A blog about British comics from KRSinc

Archive for September, 2012

ALL POINTS BULLETIN: The ZINE cartoonists missing in action… Can you help find them? #1: Matt Saw

Right, so we’ve got the introductory post about The ZINE out of the way, you’ve been hooked by the early Jamie Smart art work – now onto part two: locating all those very talented ZINE artists who just seemed to disappear…

First up: Matt Saw.

His cheeky little scrawl was all over The ZINE – big eyed wee characters, often facing some kind of trouble. Great fun!

But where are you, Matt? Did you keep the creative juices flowing? Let us know!

IF you know anything about Mr Saw’s subsequent trajectory – or indeed if you are Matt himself – please do get in touch, either through the comments below or by dropping an email to Cap’n KRS.

For the meantime, here’s some top Matt Saw artwork for y’all to enjoy (clicken to embiggen)…

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SCANTASTIC! The ZINE and the earliest known published work of latterday Dandy artist Jamie Smart

Many moons ago, as a teenager, I (briefly) worked at a magazine called The ZINE.

The ZINE was a glossy affair, with plenty of colour, record reviews, band interviews and all the other ephemera of an indie-leaning youth publication of the 1990s, but what made it stick out from other titles on the racks at WHSmith was that it was a magazine completely filled with reader contributions. Angsty poetry, angry letters, sad tales of abuse, enthusiastic opinion pieces – it was all in there.

Initially a self-published fanzine called Charlotte’s Mag which was launched in 1991, it was rebranded The ZINE in 1993 – the new name and the skimmed-over computer game section part of the conditions laid down by the money people who got on board promising nationwide distribution. It was to last ten issues in this form, with circulation (if I recall correctly) into six figures. Tell me that’s not impressive!

I think it is safe to say that it had a loyal readership, who in turn were also very often passionate contributors – writers, reviewers, photographers, even sub-editors and office dogsbodies. Yes, as well as reading this magazine, and then sending in our own stuff to it, many of us also descended on The ZINE‘s office, in a farmhouse in the Surrey countryside, eager to ensure each issue went out, keen to learn the ropes. For some it was to set them on the path of journalism and publishing, for others it was simply a case of stepping up to repay the mag for both listening to and speaking for us. I guess I fell between the two stools somewhere.

Anyway, perhaps best of all was the artwork. From full-on paintings down to biroed doodles on the backs of envelopes, The ZINE offered anyone who was prepared to have a crack the opportunity to be seen by others. Some of the cartoonists were phenomenal – like Joseph Champniss, with his Look-In-style indie band biopic strips, or Dr Adolf Steg, with his feverishly bizarre renderings of monster-like creatures; or the increasingly ubiquitous Alex Mason and Matt Saw, each with their own instantly recognisable style.

‘Where are they now?’, you may ask. Well, Champniss worked with Lee and Herring, and co-created the Some Of The Corpses Are Amusing comedy website. Dr Steg has a website. Mason and Saw? I don’t have a scooby – and damn them for their google-proof names!

One former ZINE artist in particular though is still around, still cartooning, and doing so rather successfully: the wonderfully talented Jamie Smart.

Yes, Jamie Smart – whose memo helped revitalise The Dandy, whose own rendition of Desperate Dan divides audiences (personally I love it), whose own creations like ‘Bear‘ bubble with imagination and creativity – had his first work published at the age of fourteen in The ZINE!

So sit back, relax and enjoy some very early work by Jamie Smart – taken from The ZINE issue 5, originally published with a cover date of December 1993/January 1994 (clicken to embiggen)…

NB: I did contact Jamie to check with him that these were indeed his cartoons, and also to ask if he minded if I blogged about them. Many thanks Mr Smart for giving me the green light!


SCANTASTIC! ‘Zap! Pow! The astonishing growth of Graphic Novels’ – yet another “comics aren’t just for kids” article from ‘BOOKS’ magazine (June 1990)

In the mid 1980s, right through to the early 1990s, thanks to the whole speculation shitstorm which gave the illusion of healthy financial investment in comics, you could barely open a newspaper or magazine without some barely-evidenced article announcing that ‘comics aren’t just for kids!’

