A blog about British comics from KRSinc


War comics – not just AAARRRRGGGHH!!!s and derring-do


‘Price of War’ by Kenny McBride, Wirral

I was flicking through some old issues of Battle and came across this on the letters page of issue #429


SCANTASTIC! Dan Dare’s 1990 makeover covered by The Independent

More from the cuttings files – this time a 1990 article from The Independent by design writer Jonathan Glancey on the reborn ‘original’ Dan Dare.

A quick recap: when the ‘new’ Eagle was launched in 1982, it featured ‘Return Of The Mekon’, a strip retconning (the original) Dan Dare into a Battle of Britain test pilot sent into the future, Buck Rogers-style (per the requirements of a TV series then still in pre-production). As the strip developed, and the television show never materialised, the focus became the great-grandson of (original) Dan. Also called Dan Dare.

This (new) Dan Dare had eight years-worth of adventures in the (new) Eagle, with varying levels of enthusiasm from readers, and striking art from the likes of Gerry Embleton, Oliver Frey, Ian Kennedy, Carlos Cruz and John Gillatt.

By the late 1980s, the speculation bubble, plus a nostalgia boom driven by (original) Eagle readers now all grown up, out of short trousers and with some disposable moolah, meant that Mike Higgs was able to put out the high-quality Hawk Books reprints of the (original) Eagle‘s (original) Dan Dare adventures, which increased interest in the (not new) Dan Dare from younger readers. It certainly tickled my fancy – I got the ‘Dan Dare – Pilot Of The Future: The Deluxe Collector’s Edition‘ (Patrick Hawkey first edition) as a present for passing the Eleven Plus, and started from there.

Then there was the whole COMICS HAVE GROWN UP!11!!! marketing spiel from trad publishing houses realising there was a gravy train to jump onto, whilst carpetbaggers continued to skew the market, giving the impression of comics as some kind of magic money generator, all at the same time as juvenile titles’ circulation were sinking.

Throw all that together, and you have Fleetway in 1989 coming up with an idea to reinvigorate (new) Eagle: by ditching (new) Dan, and reintroducing (original) Dare. In a sense it was a masterstroke – not least because they secured the talents of (original) Eagle artist Keith Watson. It was a way of exploiting the canon, the back catalogue, the interest of older readers and the then-preoccupations of the publishing sector.

And that’s where this article comes in. By 1990 we were (if I recall correctly) three albums into the (original) DD saga, and Hawk was ready to release its ‘Dan Dare Dossier’, a big, glossy, full colour and comprehensively list-filled biography of the character, his creation and his memorabilia. The (original) Dan Dare in the (new) Eagle wasn’t working as well as it was hoped so there was a little bit of tinkering to update him; but by then one can imagine that the parameters available had been severely constrained. But modification were made, and younger bucks like David Pugh and Keith Page provided some excellent artwork for what must have been a tough brief (“more modern than the new ‘old’ Dan, but more more retro than the old ‘new’ Dan…”), and as a young reader then it did feel like perhaps the corner was being turned.

Of course, it was but a valiant rearguard action.

» Dan Dare article, The Independent (14/4/90) (PDF)

Apologies for the haphazard scans. I will transcribe the article into plain text when I have a free moment for ease of searchability. In their wisdom, Apple decided to sell me an HP scanner/printer that doesn’t have Twain drivers (which means that I can’t scan to Acrobat and use OCR) having accidentally missed out this somewhat salient fact in their sales blurb. Cheers!

ALL POINTS BULLETIN: The ZINE cartoonists missing in action… Can you help find them? #6: J Marks

Okay, so here’s the last APB for ex-ZINE artists for the mo… Not as flashy as Champniss, stylised as Matt Saw or downright whacked-out as Steg, but I always had a soft spot for J Marks. Her/his pocket cartoons just seemed to hit the mark.

So, anyone got any clues on what happened to the google-proof J Marks? Drop me a line if you do!


SCANTASTIC! Leo Baxendale’s 1993 Harris Gallery exhibition gets luke-warm write-up in Independent

Another clipping from yore, this time on a celebration of Leo Baxendale‘s work, snipped out of The Independent‘s Saturday magazine back in November 1993.

It’s written by Ruth Picardie, and it’s somewhat snarky. However, it is interesting to read this short account of this exhibition at Preston’s Harris Gallery on the creator of comic icons such as the Bash Street Kids, Minnie the Minx and Little Plum alongside Baxendale’s own memoir, Hobgoblin Wars: Dispatches From The Front – which is available both as a high quality print edition for £120 and as a free PDF.

