Tuesday 26 July 2011

Sci-Fi Meets World War 2

Ron Turner is rightly regarded as one of the leading illustrators of post war UK science fiction but by the early 1960's work his workload was beginning to ease up just a little bit. Not to the extent that he was going to have to put away his paints and brushes and get a proper job, but perhaps expanding his client base beyond science fiction covers for Scion and Rick Random strips would at least reduce his exposure to that most dread of illustrative phenomena the quite fortnight or even (horror of horrors) the quiet month.

So ever the pragmatist, Turner's work started appearing on the covers of Practical Mechanics and even the outlined and number keyed artworks that were sold as a means of assuaging people's frustrated creativity were soon to feature Turner's artistry. Yup! Astonishing as it may seem Ron Turner contributed designs for Craft Master's Painting by Numbers kits.

Some of them at least were science fiction subjects.

He also contributed a really different take on the classic war pocket library when he provided the interior artwork for issue 177 of Fleetway's Super Detective Library.

Lovely work indeed!

Cover by Nino Caroselli - the rest by Ron Turner.

Images © IPC Media 2011.

Monday 18 July 2011

More News From Commando HQ and a Teaser From Mr Flake

As in Mr. Flake your sometime blogmeister. The good news is that the mad surfeit of work is coming to an end and I can devote more time to this much neglected blog. But and here's the even better news, I am working on a project which takes the very generous observation of Mirabilis author Dave Morris, about wishing that some of the subjects that we have covered on this blog over the last two years could be published then wouldn't that be cool or words to that effect.

Well I have an even better thought and that is that wouldn't it be great if several of this countries most energetic ephemera enthusiasts got together to commit their researches to print rather than blogoshere then wouldn't that be even cooler?

Well just such a project is in the works and more will be revealed shortly.

In the meantime, here is a double biller of current and imminent Commando's from Calum Laird and the boys at Commando HQ.

Commando 4407 – They Came By Night


Without warning the periscope of a U-boat broke the surface. It turned and focussed on the Locksea Lighthouse. Then, slowly, the glistening, black hull of the submarine came up from the depths.
   No one could deny the courage and cool cheek of the Nazi Commander who had made up his mind to capture this vital link in the guiding of our Atlantic convoys.
   Then, into what was to be the most fantastic episodes of the war, sailed Skipper Jimmy Cleeves and his RAF rescue launch K20.

Introduction by Calum Laird, Commando Editor

Nowadays Commando writers have it tough. In our 50 years, loads of plots have been used, and they have to try really hard to find a new angle on things. Back in 1961, though, when Commando first broke cover, the writers had a very open field to work with.
   So you might think that this sixth story to come out would be very straightforward. If you did, you’d be wrong. It has ships, subs, bombers, recce planes, a lighthouse…and even a carrier pigeon.
   Even when they’ve got it easy, Commando authors just can’t help writing cracking stores.

They Came By Night, originally Commando No 6 (August 1961), re-issued as No 2563 (April 1992)

Story: Couglin
Art: Savi
Cover: Ken Barr

Commando 4408  The Cop Who Went To War

Dave Marley was a policeman ⎯ and proud of it. When the war came, he joined the Military Police and found that a lot of soldiers acted just like the blokes in civvy street who didn’t want to know a copper until they had trouble.
   But now there was more than brawls and bank robbers to think about. There were difficult problems to be tackled with the added danger of shells and bullets crashing all around. Yes, it was a tough job, being a Military policeman…

Introduction by George Low, former Commando Editor

The Military Police do a difficult and dangerous job, and it’s not always appreciated by the common soldier, sailor or airman. In the rough and tumble of war, men fresh from action often don’t take it well when a Redcap gets on their case. How to win the doubters over? Prove that you are as tough and as capable of dealing with the enemy as the front-line fighters are.
   Roger Montague shows this up well in a crisp 1975 script and Ibanez-Igual did his bit with the line artwork. The cover? That’s Ian Kennedy, of course. He draws a mean motorbike as well as the aircraft he’s renowned for.

The Cop Who Went To War, originally Commando No 982 (November 1975), re-issued as No 2323 (November 1989)

Story: RA Montague
Art: Ibanez-Igual
Cover Art: Ian Kennedy

Commando 4409 Codename: Houdini

Andor Lakatos and his two younger brothers were a popular circus escapology touring Eastern Europe just before the start of the Second World War. When the Germans invaded of Poland in 1939 the three brothers were caught up in the chaos.
   Andor, in particular, was drawn against his will into wartime espionage, given the codename Houdini after the great escapologist.
   With danger at every corner it seemed unlikely even Andor could escape this murky world of shadows and treachery?

