Friday, 29 June 2012

MEMORIES AND IMAGINATION...



One tends to think of memory's magical kingdom as having
fixed boundaries.  Only shadows of the past are allowed residence and
interlopers are strictly forbidden.  However, the sentries can be fooled
and intruders may sneak in under the cloak of familiarity if they bear a
close enough resemblance to a recognised inhabitant.

"Okay, Gordie, you've
lost the plot.  What are
you blathering on about
now?", you may well be
thinking.  Simply this. If
you're around the same
age as me, you may well
remember the CAPTAIN
SCARLET merchandise
that was available back in
the '60s, particularly the
DINKY diecast vehicles
like the SPV, MSV,
and SPC.  (Nowadays
referred to as the SSC.)

I had all of them - and
still retain a set I acquired many years ago as replacements for my originals.
I've had them for far longer than I ever owned their predecessors, although
it doesn't actually feel like it.  It's almost as if there's never been a period in
my life when I was without them, and that the ones I have today are the very
ones I had as a kid; hidden in a cupboard somewhere for all those years 'til I
rediscovered them after a long period of neglect.  That's not the case of
course, it just seems that way.

However, there are other ways to fool the mind, and here's what I
hope is an interesting example of such an instance.  Back in the early
'90s, THUNDERBIRDS enjoyed a huge resurgence in popularity when
the BBC broadcast all 32 episodes on network TV for the very first time.
Previously, back in the '60s (and with most subsequent repeats), they were
shown in various TV regions on different days and times.  Amazingly, the
'90s screenings were a huge success, spawning a level of merchandise
to rival that which was available during the show's heyday.


The BBC tried again with STINGRAY and CAPTAIN SCARLET, but
met with a more muted response from viewers.  However, having anticipated
the same kind of enthusiastic reaction that INTERNATIONAL RESCUE
had enjoyed, toy manufacturers launched all sorts of items to tie-in with
the expected demand for all things GERRY ANDERSON.

Such an item was the SPV 'play
set' by VIVID IMAGINATIONS,
pictured in this post.  Now, here's
the thing:  I obviously bought this
as a collector's piece, not to play
with - and I purchased it while
living in my present abode, with
where one would naturally assume
I would associate it.  But no, when-
ever I cast eyes on it, I seem to see
myself, as a kid, sitting on the
doorstep in the back garden of my
old house, playing with this exact
same vehicle - even 'though this
specific toy didn't exist at the time
and wasn't made until around
half a century later.

So vivid is the image that it does indeed seem like an actual memory -
as opposed to what is obviously merely my imagination, facilitated by
the fact that I associate the familiar design of the vehicle with a particular
period from my past.  In short, it's a perfect fit - and seems more at home
in my memories of 1968 than of when I actually obtained it.

Funny how the mind can play such tricks, isn't it?  I believe it's called
'false memory syndrome', which is perhaps where 'deja vu'-type
feelings spring from.  Anyone got any similar experiences they'd care to
share?  Feel free to let loose in the comments section.

 

THE PIPER AT THE GATES OF DAWN...



 It's no secret to those that know me that THE WIND IN THE
WILLOWS, by KENNETH GRAHAME, is my all-time favourite
'kids' book.  I'm especially partial to the E.H. SHEPARD illustrated
edition, although I have quite a few other versions featuring the work
of different artists.  Apparently, ARTHUR RACKHAM was the author's
first choice to supply the visuals (if it had to have some - he actually
thought the book would be better without pictures), although the artist
didn't actually get around to the task until about 30 years later, after
Grahame's death.  However, nice as Rackham's pictures are,
it is Shepard's which remain the definitive ones.

When Ernest Shepard accepted the commission on the book,
he was following three previous artists whose illustrations were
less than satisfactory.  Shepard drew 'real' animals, whereas his pre-
decessors had drawn anthropomorphic ones.  Grahame was delighted
with Shepard's interpretation and, a few years later, the artist was called
upon by the publishers, METHUEN, to provide eight colour plates for
a special edition of the book, complementing his earlier evocative
black and white line art which had preceded them.

As a special treat, here are those eight colour pages - plus a
copy of a letter from THEODORE ROOSEVELT which, although
written 22 years before Shepard's drawings were commissioned and
became such an indispensable part of the text, reveals that even
presidents were not immune to the charms of Kenneth
Grahame's classic work of literature.








Thursday, 28 June 2012

THE MOORE THE MERRIER...?



