Friday, 31 August 2012

THE VANISHING STONE MEN - COMIC COVERS 'SNAP' - PART TWO...



Back in 1985, the layout of the cover to JOURNEY INTO
MYSTERY #83 was dusted down and reused for X-MEN ANNUAL
#9JACK KIRBY's artwork for JIM #83 originally featured several
more STONE MEN FROM SATURN descending from the sky, which
were deleted before publication to lend greater emphasis to the figure
of THE MIGHTY THOR. However, ART ADAMS and WALTER
SIMONSON's cover was closer in design to 'King' Kirby's un-
altered version  (That's the published comic below.)


And, for all the completists amongst you, below is a cover production
photostat of how Jack originally drew the cover (inked by Joltin' JOE
SINNOTT) before STAN LEE decided that it was just a bit too
crowded for the star of the book. 


But it's not over yet. Below is a coloured version which appeared in
ORIGINS OF MARVEL COMICS in 1974. I suspect that the white
spaceship and hammer were supposed to have been coloured grey,
but were missed due to an oversight. It also looks as if the colourist
mistook Thor's tuft of hair for one of the wings on his helmet.


Well, you can't say that you don't get your money's worth on this
blog, now can you? More COMIC COVERS 'SNAP' soon!

FAVOURITE COMICS OF THE PAST - PART ELEVEN...



I was buying a lot of comics back in 1984 - from any shop I could get
'em. Newsagents, comicbook stores, the Virgin Mega-Store in Glasgow;
you name it, if it sold comicbooks, I was probably in there at some stage
scooping them up. THE AMAZING SPIDER-MAN ANNUAL #18 was
one I purchased from RS McColl's in the main shopping centre of my
home town. Its primary attraction for me was that it was scripted by
STAN LEE (from a TOM DeFALCO plot) and that Spidey was
drawn in an imitation DITKO-style by RON FRENZ.


What a joy it was to read this tale - it simply sang, such is Stan's
mastery of words when it comes to making a story move along at a
rip-roaring pace. I enjoyed it so much that I actually read it again the
next day, and could only rue the fact that Stan didn't write more often.
Say what you like about 'The Man', but he knows how to inject an
infectious sense of fun and adventure into almost any tale and this one
was certainly no exception. Over the years, whenever I've wanted to
re-experience the thrill of seeing just how well a superhero comic
can be written, I've returned to this issue again and again.


I know I've bored readers with the topic of time before, but it really
amazes me that I first read this story a kick-in-the-pants off 30 years
ago - it just doesn't seem like it. The RS McColl's I acquired it from is
long-gone, the premises having housed several different businesses in
the intervening years between then and now. Yet, when I look at the
cover, I can clearly remember buying it as if it were only a couple
of weeks back, so distinct is the memory of it in my mind.  


As I said, back in the early '80s, I was buying a lot of comics, but I
only regarded two of my regular titles as being absolute 'must-haves'.
The first was THE FANTASTIC FOUR, written and drawn by JOHN
BYRNE, and the second was MARVEL TALES, reprinting the early
Lee/Ditko Spider-Man classics. These were the 'dynamic duo' of the
monthly Marvel output, but occasionally there would be an issue of
another mag which was up there with the best of them. Such a
one was The Amazing Spider-Man Annual #18.


I can honestly say that my copy is in practically the same condition as
the day I bought it, which is more than I can say about me. It's at times
like this that I find myself wishing I had a hideous portrait up in the attic
of the same mystical properties as Dorian Gray's. Of course, some wag
is sure to say that any portrait of me is bound to be hideous. It reminds
me of the time an artist asked his subject whether he thought his newly-
completed portrait did him justice. "It's not justice I require," said
the subject - "it's mercy!"

And on that note, I'll leave you to look up the price of the above
issue on eBay. If you don't already have it in your collection, now's
the time to track it down.

Thursday, 30 August 2012

LIVE DINOSAUR SEEN IN GLASGOW...



That'll be me then.  (My friends think I'm a bit of a dinosaur
and I often feel that I'm heading for extinction.)  However, as
we're on the subject...

