Wednesday, 29 February 2012

CONAN - EIGHTEEN AND OUT...



March 1st, 1975. That was the day that MARVEL U.K. released
two new additions to their regal roster of rampaging weekly publications.
You've seen the first three covers of one of them - THE SUPER-HEROES -
in a previous post, but now comes the time to turn the spotlight on its
companion mag, SAVAGE SWORD OF CONAN.


SSOC, as it was affectionately known (in my house anyway), only
lasted for eighteen issues, and I still happen to have my original copies.
Therefore, it's not exactly a stretch to dig 'em out and scan the covers for
all you rabid fans out there of ROBERT E. HOWARD's Cimmerian
warrior, CONAN THE BARBARIAN.


As well as Conan, the mag also featured KULL THE CONQUEROR
as a back-up feature, along with (on occasion) KA-ZAR, LORD OF THE
HIDDEN JUNGLE and THONGOR OF LEMURIA. It was quite a decent
little mag on reflection, and it really should have lasted longer than it did.
When it faded from the scene, it was absorbed by another British weekly
publication, THE AVENGERS. (By the way, Look at the cover above.
Due to the colouring of the grey god's bracelet, at first glance
Conan looks as if he has a reptilian tail.)


Although the weekly was relatively short-lived, the title was eventually
revived as a monthly in 1977, lasting for ninety-three issues before coming
to an end in 1985. However, that's a whole other story - for now, sit back
and savour the first six covers of the weekly title from the '70s.


Remember to keep your eyes peeled for Part Two sometime
soon, when we'll feature another six covers from the series.



PART FOUR OF TERRIFIC'S COVER GALLERY...



It's been a while since we featured any images from the ODHAMS
PRESS publication TERRIFIC, which lasted for only 43 issues back
in the 1960s before being incorporated into sister paper FANTASTIC.
 So, without further ado, here's another delectable half-dozen covers
and pin-ups. Don't be greedy now - savour them one at a time.
 










Tuesday, 28 February 2012

FOOTBALL COMIC WITH NO BALLS...



In 1992, new publishing kid on the block, TUNDRA, were developing
a fortnightly football comic called GLORY GLORY, which they hoped
would be the next big thing in the world of periodicals. 50,000 copies of a
dummy version were printed for promotional purposes, with the launch
date of the actual first issue announced for September 9th, 1992.


However, after all the time, effort and money spent on producing the
dummy, plans were hastily abandoned and Glory Glory succumbed to
an inglorious fate - cancellation before it had even appeared on the news-
agents' shelves. So why was the decision taken to abort the project before
fruition? I'm not quite sure - as a contributor I was probably told at the
time, but have long since forgotten the details. Perhaps reaction to the
dummy was less than positive, resulting in Tundra deciding not to risk
losing even more money by going ahead with the launch, hence the
plug being pulled at the last moment.


Luckily, 'though, I have one of the 50,000 dummies printed,
and have decided to unselfishly share with you the cover and
a couple of interior pages - just to give you a taste of what
might have been.

HAVE A LOOK AT BOB'S BEANO...



Once upon a time, there were two mighty comic empires in the
U.K. which were in constant competition with one another. Comics
were always being developed in each camp to have something ready at a
moment's notice to steal the thunder of any new title the opposition might
launch. However, these two rivals were at war not only with each other, but
also any other publishers in the same line. For example, did you know that
D.C. Thomson's SPARKY came out the same week as TV CENTURY 21?
This was DCT's way of capitalising on any kid asking his mum to "Get that
new comic for me while I'm at school". Any parent asking for that in a news-
agent's was just as likely to be handed The Sparky as TV21, especially if
the latter was sold out. And even if it wasn't, 7d for TV21 may have
seemed a bit dear compared to The Sparky's more reasonable
5d - at least from a cost-conscious parent's point of view.
 

With that in mind, editors kept track of all the titles the opposition
produced, often having racks of their rivals' comics on display in their
own offices to see what the 'other side' were up to. And that accounts for
THE BEANO pictured in this post. It was IPC's Humour Group editor
BOB PAYNTER's personal copy, which he gave me to clear space on the
rack along the side of his office wall.  Ol' Bob was good to me in that way,
gifting me with a number of comics for my collection, including several
FRANKIE STEIN Holiday Specials that he no longer wanted, plus
the very last issue of TV COMIC.

So have a read at DENNIS's adventures above -
and don't forget to thank Bob for it. 

AND NOW - A LITTLE 'ICE BREAKER'...