I've only ever met ALAN MOORE twice. The first time was in 1984 at a
comic mart in the MOIR HALL in the MITCHELL LIBRARY in Glasgow,
and the second was in 1985 in the 2000 A.D. offices in KING'S REACH
TOWER in London. On that first occasion STEVE MacMANUS gave me
my break into the comics industry and, afterwards, the 2000 A.D. team,
Alan Moore, BERNIE JAYE, various other comics people and myself,
 invaded the CENTRAL HOTEL for a chat and a little light libation.

On the second occasion, Mr. Moore brought his daughter up to
the twentieth floor of KRT to meet THARG THE MIGHTY. In both
instances, the writer was polite, affable and soft-spoken - seemed like a
perfectly nice guy in fact. I very much doubt he would remember meeting
me - or, in fact, even know who I am. No surprise - there are many
millions who qualify in the latter category so you'll understand when
I say that it's not something I'm about to lose any sleep over.

I only mention this so
that you don't think I've
any cause to hold a grudge
against the man. He wasn't
rude to me, he didn't laugh
at my accent, nor did he do
or say anything to which I
could take exception. As I
said - a perfectly nice guy.
When it comes to his writing,
I've liked some of it and
either not liked or been
indifferent to what I've
seen of the rest. I'm of
the opinion that when Mr.
Moore works within 'Comic
Code' approved guidelines,
he turns out a nice little
tale or two; however, when
he's given the freedom to
indulge himself, I find that I
have little interest in what he has to say. He can certainly write, but that doesn't
mean that everything he writes (I'm talking subject, not prose) is worth reading.
(A charge that can no doubt be levelled at myself when it comes to this blog.)

Which brings me to the point of this post. I recently watched Mr.
Moore's HARDtalk interview, in which, affable as ever, he came across
as - it pains me to say it - a bit of a tit. A charming, eccentric tit, true - but
still a tit. (I say that in the full knowledge that if ever someone stuck a camera in
my face and asked me a few questions, I'd more than likely make a tit of myself
too.) Surely he must have friends - good friends - whose opinion he trusts - who
can be relied upon to stop him making a public spectacle of himself whenever
someone waves a microphone in front of his heavily-bearded gob? You know,
the sort of friends who'll watch 'his' movies for him and then tell him how
bad they are, to spare him the ordeal of doing the groundwork when it
comes to forming an opinion for himself.

Have none of those friends got the spuds to tell him that he's severely
damaged his credibility as a 'principled' individual by claiming, on air, that
he accepted dosh for movie options on his works only because he believed
they would never be produced? Prepared to take money for nothing in other
words, and seemingly without a shred of embarrassment about publicly
admitting it. (One would think he'd have realised that, after the first
movie was made, the chances of the others similarly seeing
fruition were distinct possibilities.)   

And what about his self-
indulgent whinging about
DC COMICS using his
WATCHMEN characters in
new stories? It may have
escaped his notice, but he's
made a fairly good living
from doing exactly the same
thing for years, with the likes
of SUPERMAN, SWAMP
THING, MARVELMAN,
CAPTAIN BRITAIN, and
a whole host of others he
didn't create. There's
absolutely no difference
between him writing tales
for these characters and
other writers crafting new
stories for his creations. In
fact, as the Watchmen
heroes were thinly-disguised reworkings of former CHARLTON properties, he can't even lay a firm claim
to them to begin with. And don't get me started on what he's done to the iconic
literary creations of famous, long-dead authors who would doubtless be
incensed by what he's done with them.

As I said, Alan Moore appears to be a likeable-enough bloke. (Although,
by all accounts, that LOST GIRLS stuff is decidedly dodgy. Isn't it a crime
to possess or make such pictures of minors? I'm surprised that him and his
missus haven't had their collars felt by the local constabulary yet.) I'm sure
you'd all hate to see 'Affable Al' opening his mouth and putting his foot in
it yet again as much as I would, so - if you're a pal of his, do him a favour.
Next time you hear he's about to make a pronouncement on some subject
or other - tell him to stick a sock in it. Or better yet, stick one in for
him. You know it's for his own good.

(And in case any nasty spells are going to be coming my way, I
should warn any angry wizards who may be reading that I'm protected
by the Mystic Mirror of Moogamoto - it reflects spells and curses
right back at where they came from. So there!)

Wednesday, 27 June 2012

THE (SECOND) COMING OF CONAN!



Most people will be aware that, when MARVEL decided to launch
their CONAN THE BARBARIAN four-colour comicbook back in 1970,
Big JOHN BUSCEMA was first choice as artist to illustrate the swarthy
Cimmerian's action-packed adventures. Only one problem with that how-
ever - too expensive. There was a severely limited budget for the comic and
writer ROY THOMAS was already paying more than Marvel's publisher
MARTIN GOODMAN had authorised for the rights to use ROBERT
E. HOWARD's sword and sorcery swashbuckler.