In the grounds of Glasgow University, near the entrance to the
Hunterian Museum, there once stood a Tyrannosaurus Rex.
I think the ol' chap had been part of a display and was placed in that
spot around the year 2001, where he soon became a popular tourist
attraction and interesting backdrop against which students posed
for their graduation photos.


A few years ago, the museum was extensively renovated, and old
'Dino' disappeared.  I've no idea whether he was quietly put to sleep
or still exists somewhere in storage, but fortunately I had managed
 to take a few photos of him a year or two before he was removed.


For all those who miss ol' Dino as much as I do, here's a few snaps
of him to remind you that Glasgow once had its very own prehistoric
pal who guarded the grounds of the fourth oldest university in the
English-speaking world.

******

Since I first posted this, I've discovered that 'Dino' is actually
a female dinosaur called 'Millie' (the Millennium tyrannosaur)
who was lifted into position on January 22nd, 2001.  

JACK'S BACK...



When JACK KIRBY returned to MARVEL in the mid-'70s, the
only existing comicbook he resumed drawing was CAPTAIN AMERICA.
Apart from lending his artistic skills to some covers (usually designed by
MARIE SEVERIN), he steered clear of the heroes he had helped make
famous back in the '60s. So - no FANTASTIC FOUR, THOR, HULK,
AVENGERS, X-MEN, etc. He did draw the Hulk in two issues of THE
ETERNALS, but it was a 'cosmic powered' mechanical figure - not
the genuine green-skinned goliath himself.

I have to confess that I'm not overwhelmed by some of the covers
Kirby drew during this period. His style by this time had become a little
too 'cartoony' and not quite as realistically rendered as in former years.
JOE SINNOTT inked quite a few of them, but even he couldn't entirely
disguise Kirby's looser, blockier, more abstract way of doing things
compared to his triumphs in the '60s.

However, there was one cover in particular that I remember being
well-impressed by when I first laid eyes on it back in 1975 - MARVEL
PREMIERE #26. Inked by VINCE COLLETTA, this cover looked like
a 1960s piece that had been discovered in the Marvel Vaults. GEORGE
TUSKA pencilled the interior pages, and Vinnie's inks on them may not
have been quite as successful as on the cover, but they didn't have to be.
I bought the issue for the cover alone, and wished that Marvel would
assign more of Jack's art to Vinnie's magic brush and pen. (Although
the placement of the figure with the axe is somewhat suspect and his
right leg needs a little work - but that's down to Jack, not Vinnie.)


Examine the cover at the top of this post and then compare it to
the Fantastic Four one inked by Sinnott, above. The perspective is all
wrong and the background figures' sizes aren't consistent to one another.
 And is that car parked on the pavement? Also, look at where the wind-
screen is positioned and the sparse detail on the chassis. One hesitates
to use the word 'lazy' in relation to Jack Kirby; after all, every line that
Sinnott inked was there in the pencil stage. Jack certainly didn't stint in
that department. I sometimes wonder 'though, if, later in his career, he
had simply passed the point of caring whether his art reflected reality
or not, and it was only the overall effect he was concerned with.

Perhaps it was merely a case of Jack getting older and less interested
in sustaining the near-perfection of earlier days. After all, at this stage
he'd been drawing comics for close to 40 years, so he could perhaps be
forgiven for being somewhat worn down by the 'conveyor-belt' produc-
tion process of the medium. And who could blame him? Life has a
habit of sucking the soul out of even the best of men. 

However, I come to praise Kirby, not to 'bury' him. So, take another
look at that HERCULES cover and enjoy what Jack was still capable
of when combined with an inker who knew how to dilute his later
weaknesses and enhance his strengths.   

Tuesday, 28 August 2012

HAPPY BIRTHDAY JACK KIRBY...


Art by Jack Kirby & Vince Colletta

His life enriched us.
His legacy sustains us.
Few gifts are as precious.
Here's to you, Jack.
You will be missed.

JACK KIRBY would've been 95 today. Co-creator of 
MARVEL's FANTASTIC FOUR, INCREDIBLE HULK,
ASTONISHING ANT- MANMIGHTY THOR, UNCANNY
X-MENAVENGERS, NICK FURYCAPTAIN AMERICA
& many others, plus sole creator of DC COMIC's NEW GODS,
FOREVER PEOPLEMISTER MIRACLE, KAMANDI,
DEMONOMAC, etc., he was probably involved in more
comics than almost anyone else in the medium.

