Sunday, 30 September 2012

THE MARX DALEK - APPROVED AND AUTHENTICATED...



If I remember my DOCTOR WHO history correctly, a DALEK's
'plunger' appeared on the programme on December 21st, 1963, but it
wasn't until the following week (28th) that the pepper-pot perpetrators
of planetary pulverisation appeared in their full glory and subsequently
took the kiddie-contingent of the country by storm. MARX TOYS were
amongt the first to jump on the merchandising bandwagon that followed,
with an assortment of friction- drive, ball-bearing and battery-powered
bump'n'go plastic playthings in varying sizes and colours. (Silver,
black and red initially, with a yellow one a few years later.)

Although the demand for these toys was huge, it has to be admitted
in the cold light of adulthood that they weren't entirely accurate in terms
of detail. True, they captured the essence of the aggressive aliens perfectly
and were even used as stand-ins in the programme itself, but could hardly
be considered as exact reproductions of their TV counterparts. (Although
Marx were not the only manufacturers of Dalek merchandise whose
product differed from their cathode ray tube incarnations.)


At least, that's the generally-held view of collectors of these popular
'metal' mutants. However, a few years back, in the pages of DOCTOR
WHO MAGAZINE, I spied an early production sketch by designer RAY
CUSICK, which suggested a possible means of propelling the Scions of
SKARO around the BBC studios. Take a good look at the drawing below -
doesn't it seem remarkably similar to the Marx Dalek to you? Look at the
shape of the head - it's almost a dead-ringer for the Marx version. (It's
also got the same lights as the movie version - a couple of years before
the big- screen adventure had even been thought of.)  
  

So, to all those inclined to write off the Marx Dalek as an inaccurate
representation of the Doctor's arch-enemies, perhaps it's now time to re-
evaluate that assessment. The fact that it bears quite a resemblance to an
approved (in appearance, if not in propulsion) production sketch by the
actual designer means we can safely regard the most sought-after toy of
Christmas '64 as an 'official', if variant, member of the Dalek ranks.

Obviously, as has been seen down through the years, Daleks
come in various versions, and each one is as valid as the other. I can't
help but wonder, 'though, if these tin-pot tyrants would have been as
successful if either of the following two designs had been approved by
those in charge. Perhaps the whole future of the programme would
have been different - if, indeed, it would even have had one.      


So, go on - dig out your Marx Dalek today (if you're lucky
enough to own one) and give him pride of place once more on your
shelf or sideboard. No longer need he play second-fiddle to his later
brothers and cousins. No hiding him behind the rest of them, mind -
stick him up-front where he rightfully belongs. 

Thursday, 27 September 2012

THE FANTASTIC FOUR'S ANNUAL EVENT (Expanded Edition)...



Hard to believe the above issue is nearly fifty years old. I acquired it
just over two decades after it was published, which means I've now had
it for almost thirty years - something else I find difficult to wrap my mind
around. The first six F.F. Annuals all had new content alongside select
reprints, but with #7 they became all-reprint material - a situation which
lasted until 1976 and the release of Annual #11.   


The seventh Annual (or King-Size Special, if you prefer), reprinted
the contents of #2, above, while #8 re-presented the first in the series,
minus the opening chapter of the origin of the foursome from their 1961
debut in F.F. #1. (The 1963 reprint had faces and figures redrawn in
places, to update the look of the some of the characters.)


The above cover was one I re-created for the original printing
of Volume 25 of MARVEL MASTERWORKS, and was featured
in several publications over the years until an earlier, superior source
was discovered and utilised for the OMNIBUS and recently updated
Masterworks editions. JACK (KING) KIRBY was still alive when
I re-inked, re-created and restored this page (and others), and it was
an immense thrill to see my name in the credits section of the book
alongside some of the (then) living legends of the Marvel Age. 


Annual #4 featured the modern-day return of the original HUMAN
TORCH, but it was the reprint tales which made this issue a 'must-have'.
Re-presenting F.F. #s 25 26, the second meeting between the HULK
and the THING was a real classic. I was never overly fond of GEORGE
ROUSSOS's inks (under the name of George Bell) over Kirby's F.F.
pencils, but, some way, somehow, they work in this two-part
slug-fest from the '60s.    


The above was the cataclysmic issue that featured the SILVER
SURFER in his first solo story. By this time, Kirby's figurework had lost
some of the grace and fluidity with which he had imbued NORRIN RADD
when he first appeared in what later became known as the GALACTUS
TRILOGY. I have to say that I think STAN LEE made the right choice
when he picked JOHN BUSCEMA to draw the regular adventures of
the Surfer in his own mag. Short-lived though it was, I fear it would
have been even shorter had Jack been at the helm.


