Tuesday, 26 April 2011

A DOG'S BEST FRIEND...


Double act: Lilli and Zac have been inseparable
since they were puppies

This sad but heart-warming tale was recently reported in the
DAILY MAIL and I thought I'd share it with you here.

***

Blind dog who has his own guide dog

"When ten-year old Zac went blind his companion Lilli
stepped in to prove that a dog's best friend is...another dog.

Now Zac, who had his eyes removed five years ago, relies on
his fellow Jack Russell terrier to guide him everywhere.

He stays inches from her side on walks, and she lets him rest
his head on her when he becomes tired or disorientated.

The pair have been inseparable since they were taken in as
stray pups a decade ago, and when an eye infection cost Zac
his sight, Lilli became his guide dog.

The pair's owner has moved abroad and they are seeking
a  new home.  Sarah Bussell, of the Blue Cross charity in
Tiverton, Devon, said Zac would be lost without Lilli, and
the dogs had to be re-homed together.

She said:  'They seem to have an almost telepathic
understanding, which is quite amazing to see.

'Zac and Lilli would be such rewarding companions and
would give lots of affection to whoever adopts them.'

Anyone interested in adopting Zac and Lilli should
phone 01884 855291."

***

Altogether now...aaaahhh!  Let's hope they've found
a loving new home by now.

Saturday, 23 April 2011

THE WORLD'S GREATEST SUPERHERO...


The mighty Christopher Reeve - gone, but not
forgotten

I note with interest that some advance reviews of the upcoming THOR
movie proclaim it to be the best superhero movie since SUPERMAN in 1978.
Remembering just what an impact that particular movie had on audiences, I'm
looking forward to seeing if Thor can truly measure up to such fulsome praise.
Nowadays, showing the impossible on screen is a much easier task than it was
in 1978 - thanks to the advances in CGI technology - but most of the flying
sequences in Superman still hold up pretty well, even after all this time.

Anyway, I'm not here today to talk about ol' Goldilocks - rather it's
Superman I want to blather on about for a minute or two - and in particular
CHRISTOPHER REEVE's interpretation of THE MAN OF TOMORROW.
It was as if THE SPARKY's PETER PIPER had blown his magic pipes (now
there's a reference bound to confuse any American readers) and ol' Supes had
stepped straight out of the pages of his own comic.  Has ever a human being so
personified a comicbook superhero better than Chris Reeves did?  The answer is
obviously "no" (I'm talking about cinematic portrayals, so relax, all you KIRK
ALYN and GEORGE REEVES fans), so it will be interesting to see just how
future interpretations of THE MAN OF TOMORROW compare to Reeve's
definitive portrayal.  BRANDON ROUTH managed a reasonably acceptable
impersonation of Christopher Reeve, but failed to truly match the original.

Anyway, with a new Superman epic in the works, let's take a
moment to remember the man who first gave life to the world's
greatest superhero on the big screen.

Thursday, 21 April 2011

HUGE HERO-WORSHIP FOR THE HULK'S HAPPY HERB TRIMPE - AND NOW FOR THE BAD NEWS...


Courtesy of Forbidden Planet

Herb Trimpe
Okay, True Believers, pay attention -
legendary artist HERB TRIMPE (rhymes
with shrimpy), the man most associated with
THE INCREDIBLE HULK after LEE &
KIRBY, was due to appear at Glasgow's
FORBIDDEN PLANET (at 168 Buchanan
Street, next to the subway) on MAY 19th
from 6pm to 8pm, along with CHRIS
PROUSE and RENEE WITTER-
STAETTER, to meet and greet fans
and sign autographs.

 Unfortunately, however, he's had to pull out due to family illness
and will now NOT be appearing. (As far as I know, Chris and Renee
will still be there.)

When I was in FP on Tuesday, I noticed they had a sale on a shelf-
load of MARVEL MASTERWORKS editions, which doubtless includes
some of Herb's Hulk work - why not console yourself by buying a volume,
kicking back your heels and reliving those power-packed adventures
from the '60s and '70s?

And, even if you can't get Herb's name on your comics, you can
still always ask for proprietor Jumpin' JIM HAMILTON's autograph
instead - he's a well-respected legend in the Scottish comics scene,
and personal friend of quite a few industry superstars.

Friday, 15 April 2011

THE MYSTERY OF THE MISSING WILLY...


Willy sets out on his maiden voyage
I was wandering
through my local branch
of JOHN MENZIES
(now WH SMITH) one
Winter's day back in
1976, when I spied a
big square table laden
with annuals. Prominent
among them was one I
hadn't seen before,
although the art style
was familiar to me.

"Only £1?", thought
me - "I'm having
that!" And thus was I
introduced to legendary
British cartoonist LEO
BAXENDALE's
latest comic creation -
WILLY THE KID.