Someone once asked me what I'd do to dilute any possible negative
influence or bad example comics might have on younger readers. By
way of kick-starting suggestions, I pondered the possibility of comics
having a little warning on the editorial or letters pages, saying some-
thing along the lines of "Hyperman is indestructible, you are not.
Do not try to imitate him". (Like Captain Scarlet used to have.)
Obviously, the message would be appropriate to the content.

This was met with scorn by the person who asked the question,
saying that it was patronising to children. I pointed out that many
toys carry such advice, so why not something similar with comics?
The packaging on toy guns and bows 'n' arrows warns kids about the
angers of aiming them at people's eyes, etc., which seems a perfectly
sensible precaution to me. At the very least, it covers the manufac-
turers if some kid decides to ignore the 'operating instructions'.

I was therefore interested to see the above panel from a copy of
The Beano, after an episode in which Dennis and his pals went
skating on a frozen pond. Might've been better in the actual issue
where the strip appeared, but better late than never. Obviously, the
person who took issue with me thinks that it's 'patronising' to
exercise a little social responsibility. Thankfully, DCT are not
 in accord with his views in this instance. 

Monday, 27 February 2012

MARVEL ON A RAMPAGE...



Here's two of the comics mentioned, but not pictured, in the previous
post. THE COMPLETE FANTASTIC FOUR lasted for 37 issues before
being merged with THE MIGHTY WORLD OF MARVEL (putting the good
ol' FF right back where they started). It was probably one of the better comics
that MARVEL U.K. ever published, so it's a shame it didn't have a much longer
run. It has a modern day equivalent in FANTASTIC FOUR ADVENTURES,
published by PANINI, but I hear that, sadly, the next issue (#28) is to
be the last due to low sales.


RAMPAGE lasted around 34 issues before fading away, to be
relaunched a couple of months later as a monthly, featuring black and
white tales of THE INCREDIBLE HULK. Despite the weekly featuring
THE DEFENDERS and NOVA, this title always seemed a bit lacklustre to
me, probably because it was overshadowed by its FF sister publication, which
I thought was a great little magazine. What's the old saying? "A sparrow may
look beautiful - until it stands next to a peacock." Well, I guess TCFF was
the latter in that instance, although it only lasted three more weekly issues
than the former, so nothing to crow about. (These bird allusions are
writing themselves now, so I'm outta here.)

Enjoy the covers. 

MIGHTY MARVEL MEMORIES AND MAGIC...



I can only speculate as
to why, but after launching
their first three weeklies -
THE MIGHTY WORLD
OF MARVEL, SPIDER-
MAN COMICS WEEKLY,
and THE AVENGERS - as
individual titles over a period
of a few months, MARVEL
U.K. then tried a different
approach. DRACULA LIVES
and PLANET OF THE APES
were both released the same
week - as were their next two
titles, THE SUPER-HEROES
and SAVAGE SWORD OF
CONAN. Perhaps they felt
that two comics would make
more of an  impact than one
on its own. Who knows?

     Marvel U.K.'s next two
new publications, THE
TITANS and CAPTAIN
BRITAIN, were released
individually with almost a
year between them, although
with RAMPAGE and THE
COMPLETE FANTASTIC
FOUR in 1977, it was back
to two at a time. (I think that
the next two British Marvel
weeklies released together
were the THOR and X-MEN
titles in early 1983, which
soon merged into one mag -
making it even more like the
Odhams Press POWER
COMIC aptly known as
FANTASTIC from the
late 1960s.)


Anyway, here's a selection of covers from some of the comics
mentioned, simply because they're nice to look at and also bring back
a lot of memories for me. I'm sure it's the same for you, too - so feel
entirely free to indulge yourself in these images of yesteryear.

Sunday, 26 February 2012

HERE COME THE SUPER-HEROES...



Back in March of 1975, MARVEL U.K. released two new weekly
comics on an unsuspecting British public - THE SUPER- HEROES and
SAVAGE SWORD OF CONAN.  We'll turn our attention to the Conan
mag another time because, for the moment, we're going to look at the
more successful of the two titles.

Initially, The Super-Heroes reprinted THE SILVER SURFER from
NORRIN RADD's 18 issue U.S. monthly mag from the '60s.  Taking up
the slack in the back were THE X-MEN, their adventures being split in twain
and continued the following week.   (Seeing those early X-Men adventures was
just like having the late, lamented FANTASTIC back again.)  In fact, as the
Surfer's first 7 American mags were double-sized, the same approach was
adopted for his adventures also, until such time as his regular-sized
tales were featured.