Story: Mac MacDonald
Art: Rezzonico
Cover Art: Janek Matysiak

Commando 4410 “Talk…Or Die!”

It seemed a straightforward job, risky but straightforward. Flying a helicopter full of gold out of South Vietnam before the advancing North Vietnamese army got their hands on it.
   As an ex Australian Air Force chopper pilot, Brendan Beckett thought the job would give him no real trouble. So how did he come to be tied to a post, knee-deep in rising water? Well, it’s a long story.

Story: Tom Hart
Art Benet
Cover Art: Benet

Commando 4411 Double Vision!

Remember Max Singer and Sid O’Brien and their adventures when they played the dangerous roles as doubles for Adolf Hitler and Field Marshal Bernard Montgomery in Commando “Seeing Double”?
   Well, they’re back...And in deeper trouble than ever!

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

Commando 4412 Wings Of Warriors

Marc Lebel was a young, hot-headed French Air Force pilot, determined to halt the Nazis. But when his mentor died saving his life, Marc’s thirst for revenge looked like it would be the end of him as well…

Story: Mac MacDonald
Art: Rezzonico
Cover Art: Ian Kennedy

Commando 4413 Revenge Of The Phantom

Major Gunther Stolle of the SS did not believe in ghosts — a brutal thug like him didn’t bother with such nonsense. Even when tough German troops broke and fled, gasping out tales of a phantom tank crew, he still didn’t believe it.
   But soon he was going to know the terrible truth, for the commander of the tank had vowed to hunt him down…even from beyond the grave!

Introduction by George Low, former Commando Editor

They say you can’t beat a good ghost story and here’s the proof. There’s not only a ghostly crew but their tank is a phantom too. The advance up through Italy with British-manned Sherman tanks…plus dastardly nasty Nazis adding to this witch’s brew…chills and excites with every page.
   John Ridgway made the spirit flesh in 1974 and Penalva carried on the theme with a spine-chilling cover. Excellent work from Alan Lomas with the script and it’s a great treat for Halloween…or any other day of the year. Just don’t read this one alone or in the dark…

Originally Commando No 818 (February 1974), re-issued as No 2188 (June 1988)

Story: Alan Lomas
Art: John Ridgway
Cover Art: Jordi Penalva

Commando 4414 Walrus Patrol

They flew their scrapheaps into some mighty strange places

Donald Ducks, Flying Scrapheaps, Rattletraps. Walrus crews got fed up of the names other blokes called their big clumsy Walrus flying-boats.
   Then an RAF desert bomber group asked for fighter support and, to their horror, in lumbered two air-sea rescue Walruses!
   Not until their own bombers were destroyed the day before a big raid did the RAF scoffers find out what those “rattle-traps” could do in the hands of pilots like Bill Donovan and Al Tucker.
   Then “Donovan’s Ducks” took off in a blaze of glory.

Introduction by Calum Laird, Commando Editor

It’s strange what sticks in your mind through the years. When I came to re-read this for the first time since the late 60s, I could clearly recall the picture near the start of the story where the British aircrew were struggling in the water as sharks circled them. It was as good a use of applied tone as ever I’ve seen but that’s no surprise, the man who did it was Gordon Livingstone, an expert.
   His inside art more than does justice to the story, while Ken Barr’s cover depicting two Walruses doing what no Walrus should piques your curiosity so much that you just have to read it. Well, go on then, what are you waiting for?

Originally Commando No 284 (September 1967), re-issued as No 979 (November 1975)

Story: McOwan
Art: Gordon Livingstone
Cover Art: Ken Barr

Images © DC Thomson 2011.

Wednesday 13 July 2011

John Millar Watt

John Millar Watt, was as many of you will be aware, one of the many talents who helped add an artistic flourish to Leonard Matthews Look and Learn magazine  when the UK's children's educational weekly was first launched in 1962.

By this stage of his career Millar Watt was heading towards his seventies, but his artwork remained as beguiling as ever. His paintings were fashioned with an almost ethereal, jewel-like application of paint and ink to finely rendered figure-work. The overall effect was often quite haunting and at times just a little unsettling, they were images which remained with the viewer long after the magazine had been set aside.

Millar Watt, was typical of men of that generation insomuch as he had seen a lot of life, having had his art studies interrupted by the Great War, where he appropriately enough served in the Artist's Rifles. Upon returning to civvy street he pursued a successful career in illustration, until in 1921 he almost serendipitously created a comic strip that was to prove such a hit with audiences both at home and in the U.S. that he became enslaved to the life of "Pop" and his family.

