German battle-cruiser lay silent in the Atlantic fog, waiting, her guns loaded and ready. And straight into this trap a convoy of heavily-laden merchant ships was sailing.
   On a radar screen the German Captain watched its progress with a grim smile. He was master of their fate and would spare not a single ship.
   But there was a gleam of hope for the convoy — the gleam of the golden badge of the Royal Navy aboard one ship — a tiny ship. But crammed with British fighting courage…

Story: Gray
Inside Art: Ros
Cover Art: Ken Barr

Introduction By Calum Laird, Commando Editor

Ken Barr’s dramatic cover showing a German bomber exploding in mid-air might make you wonder if this really is a sea story, but rest assured that it is. You can almost smell the salt as HMS Sniper smashes her way through the waves to meet her destiny.
   The combination of Gray’s dark story, with the equally dark artwork supplied by Ros, results in a naval adventure par excellence. Right up until the end, you have no idea how the tale will play out for the gallant Royal Naval heroes who have not exactly seen eye-to-eye throughout.
   With crackling action like this, it’s little wonder that Commando became such a hit in the early 60s…I’m just sorry I was slightly too young to read it at the time. I’m glad to have caught up with it now and I’m sure you will be too.

The Ship They Couldn’t Sink, originally Commando No 7 (September 1961), re-issued as No 2571 (June 1992)

Commando 4400


Everyone knew Ted Whitmore was yellow. Everything he did proved it. He even got himself and his men captured and put in a prison cage.
   But then things began to happen — things that made his men stare in amazement and the enemy run for their lives!

Story: Cyril Walker
Inside Art: Gordon Livingstone
Cover Art: Gordon Livingstone

Introduction by George Low, former Commando Editor

A coward turns hero in grand style, facing up to the Afrika Korps in the desert against a backdrop of Roman legions from centuries before. It’s helped a lot by the fact that it’s a 1971 double whammy…inside artwork and cover by Gordon Livingstone, one of our legendary artists.
Gordon still has nightmares when he remembers the hundreds of charging desert horsemen he has been “asked” to draw over the years. The script by Cyril Walker is pretty good too, but we expected that of Cyril.

Escape!, originally Commando No 589 (October 1971), re-issued as No 1683 (  March 1983)

Commando No 4401

League Of Nations

During the three-year Korean War, a host of different nationalities were brought together to fight together under the United Nations flag. Generally they put their differences aside and did just that.
   But one group of men thrown together by the conflict didn’t look likely to be able to get along at all…even though their lives depended on it.

Story: Mac MacDonald
Inside Art: Carlos Pino
Cover Art: Carlos Pino

Commando No 4402


A squad of British Royal Engineers are dropped behind the lines to halt German demolition work in occupied Italy. Unfortunately, they end up miles from their target, deep in the rugged mountains of Calabria.
   To make matters worse, there’s a Waffen SS unit on their tail — and they’re caught in a violent feud between two warring Italian mountain clans!
   The Italians will have put all their differences aside to fight alongside the British against the common enemy…but can they?

Story: Alan Hebden
Inside Art: Olivera
Cover Art: Janek Matysiak

This is one of our digital covers, no pen, ink, paper or paint involved.

 Commando 4403

The Defector? — Which side is he on?

Lieutenant Levka Kosilev was a man of principle, a man who would repay a debt of honour. The Russian officer had only survived the dark days of World War II thanks to the actions of a brave American corporal and his squad. He knew how much he owed them.
   Some years later Levka — now an observer with the forces of the North during the Korean War — expectedly found himself in a position to settle the debt. To do so, however, he would have to defect. Could he do it?

Story: Freg Handley
Inside Art: Keith Page
Cover Art: Keith Page

Commando 4404

Misfit Squad

Dave, Brian, Pete and Sid were undoubtedly the worst soldiers their C.O. had ever come across. He doubted they would ever get through their basic training. But Sergeant Rod Black thought differently, he could see something in the four that no one else could.
   And one night in June some 50 years ago he and his misfit squad got the chance to prove him right…or wrong!

Story: Mac MacDonald
Inside Art: Carlos Pino
Cover Art: Carlos Pino

Introduction to the 5oth birthday edition

Lots of things have changed over the last 50 years...the Berlin wall has risen and fallen, the moon now has bootprints on it and the internet has changed the world in a way that could not have been foreseen in June 1961.
   But amongst all these changes, some things have remained unaltered. Take Commando for instance - it's still packed with action and adventure, everyman heroes and villains, and the best comic art still resides on and between its covers.
   To celebrate our 50 years, a special story has been written. And it's got all those qualities that make Commando something special.
   This is that story and the whole Commando team, past, present and future, hopes that you'll enjoy it as much as No1 was enjoyed in June 1961.