The Super-Heroes
lasted just under a year,
bowing out with issue #50
(Conan only lasted 18 issues)
and merging with the weekly
SPIDER-MAN comic.  In its
time it managed to showcase
GIANT-MAN, THE CAT,
DOC SAVAGE, and some
MARVEL TWO-IN-ONE
tales of THE THING and
various guest stars.  It was
never better 'though, than in
its early issues, and it was sad
to see it go when it eventually
faded from the scene.  The
name (sans hyphen) was later
revived for a British monthly
magazine called MARVEL
SUPER-HEROES in 1979,
but it was never quite the
same.  There were even two (at least) hardback annuals by GRANDREAMS
before the title disappeared yet again, this time for the final time.

50 issues?  Is that all?
Funny how, when I look
back, it seems that the
comic lasted far longer than
a mere 49 weeks of my life.
Surely it was around for a
couple of years at least?
(Nope, I guess not.)  I still
have my original issues
and, sometimes, whenever
I want to revisit yesteryear,
I dig them out yet again
and savour the sight, smell
and touch of these classic
comics from nearly 40
years ago.  Then, somehow,
I'm magically back in the
past and 16 years old once
more, reliving the thrill of
settling down with the latest
Mighty Marvel mag from
the House of Ideas!  What more could any true, dyed in the wool Marvelite
want?  (Apart from a coveted 'No-Prize'.)

Anyway, as I'm feeling nostalgic, here's the first three covers
to give you a taste of what I'm taliking about. Enjoy.

FIELD OF DREAMS...



The spot these children are standing on no longer exists - at least
not in the form you see in the photographs. Approximately 21 years after
the pictures were taken, the foundations for an old folks' home were built
directly on top of the field where these kids once played. I'm actually in
the photographs and remember with startling clarity the afternoon or
early summer evening they were taken back around 1967 or so.
 

As you can see, we were playing cricket. Only a short while before,
I had narrowly managed to dodge a heavy cricket ball and thus avoid
a nasty knock on the noggin which could well have rendered me
senseless. (Go on - I'll allow you the predictable retort.)
 
From left to right in the
photo above are myself,
Robert Fortune, Tony
Tierney, Allan Robson
and Kenny Tierney. The
photos were taken by
Mr. Tom Tierney, who
later became a regular
contributor to the letter
columns of the local
newspaper, under the
non de plume of 'Goofy'.
If he were alive today,
he'd no doubt have a blog
in which to record his
whimsical (and sometimes
serious) observations on
sundry subjects, but sadly
he's been deceased for
quite a few years now.

When we first moved to the area in 1965, it was Tony Tierney who
introduced me and my brother to the rest of the kids in the neighbourhood.
I haven't seen Tony in quite a few years, but I still run into Kenny today from
time to time, and it was his good self who supplied me with the photos you see
on this page. As I said, the field no longer exists - except in photos, memories
and dreams - dreams which increasingly seem far more enticing than the
rather drab reality of the here and now. 

Photographs are marvelous things, aren't they? Looking at a photo is like
gazing through a window into yesteryear, at a moment frozen in time which
grows all the more precious to us the further we become removed from it.
 
******
 
UPDATE: (June 2013.) The field remained undisturbed until 1988,
a period of 23 years from when we first moved  there in '65 (we flitted in
'72). I therefore find it rather startling to think that the old folks' home has
now occupied the spot for 25 years - two years longer than the time which
preceded it. And yet it seems to me as if the three-storey building was
erected only a few years ago. The mysteries of Time, eh? I don't
think I'll ever be able to fully comprehend them.
 

 Long has paled that sunny sky;
Echoes fade and memories die;
Autumn frosts have slain July.

Ever drifting down the stream--
Lingering in the golden gleam--
Life, what is it but a dream?

From "Life is but a Dream" - by Lewis Carroll.

******

After posting this, I was going through some old papers and found this
letter from my local rag, dated Wednesday 24th April - Thursday 30th
April, 1996.

Goofy will be  missed

I was saddened to read and hear
of the death of Mr Tom Tierney, a
great story teller in your column
and other publications in his life.

He brought many a smile, with
his wit and local stories bringing
back many a cheery laugh.

My thoughts to his family.

Ann Robertson
Address supplied 

This post is therefore dedicated to the memory of Mr. Tom Tierney,
aka 'Goofy'. Thanks to him, the above snapshots of a moment from
my childhood are preserved forever.

Saturday, 25 February 2012

MORE 2000 A.D. BIRTHDAY BABBLINGS...


