Monday 28 November 2011

Lipstick on My Collar - Blogging Vs Illustrators

The perils of blogging, you start out with the best of intentions - a blog posting everyday. After a while you come to the awful realization that you simply cannot post interesting and engaging topics everyday without treating your blog as an unpaid career and forsaking other activities to ensure that you continue to maintain the (hopefully) high standard you have set yourself.

So then comes the facilitators of daily blogging. In the case of blogs such as this one, where the subject matter is trash culture, you can run serialized comic strips, but the problem is that apart from issues of copyright and the nightmare of possible litigation from unexpected sources ( The Curious Case of Walter Potter and the Stuffed Animals that Bite), there is also the fact that there are already a lot of bloggers providing access to  material that would otherwise have faded from the collective consciousness many years ago.

Hence the intermittent postings that have become the norm for this blog.

For which I offer my unreserved apology, especially to Malcolm whose days toiling on the fiery plains of Sewth Efrika are made a mite more tolerable by his  attachment to the cybernetic umbilicus of the UK and the many blogs such as this one, that remind him of the warm beer and mist shrouded cobblestones of dear Old Albion. Ah yes Albion (cue Grimethorpe Colliery Brass Band playing Eric Coates In Town Tonight) enlivened by it's stoic populace who no matter how hard times may be are always ready to share a cuppa char and a tin of bully beef. I can almost see a tear gently coursing down Malcolm's chiselled features as he peers at his computer screen.

Of course there is another reason for the sporadic nature of my postings and that is the  new and soon to be launched Illustrators, issue 1 of which will include an interview with Ian Kennedy along with a really superb feature on the life and work of Denis McLoughlin by his friend and biographer David Ashford. Both of these articles I know will be of some consolation to Malcolm as he toils purposefully in the scorched veldt.

We have in truth some really amazing features coming at you over the next few years, with contributions from artists, designers, agents and biographers, who will add so much more enjoyment to the superbly reproduced (and much of it hitherto unseen for decades) artwork that we will be running in each and every issue of Illustrators.

So in the meantime here's some more samples of work in progress just to get your illustration hungry juices flowing.

Thursday 24 November 2011

More News From Commando HQ and a Couple of Strays

Just received this latest update from Calum Laird over at Commando HQ. I can't stress enough just how thrilled I am with their current reprint policy. The reason being that at last they are reprinting a whole slew of titles from the early non PC years, where Huns were Huns, Nips were Nips, teeth were gritted, eyes bugged, everyone was back lit by what appears to have been exploding phosphorous and there was Mercy For None!

So here's some more of those early as well as new titles and some fabulous Ken Barr covers (some of his finest imo) and a sneak preview of some covers which slipped through the wire, including issue 94 Jump or Die with fantastic Barr cover and delicious interior art by Alfredo Sanchez Cortez.

Commando No 4447

Colours Of Courage

The proudest possessions of any regiment are its colours — the flags which it carries into battle. Its history is recorded on these colours, the victories it has won.
   A regiment guards its colours fiercely. To have them captured by the enemy is a terrible thing. But when a man hands over the colours to save his own skin it is a disgrace that brave soldiers can hardly bear think about.

Introduction by Calum Laird, Commando Editor

   If there are two things difficult to get right in a Commando they are French Resistance stories and ghosts. Resistance stories could easily be 63 pages of skulking about avoiding searching German soldiers and ghosts could easily look like normal characters drawn without enough ink.
   Thanks to ace story-teller Cyril Walker, Colours Of Courage cracks along with plenty of action to break up the tension. And Arthur Fleming — an art teacher from Glasgow — manages to skilfully depict a glowing figure despite only having black ink and white paper to work with.
  Wrapped in one of Ian Kennedy’s superbly drawn and laid-out covers it’s got all it needs for a cracking Commando.

Colours Of Courage, originally Commando No 1182 (December 1977), re-issued as No 2412 (October 1990)

Story: Cyril Walker
Art: Arthur Fleming
Cover Art: Ian Kennedy

Commando No 4448

The Four Scars

Corporal Bill Kirk felt the tiny life-raft rock lazily as the Jap struggled aboard. Both turned to look at the sinking Jap prison-ship they’d been on — Bill a prisoner, the Jap a guard. Then they turned back, to look at each other; and what that Jap read in Bill Kirk’s eyes made him start back in fear.
   But there was no escape for him. With only the vast empty ocean and the sharks circling the raft for witnesses, they grappled in a fight to the finish.