Ooer! And he's not even out of the harbour yet
The book was laugh-out-
loud funny - and an absolute
steal at a measly quid. I
couldn't have been the only
one suddenly wishing their
life away 'til next year's
annual. So impressed was I
with the madcap masterpiece,
I bought copies for friends -
who also loved the lunatic
antics of the turnip-headed
Willy. And that's no mere
hyperbole: "...when I created
the first Willy book...my
inspiration in drawing
Willy was a turnip."
(Leo Baxendale, 1995.)

A lovely colouring job from Leo
According to the 1st annual,
there was going to be a new
one every year, and each book
would be kept in print forever.
When the 2nd annual came out
in 1977, I snapped it up and
gleefully looked forward to the
next one in what was going
to be a yearly succession of
Willy the Kid publications for
all eternity. I was deliriously
happy. Experience has long-
since taught me that nothing
is ever that easy and that the
fates often conspire against
us, but back then I was still
an optimist.

At least it's not under his bed
In 1978 I bought Leo's
autobiography, A VERY
FUNNY BUSINESS, but,
apart from a picture on the
back cover, I simply couldn't
find a copy of the 3rd annual
anywhere. (Many years later,
a dealer told me not to waste
my time looking for it as it
had never been printed. That
would certainly explain why
I couldn't find a copy at the
time.) I never saw a Willy
the Kid Annual again - he
had simply vanished from
the face of the earth with-
out even saying goodbye.

Sometime later, in the mid-'90s, I ordered some books from Leo and took
the opportunity to ask him about the annual, and he generously took the
time to reply and explain what had happened with it. Here's Leo in his own
words from his November '95 response:

Never printed? Well, here it is - and it's mine
"Yes, the third...book was
published, in September
1978, simultaneously with...
 'A Very Funny Business'.
But because writing the
autobiography took 4 months
of my time in the summer of
1977, I was that much late in
starting...the third Willy the
Kid book, and as a result... it
missed the annual distribution
set-up, and was published as
a 'posh' book with a wrap-
around loose cover, at £2.50
(by contrast with the first
and second Willy books,
which were £1 each)

" - what's more, the print orders for Willy Books 1 and 2 were in
both cases circa around 150,000, and they were sold along with the other
annuals (Beano annual and whatnot), but the print order for the third Willy
book, being a 'posh' book, had a print order of 10,000, and was tucked away
in bookshops, instead of being sold alongside annuals."

So there you have it from the man himself - the book was published -
and don't let any dealer ever tell you different. Leo then went on to
say the following:

Nope, it's not for sale - don't ask
"So, alas, alas...lots of
dedicated readers couldn't
find it, and in many cases
have spent the rest of their
lives looking for it ( funnily
enough, the day before I
received your order, I'd had
an order for prints and books
from a young man in Catford
in London, with a covering
letter telling me jubilantly
that only the previous week,
he had finally found a copy
of the elusive Willy the Kid
Book 3 in a junk shop in
Wales.) So never give
up hope."

I eventually managed to track down a copy of the book on the
internet in 2009. It may have taken me 31 years, but I can now finally
boast a complete set of 1970s' Willy the Kid Annuals. They're well-worth
having, although the third book has fewer pages than its predecessors.
Incidentally, the 'ripples' in the accompanying photographs of Book 3 are
on the protective clear sleeve, not the dustjacket itself. I wasn't going to
risk damaging it by removing it to scan.

So, you're all no doubt wondering, why didn't the annuals continue
to appear? Details can be found in Leo's book, THE BEANO ROOM
& OTHER PLACES, available from REAPER BOOKS -
http://www.reaper.co.uk/ - click on the link now.

Thursday, 14 April 2011

CRIKEY! THE SUPER SEVEN STRIKE AGAIN...


Art by Mike Lacey
A good many months back,
the now defunct CRIKEY!
magazine (#12) printed
an article about Christmas
Annuals. For some reason
which still escapes me, they
had an illustration of three
annuals in a vertical row, so
that you could see the first
one, the title of the second,
and part of the third. As a
visual presentation it was a
bit of a washout, to be frank.
Why show pictures of some-
thing you can't see? What
really annoyed me was that
the middle one was the 1973
KNOCKOUT ANNUAL,
which has as Christmassy a
cover as you could ever wish
to cast eyes upon. (And you
had to wish - because you sure couldn't see it on the page.)

How not to show an illustration
of three books. From Crikey #12
This annual was the first I bought near
the end of 1972 - with the proceeds from my
Saturday morning car-washing exploits in the
carpark of a local pub. (The second I bought
that year was the 1973 MARVEL ANNUAL,
which hit the shops later than the others.
Perhaps it was a last-minute decision to
publish it, hence its tardiness in appearing.)
Anyway, I still remember walking back
from the shops with my Knockout Annual,
gazing at the cover under the blue, cloud-
kissed skies of a bright, sunny September
late morning or early afternoon.