Let's all take a few moments to remember
the 'KING' - he deserves it. 

LONDON CALLING...



 There are certain things I miss doing as I get older, even 'though I
know I probably couldn't do them any more even if I wanted to.  One of
the things I miss most is visiting London once (sometimes twice) a week -
as I did in the mid-'80s for a couple of years - to collect and deliver artwork
from and to KING'S REACH TOWER, the (former) highrise headquarters
of IPC MAGAZINES LTD.  I usually made the journey by coach, which
was around eight and a half to nine hours each way and pretty fatiguing,
as it was almost impossible to sleep for the duration of the trip.

Normally I was working from the moment I got in to the moment I
left for the return journey home, but, occasionally, I found myself with
a bit of time on my hands and could go off and explore parts of London
during my lunch hour (when I wasn't too busy to take one) or after working
hours.  I was usually accompanied on these little excursions by KEVIN
BRIGHTON, an IPC art assistant (for 2000 A.D. and other titles)
and/or MARC JUNG, the sub-editor of BUSTER comic.

I remember going to THE IMPERIAL WAR MUSEUM in
Lambeth Road, not far from the ELEPHANT AND CASTLE tube
station, and (on another day) COVENT GARDEN, although, if I recall
correctly, that may've been early evening on that occasion.  I also visited
ST. PAUL'S CATHEDRAL (designed by Sir CHRISTOPHER WREN)
and took quite a few photos inside.  The one above of me outside its steps
was taken by either Kevin or Marc.  THE NATIONAL THEATRE
on the SOUTH BANK was another place I enjoyed having a
look 'round in one lunch hour.

I was in my mid-20s at the time, and it was only my youthful energy
and enthusiasm which kept me going after a near-sleepless trip down to
London.  Nowadays, I severely doubt I'd be up to the rigours of a nine hour
journey without taking a long kip on arrival, but the mere thought of having
to sit on a coach for that length of time leaves me exhausted and reluctant
to repeat the experience - even 'though I'd like to see the city again
and just how it's changed in the intervening years.

So, why did I stop going to "The Big Smoke" (after December of
1987) if I enjoyed it so much?  After all, I was surely still young enough
to have endured the ordeal of travelling there for another few years.  Well,
truth to tell, I was a bit of an anomoly in the world of comics.  At that time,
editors preferred to have their freelance letterers close to hand, which was
why I made the journey at least once a week.  (I lived in Southsea for
the first few months, so the trip wasn't as long or as arduous.)

However, once I proved reliable, editors didn't mind entrusting the
POST OFFICE to deliver strips to my door in Scotland, and for me to
return them the same way.  (Occasionally I would use RED STAR when a
deadline was looming.)  I think I may have been the first letterer (certainly
outside of London) to be allowed to operate in this way, but no artwork was
ever lost in the post so there was never any problem.  That meant I simply
had no need to go to London after a while - it came to me.  In fact, I could
probably have stopped going sooner than I did, but I could always pick
up some extra work from merely being on the premises, hence my
continued sojourns.

One day I'll post photos of some of the IPC staff I snapped
on my trips to 'the office', but in the meantime you'll have to
be content with the one of myself which adorns the top of this
rambling reminiscence.  Ah, those were the days! 

Monday, 27 August 2012

HOW TO BAKE A DALEK...



DOCTOR WHO makes a welcome return to U.K. TV screens this
Saturday, along with his arch-enemies THE DALEKS.  To celebrate, I
thought you might like to try making yourself some chocolate Daleks to
munch on while watching the show.  So, step right back in time with this
recipe from the pages of TV CENTURY 21 #28, cover-dated July 31st,
2065 - a comic well and truly a hundred years ahead of its time.

Incidentally, TV21 editor, the late ALAN FENNELL, copied the
above recipe directly from his own issue of the comic and sent it to me
back in the early '90s.  The one I'd cut out as a kid and which was kept
in my mother's cookbook had been misplaced over the years, so
Alan kindly supplied a replacement.