Introduction by Calum Laird, Commando Editor

I’ve mentioned before that I my childhood Commando issues at the back of the garage a few years ago. Some I had to look at again to refresh my memory, but not this one. I don’t know how many times I read and re-read this in the 60s but it must have been a lot because I had almost total recall.
   Ken Barr’s cover with its ethereal hand hovering over the action, Victor de la Fuente’s action-packed, high-energy inside art and Eric Hebden’s crackerjack of a story with its startling twist were just what the doctor ordered in 1965…and are equally so today. I think so anyway and I hope you’ll agree.
   As an aside, Ken Barr used a sheet of transparent plastic sheet with the outline of the hand painted on it to get that ghostly effect. I certainly didn’t know that in 1965.

The Four Scars, originally Commando No 185 (October 1965), re-issued as No 831 (April 1974)

Story: Eric Hebden
Art: Victor de la Fuente
Cover Art: Ken Barr

Commando 4449

Days Of Danger

Simon Katz was a young German and a fervent anti-Nazi. A brilliant mathematician, he escaped Germany by the skin of his teeth and went to work as a code-breaker for the British.
   Not long after, Sergeant Barney Taft also made an escape – from the bullet-strafed beaches of Dunkirk.
   Though they were on the same side, when circumstances threw the pair together, they clashed bitterly. But could they manage to work together against a ruthless enemy? They would have to if they were to survive.

Story: Stephen Walsh
Art: Vila
Cover Art: Nicholas Forder

Commando No 4450

The Nightmare War

Private Franz Bauer, a German Army engineer wounded during the invasion of France, was haunted by the deaths of his comrades in the same battle — wiped out by a mine. When he recovered he threw himself into his new job developing the remote-controlled Borgward IV demolition vehicle, hoping it might save other German lives.

   His chance to save thousands of lives would come, but he would be working alongside an unlikely ally — someone who had nightmares every bit as bad as Franz’s.

Story: Mac MacDonald
Art: Keith Page
Cover Art: Keith Page

All images © DC Thomson 2011

Wednesday 9 November 2011

Achtung Achtung!!!

Ja, mein old kamerads zer war continues, as Calum Laird at Commando Operational HQ located in the mist shrouded fastness of Dundee reminds me on a regular basis.

So here's the latest Commando quadruplets, including a superb reprinting of the second ever issue of Commando to appear back in 1961, when UK TV broadcasts were still in black and white and Cliff and the Shadows had released The Young Ones. Here's both the 1961 and 2011 editions for comparison.

Commando No 4443

Killer In No-Man’s-Land

As a soldier in the no-man’s-land between your own trenches and the enemy’s in World War One, you expected to get shot at. British soldier Alan Roux and his mates certainly did.
   What they didn’t expect was to have to dodge bullets fired from their own side.

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

Commando  No 4444

Kings of the Castle

Many strange battles were fought during the 1914-18 war but surely the strangest involved a pair of French regimental policemen, a squad of Australian infantrymen, a bunch of escaped German POWs…and a mediaeval stone tower.

Story: Mac MacDonald
Art: Keith Page
Cover Art: Keith Page

Commando No 4445



The powerful Japanese Army was island-hopping its ruthless way down through the South Seas towards Australia. Many a brave Aussie soldier, standing his ground in the green hell of the island jungles, was bulldozed into eternity by the sheer weight of the Nipponese army.
And one Englishman in the Australian army was caught up in the desperate battle.
Bob Palmer he was christened, but COWARD was the name they branded him with. Coward, the word that turns a man into the loneliest being on earth, for what soldier seeks a coward for company?
But there was no craven blood in Bob Palmer’s veins — and he proved he was ready to spill every drop as he blasted Jap after Jap into kingdom come. 