 
It's doubtless because it's 2000 A.D.'s 35th birthday this week that I've
recently found myself thinking back to when I used to be a contributor
to the iconic comic for several years, regularly lettering the adventures of
characters like STRONTIUM DOG and ROGUE TROOPER, as well as
(from time to time) JUDGE DREDD, THARG'S FUTURE SHOCKS,
NEMESIS THE WARLOCK, SLAINE - and a whole host of others.

Unlike the way American comics were mainly lettered in the '60s &
'70s - actually onto the pencilled page before inking - British comics had
a different system, the lettering being done on what was known as 'patch
paper' and then stuck down onto the finished art. In the case of colour
artwork, the lettering was applied to sheets of acetate film and processed
separately, so that if the artwork was printed out of sync (giving a blurred,
double-vision effect) the lettering wouldn't be similarly afflicted.

Most lettering nowadays, of course, is done on computer, but once upon
a time letterers had to mark their guidelines on a sheet of patch paper and
letter by hand within the lines. Some letterers, like BILL NUTTALL for
example, used a lightbox, with the guidelines already marked out on that.
He simply placed the patch paper over the box and lettered straight onto it,
thereby cutting out having to line each individual piece or sheet of patch.
Sometimes JOHNNY ALDRICH didn't use guidelines at all, but lettered
straight onto the patch paper.

Incidentally, patch paper was a generic term for adhesive paper which
came in different finishes - matt or gloss - and even in various degrees
of finishes. Too glossy and the ink line got thicker as work progressed
(due to the ink spreading out on the surface of the sheet); too 'matty' and
the line was too thin, with the penpoint catching on the surface as if it were
blotting paper. One had to have just the right degree of gloss to be able to
letter smoothly and quickly without any hiccups. TAC-TIC was the brand
name of one paper, and FASSON CRACK-BACK another. 


Whether it was done the U.S. or U.K. way, quite a few lettering artists
used the 'rolling ruler' device in the above picture, enabling them to
mark out enough lines for one or two speech balloons at a time. I found
it too restricting, preferring instead to line a full sheet of patch paper on
my STAEDTLER MARS-TECHNICO drawing board (below), thereby
avoiding the 'start-stop' approach employed by most other lettering
artists. I usually got about four or five pages to each sheet of patch.


I remember one day, as I was lining my paper on the desk opposite
STEVE MacMANUS's in the 2000 A.D. offices (Room 2012), legendary
letterer TOM FRAME watched me for a moment before asking: "Do you
do your lettering on the board?" I explained that I only measured out the
guidelines on the board, preferring to letter the sheet of patch on a flat
desktop. "I wondered," he said, "because the edge of the board would dig
into your arm. It would be too uncomfortable." I agreed, but pointed out
the benefits of being able to do all the guidelines in one go on a complete
sheet of patch, rather than bit-by-bit as one went along. He never bought
one 'though, so I guess he remained unconvinced.

Tom Frame
Speaking of Tom puts me
in mind of the ol' bumblebee
paradox that bees shouldn't
be able to fly because, aero-
dynamically, they're not best
designed for flight. Tom's
lettering was a bit like that.
Actual size, it was too high,
too narrow, and a little bit
scratchy-looking due to his
failing eyesight. It shouldn't
have worked - but, in print,
it did, and Tom's lettering
is considered by many fans
as integral to the 'look' of
Dredd's strip as anything
else which contributed to it.

Tom's best work 'though, in my humble estimation, was the
innumerable page of lettering he did for various IPC/FLEETWAY
publications back in the '60s, before his sight started to deteriorate.

I recall going to a nearby wine bar one evening with Tom and Stevie Mac,
as well as SIMON GELLER, ROBIN SMITH, and PAUL AILEY (I think -
might be LEATHERLAND), where I watched them play Pool as I nursed a
Coke and listened to JIM REEVES on the jukebox. This was unusual for
me, because I usually worked in KING'S REACH TOWER up to at least
nine at night, finishing off as many ltg jobs as I could before heading for
Victoria Station and my nearly nine hours trip home. That night, I must've
been ahead of schedule, hence my being able to relax for a bit. When the
time came to head for the station, I remember sharing a taxi with Steve
MacManus as he was going in the same direction for part of the way.

Sadly, Tom
died from cancer in
2006, at the age of
seventy-four. ALAN
McKENZIE (sub-
editor on the comic)
had helped him to
transfer his lettering
fonts onto a computer
programme a few
years before, allowing
him to continue a
career which failing
eyesight might other-
wise have curtailed.
It would be nice if the
current owners of the
comic, REBELLION, could come to an arrangement with Tom's family for
permission to use his fonts on the Dredd strip, thus perpetuating the
unique look that graced it for so many years.