The sixth in the series was the one which made comicbook history by
introducing childbirth into the world of superhero escapades. Nothing
graphic, and all 'off-camera', but, as far as I'm aware, no other super-
powered couples had ever entered into parenthood before. REED and
SUE's son, FRANKLIN, is with us yet and is still only a kid - I just
wish I knew his secret.


Which brings us back to the beginning - in reverse - for this series of
Specials, as the above ish reprinted the story from the second Annual
from 1964. I'd be interested to know if the reprint editions sold as well
(or better) as the ones which contained new material, but I'm assuming
so as they must have cost less to produce. Anyone know for sure? 


We end our journey where it began - with the re-presentation of the
tale from the very first 1963 Annual. It's always nice to come full-circle,
don't you think? And isn't it interesting to compare JOHN ROMITA's
cover with Jack Kirby's? On balance, I think that Romita's is far more
dynamic, with Kirby's being a little sedate for such an action-packed
adventure. However, we aren't restricted to either one or the other -
we have both to enjoy whenever the fancy may take us. 'Nuff said!

******

In answer to a request in the comments section, what follows
(eventually) is the restored cover of F.F. Annual #3 for Marvel
Masterworks Vol 25, published in 1993. First up (below) is what
I had to work with, taken from an issue of SMASH! printed back in
the 1960s. I later found a much sharper copy of this ad in an issue
of FANTASTIC, but by then it was too late - I'd already
completed all the work.


And below is the finished result, a combination of re-created lettering
and some taken from my own copy of the actual issue. You'll see that
I had to add two missing figures, as well as re-ink the entire page.


When I first started restoring pages, my aim was to make them as
exact as I could, but then I succumbed to the temptation to leave my
own little 'stamp' on them. If you look closely, you'll find occasional
little deviations from the original. However, this has been accentuated
by Marvel not following the original colouring of the printed comics.
Nowadays, Marvel strive to make their Masterworks editions as
much like the originals as possible. The recent softcover editions
really are worth acquiring.


Above is a section from the cover - isn't that gilded frame a thing
of beauty? Below is a section from the credits page - Stan Lee's
name kicks it off, I bring up the rear.


And now, what you've been waiting for - the published result.
Unfortunately, the outline of 'King-Size' in the banner at the top of
the page was somehow 'lost' in the colouring process, but it was fixed
when the cover was later reproduced in various other publications.


All in all, it turned out not too badly, considering I only used a Mars-
matic technical pen to re-ink a photocopy on cheap paper. (Copied
in my local library.) I also worked on Volume 26 (THOR) - the series
was cancelled after Volume 27, but was revived a few years later.

'KID KLASSICS' - IT'S A MARVEL-OUS WORLD (Expanded Edition)...


Art by John Buscema
 
Forty years ago, on September 30th, 1972, THE MIGHTY WORLD OF
MARVEL #1 (cover dated October 7th) burst onto newsagents' counters
all over Britain. I hadn't seen the STAN LEE-voiced TV ad (although I did
later), so it came as a surprise when I spotted the comic on a wall-rack outside
a newsagent's along from Glasgow's famous BARROWLAND market (aka
THE BARRAS), where I and my parents were heading on that particular
Saturday morning.

Art by Jack Kirby
 
Art by Jack Kirby
I couldn't talk my folks into
buying it for me on the way in,
but I had managed to wear them
down into submission by the time
we were on our way out an hour
or so later. We were soon en-
sconced in the cosy confines of
a comfy cafe, and it was with
great joy that I pored through
its contents over a glass of cola
and re-acquainted myself with
the friends I had first met in the
pulsating pages of ODHAMS'
range of POWER COMICS,
way back in what even then
seemed like the dim and distant
days of the '60s. Suddenly
life was exciting again.

Art by Jack Kirby

DEZ SKINN once revealed that Stan had told him the comic's original title
was going to be The WONDERFUL World of Marvel (after the Disney
TV programme of almost the same name), but thankfully 'twas not to be.
Besides, MIGHTY and MARVEL go so well together it seems the obvious
choice, so I'm amazed that any other name was even considered.