Introduction by Calum Laird, Commando Editor

   A classic Commando tale this, a man the victim of a misunderstanding who has to prove his accuser wrong. And with plenty of action along the way to add some spice. That the two men are on the same side but different nationalities hardly matters nor that there’s a third character trying to be a peacemaker between them.
   What does matter is the use of the emotive word Coward in the title and through out the story. It’s one of those loaded words that can’t be spoken except without venom — as amply demonstrated here by Sergeant Fettis.
   Note to the 1961 Commando editor…the word Coward in the title is far too small, make it bigger.

They Called Him Coward, originally Commando No 2 (June 1961), re-issued as No 2531 (January 1992)

Story: Castle
Art: Bonato
Cover Art: Ken Barr

Commando No 4446


It was going to be Captain David Poole’s toughest mission yet. Posing as a German spy he was to feed the Nazis with false information which would lead their forces into a trap.
  Everything was going like clockwork until David met up with a certain Australian pilot — and then everything started to go terribly wrong. 

Introduction by Calum Laird, Commando Editor

As I recall, Ken Gentry who penned this tale was a South African newspaperman with a sideline in Commando stories. I worked on a few of his over the years. Here he weaves a web of deceit with a double-crossing British agent, a straightforward Aussie pilot and a luckless German commander.
  Cecil Rigby who provided the inside art for the story had also worked on newspapers, as a very good caricaturist and he wasn’t bad at Commando either, having been in at the start.
  Ian Kennedy, who provided the cover, puts himself in the cockpit of every plane he draws. I hope he made an exception with this one — that looks like a painful crash.

Mystery In The Desert, originally Commando No 1370 (November 1979)

Story: Ken Gentry
Art: Cecil Rigby
Cover Art: Ian Kennedy

Monday 7 November 2011

What Goes Round Comes Around - Roger Brand Revisited

About a year and a half ago I made a posting under the title Roger Brand and The Curse of the Green Death. The cautionary tale of the decline and fall of this comics genius was sourced from a variety of accounts and anecdotes and subsequent to it's appearance I have been put right on a variety of factual errors. The first of these to surface was the fact that the splash panel featured in the tale The Haunted Sky was in fact drawn by Dan Adkins, but that was a minor (ish) deviation from the truth as compared to some of the other assertions that I erroneously reinforced from my evidently shaky sources.

What alerted me to this departure from actualite as opposed to the myth that I was unconsciously reinforcing, was a flurry of visits to this post over the weekend and a comment from Michele Wrightson on the posting in question.

Further exploration led me to the most fascinating and revelatory blog on Roger Brand which is an absolute must visit. On the Comics Journal blog and titled A Lousy Week For Woods (Remembering Roger Brand) and brilliantly written by the one and only Kim Deitch it contains photos of both Roger and Michele along with samples of his artwork which adds so much more to the understanding of Roger Brand and his work than my feeble effort did.

However that's not the end of it as Kim's article has acted as a catalyst for what amounts to a collective catharthis as friends and colleagues of Roger Brand, step forward with their own reminiscences of this amazing man.

I would strongly urge anyone remotely interested in Roger Brand's life and work as well as the development of the underground comics scene to check out this incredible posting.

P.S. There is also a Flickr page featuring the work of photographer Clay Geerdes which you can access at this link, where you will find more photos of both Roger and Michele along with many other underground comix artists from the early 1970's.

An Embarrasment of Reprints - Hal Foster's Prince Valiant Rides Again

I remember my first sighting of Harold Foster's Prince Valiant. It was on the back of James Warren's Creepy magazine wherein amongst the various goodies that Warren's Captain Company were offering was seven volumes of Prince Valiant published by Hastings House. When a few months later I came across copies of the books in London's newly opened pioneering independent comic and fantasy shop Dark They Were and Golden Eyed, I was indeed impressed with the production values of the books which charted Valiant's adventures from his boyhood to ascendancy as fully fledged Prince, married to the lovely Aleta, who of course is a Princess - of the Misty Isles - no less.

The only thing wrong with these books was that they were presented in the guise of illustrated texts, rather than comic strips. So what you were looking at, beautiful and captivating as the images were, was a bastardized version of Foster's ground breaking strip - you were still not actually looking at the pages as Foster intended, rather you were looking at the pages that Hastings House thought would be more likely to gain the approval of librarians and teachers. The books had been in print since the 1950s in an era where even comics as respectable as Foster's Prince Valiant would have been regarded as unworthy of life between hard covers, so the imperative was evidently that Prince Valiant had to look like a proper illustrated book.