» ‘They’re playing our toon’ by Ruth Picardie (The Independent Magazine 6/11/93) (PDF)
» Hobgoblin Wars: Dispatches From The Front by Leo Baxendale (PDF)

Edited 15/10/12 because I just noticed I’d left off the end of the article! PDF now updated.

SCANTASTIC! Homemade lists of British comics…

Yo ho ho!

So the Cap’n was rooting around in his sea chest, and found some time-faded charts he worked up nigh on a quarter-century back, when he was but a young snotty…

Yes, even as a young comics fan, I had a fondness for lists. In those days we didn’t have the convenience of the internet, or handy databases like ComicVine or Comics UK. No, back in 1990 it was all about trawling through the limited resources on the shelves of the local library, or the occasional reference book gifted you at Christmas by indulgent parents, or your own meagre collection built up from boot fairs and village fetes and jumble sales.

So bearing all this in mind, may I present to you, my written-in-three-different-colours summary of British comics 1908-1990!

Yes, it is lamentably patchy, and betrays an embarrassing bias towards a very narrow (in both time and style) tranche of boys’ and humour titles of DC Thomson (arrgh! Misspelled too!) and Fleetway – but it was all my own work. Well, largely culled from Denis Gifford‘s Encyclopedia Of Comic Characters, Happy Days and The International Book Of Comics, plus the George Perry/Alan Aldridge Penguin Book Of Comics… But I definitely remember putting in the hours to consolidate it all!

I also put together an index of artists… If you are unlucky enough, I shall commit that too to the electronic fires of the scanner some day soon.

» Cap’n KRS’s boyhood comic lists (PDF)

SCANTASTIC! Colin MacNeil’s brazen attempt to rig 1990 Eagle Awards

Okay, so it was nothing of the sort…

I was always more of a mainstream comic reader than a fanboy, but in 1989 and 1990 I did make the trek up to That There Lunnon for the 2000AD/Judge Dredd Annual signing thingummy organised by Forbidden Planet. It was the first time I’d ever met comic creators! I think it would have been in July, or maybe August. School holidays, definitely. The first time I went up with a couple of school friends, with my dad in tow, but by the next year I was trekking into Town fairly frequently on my own anyway, so I suspect that year’s trip was parent-free.

Anyway, my memories of exactly who was at what signing are somewhat hazy, not helped by the fact that I don’t have all the annuals I got signed (as I sold off some of my collection at the beginning of the recession due to pennilessness, d’oh). I do remember that the 1989 signing (of the annuals cover dated 1990) – at Cafe Mango I think? – was late to start because Simon Bisley was late… But when he did turn up, wow! He was like a rock god! Not that I had any interest in rock gods, but boy was he charismatic. Strange to think that a speccy dude in a mullet entranced me so much, but he did. Suddenly all the heavy metal muscled men and pneumatic warrior women in Sláine: The Horned God (the first volume of which was out as a 2000AD Books full colour TPB at the time) made a lot more sense… Bisley was great – rather tipsy, but good fun. He rattled off a great sketch of Joe Pineapples from the ‘ABC Warriors’ for me, unprompted. After the signing I rushed back to Forbidden Planet on New Oxford Street to get myself a JP badge, which I wore on my school blazer for ages!

Besides The Biz, there was Kev Hopgood, who seemed like a really nice chap, though I just wasn’t a fan of his work (Night/Beyond/Below Zero). Even at the time I felt guilty about not enjoying his stuff. Finally, there was Grant Morrison and Steve Yeowell – this was the time of ‘Zenith’ – and the then deputy-Tharg Alan MacKenzie, who I knew as the author of How To Draw And Sell Comic Strips (illustrated by Steve Parkhouse), a book I had on perpetual loan from my local library.

The next year the signers included MacKenzie (again), writers John Smith and Pete Milligan, plus artist Paul Marshall (whose work I really wasn’t very familiar with). The big hitter, though – in the Bisley seat, so to speak – was Colin MacNeil. This was after Chopper: Song Of The Surfer had come out, but possibly before Judge Dredd: America. MacNeil was the antithesis of Bisley – shy, very quiet – but as generous to a humble fan. I think he sketched me a quick Marlon Shakespeare, but I can’t remember where I’ve stashed it. I then seized my moment, whipped out a blank Eagle Awards nomination form, and asked him to put his name in the ‘Favourite Artist’ section, and to sign it. He visibly cringed, but he did it anyway, sport that he was.

And, uh, that’s the story of how COLIN MACNEIL TRIED TO RIG THE 1990 EAGLE AWARDS!

Edited 5 October to correct foolish error

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!