Art by Jack Kirby

Art by Jack Kirby
Forty pages, some in full-
colour (the rest with green
'spot' colour), for only 5
pence - containing the origins
of THE INCREDIBLE
HULK, THE (FABULOUS)
FANTASTIC FOUR and
THE AMAZING SPIDER-
MAN - plus a Hulk iron-on
transfer (left) - WOW! I wish
they still produced comics
like that today!

Well, in a sense - they do! I'm
still buying MWOM today,
although it's now published
monthly, has seventy-six full-
colour pages and costs £2.95.

The Mighty World of Marvel - I hope it's still around in another
forty years. In fact, I hope I'm still around also.

Art by Steve Ditko

Hopefully, you won't mind me resurrecting a post from two years ago -
but (with a little revision) it was perfect for the purpose of celebrating the
debut of MWOM back in 1972. And, to be honest, I simply couldn't think
of saying it any better than I did a couple of years back. I wish I could relive
those Autumnal days from so long ago when I was a mere thirteen year old
boy, but, in a way, I can. Whenever I look at those pulse-pounding pages
in the very first issue of THE MIGHTY WORLD OF MARVEL, I'm
once more back in the heady days of the sensational '70s.

Art by Steve Ditko

Incidentally, you may be interested to know that, despite a later issue's
claims to the contrary in response to a reader's enquiry, page seven was
edited out of the reprint of SPIDER-MAN's origin. The opening caption
of page eight was amended to take account of this, and so unobtrusively
was it done that the story's flow remained largely unaffected by the cut. 

Wednesday, 26 September 2012

'D' IS FOR DENNIS DAY...

 
 
As a special treat, I thought I'd bestow upon all my rabid readers
a few pages from the third DENNIS THE MENACE book for 1960
(issued at the end of '59). I'm fortunate enough to own every Dennis
book ever printed (one of each, obviously - not the entire print run of
every book) and they're well-worth having. Published in an era before
political correctness had been invented, the early books were the
epitome of riotous, rebellious, rip-roaring FUN! 
 
 
The Dennis books didn't become actual 'annuals' until 1984
(for '85), which was the first to be released a year before the next
one. Before then, they had been published every two years until 1977
(for '78), whereupon it was 'rested' for a few years before resurfacing in
1982 (for '83). The final edition was the Dennis & Gnasher Annual for
2011, issued at the end of 2010, but by then, Dennis was a pale imitation
of his former self. Will the Dennis books ever return? Who knows, but
in the meantime, enjoy the following classic capers from the heyday
of the world's wildest boy.
 



All art in this post by Davey Law

Tuesday, 25 September 2012

REMEMBER WHEN DAYS WERE LONGER?

 
 
It's a wet and windy Autumn day outside, as the rain runs down
my window and leaves swirl past as if they need to be somewhere in
a hurry. I almost feel like I should be preparing to brave the elements
whilst getting ready for school, so evocative is it of days of long ago
when such weather was something to be enjoyed (if you were ten
years old) rather than cower from like a big feartie.
 
I can smell that 'woody' tang in the air, with hints of fireworks
and Hallowe'en, and find myself wondering why, when I was younger,
All  Hallow's Eve and Guy Fawkes' Night seemed separated by a period
of several weeks instead of the actual five days that exist between them.
I can remember, in school, as the night of October 31st approached, the
afternoon being given over to making masks for the big event to come.
Then it would all happen again for November 5th, and I defy anyone
to cast their minds back without seeming to 'remember' these two
celebrations as being separated by a far longer period of time
than they actually were.
 
I've often wondered how such a thing can be so. If October 31st
fell on a Monday, mask-making day would have been on Friday the
28th. That means Guy Fawkes Night would have been on the following
Saturday, and mask-making day would have occurred on Friday the 4th -
a whole week later with a Saturday and Sunday in between. Well, week-
ends obviously seemed far longer to us as kids back then than they do
now, but not all mask-making afternoons were partitioned by a full
weekend, so the seemingly elongated interval between the two
events is not fully accounted for by such an explanation.
 
We'll just have to put it down to that same mysterious
phenomenon which makes all our yesterdays, in retrospect, seem
better, brighter and longer than they really were. Don't we all feel that
the summers of our childhoods were gloriously sunny for months on
end, and that every Christmas morn we woke to find a deep carpet
of snow spread before us outside our bedroom windows?
 
I doubt I'm alone in preferring to recall some things as they
seemed to be, as opposed to how they actually were. ("I think,
therefore it was" - as someone surely must have said.)

Monday, 24 September 2012

THE AMERICANS ARE COMING! (TOO LATE, THEY'RE HERE!)