There was by the time (1972) that I was ferreting around in DTWAGE's new arrivals shelve, other incarnations of Foster's masterpiece, in the form of some French softback albums, but the repro on these was just appalling and Woody Gelman's recently published Nostalgia Press reprints of Valiant's early years were not much better, albeit both these publications being in color, whereas the Hastings House books were in black and white.

Something else was definitely required and it was sometime in the late 1970's that an Austrian publisher by name of Heinz Pollischansky published two handsome black and white folios of Prinz Eisenherz. The pages from each strip were housed in a smart looking box, with English text on the front pages and German on a smaller version printed on the reverse of each individual plate. The only slight problem was that the years in question 1954 and 1955 were not quite as captivating as the early years of the strips run, as by now Prince Valiant having plighed his troth with the lovely Aleta was turning into a medieval Dagwood to Aleta's Blondie. In the process much of the dark fantasy which had so characterized the early years of the strip had been lost. More volumes followed in book format but frustratingly they continued on the run from the 1950's, although tantalisingly the first two years of the strips run were also included.

But this wasn't the end of the quest for a format that would accord full justice to Foster's swashbuckler. Nope, just as you were clearing shelf room for Pollischansky's reprints, along comes Rick Norwood, who with admirable dedication to the cause set out to source his prints directly from  Foster's original artwork, or failing that high quality proofs so that each year's Valiants would be the optimal best that any enthusiast could hope for. The first volume appeared in 1984 and was truly impressive, however there were a few caveats. The first was the sheer size, Norwood had decided to publish the books the same size as the original Sunday Comic pages, the dimensions of which were so huge that it made extraordinary demands on storage of the books. Forget about clearing shelf space, there seemed no other solution beyond clearing a drawer in an artist's plan chest, and this coupled with the fact that to keep
 his soaring costs down each volume was paperbound dictated that even reading the thing was an event that required a certain amount of pre-planning.

However the thing that eventually saw this project run out of steam was the cost of the color separations. Each volume of Norwood's Manuscript Press Edition Prince Valiant's was sourced from optimal quality black and white artwork and then using the pages of the original Sunday Comics as guides, new color separations were created. The cost of this part of the procedure, coupled with his already soaring printing costs and the need to sell enough of each highly priced edition to justify producing a new volume, dragged out the project to the point that only the most dedicated made it to volume three. A very limited edition of 26 copies was produced which contained all three volumes bound together as a way of writing a finis to the project.

Meanwhile an up and coming publisher by name of Fantagraphics Books was publishing the whole series of Prince Valiant in a much more affordable soft cover format. However as regards this reviewer at least I would have much rather spent a fortune on Norwood's epic enterprise than ploughed money into acquiring a set of books that didn't look that much better than a lot of other European editions that were also in print.

So for years my Manuscript editions remained my arbiter of what should be achieved with a reprint of Prince Valiant. That was until a year ago when I received a phone call from my main man in the comics 'hood Mr Geoff West, Chief Svengali and Master of the Universe otherwise known as The Book Palace. In the course of said call he mentioned that he had just taken a delivery of the new edition of Fantagraphics Prince Valiant.

"Yes Geoff, but is it as good as the Manuscript Press editions"?

""No, it's better, a LOT better, wait until you see it!"

And you know what?

He was right!

Check out this link for more information. Volume four covering the years 1943-1944 has just been published.

I am also including a sample from Valiant's first meeting with Morgana Le Fey to show a bit more of what Fantagraphics have achieved with this series. The first sample is from The Smithsonian Collection of Newspaper Strips and as you can see was shot from a Sunday Comics section with the curse of all comic restorers (I should know after working on The Wulf the Briton project) see through from the strip printed on the reverse side showing through loud and clear. Whereas the Fantagraphics page is scanned from Hal Foster's collection of proofs and what a difference this makes!

For lovers of Foster's unadulterated black and white line work it's also worth mentioning a fabulous Portugese edition of Prince Valiant by publisher Manuel Caldas. Only the first year 1937 has been published in English, but many more years are available in Spanish. Again check out this link for more information and the page above again shows the high fidelity of this edition's repro in comparison to previous efforts.