Saturday 31 December 2011

A Spooky End To A Spooky Year

I have just read of the discovery of what for many fans of films that go bump in the night is something of a holy grail. The preamble to my uncovering this bit of news is that I had determined that whatever else happened today I had to make another blog posting before the year end. To this effect, I decided to do one of my brief updates on my current illustration activities and as this involves a series of books devoted to a team of daring girls who dedicate themselves to unsettling the best laid plans of vampires, ghouls and zombies I was trawling the internet for some examples of the vast hinterland of trash culture that informs these images.

In particular there is one image which is very closely allied to a sequence from Hammer Films Dracula (Horror of Dracula as it was in the US). The sequence in question is toward the climax of the film and is heavily laden with sexual innuendo as Dracula slowly and lasciviously reveals the fangs that are about to render the lovely Mina Holmwood as yet another slave to his malevolent bidding. As he does so there is a subtle tinkling not unlike the shiver of a dozen shards of glass which adds an extra frisson of anticipation to the occasion.

This is what I had in mind when I created this image illustrating a moment when one of the aptly named Spook Squad girls is menaced by a vampire.

But as I checked out various links I discovered that the cartoonist and writer Simon Rowson, aided by his Japanese wife Michiko, had managed to finally track down the least censored print extant of what was Hammer's finest Dracula film. It has long been common knowledge amongst Hammer devotees, that the studio would issue three different cuts of it's films. The UK would have the most heavily edited to conform to the very strict censorship rules that applied, the US would have the next longest and the Japanese whose censors seemed quite liberal in comparison would have the longest versions. It was this image from Warren's comic strip adaptation that gave a clue to what the Japanese might have seen which the rest of the world hadn't that gave added impetus to the hunt for the missing print.

It was down to the superb teamwork and dedication to the project of Simon and Mitchiko who are based in Tokyo, that enabled them to finally locate a partial print of the Japanese cut of the film. The first five reels of the film had been lost in a studio fire in 1984 but reels 6, 7, 8 and 9 still survived and as the most heavily censored scenes, including the climatic disintegration scene occurred towards the end of the film this was indeed a fortuitous outcome. Simon was able to view  the last two reels and as well as the disintegration scene including the much speculated close ups of Christopher Lee's face, there were other snippets from the Mina Holmwood seduction scene which were absent from the versions familiar with audiences in the West.

The lost footage is apparently going to be included in a forthcoming UK release of this fabulous film.

Can't wait!

Wednesday 21 December 2011

Message For Lovers of Contemporary Art (especially Simon!)

 Do you remember Jiminy Cricket? Old Jiminy was the little grasshopper character that was appointed Pinocchio's conscience by the Blue Fairy. And every time old Pinoke was going astray, little Jiminy would be whispering in his ear and trying to steer him back onto the road of true righteousness.

Well, I have my own Jiminy Cricket although he is slightly larger than the dear wickle Jiminy, but like Jiminy his word is to be heeded. Simon is a dear friend and occasional cricket... err critic of this blog. Simon has divined that most bloggers have their comfort zones and mine are he reminds me, becoming all too apparent.

I did make an effort yesterday by referencing the work of the little known but singularly gifted Bill Mevin, but as Simon rightly observed I did grab hold of the old comfort blanket by mentioning Ron Embleton, who I have to admit, is something of a recurrent theme in many of my posts.

Counsel for the defense submitted that their client also made mention of J. Arthur Rank, David Hand and British Gaumont (aka Rank Organization), who have never featured in this blog before, but the verdict was pretty damning, and I am for the moment hanging my head in shame.

If fate was kinder I would love to devote one blog posting to Simon's incredible photography. This man who lives in the deepest and darkest part of rural Sussex is without doubt one of the world's greatest glamor photographers and somewhat insanely he has never had an exhibition of his work, I am one of the relatively few people on the planet to have seen these works along with the beautiful women who are so entranced by his work that they offer themselves up as eager subjects for his lens.

But for the moment these amazing works will just have to remain the stuff of legend, whilst I run past you chaps and chappesses the latest issue of Be Street, which has so far managed to avoid mention of Frank Hampson, Ron Embleton, Denis McLoughlin, Ian Kennedy, Carl Barks, Floyd Gottfredson, Al Williamson, Steve Ditko or even Bill Mevin.

But it is super cool with fabulous layouts, some great artists and a short feature on illustration legend Mick Brownfield (a feature on Mick will also be appearing in an upcoming issue of Illustrators), who sent me the details which I am now sharing with you.