There were a few culprits: Art Spiegelman’s Maus – a holocaust survivor’s tale told in anthropomorphic pictures – was one of the prime suspects, with its classy perfect-bound gatefold paperback edition published by Penguin to great fanfare. Then there was Frank Miller’s canon-stretching Batman series The Dark Knight Returns, collected by Titan into a nice trade paperback. Grant Morrison and Dave McKean gave us the provocative Arkham Asylum.

These books and others seemed to take the form – as understood in the Anglo world – further away from the juvenile roots of comics, expounding upon existential themes, adult ideas, often with meticulously painted instead of the industrial assembly line plot-pencil-ink-colour-letter process of the American business.

But whilst some of these books clearly were conceived for a contained long-form, the big comic publishers sensed an opportunity, and before long every two-bit superhero, every slightly angsty übergoth outsider character, was in on the act, with Marvel and DC leading the effort to wage war on guiltless trees the world over. Otherwise pedestrian arcs of regular joe comics were packaged together, given a shiny new cover, and marketed as ‘graphic novels’. Comics for grown ups. Because comics have grown up. Groan…

And obviously having gone down the path of parcelling up product for second sale, the publishers also put in a lot of resources to market these naked-emperor books; and the mainstream book publishing companies, smelling the sweet scent of easy money, were wholly complicit. Hey, everybody wanted their own Maus.

So that’s why you would see all these crappy articles.

This one is from bookshop trade mag ‘BOOKS’, which was a freebie distributed through the Booksellers Association of Great Britain and Northern Ireland ‘Charter’ network. To be honest, it’s not the worst of its kind.

» BOOKS magazine article (June 1990) (PDF)


SCANTASTIC! ‘Operation Eagle’ feature from Eagle Annual 1983

Following on from my post on getting into Eagle, here’s a great little feature on the rebooted title’s genesis, taken from the pages of the first ‘new’ Eagle annual, coverdated 1983…

There are some great photos of the team responsible for the relaunch, including editors Barrie Tomlinson, Dave Hunt and Gil Page, plus behind-the-scenes IPC artists and designers like Jack Cunningham, Brian Wagland, John Jackson, Paul Blensburg and Pat Reynolds,.

Perhaps best of all are the try-out sheets for the revived ‘Dan Dare’, with great splash pages from John Gillatt (yes, I know I did later critique his ‘DD’ work) and Ron Smith, as well as sketches by eventual launch artist Gerry Embleton.

OPERATION EAGLE was the most secret project ever to be planned by the Boys’ Sport and Adventure Department of IPC Magazines. For months, Group Editor Barrie Tomlinson and David Hunt, the man destined to be Editor of the new magazine, worked on their plans for the re-launch of EAGLE, the most famous name in children’s comics.

The original EAGLE, first published in 1950, had gained a reputation of being a quality magazine that was ahead of its time. It had been a very special title to millions of boys… and today those boys were fathers themselves. They would demand that the new EAGLE was at least as good as its predecessor! The new EAGLE also had to be very special!

It was decided that the new EAGLE would be different would be for most of its stories to be presented in photographs, rather than drawings. Some thought that boys’ adventure stories would not successfully transfer to photographs… but it was tried… and it worked! World War Two stories, Westerns, school stories, science fiction… all were featured in the opening issues. There were some doubts from the older generation… but the new-style stories were voted a hit by the people they were meant for… the children of 1982!

As well as stories, the new EAGLE had to have high-quality feature material. ‘Cutaway’ drawings, Daley Thompson articles, interviews, Glamorous Teacher competitions… and many more. They were all planned during the secret sessions, along with lots of other features. When put together, they became the success story of 1982… the new EAGLE!