Well, the rest is history. The less-expensive BARRY SMITH (later
WINDSOR-Smith) was assigned the task of bringing Conan's comic-
book career to life, which he did with verve and vitality as befitting the bold
barbarian's bombastic and bloodthirsty battles. As we're well aware, John
Buscema eventually did become the series' regular artist (drawing more
issues than anyone else), but what might that first adventure have looked
like had he pencilled the premiere issue as originally planned?

Fortunately, such a possibility isn't merely confined to the realms of
speculation as, in 1994 - nearly half a century after Conan's debut issue -
Big John finally brought his artistic magic to that '70s tale from Conan
The Barbarian #1. Personally speaking, I'd have preferred to see the
story drawn with a more traditional grid-layout without the page-bleeds,
and in colour as opposed to black and white. The last panel in particular
cries out for colour - or even some kind of shading to indicate the moon
against the night sky, as described in one of the captions. As it is, it's
short on some sorely-needed atmosphere and lacks the impact of
Smith's earlier version.

However, despite being robbed of the opportunity to compare
'like-with-like' in the strictest sense, it's fascinating to see Buscema's
take on Thomas's titanic tale, although it would have been even better
had JOE SINNOTT or TOM PALMER performed the inking chores.
Perhaps one day they'll reprint it in colour and give readers a better
idea of what could have been had "the Michelangelo of comics"
(as Smilin' STAN LEE dubbed him) drawn the Hyborian hero's
dynamic debut all those years ago.

Anyway, enjoy "THE COMING OF CONAN!" from the June
'94 issue of The Savage Sword of Conan the Barbarian #222.
Take a look at Conan's first appearance here - then come back and
say which visual version of the tale you prefer - and why.


(The two pages below should be read as a double-page spread.)


















Tuesday, 26 June 2012

IT'S A THRILLER - THREE, IN FACT...



You're looking at the covers of facsimile editions of the first three issues
of THRILLER COMICS from the '50s. I used to own the IPC/FLEETWAY
file copies, gifted to me by an editor in the mid-'80s, but I sold them about
twenty-odd years later. (Got a really good price for them too, even 'though
they had my name stamped on the back.)


Thing is, I missed having them around, so I acquired these facsimiles
from the successor to BRYON WHITWORTH's little publishing 'empire'
a few years ago. (Bryon was the editor of the now sadly defunct THE
ILLUSTRATED COMIC JOURNAL and various non-profit comics
indices and facsimile issues.)


Thriller Comics was published by the AMALGAMATED PRESS in
1951, but with issue # 41 the title was renamed THRILLER COMICS
LIBRARY. This lasted until #162, whereupon, with #163 to #450 (the
final issue in the series), it changed its name yet again to THRILLER
PICTURE LIBRARY. The digest-sized title finally ceased
publication in 1963. 
  
Anyway, thought you might like to see what the covers of
these historical publications looked like - so enjoy.

Sunday, 24 June 2012

WHAM! - A POWER PACK ANNUAL...



Here's a tasty treat from the past - some select pages from the WHAM!
ANNUAL for 1967 (issued at the end of '66) - including a lovely, three-
page colour strip of FRANKIE STEIN, by the irrepressible KEN REID of
FUDGE THE ELF and FACEACHE fame.  Strangely enough, although the
POW! Annuals featured reprinted MARVEL stories, the yearly Wham!
and SMASH! volumes didn't - relying instead purely on home-grown
humour and adventure strips.



Look at the first picture on the bottom tier of the above page - I
believe that's ROBERT BARTHOLOMEW (otherwise known as BART -
although perhaps it's ALBERT COSSER) who was the editor of Wham!.  It
really is a good likeness, regardless of which of the two gentlemen it is.  How
do I know?  I occasionally saw this fellow wandering around the hallways of
KING'S REACH TOWER when I was down in London, and MARC JUNG
(sub-editor of BUSTER) identified him (as either Bart or Cos, can't quite re-
member).  Imagine my surprise when, a few years ago, I was leafing through
some old letters and found one from the late-'70s from LOOK & LEARN
(in response to an enquiry of mine), signed by 'Robert Bartholomew',
the editor.  It hadn't clicked with me at the time, but just think - I had
the autograph of an editor from one of the favourite comics of my
youth and didn't even know it!   