LET'S PLAY COMIC COVERS 'SNAP'!



You'd be amazed at how often a good cover design is reused by
others in 'homage' to the original. It's happened quite often over the
years, so welcome to the first in an occasional series which throws the
spotlight on comic covers and their 'copies'. First up is SUPERMAN
#243 from October '71, and JONAH HEX #91 from June '85. There's
a respectable interval of fourteen years between these pieces, but I
recognized the source immediately when I spotted the latter in a
shop back in the '80s.

More covers to come in the future.
    

PAST, PRESENT OR FUTURE?



Just imagine that scientists were able to devise a means by which
humans could relive any point in their past as if experiencing it for the
very first time. Working on the premise that far more detailed memories
of every moment we have ever encountered are imbedded in our sub-
conscious than was previously realized, we could be reconnected to
them with such potency that they seemed real in every way. We would
see, hear, feel, and taste with a clarity so vivid that it would virtually be
time travel, except that it would be happening only in our minds.

If such a thing were possible, how many of us would then stop
seeking new experiences in the future, instead preferring to relive
previous ones from the past in the here and now? Never mind going
to the dancing on weekends and trying to chat up some brash, drunken
nymphet - you could re-experience that night sixteen years ago when
you pulled the best looking girl at the work's dance and got up to some
hanky-panky in a stationery cupboard. You could read again any
comic you ever had as a child, 100% faithfully recreated from your
memory-banks for you to peruse any time you felt like it.

Deceased friends and relatives could be 'resurrected', and once
again you could sit and converse with them just as you did when they
were alive. Any converstaion, any kiss, any holiday, any vanished toy-
shop from childhood could once more be as real to you as it used to be
in bygone days. What's more, in your mind, you would be the same age
that you were when any incident you wish to relive first happened.
You could spend a day as a seven year old, with all the vitality
and enthusiasm that was yours when you were that age.

The only drawback would be that it happens in 'real' time. For
example, every moment you 'relive' of your past would require the
equivalent time in the present. That is, an hour would take an hour,
a day would take a day, etc.

So, would you spend your future reliving various memories of
yesteryear in your mind (but which felt entirely real), or would you
rather spend your tomorrows experiencing new sensations in the
flesh? The past or the future beckons to you from the present.
What would your choice be?

Sunday, 26 August 2012

THE FINAL FRONTIER - NEIL ARMSTRONG: 1930 - 2012...



It's a curious paradox of time that past events can seem, at the
point of recollection, both recent and long ago at almost the same
moment. I'm not quite sure how the process works, I only know that it
does. Perhaps when remembering something, one's memory leaps right
back to the event, making it seem as fresh and immediate as when it first
happened. Then the intervening years instantly resurface in the mind's eye,
shifting the focus and thus placing events in their proper perspective, time-
wise. This all happens in a split-second of course, creating the illusion of
experiencing two diametrically-opposing sensations simultaneously.
Does that make any sense?

Regardless, New Year's Eve (Hogmanay), 1970, seems like
only a short time back (despite being a lifetime away) when I look
at my AIRFIX APOLLO LUNAR EXCURSION MODULE, which
I first acquired shortly before (or maybe even on) that December 31st of
42 years ago. Of course, I no longer own my original version, but rather
a re-issue from back in the early '90s. Fortunately, unlike more recent
re-releases, this one features the original box art from the '70s.
 
I recall, while my parents made preparations for the unlikely arrival
of any New Year visitors on the stroke of midnight, putting the finishing
touches to my LEM and sitting it on the sideboard behind the settee. Let
me tell you something about that sideboard. Not that I imagine you'll be
interested, but the past weighs heavily on my mind and I suddenly feel
compelled to unburden my soul. (As Poe would put it.)

I had grown up with that sideboard; it had been in every house I
remembered (I was then in my fourth house and had only just turned
12), and it was a main feature of our livingroom. Some years and another
house later, either when I was out at work one day or living down in South-
sea for a few months, my parents acquired new display units for either side
of the fireplace and gave the sideboard to a relative. When I returned it
was gone - without me ever having the chance of bidding it farewell.