» ‘Operation Eagle’ (Eagle Annual 1983) (PDF from 300dpi CMYK TIFFs)


A LIFE IN COMICS: Eagle Mk II

I don’t care what the ‘proper’ nostalgists say, or what the orthodoxy dictates – I loved Eagle Mark II.

With glossy paper, photo stories and a higher feature-to-strip ratio than its contemporaries, the new Eagle launched in 1982 did not have much in common with its 1950s forebear, despite the rebooted ‘Dan Dare’.

Nevertheless, Eagle was the first comic which really whet my appetite, with a mix of action, sport, fantasy and humour. Sure, some of the photo strips were rather shonky, given the limited budgets (‘Saddle Tramp’, for instance, never convincingly conveyed the Wild West), and the pages of sports star profiles and cutaway drawings did sometimes feel like a cop-out, but it was the mix that kept me interested.

My Mum got me issue number 2 (with a cover mounted free gift – a plastic golden eagle!), as a one-off treat back in 1982 (‘The Tower King’ instantly etched itself on my memory), but I was only five years old at the time, so it wasn’t really until 1985 that I really got into it.

Back in those days periodicals – and this is something I intuit, rather than know for sure, so please excuse my assumption if it is wrong – were sold to most newsagents on a firm-sale rather than sale-or-return basis. That meant that unlike today, unsold newspapers, magazines and comics didn’t get bundled up and sent back to the distributor if nobody bought them – the seller paid for them regardless. To mitigate their losses, that meant newsagents often had months-old comics gathering dust on some back shelf somewhere begging for buyers, often with the cover price slashed. And what young comic lover with a few pennies of pocket money burning a hole can resist a bargain?

So it was that whilst on ‘holiday’ at my grandparents’ in Acton, my eight year old self bagged a fine run of a dozen or so copies of Eagle in their local newsagent – you know the score: a messy pile of unsolds nestling between out-of-date Jackies and forgotten People’s Friends, covers streaked with spirit marker announcing a 50% price cut. The mother lode!

It was around the time of Eagle‘s incorporation of Tiger. By then the glossy paper and photo strips were but a distant memory – instead it was the ragged-edged cheap inky newsprint that IPC was so fond of dumping on us.

But this was the time of Ian Kennedy passing the ‘Dan Dare’ art baton to Carlos Cruz; the time of the awesome Vek versus Zyn ‘Doomlord’ storyline; plus the very beginning of ‘Computer Warrior’ (née ‘Ultimate Warrior’); and a strong roster of conquered strips from both Tiger and Scream, including ‘The Thirteenth Floor’ and ‘Billy’s Boots’, filled the rest of the pages. Heady times…

It was a great two weeks at Nanny and Grandad’s. I remember it being quite sunny, but still I stayed in a lot of the time to plough through this treasure trove – Servitors of Nox battling it out on the London Underground! Dan Dare desperately fighting against time against a backdrop of armed, anthropomorphic zoo animals! Yet more ancient football boot-related woes for Billy Dane!

Yes, I was hooked.

From that moment on, I was an Eagle fan through and through. I quested through every newsagent, jumble sale, boot fair and village fete I came across for more such stashes, adding earlier issues to my collection all the time. I persuaded my Dad to modify my Saturday order to include Eagle alongside my Beano and Whoopee!! (in place of Look-In, I suspect). And so until its eventual closure on the cusp of 1994, I stuck with it.

Thanks, Eagle writers, artists, letterers and editors, thanks for shaping my world!


SCANTASTIC! “Dear Chris…” A letter from the (assistant) editor of Eagle to a dedicated young reader

You would not believe the trials and tribulations I went through to find this. Having moved house twice in the last year I was frantically panicking that it must have accidentally been thrown out – but no! After tearing through boxes and piles and folders and more boxes of miscellaneous paperwork I found it. My treasured letter from no less a personage that the assistant EDITOR of EAGLE!

I was a serious-minded eleven year old, and whilst I don’t have a copy of my outgoing epistle, I suspect that it may have ran to many, many pages; a “long and interesting letter” indeed!