Be Street's Facebook Page is here

Be Street'sTumblr is here

And Be Street's Twitter is here

Tuesday 20 December 2011

Merry Christmas From Wee Sporty, Bill Boffin and Yours Truly

As readers of the recently published Wulf the Briton magnum opus will recall, there was one week in 1959, when Wulf the Briton did not make Express Weekly's front page. This enviable slot had been his regular and unchallenged fiefdom ever since Ron Embleton's masterful development of the strip had threatened to usurp even the pre-eminence of Dan Dare. The week in question was for the issue cover dated December 26th 1959 and by this stage of the game Wulf was on a real roll, with seething rivalries between a breakaway faction of the Brigantes under the leadership of the beautiful and scheming Cartamandua and the remainder of the tribe under the leadership of their king Venutius, cuckolded husband of Cartamandua (although this was never spelled out for obvious reasons) leading to some of the most spectacular battle sequences ever seen in any comic, anytime, anywhere. And if that wasn't enough earlier in the year there had been gladiatorial combat, siege and starvation in the depths of a cruel winter with a vengeful Marius Actus and the 20th legion determined to destroy Wulf and his followers and in the run up to Christmas there had been yet more landings as the forces of Imperial Rome under the command of Agricola set about to bring order to the unruly Brits. But while all that was going on Wulf and his comrades in arms Basta and Greatorix, had their hands full with a bunch of Saxon Vikings who were wreaking havoc on the Northern coasts.

So when my Christmas issue of Express Weekly arrived I was momentarily mystified, but only for a moment as I saw Wulf make his only ever appearance as a truly spectacular, full color double page spread across the center of the comic. The front page was in the meantime reserved for Bill Mevin's Wee Sporty. Mevin it should be mentioned was a highly talented illustrator, whose training had included a stint working under the directorship of David Hand, who (according to who you read) was at one time Walt Disney's creative right hand man. Hand left the studio in 1944 somewhat disillusioned in the wake of the strike that had nearly crippled the studio in 1941 and the resultant unionization. (Hand pictured above second from left in the storyboard discussion photograph) Disney never really forgave Hand for leaving and was firmly of the opinion, despite Hand's denials, that his move was as a result of an approach from the UK's Rank Studio. J. Arthur Rank was a man whose ambitions seemed limitless as regards creating an Albionesque version of Hollywood, complete with stars (under contract to Rank) and epic productions, directed by some of the most exciting home grown talents that would see the studio as a credible force in international cinema.

The inevitable happened and after work on the full length feature Animal Farm was completed and the studio had failed to secure a distribution deal for it's animated cartoons series Animaland and The Musical Paintbox, the J. Arthur beancounters pulled the rug out from under Hand and his studio and for Mevin and a lot of the other talents, they had to ply their skills elsewhere.

For Mevin, the break was something of a blessing in disguise as he was able to develop his own ideas and style rather than expending energy on work which was so heavily Disney influenced (doubtless at J Arthur's behest), that it looked way too dated before it had even been shown to audiences that would inevitably make less than favorable comparisons with the epics being produced in the Mouse Factory.

Mevin's style blossomed and moved with the times and included a lot of TV based cartoon strips for such series as Dr Who, Bugs Bunny, Space Patrol and newspaper work such as the Mevin creation The Soapremes and The Perishers.

I'm also including a couple more Christmas themed pages from the same issue to help with such things as part games. Courtesy of the inimitable Bill Boffin as drawn by Selby Donnison.

Lovely stuff!

Friday 9 December 2011

News Roundup

I've had a lot of visits to this blog over the last twenty four hours and while many of them have been as a result of the interest generated by the news of  the upcoming Book Palace Books Heros the Spartan project, there were also a lot following up on the death of Jerry Robinson, who in many ways was the last link to the pivotal moment when US comic books stopped being merely re-packagers of Sunday Newspaper comic sections and turned themselves into the realtors of teen geeks fantasies.

Jerry Robinson for this fan at least was at his best when he provided the panache and draftsmanship to elevate Bob Kane's Batman to one of the best looking comic books on the 1940's newstands. He it was who provided swipes and inspiration to other of Kane's more talented "ghosts", including Dick Sprang. Sprang may have redesigned Batman's waist line as a counterpoint to Robinson's more elegant delineation but he was not averse to copiously swiping a lot of Robinson's poses. I suppose one could make the point that Robinson's poses were heavily influenced by his studio buddy Mort Meskin, but however you cut it, it was Robinson who refined the look of the "golden age" Batman, created the Joker and came up with some of the most iconic covers of the 1940's. The rest of his career may well have been hugely worthy but for me these examples of his art show a young guy afire with enthusiasm and talent and are an achievement that will never be bettered.

Work on Illustrators, Denis McLoughlin and Heros continues apace, we have a lot to juggle with over the next few months and we will be running stuff past you guys from time to time to keep you posted with what we're doing.

In the meantime Commando's fiftieth birthday bash continues with the appearance of issue 1 in it's reprinted guise of Commando 4453.

Here's the information from Calum Laird editor of Commando and the man behind the many innovations and ideas which have made this particular Commando anniversary so succesful:

Hello All,

Here we have it, the second from last Commando raid of our 50th year, 2011.