 
A few years on, we moved to yet another house, the first I'd ever
been in without the sideboard. Four years later, we returned to the
house from which we'd flitted, and - six years after that - I bought the
sideboard back from the relative and installed it in my back room, where
it now sits to the side of me as I type this. (No doubt that's why it's called a
sideboard.) At around the same time, I also acquired a replacement Airfix
Lunar Module, and you can be sure that, whenever I finally get around
to building and painting it, I'm going to display it on top of that afore-
mentioned item of furniture - just as I did those many years ago.

However, believe it or not, I didn't start this post with the
intention of discussing sideboards, regardless of how enthralled by
the topic you may be. (No? What's wrong with you?) It was astronaut
NEIL ARMSTRONG's sad passing that prompted me to put digit to
keyboard. In 1969, the year that Neil first set foot on the surface of the
moon, he was only a relatively young man of around 38 or so. (That's
quite a bit younger than I am now.) 40-odd years later, the man is
gone and I find myself amazed at just how recent the events of
1969 suddenly, for the moment, appear to me.

One day, when I finally build that LEM model, I'll no doubt
recall three things. Firstly, Neil's historic achievement back in 1969.
Secondly, that particular New Year's Eve of 1970 and my original Lunar
Module sitting atop the sideboard. And, thirdly, just how fleeting time is
and how, nowadays, there never seems to be enough of it. I've still got
quite a few unbuilt model kits to assemble before I'm ready to take
that "giant leap" into "the final frontier".

I suppose I'd better get started on them pretty darn soon.

******

In memory of NEIL ARMSTRONG.
August 5th, 1930 - August 25th, 2012.

SON OF ORIGINS...

 

In 1975, FIRESIDE (Simon & Schuster) released the second in their
series of MARVEL ORIGINS volumes, entitled SON OF ORIGINS OF
MARVEL COMICS. Sporting a fantastic cover by JOHN ROMITA Sr.,
the book was a major disappointment compared to its predecessor from the
year before. STAN LEE's text was as witty and sparkling as ever, but the
book was let down by some of the worst reproduction of classic comics
that it was possible to see.


 I can only assume that some strips were sourced from foreign reprints,
then had the original English lettering from published comics dropped
in. Significant areas of artwork were obscured by over-sized, irregular
balloon shapes, suggesting that they were enlarged at some stage to
accommodate more verbose dialogue, which is usually a feature when
English-language comics are translated into another idiom. (In a few
instances, some speech balloons were left totally blank.)


DAREDEVIL #1 (below) seems to have been sourced from proofs utilised
for its U.K. reprinting in THE MIGHTY WORLD OF MARVEL #s 20 &
21, with cropped panels featuring Letratone which obscured the art in quite
a few places. Other issues affected were X-MEN #1, AVENGERS #1, and
SILVER SURFER #1, which were utterly appalling in the quality of their
reproduction and rendered any 'archive' aspect of these strips redundant.


Thankfully, not all stories were ruined in this way: TALES OF
SUSPENSE #s 39 & 97, DAREDEVIL #47, STRANGE TALES #
135, and "THE WONDER OF THE WATCHER!" back-up tale from
SILVER SURFER #1 were more or less perfect, 'though IRON MAN's
origin was taken from the reprint in MARVEL TALES #1 and featured
a different final caption running along the bottom of the last page.


Romita's cover is the book's main redeeming feature, and is arguably
even better than the one for the previous volume. One thing I do know
 - whenever I cast my gaze upon it, I'm instantly transported 37 years
into the past - when teenage hope was still aborning and dreams were
not yet the stuff of nightmare.

Saturday, 25 August 2012

"BEAM ME UP, SCOTTY..."



It suddenly occurs to me that in all the time I've been running this blog,
I've never really done a post on any of the comicbook incarnations of
STAR TREK. This is mainly due to the fact that, apart from a reprint of
half of a GOLD KEY Star Trek strip given away in the second issue of
NEW MIGHTY TV COMIC, and some strips in a few TV21 comics
and annuals, I'm very far from being spoilt for choice.

I'll dig them all out one day perhaps, but in the meantime, here's a
complete strip from the New Mighty TV Comic Annual for 1978.
(Although, going by the 1969 copyright date, it could possibly have
been a reprint from an earlier annual or special.) Ready? "Warp
factor six - second star to the right and straight on 'til morning..."