Yo can check out some samples of "Pop" on John Adcock's excellent Yesterday's Papers blog.

Watt became shackled to the world of Pop for 28 years before finally giving the old boy his curtain call, by which time he was positively champing at the bit. The year was 1949 and a meeting with Leonard Matthews was to provide the artist with more than enough work to fill the rotund void left by the departed Pop.

Here's some of the work he created for Look and Learn.

Saturday 9 July 2011

Norman Maurer - 2 X 3 = 3D Comics And The 3 Stooges

Norman Maurer epitomized all that is great about New Yorkers,  a lot of chutzpah with a dynamo of drive to back it up. Enough of both of these qualities to get him rubbing shoulders with Charles Biro and Bob Wood where he was instrumental in creating a comic book filler feature that became so popular that it eventually usurped the title's flagship superhero. The comic in question was Daredevil ( the 1940's version and very different to Marvel's Daredevil) yet another of Biro and Wood's comic packages for publisher Lev Gleason (there is a fascinating profile of Gleason to be accessed here) and Maurer's feature went under the memorable title of The Little Wise Guys.

Maurer's association with Biro and Wood continued into the early fifties but with the contraction of the comic book industry as a result of the anti horror and crime comics putsch, he sought out new avenues and as has been previously documented on this blog with the technical expertise of his brother Leonard and artistry of Joe Kubert, he set about creating the first ever 3D comic. The riches that they envisaged never really happened as they had been outmanoeuvred by none other than EC publisher William Gaines who tracked down the holder of the "original" patent, bought it off the elderly gent concerned and then launched litigation in the direction of anyone seeking to produce 3D comics. Maurer and Co. were first in the firing line.

However Maurer had a few more irons in the fire, well at least one which seemed to offer some imminent promise. He had really good showbiz connections, insofar as he was married to the daughter of Moe Howard, one of the  Three Stooges and when their contract with Columbia pictures was terminated in 1957, he stepped in and became their manager and effectively revived their career, writing, producing and directing many of their later films and shows as well as introducing them to a new generation of TV viewers via Cambria Studios animated series.

But his energies went further as he was also instrumental in the development of CineMagic, a process of integrating hand drawn effects onto film which was first showcased in the film The Angry Red Planet in 1959. The somewhat underwhelming results can be glimpsed here:

His work in film continued as he developed a rapport with the Hanna-Barbera Studio but he never entirely severed his connections with comics and even during the early 1970's while he was scripting episodes of Scooby Doo he was also contributing the occasional strip to his old friend Joe Kubert's Our Army at War comic.

Here is a sample of his work on one of those infamous Crime Does Not Pay stories from 1948.

Sunday 3 July 2011

Nominate a Commando!

Over at Commando HQ, editor Calum Laird and his team are canvassing nominations for Commando comics which readers would like to see reprinted. I'm pleased to see that one of my all time favorite stories Man-Trap (Commando No. 184) is already on the list of worthy contenders, and if you have suggestions I would urge you to visit the Commando website and post your suggestions.

Here's another of mine, one of the earliest Commandos and one whose cover was so shocking for it's time that it absolutely commanded your attention. In addition to the powerful Ken Barr cover, the script by retired Major Eric Hebden and artwork by Jose Bielsa made for one of the most memorable comics of this title's first year. It's worth mentioning that although DC Thomson would always supply photographic reference to their artists, the selection of appropriate photos in 1961 just wasn't that great. Hebden's script demanded a certain amount of licence  as he described a death's head insignia on the SS men's helmets, but in reality this would have been a collar flash and not helmet decal. The reference that Thomson's seem to have supplied Jose Bielsa looks as if it was sourced from a photograph of Finnish troops who fought against their traditional enemy the Russians as part of the Nazi's allies. The photograph in question shows a group of Finnish troops in 1945 wearing remarkably shoddy looking tunics and German 1942 pattern Stahlhelms (apart from the man on the far right wearing a 1916 pattern helmet) decorated with the somewhat outre Finnish devised skulls used by Bielsa. Barr's cover is a tad more convincing in regard to the uniforms but still way of the mark compared to a photograph of the kind of SS troops that British troops would have encountered as the following photograph depicts.

But don't let this deter you from casting a vote for Commando No. 25 - or any other Commando that takes your fancy for that matter.

It's all part of the fun of this remarkable comics fiftieth birthday celebrations.

All artwork © DC Thomson 2011.