Knockout the comic (the '70s incarnation)
was merged with WHIZZER & CHIPS
in June, 1973, so by the time the second
annual was issued later that year, the weekly
was already history. Amazingly, this didn't
seem to affect the annuals, because there
were thirteen of them in all, released every
year right up until 1984 (for '85).

I wonder how many kids received a Knockout Annual for Christmas,
then wasted their time searching the newsagents for weeks on end trying
to find the comic. As all the while the evil publishers (IPC/FLEETWAY)
laughed their socks off at the thought of all those poor, footsore kiddies
being consumed with frustration and disappointment. (Cynical? Me?)

Anyway, enjoy the cover - it's a window into yesteryear.

"THEN THEY MASH THEM ALL TO BITS..."



Oh look - Clint Eastwood's stand-in
Here's a photo of me from 1977 with my
new pal - a bendy CADBURY'S SMASH
MARTIAN. I say "new", but I may have
had him for quite a few months before a
friend took this picture in my back garden.
Although I remember the photo being
taken, I didn't acquire it (or indeed even
see it) until December of '78 when I was
in Portsmouth to be best man at said-
friend's wedding.

His marriage didn't last too long after that,
and, come to think of it, neither did our friendship. However, I still have that self-
same Smash Martian today, over 34 years later - in perfect condition too.

There's probably a moral in there somewhere -
I'll let you figure it out for yourselves.

Wednesday, 13 April 2011

I'VE GOT LETTERS AFTER MY NAME...


All lettering on this page by Kid Robson

The following piece started life as a comment in response to a post on
someone's blog. Then I realized it would make a nice entry on my own.
So, with a little editing, here it is for your consideration.

***

I used to earn my main source of income as a letterer on various British
comics. One such comic was - and still is - a cult comic in Britain. I was
known for doing good display lettering, like sound effects and logos, etc.
That's why I worked for them.

Unpublished logo

One day, a 'new' editor (who'd been transferred from a discontinued
comic) asked me to stop doing my sound-effects (Wham!, Smash!, Pow!,
etc.) in the manner I was doing them. "It makes the strips you work on
look like a Marvel Comic!", he said. You see, the traditional British way
had been just to do basic, black lettering to signify a sound - serviceable,
but uninspired - often looking like it had been stuck over the artwork
rather than being a part of it.

Unpublished logo

My approach was to integrate the effects into the artwork, and gave
them the kind of outline and detail that suggested the sounds they were
trying to convey. ART SIMEK and SAM ROSEN had their own styles,
sure - but they didn't so much letter comics the "MARVEL Way" as
letter them the best and most effective way they could be done.

That's what I tried to do. The previous and subsequent editors all
appreciated and encouraged the extra effort I put into my work, but
this editor just didn't get it. He'd rather I lettered in a bland, non-descript
and unspectacular way as opposed to the best and most dynamic way to
do it, simply because he didn't want the mag to look like a Marvel comic -
even 'though Marvel comics looked better. Simply put - "Don't do it as
good as the company that does it best because we don't want people
thinking we're them." Crazy or what?

Hand-lettered flyer.

The point of my reminiscence? If you've ever wondered why a comic
sometimes doesn't look as good as it could do, it's not always the fault
of the actual contributors.

TIME TRAVEL A REALITY!


 
Caught your attention with that title, eh? However, it's not
entirely untrue; you may not physically be able to travel through
time, but you can mentally. Case in point: when I gaze upon the
accompanying cover from 44 years ago, or - even better, thumb
through the actual comic - I find my mind transported back to
the month of April, in the year of our Lord, 1967.

To such an extent, in fact, that it's almost as if I'm back
in the house I lived in at that time; that shops which are no
longer around today still exist; that friends who have since died
are merely a telephone call away. So immersed in halcyon days
of yesteryear do I become that, when I look up from the comic's
pages and find myself in the house I live in today, I'm almost
momentarily surprised by the fact. Anyone else ever feel
the same, or am I just bonkers?
 
 
Okay, okay. I'm just bonkers then. It wouldn't
have hurt for you to lie, would it?

"BIG JOHN, BIG JOHN - BIG BAD JOHN..."


Artwork by Big John Buscema

 Well, that's a lie for a start. There was absolutely nothing bad about
JOHN BUSCEMA - or his art. He was one of the very few artists to adapt
the principles of JACK KIRBY's power-packed storytelling into his own
and perhaps even eclipse Kirby to some extent with the result.

Of course, by the time Buscema was coming into his own, Jack was
somewhat in decline, due in part to an enforced reduction in the size at
which he drew (which affected the look of his finished pages) and also
dissatisfaction at what he saw as not being accorded his due at MARVEL
COMICS, both in terms of credit and financial renumeration. Can anybody
really blame him if his heart wasn't really in it to the same degreee as
had once been the case?