And, just in case you should ever want to track down the book on
ebay, here's what its cover looks like. Happy Hunting.

Friday, 24 August 2012

DANDY 75th ANNIVERSARY SPECIAL - ONE TO LOOK OUT FOR...



Due out sometime in September - THE DANDY: 75 YEARS - a
cardboard bound special containing a reprint of the first issue, as well as
lots of other classic strips. (The decision to include #1 was made before
the weekly's fate had been determined. The last printed edition of The
Dandy in December will also include a facsimile of the first issue.)


The special will be in the same format as THE BEANO one
(above) from 2008, with DESPERATE DAN seen through the hole
in the cardboard cover. Let's hope they publish another Beano special
when the comic celebrates its 75th birthday in 2013.

The Dandy special is priced at £5.99 and is exclusive to
WH SMITH's. Keep your eyes peeled.

******

UPDATE: And here's what it looks like (below). It's currently
available in some branches of WH Smith earlier than anticipated.
Contrary to information supplied to me earlier, the reprint contains
only 24 of the original 28 pages.


******

FOOTNOTE: Apparently, The Dandy's circulation has increased by
over 60% as a consequence of all the recent publicity surrounding its fate,
but it's unlikely to be enough to earn it a reprieve, sad to say. Incidentally,
around 90% of sales of certain DCT magazines are as a result of being
sold in WH Smith's, so the claim from some apologists that The Dandy's
failure was mainly down to factors other than readers' dissatisfaction
with the content appears to be somewhat tenuous.

******

    Looking for the post about the last issue of The Dandy? Click here.     

Thursday, 23 August 2012

ORIGINS OF MARVEL COMICS...


Art by John Romita Sr

In the beginning Marvel created the Bullpen and the Style.
 
And the Bullpen was without form, and was void; and darkness
was upon the face of the Artists. And the Spirit of Marvel moved
upon the face of the Writers.

And Marvel said, Let there be The Fantastic Four. And there
was The Fantastic Four.

And Marvel saw The Fantastic Four. And it was good.

******
 
The first hint I had was in a BULLPEN BULLETINS page in 1973,
perhaps '74. Just a passing reference in a brief sentence of a MARVEL
ORIGINS special or book in the works that might one day see fruition.
"That'd be nice!" I thought. Comics were often described as 'books' in
those days (and probably still are) so, truth to tell, I expected it to be a
72 page KING-SIZE SPECIAL which I'd be able to pick up for no
more than about 25 pence.

Time passed. I kept an eye on the shelves to see if this proposed
publication was ever going to materialize, but no joy. I'd left school and
was working when, in October of 1975 (I think), the back pages of the British
Marvel weeklies carried an advert for - wait for it - ORIGINS OF MARVEL
COMICS, a softcover book containing the origin tales of THE FANTASTIC
FOUR, THE HULK, SPIDER-MAN, THOR, and DOCTOR STRANGE,
as well as later tales to show how the characters had developed
since their inception.

I sent off the required amount and waited, wishing my life away with
each passing day. Eventually, a padded envelope arrived containing the
sought-after treasure - and indeed, treasure was the word which described
this pulsating paperback to a tee. I pored over its contents innumerable
times, drank in the four-colour fantasies which I'd only ever seen in black
and white or spot-coloured presentations in British reprint mags, which
came a poor second to the fabulous volume I now possessed.
 
American advert for Origins
 
I later learned that there was a hardback edition and wondered why
we Brits never got the chance of one, but that was a minor niggle. Two
things, however, bothered me about the titanic tome and slightly detracted
from its Marvelous magnificence. The first was that the corner page
numbers of each strip had been clumsily pasted over in order to obliterate
their existence, and the second was that some panels bore evidence of
'touching up', where thin lines in danger of not reproducing too well had
been 'enhanced' by another hand - 'though one far less skilled than the
original inkers of the art.

STAN LEE's behind-the-scenes accounts of how these tales were
created read like a dream - which was ironic, considering that was how
some cynics later came to describe Stan's version of events. But you
have to hand it to 'The Man' - he knew how to keep his readers glued to
each page. Interestingly, first editions of the book mixed up the Doctor
Strange section, printing the stories and their accompanying text out
of sequence, but this was corrected for subsequent printings.