BIFF (below) later turned up in THUNDER as SAM, a fact which
LEO BAXENDALE wouldn't have been happy about as he wasn't paid
for the re-use of the ones he had drawn.  It was his annoyance at this
practice that later caused him to quit British weekly comics altogether.
The irony is, if publishers hadn't been able to defray the cost of a title by
reprinting a limited number of old strips, they may not have been able
to publish the comic to begin with - or continue with it if circulation
started to fall.  Result - less work to go around for jobbing cartoonists.
(Or vastly reduced page-rates for everyone.)  Catch 22?   


And now - the one you've been waiting for - FRANKIE STEIN by
Ken Reid - in colour.  Who says this blog doesn't deliver the goods, eh?
Given the rather abrupt way the tale ends, I can't help but feel that it's a
page short.  When I first read it, I turned over the last page expecting it to
continue on the following one - but nope, that's all there was.  Some of
Ken's Faceache pages towards the end of his career lacked the vitality
and spontaneity of his earlier work, being somewhat stiff and stilted -
but here we have Reid at his absolute best, so be sure to savour
every brushstroke and penline.
  



I'd love to see all of Ken Reid's Frankie Stein strips coloured-up
and released in a deluxe format book.  Why someone hasn't done it yet is
beyond me.  Perhaps STEVE HOLLAND (from BEAR ALLEY BOOKS)
would be the man for the job - if he thinks there's an audience for it.
You'd think there would be, eh?

******

Like to see more from the 1967 Wham! Annual?
Well, don't be shy - say so in the comments section.

BOND, BROSNAN, BOOKS AND ROUNDABOUTS...


Jacket design by Stefan Dreja

I once borrowed a book from my local central library, and - against a
multicoloured panoply of flowers in a sunken roundabout - sat reading it
as a glorious mid-'70s hot summer sun shone down upon me. The book was
JAMES BOND IN THE CINEMA by JOHN BROSNAN, and a year or
two later, I was able to obtain my very own copy from GRANT'S
BOOKSHOP just outside Glasgow's Central Station.


Sean Connery as James Bond
The book was published in 1972
and covers the first seven movies in
the series, DR. NO to DIAMONDS
ARE FOREVER. It's an extremely
entertaining and engrossing read,
capturing the mood of the films
perfectly, although there are a few
minor discrepancies in the descrip-
tion of events. However, Brosnan
originally hailed from Australia,
where Bond movies were heavily
edited in line with the country's
strict censorship laws, so that no
doubt accounts for some of the
occasional and inconsequential
(relatively speaking, of course)
inaccuracies in matters of detail.

Before the age of videos and DVDs in which a viewer could watch and
freeze-frame a movie at his leisure and to his heart's content, the only way
to 'relive' a film was to go and see it again at the cinema (this was before the
Bond back-catalogue had been sold to TV), buy the soundtrack LP - or to
immerse oneself in the pages of a book such as this devoted to the subject.
Brosnan's book is lavishly illustrated with over one hundred stills,
virtually all supplied by UNITED ARTISTS themselves.


Honor Blackman as Pussy Galore
I was so impressed by this book
that I bought another copy a few
years later direct from the publishers,
THE TANTIVY PRESS. Now I
have a pristine copy, plus my well-
thumbed original which I can delve
into whenever the fancy takes me.
And, whenever I do, I'm right back
in the darkened gloom of my local
cinema (middle seat, back row) on
a Saturday afternoon in the early
'70s - where I was lucky enough to
see all six of SEAN CONNERY's
'official' EON Bond blockbusters on
the largest screen in Scotland in the
first purpose-built cinema in the
U.K. since the second world war.
  
Or I'm back in that sunken
roundabout on a glorious sunny
day a few years later, reading
the book for the very first time.
Little did I know then that ten
or so years afterwards, I'd be
lettering some of the author's
NIGHT ZERO/BEYOND ZERO
scripts (drawn by artist KEVIN
HOPGOOD) for 2000 A.D. I
never got to meet John Brosnan
or to talk to him, but I remember
asking editor ALAN McKENZIE
to tell him how much I'd enjoyed
his book and some of his movie
reviews in DEZ SKINN's
STARBURST magazine. 

Sadly, although that sunken roundabout still exists, the flowers and
the wooden bench (one of several) I sat upon are now gone, and the
roundabout itself is in a delapidated condition. However, my memories
of that day are as sharp and as clear as they ever were, and - should they
ever be in danger of fading (like the colours of those long-vanished
blooms) - John Brosnan's superb book is only an arm's reach away.

The roundabout (where I first read the book) in its glory days