Nobody has ever really topped Kirby when he was at the height of his
powers, but that was hardly the case when he was about to jump ship to
DC COMICS, or when he returned to Marvel a few years later. Buscema
was Jack's natural heir, so enjoy the above illustration by Big John from
around the mid-to-late '70s.

Monday, 11 April 2011

SHOOTING FROM THE HIP...

 
Jim Shooter - photo courtesy of his own blog
 
I've just discovered Jaunty JIM SHOOTER's blog over at http://www.jimshooter.com/ - fascinating reading to be had by everyone on all matters pertaining to comics. One-time head honcho at MARVEL, Shooter is a controversial figure to some fans and pros in the industry, but - love him or hate him - there's just no ignoring what he has to say on the subjects of comics and their creators. In my opinion, Jim seems to be a decent and honest guy, and some people may be surprised at his actual involvement behind the scenes of certain things for which he appears to have been unfairly castigated.

Read his account of his role in the KIRBY/MARVEL/ARTWORK dispute, and many other interesting comics-related topics at the above link.

Sunday, 10 April 2011

TALES OF ASGARD - AND YESTERYEAR...


Art by Walter Simonson

Back at the end of 1983
 or beginning of '84, I
 purchased TALES OF
 ASGARD Volume 2,
 Number 1 with its
 beautifully rendered WALT
SIMONSON cover, and
determined one day to
acquire Volume 1, Number
1 of the self-same title.
That issue had been
published in 1968, and it's
possible I had seen it
in some back issue comic
shop in the intervening 15
or 16 years between both
volumes, but, if so, I had
never felt the need to own
it at that time. Now, of
course, I couldn't have the
second one without also
having the first.

The years came and went without me ever obtaining the aforementioned classic, but a year or so back, MARVEL published a 6 issue series of all the Tales of Asgard stories - and then released them in a hard-cover Omnibus-sized book. (It's just been released in a standard-sized softcover edition also.) I now had all the stories in their restored and re-coloured glory, not to mention a few of the original THOR comics in which some of them first appeared. What need now had I of the original 68 page 1968 comic? If it was anything like the 1983/'84 special, the artwork suffered from line dropout on VINCE COLLETTA's inking, rendering the printed pages far less detailed than their original back-up appearances in Thor's own mag.

Art by Jack Kirby & Frank Giacoia

Well, the answer is
obvious - none, really.
So when I spotted the
actual issue on sale on
ebay recently, I must
have hesitated for -
what? - all of two
seconds before
buying it to add to
my already far-too
large collection. What
can I say? Only other
rabid collectors will
understand the need to
fill that missing gap in a
run - even if you already
have other presentations
of the contents.

I now have the MASTERWORKS editions, the AVENGERS UNITED printings (a UK publication), the recent recoloured 6 issue series, the THOR OMNIBUS, the MARVEL SPECIAL
EDITION issues, the hardback book, the 1984 Walt Simonson covered
comic - and now I have the 1968 Special as well. (Only 27 or 28 years after
I first decided to one day make it my own.) I have every Tales of Asgard story ever printed, in either partial or complete presentations of these mini-classics. Surely now I can draw the curtains on that particular compulsion to have a complete set of those stories?

You'd think so, wouldn't you? But I'm finding that recent release of the
softcover edition mighty tempting. Someone save me from myself.  

Saturday, 9 April 2011

"NORRIN RADD, NORRIN RADD, RIDING THROUGH THE GLEN..."



In the absence of anything interesting to write about at the moment,
here's a few more SILVER SURFER covers for you to feast your hungry
eyes on. These are the last of the 68 page (including covers) King-Size
Surfers - next time up, I'll feature the 36 page issues.


Just look at that fluid JOHN BUSCEMA Surfer figure below. When
JACK KIRBY first introduced the HERALD OF GALACTUS a few years
before, his Surfer was graceful and supple, and really looked as if he was
riding his cosmic board. By the time this issue came out, Kirby's rendition
of Norrin (whenever he drew him in the FF) was stiff and stilted and just
didn't look right. Buscema was one of the few artists ever to "out-Kirby"
Kirby, and STAN LEE was right in choosing Big John for the job of
illustrating ol' Norrin's own magazine - in my humble opinion. 

Wednesday, 6 April 2011

'X' MARKS THE BAT-SPOT...


Take a look at this
1960s BATMAN water-
pistol. I feel just a little
ashamed at my loss
of innocence in seeing
something that I never
noticed as a child, but
was the designer having
a laugh when he placed
the stopper and trigger at
Batman's embarrassing
bits, or was he as oblivious
to the comedic ramifica-
tions as the thousands of
kids who had this cheeky
toy back in the day?

Whaddya think? Completely innocent - or is he
feeling a strange stirring in his utility belt?