By a curious coincidence, and one I think he’d have enjoyed, the quartet includes  the second from last story created by Norman Adams who sadly died in August this year. Norman was well known to Commando fans for his creation of the Headline Heroes, The Phantom (with Keith Page) and a whole army of others.

Norman is sadly missed by everyone on the Commando Team, past and present, an I’m sure that goes for commando’s readers too.

You can find out more about Norman and his work here…

All the best,


Commando No 4451

Chuck Ballard Goes To War

December, 7th, 1941 — America is left reeling from Japan’s sneak attack on Pearl Harbor. For the Japanese crew of a Nakajima B5N2 “Kate” torpedo bomber, however, the success is short-lived. After crash-landing on a supposedly deserted island, they are dismayed to find that it is in fact home to a village full of civilians.
   Though the three Japanese airmen do not wish to take innocent lives, their fellow countrymen, responding to their mayday signal, are not so honourable. This may turn out to be their undoing, thanks to the presence of an ex-Marine who is an expert with a hunting rifle…

Script: Norman Adams
Art: Olivera
Cover: Ian Kennedy

Commando No 4452

Operation “Loco”

James Bailey was a railwayman like his father before him. In charge of the most powerful steam locomotives he could drive anything, anywhere, any time.
   He was the obvious choice when a special job came in to his depot. Would it be a VIP run to London? Or maybe a vital troop train to the coast?
   How about a Commando raid behind enemy lines?

Script: Mac MacDonald
Art: Keith Page
Cover: Keith Page

Commando No 4453

Walk — Or Die!


CORPORAL TOM GERRARD of the Royal Tank Corps was just an ordinary bolke, easy-going and cheerful.

COLONEL KARL OBERTH of the SS Panzer Corps was a typical Nazi officer, brutal and merciless.

SOMEWHERE on the limitless, scorching inferno of the Western Desert, Fate decided their tank tracks should cross.

HERE THEN is the story of the epic fight put up by Corporal Gerrard and his tank, Matilda, against the might and power of the Panzers and their swaggering Colonel, who thought he could sweep the British off the face of the desert.

Introduction by Calum Laird, Commando Editor

This is where it started, a little over 59 years ago — in the fiery dawn of a desert sunrise and the fertile minds of the team that put the first ever Commando together. We’ve often joked about how they anticipated the dawn of the iPad by making Commando pages just the right size to fit on its screen but reading page 14 I realised they’d anticipated the advent of social media too. Check out what Tom Gerrard has to say about the radio.
   Joking apart, it’s not hard to see why Commando was a success from Day One. With a punchy story from the pen of Eric Castle, strong artwork inside the comic from Garcia and that intriguing cover from the brushes of Ken Barr those first issues fairly leapt from the shelves. The format was right from the very first and endures to this day.
   Probably you weren’t born when this first came out so this is an ideal chance to find out what it was like to one of commando’s first readers. I don’t think you’ll be disappointed.

Walk — Or Die!, originally Commando No 1 (June 1961), re-issued as No 2523 (December 1991)

Script: Eric Castle
Art: Garcia
Cover: Ken Barr

Commando No 4454

Riley’s Rifle

It was a rifle like countless others, standard issue to thousands upon thousands of men in the British Army in two World Wars — a Lee-Enfield No.1 Mark III. Millions of them were made. Some are still in use today.
   But there was something special about this particular rifle — it was as if it had a life of its own, a will of its own. It seemed to want to do things by itself…and what it wanted most was vengeance!

Introduction by George Low, former Commando Editor

No apologies for presenting another story from the fertile mind of Cyril Walker. He just couldn’t stop turning out classic tales to enthral and delight.
This 1975 story is really quite simple, the account of a Lee Enfield rifle with a will of its own and a gipsy curse woven into the fabric of the tale. It’s enthralling and a good example of Cyril at his best. Ian Kennedy did the arresting cover and Galindo drew the exciting black and white illustrations.

Riley’s Rifle, originally Commando No 994 (December 1975), re-issued as No 2347 (February 1990)

Script: Cyril Walker
Art: Galindo
Cover: Ian Kennedy

Thursday 8 December 2011

Coming In 2012

Very exciting to say the least...

Monday 5 December 2011

Comic Page Scans Straight From The Devil's Cauldron

Straight from the arid plains of Sub Saharan Africa - or more specifically the bit where the rugged Malcolm Norton sits, with his bush hat pushed back, pipe in clenched jaw, fingers inscribing a mad tarantella over his keyboard as various film scripts, essays and the occasional letter to his boyhood idol Ian Kennedy are swiftly concocted, comes these beautiful scans.

Looking at the tawny hues of these pages you can almost feel the merciless lash from the heat of the inhospitable clime that is slowly rendering these treasured artifacts into close cousins of the dead sea scrolls.

However your task for today, as you gaze in wonderment at these pages is to identify the artists whose work enlivens these adventures from an otherwise lost era.

Three artists in total and all three stalwarts of boy's comics from the golden age of UK weekly comics.