Commando 4405

A Stirling Called Satan

It was dead unlucky, that Stirling bomber. Flying low it would catch most of the flak, flying high it was certain to be pounced on by enemy fighters. Every time the crew set off on another mission they wondered if it was going to be their last. Even its number, five-three-five, added up to thirteen…

Story: R.A. Montague
Inside Art: Mira
Cover Art: Keith Walker

Introduction by Mike Stirling, Beano Editor

To pick my favourite issue was a challenging mission, because I’ve enjoyed several lengthy engagements with Commando over the years. I’ve chosen A Stirling Called Satan for several reasons. Most importantly, I remember first encountering it in 1988.
I was fourteen, at secondary school and my favourite subject was history. I loved reading too, so Commando was a natural choice after moving on from The Beano and Roy of the Rovers. Imagine how excited I was when I saw my name on the cover — even if it was connected with Satan himself!
I was so captivated by idea that there was a plane called the “Stirling” that I actually bought, and built, a model kit version. Well, actually two versions; my first attempt at painting it was a disaster.
The story is classic Commando; ordinary guys doing extraordinary things. I always tried to imagine what I’d do in similar situations. I never ran away, but it’s easy to be brave in your imagination. There is a freaky superstitious undertone too — nothing is predictable in a Commando story.
I still enjoy Commando today, even amongst all the fabulous publications I’m privileged to read as part of my job. It just goes to prove that Commando’s brand of action and adventure resonates across ages.

A Stirling Called Satan, originally Commando No 869 (September 1974), re-issued as No 2159 (February 1988)

Commando 4406

Heads You Win Can’t Lose

When Ned Dolan flicked a penny in the air and David Bradford called tails, it looked as though he had signed his own death warrant — for the loser was to become bait for a deadly German sniper.  And Dolan had never — but never — lost a toss with this special penny.

Story: Cyril Walker
Inside Art: J. Fuente
Cover Art: Penalva

Introduction by Calum Laird, Commando Editor

Re-reading this book after so many years, I began to think that I had chosen the wrong book. Sure, Penalva’s cracking cover with its crazy viewpoint was as I remembered it, but I didn’t recall the armoured cars. Then the jeeps arrived and I knew all was well. I even remembered the balloon which began, “fellow footsloggers of the humble infantry…” and the huge fist fight that followed.
   In fact, the punch-ups are almost the signature of Snr Fuente’s inside artwork. He puts so much action and movement into them that they don’t seem like static pictures at all. Later I would work with author Cyril Walker’s material, something I’m sure I acquired a taste for in this tale of double-dealing and double-crossing.

Tails You Win Can’t Lose, originally Commando No 368 (November 1968), re-issued as No 1091 (January 1977).

All images © DC Thomson 2011

Saturday 18 June 2011

A Portal to the Past - Matania's Historical Illustrations

By the time that Fortunino Matania commenced working for Leonard Matthews Look and Learn magazine, the artist was heading into his eighties with a formidable array of illustrations which illustrated not just significant events of the 20th century but much of the epoch defining moments of earlier years as well.

So here are a few more Matania artworks all shot from the original paintings, courtesy of the Book Palace Art Gallery.

Wednesday 15 June 2011

Matania and the Great War

Fortunino Matania's depiction of the First World War may seem at times highly sanitized and more reminiscent of G.A. Henty than Wilfred Owen and Siegfried Sassoon, but in terms of fulfilling the brief to provide readers of illustrated journals such as The Sphere that were so popular in the early part of the twentieth century with images of a conflict that would seismically reshape that century, his work was without peer.

Here's some more reasons why...

Monday 13 June 2011

More From Matania

Some truly stupendous paintings by Fortunino Matania from 1914-1916 when photography, access to the front line and communication systems not to mention the ever present censorship which shackles all war reportage (it's still happening today) effectively prevented up to the minute news coverage of such epoch shaking events as the fall of Belgium and it's sea ports in the first few months of what came to be known as The Great War.

Note in the dps of the fall of Liege, that not only are those beastly Huns looting and pillaging the goodly citizens of Belgium but also they are kicking their dogs as well.

Was there no end to Teutonic perfidy???

As can be gleaned from earlier postings on this wonderful artist, Matania was not only a tremendous draftsman but he also had a truly inventive mind and what the camera couldn't access he could conjure up with pencil, watercolor and ink.

Here then are some more examples of his amazing artistry.