Anyway, that's enough rambling from me for the moment. Pick up a
copy of 2000 A.D. today - before your future becomes your past!

Friday, 24 February 2012

SUPERMAN - BACK TO FULL POWER...



It's hard for me to believe that this comic is over 21 years old, but
sure enough, it first hit the stands back in 1990 - a whole other century
away, in fact. Wow, scary! Anyway, the more discerning amongst you will
already have noticed that the cover illo is paying homage to AURORA's
fantastic SUPERMAN plastic model kit, which first came out around 1964.
The model was rereleased a further four times over the years, 1974, '78,
and '84, the last time being in 1999. I'm fortunate enough to have all five
versions of the kit, so below is a pic of one of them, just so that you can
see what a great job JERRY ORDWAY did of the cover illustration.

It looks like Jerry was using a later reissue of the kit as reference,
which had a different, updated head, and not the one featured in the
accompanying photograph. Still, it gives you the chance to see what
a fine job he did in capturing the power-packed pose of the mighty
MAN OF TOMORROW!
 

The model pictured is the 1974 release, with the addition of a 1964
nameplate which was only ever included in the first issue of the kit.
Below is the box which the model came in. I'm not 100% sure, but
the box art may be by DAVE COCKRUM.

Wednesday, 22 February 2012

REMEMBERING JOHN RENWICK...


John Renwick in his church office in the mid-'80s

On my answerphone is a message which I haven't yet erased - and
I'm not sure I ever will. As long as it's there, I can listen to it every so often
and it's almost like he's still alive and left it only mere moments ago.

Sadly, however, he isn't, having died from cancer at the far too young age
of 60 (or thereabouts), leaving a widow - Irene, and two grown-up children -
John Anthony and Deborah. The knowledge that I'll never again get
to speak with him is a sad and sobering thought.

Gordon Shields (another minister), me, and John in 1979
JOHN RENWICK
was a minister I met
in April or May of 1978
when I was a mere callow
youth of 19. (John was in
his late 20s at the time,
which is far younger than
I am now.) I attended his
church one night, being at
a loose end - and because
free tea and biscuits had
been advertised for after
the service. Free scoffs?
Lead on, McDuff.

John, originally from the Edinburgh area, had relocated to my home
town sometime in the '70s (I think) and didn't stay too far away from me.
Subsequently, I would often drop in on him for a game of darts or chess (and
sometimes even both), and we would sit and discuss the merits of the JAMES
BOND movies and whether any singer ever had a smoother, more velvety
voice than country crooner JIM REEVES.

John and me playing darts around '81/'82 - rather campily it appears,
in my case

Sometime in the late '80s or early '90s, John and his family moved to
Stirling. I spoke to him on the 'phone every so often, and on occasion met
with him and Irene when they were back to visit various other friends they
had in the area. He often invited me over to his new home, and equally as
often I promised to visit - but somehow the years raced away without me
ever doing so, despite my best intentions.

Then one day a mutual friend told me that John had been receiving
treatment for bowel cancer. I 'phoned him when I heard the news, to
express my concern and to ask after him. Somehow I got the impression
that he was over the worst of it, and would make a full recovery, and if
John knew or suspected otherwise he never let on to me. (Unless, of
course, I was just too obtuse to pick up on it.)

Poor quality photocopy of a pencil sketch
of John, circa 1980/'81
One day, in 2010, John
'phoned - I missed him by seconds,
but after listening to my answerphone,
I called him right back and we nattered
away for about 20 minutes or so, with
John once again inviting me to visit
and me once more promising to do
so at the earliest opportunity.

I'm sure you know where this
is going. Sadly, John died not too
long after, without me ever getting
the chance to keep my word. It's only
now, with hindsight, that I wonder if
he knew his days were numbered
and the call was his way of saying
goodbye in case we never got
to meet again.

What can I say? Time flies by so quickly that it seemed John had only
moved two or three years before, rather than the 20 or so it actually was.
I wish I'd made more of an effort now - had managed to get on a train and
journeyed to Stirling to visit John and his family, instead of feeling guilty
for missing an opportunity which is now forever lost to me.

Maybe one day I'll eventually get to make that journey and visit Irene.
And if so, I'm sure John will be there too, in spirit at least, to welcome me
as I finally fulfill the promise I made to him all those years ago.
 
John and me in his church office in the mid-'80s