Even today, the book is a delight to read, thanks mainly to Stan's
mastery of words and his ability to spin a good yarn, even 'though his
recollection may be a little faulty at times. It's certainly a book worth
having, but for a more faithful presentation of these cataclysmic classics -
without the inferior 'restoration' evident in Origins - readers are advised
to get their hands on MARVEL FIRSTS: THE 1960s, a massive
volume published about a year or so back.

However, for its time, Origins of Marvel Comics was a well-
deserved best-seller that had comic fans everywhere screaming
"Make Mine Marvel!"

Wednesday, 22 August 2012

THE ULTIMATE BEANO SUMMER SPECIAL #3...



A few weeks ago, I read somewhere that there was a third ULTIMATE
BEANO HOLIDAY SPECIAL due to go on sale, so I went looking for it in my
local WH SMITH's. The previous two had been placed next to The Beano
weekly and therefore I'd had no difficulty in securing copies for myself.
However, when I went hunting for the third volume, it was nowhere to be
seen - although, curiously, there were new copies of the second edition
located on the same space on the shelf where I had obtained mine. These
were actually in a special display tray attached to the shelf, clearly marked
"Ultimate Beano Holiday Special".

I asked an assistant, but she didn't know anything about it - nor where the
new copies of #2 had sprung from. Over the next few weeks I asked again -
no joy, nobody could help. I was in WH Smith's again today and asked one
of the women responsible for the magazine section about it and she led me
along a trail to where obscure magazines were located - in a corner of the
shop and on a shelf at adult eye-level, marked "Bookazines".

"Wouldn't you be better placing them next to The Beano where kids
are more likely to look for them and where the first two editions were
situated?", I enquired. "Head office said they were to be stocked where
they were put!", she replied. "Well, why don't you put some of them next
to the weekly where Beano fans can see them, and leave some of them
where they are, and that way adults can see them and buy them for
their kids?", I suggested. "Might do!", was the reply. (Incidentally, the
special display tray at the comics section was now completely empty.)

It seems to me that the obvious place to position them is where
comic fans will automatically look for the thing, but also have some where
casual browsers can see them and perhaps buy a copy on impulse, either
for themselves or for their kids. (How come nobody else seems to have
that much common sense?) However, it seems pretty bloody stupid to put
them all where absolutely nobody who is actively looking for a copy can
actually see it - especially when a shelf-tray specifically designed to display
the mag is lying forlorn. D.C. THOMSON would be just as well printing
the damn things with invisible ink on invisible paper.

Anyway, if you've been looking for a copy in your local Smith's, chances
are that they're not where common sense dictates they ought to be (the
comics section), so keep searching.

THE ONLY GOOD ALIEN - PART TEN OF FAVOURITE COMICS OF THE PAST...



Returning yet again to the theme of memory, THE AVENGERS
#89 is a comic which I associate with two places:  the first being the sea-
side town of Largs, which is where I purchased this esteemed publication
in June or July of 1971, and the second being my livingroom back in my
home town, in which I sat by the fireside and re-read the comic and
soaked up SAL BUSCEMA's art.


What's surprising is that the issue is dated for June 1971 (although,
in the States, it would've come out around March), so for me to actually
have obtained it when I did is quite amazing.  Usually, U.S. comics didn't
show up in Britain until many months - sometimes years - later, so this
seems to be one of those seemingly rare occasions when distribution
in Britain wasn't so far behind as was frequently the case.


My family were holidaying in Largs that year, and my father had
gone into a newsagent's to buy some tobacco for his pipe.  Also inside
was a spinner-rack of U.S. comicbooks from which I chose this collectors'
item issue.  Apparently, it was the first episode of what would later become
known as the KREE/SKRULL WAR, but I was ignorant of that fact at the
time.  I didn't get to see subsequent issues until they were reprinted in a
weekly British MARVEL comic several years later.  By then, I was
living in another house and that holiday in Largs seemed like an
inordinately long time in the past.