I recall trying to impress upon the Eagle team that whilst I was a big fan of John Gillatt’s work normally, his stint on ‘Dan Dare’ simply was not working. Blow me down if they didn’t write back to tell me they agreed with me!

Fleetway Publications

4th March 1988

Dear Chris,

Thank you very much for your long and interesting letter concerning Eagle/Battle.

We do agree that the present artwork on Dan Dare leaves much to be desired. We thought that Cruz, the previous artists, might benefit from a spell away from Dan, but J. Gillatt has not settled down into getting a very good likeness. This was just an experiment that didn’t work.

We do have changes planned for Eagle/Battle in the future, so stay with us and see what you think of them. We do agree with your remarks concerning Robin Smith and Ortiz!

Thanks again for writing to us,

Yours sincerely,

Jim Storie[?]

Asst. Editor
EAGLE/BATTLE

And stay with Eagle I did, right through the MASK, ‘RoadBlasters’, Wildcat and weekly-becomes-monthly years till the very last issue.

PS Checking up on the handy Comic Vine website, I see that Carlos Cruz completed his ‘Dan Dare’ run in issue #305 dated 23 January 1988; the next issue saw the merger of Eagle with stablemate Battle, and the start of John Gillatt’s stint on the Pilot of the Future. I must have sent my letter somewhere between then and the 5 March-dated issue, #311. My comments about José Ortiz (whose ‘Tower King’ had been a real highlight of the early days of Eagle MkII) and Robin Smith would have been wholly favourable, as I loved both ‘Survival’ and ‘Detective Zed’!

PPS If anyone can tell me who the kind-hearted soul who wrote me this reply is, I would be most grateful – it’s been more than 24 years of not quite being able to decipher that signature…


WONDROUS WEBSITES: The unsung engineer of British comics, Pat Mills – welcome to the blogosphere!

So, Pat Mills – probably the comic writer who most inspired, influenced and guided me – has taken up blogging!

A while back he got into social media, first with a couple of Facebook pages (Pat Mills Comics and Pat Mills Political Comics), and then Twitter, where he’s @PatMillsComics.

I imagine that the response from readers, and the opportunity for dialogue, has been somewhat positive, as now he has launched a Pat Mills WordPress blog. Here he is posting all sorts of fascinating stuff about comics and characters he has been involved in, starting with the genesis of 2000AD and the creation of ‘Judge Dredd’ – and given the recent release of the Dredd movie, it’s most timely!

So why does Pat Mills matter? Well, consider his involvement in…

  • Girls’ comics – long overlooked by too many comic historians
  • Battle, Action & 2000AD – three ground-breaking, gritty comics born in the belly of the IPC beast through the midwifery of crazed freelances and subversive staff members
  • ‘Charley’s War’ – the best comic strip about war bar none, threaded through with humanism and righteous rage
  • Creators’ rights – behind the scenes, artists and writers are treated like indentured labour by massive publishing corporations
  • Pushing for recognition for unsung or unfashionable talent – like Gerry Finley-Day and Angela Kincaid
  • Diceman, Crisis & Toxic! – three great stabs at pushing UK comics into fresh directions

There was a great two-part interview with Pat last year by Matt Badham on the Forbidden Planet blog, which dealt with his thoughts on a wide range of topics. It’s rather long but I heartily encourage you to read through the whole thing… (1) (2)

Anyway, back to Pat and his new blog…

  1. Dredd – The Killing Machine
  2. Dredd – The Lawman Of The Future
  3. Dredd – Better Dredd Than Dead
  4. Dredd – Judgement Day
  5. Dredd – Exit Wounds
  6. Dredd – In The Shadow Of The Judge
  7. Dredd – Dredd & Darkie’s Mob
  8. Torquemada – The Swinging Monk
  9. Dredd – He Is The Law!

Edited 27 & 29 September and 1, 3, 4 & 6 October 2012 to add links to new excerpts