What I find curious is that the cover instantly transports me back
to the newsagent's and surrounding environs, but the splash page (and
others) summons up images of my living room, with me sat beside a big
brass log box next to our fireplace back home.  Funny how one comic can
carry associations with two different places, eh?  As far as I know, I've not
been back to Largs since.  I wonder if that newsagent's still exists?  If so, it's
most likely had a refit by now and looks nothing like it once did.  Wouldn't
it be nice 'though, if it remained the same?  That way, if ever I should
return, crossing its threshold for the first time in over 40 years
would be like stepping back into yesteryear.


Although, funnily enough, whenever I hold this comic in my hands
and pore over its four-colour pages for the umpteenth time, the exact
 same experience is achieved.  Spooky, huh?

******

UPDATE:  On June 26th 2014, I returned to Largs on a
day trip, but could see no sign of the newsagent's/tobacconists from
1971.  It was an odd experience because, although having last been
there 43 years before, it seemed to me like I'd been only yesterday,
making the changes that had occurred in the intervening period
    all the more difficult to accept.  Strange indeed.    

Monday, 20 August 2012

TOMMY OR JOE? FIGHT! FIGHT! FIGHT!



Isn't it funny how some things can make such an impression on you
that other things are swept from your mind? Here's an example of just
what I'm talking about. Imagine, if you will, that it's Christmas Day, 1966.
My brother and myself had snuck downstairs in the very early hours to see
whether 'Santa' had fulfilled our expectations in the 'gifts' department. Then
we returned to our beds, each clutching a toy as we couldn't bear to be parted
from them. I well-remember my sleepy sibling dozing off snuggled next to
the articulated action-soldier he had received. Thing is, it wasn't ACTION
MAN (by Palitoy) - it was TOMMY GUNN (by Pedigree).


I can no longer recall what presents I got that year - it's a complete
blank. It's entirely possible (likely even) that I remember some of the toys,
but I just don't associate them with that Christmas. My one, big, over-riding
recollection of that event is my brother's delight when he first cast his eyes on
Tommy, and him holding him fast as he dropped off to sleep. Oh, and also the
smell of the plastic, which was quite distinctive. Yet another of those smells
which instantly whisks me back to childhood. Luckily for me, my brother
was a little older than me and soon outgrew his appetite for such things,
so Tommy relatively swiftly passed into my hands.

Tommy Gunn was better than Action Man in quite a few respects.
His face looked more natural (modelled on a real person apparently) and
his skin tone seemed a bit more realistic at the time, 'though, curiously, he
now appears a tad over-tanned. (Perhaps as a result of the ageing process
over the years.) Same for his physique, which was a little less 'stylized' than
Joe's (to give A.M. his 'real' name.) Also, his equipment was more detailed
and in scale. Tommy had close-fitting, flexible boots with real laces - Joe
had oversized ones in a thicker plastic. Tommy's grenades had pins which
could actually be pulled out - Joe's didn't. In fact, although never quite
as popular as Action Man, Tommy Gunn was probably the superior
toy in all ways but one, which was this:


Action Man had swivelling ball-joints at the top of his thighs, allowing
him to sit with his legs folded, or to rest either foot on the opposite knee.
Poor Tommy's thighs were one-piece affairs which didn't allow for such
a relaxed position, although in every other way his joints were the same as
Joe's. Apparently, Pedigree had made a bid to Hasbro (the company behind
G.I. JOE, who was Action Man in everything but name) for the rights to the
figure at the same time Palitoy did, but failed. Instead, they decided to pro-
duce their own version and Tommy Gunn was the result. The figure
enjoyed good sales from 1966 to '68.

In 1968, Tommy's body was re-used for Pedigree's CAPTAIN
SCARLET figure, yet another fondly-remembered toy from the '60s.
Around 1978, a company called ZODIAC TOYS bought the moulds from
Pedigree and started to produce Tommy Gunn, but using a much cheaper
plastic. This time around, Tom's skin colour was more like Action Man's,
but, sadly, because of cheaper production techniques, he could no longer
claim to be Joe's superior, or, indeed, even his equal. In 1985, Tommy was
retired, taking his place in history, and in the memories of those who had
been fortunate enough to own him during his brief spell as Action
Man's main competitor.