 
BARRY PEARL, author of THE ESSENTIAL MARVEL AGE
REFERENCE PROJECT and blogger of BARRY'S PEARLS OF COMIC
BOOK WISDOM (here), recently asked me for my personal reminiscences
as to how I first discovered American comicbooks. (Just like STAN LEE,
I prefer to render it as one word.)

First of all 'though, let m
 relate what I can recall of the
earliest comics I encountered
when I was but a few years old.
It would be impossible to list
them in the sequential order I
first experienced them, as my
memories of that particular
period of my life tend to run
into one another and it's difficult
to separate them at this late stage.
However, I remember being
aware of SUPERMAN from
about three or four years of
age, and even reading one of
his comics, doubtless bought by
my older brother. Whether it was
a U.S. original or U.K. reprint is beyond my ability to recollect - not that I'd
have known the difference at that young age anyway.

Back in the early and mid-'60s, which is the time I first became aware of
them, Britain still had a decent comics industry, with myriad publications
vying for the pocket-money of post-war 'baby-boomer' children. Titles such
as BEANO, DANDY, BEEZER, TOPPER, SPARKY, VICTOR, HOTSPUR,
VALIANT, LION, TIGER, EAGLE, BUSTER, TV COMIC, TV CENTURY
21, and a whole host more - the majority of which were aimed mainly at boys.
Girls had their own 'pictorial papers' to amuse and entertain them. Unlike
American comics, their British counterparts were published weekly, so U.K.
kids were spoilt for choice when it came to having something to read.

I probably first became aware
of American comicbooks (as
American comicbooks) around
1964 or '65, while visiting an
honorary 'Aunt' whose son bought
them. Sometimes he would even
let my brother and me take some
of them home - to keep. These
were usually from the stable of
NATIONAL PERIODICAL
PUBLICATIONS (DC COMICS
nowadays), and included such
titles as SUPERMAN, BATMAN,
THE FLASH, etc. As most readers
will know, U.S. comics came to
Britain as ballast in ships, and
were usually displayed on spinner-
racks along with other magazines in a shop corner, whereas U.K. comics were normally given space on the newsagent's counter. This perhaps
accounts for why I didn't discover 'yankee' superhero mags sooner.


I first became acquainted with the MARVEL COMICS heroes in 1966, in
the pages of a British title called SMASH!, published by ODHAMS PRESS.
First THE HULK and then THE FANTASTIC FOUR (the foursome's origin
being reprinted in two comics simultaneously), followed soon after by the rest
of the mighty Marvel pantheon in sister-publications such as WHAM!, POW!,
FANTASTIC and TERRIFIC. Three of these weekly comic papers (Wham!
Smash!, and Pow!) ran the Marvel reprints alongside home-grown humour,
adventure, war, and sports strips, typical of what British comics had been
producing from the '50s onwards. Of course, British comics go back much
further than that, and Glasgow comics historian JOHN McSHANE has
unearthed evidence that appears to suggest that comics first originated
in Scotland - the real 'home of the brave and the land of the free'.
 
As for comicbooks from before
my time, I first became aware of
them through reprints in 80 page
GIANTS and, later, when DC
COMICS upped their price to 25
cents an issue in the early '70s
and included 'Golden Age' tales in
the extra pages. Classics such as
THE BOY COMMANDOS, THE
NEWSBOY LEGION, THE
SANDMAN, etc., re-presented
for a (then) modern audience,
added to my knowledge of (and
appreciation for) what had gone
before. I learned about early
U.K. comics from books by
collector and historian, the late
DENIS GIFFORD, whose collection contained periodicals unknown to
even the British Museum.  

So, that's how it all happened in my case, and I'm pretty sure it's not too
different for those U.K. readers of a similar age and background to myself.
I'd like to thank Barry for allowing me to indulge in my favourite pastimes -
comicbooks and reminiscing about the past. (Or 'talking about myself', as
some cynics might prefer to describe it.)

"A NAMELESS LAND, A TIMELESS TIME!"



Isn't it strange how, when we look at the past through the muggy
mists of memory, periods of time we experienced as children seem to
have lasted much longer than they actually did? For instance, when I used
to purchase FANTASTIC back in the 1960s, it felt like I was reading the
ODHAMS PRESS weekly comic for years before it eventually discontinued
publication and was merged into SMASH!, one of its stablemates. However,
Fantastic lasted for no more than 89 issues - which is (if my calculations
are correct) a period of exactly one year and nine months. Surely such a
thing is impossible? To me, it feels like I was buying it for about three
or four years at least.


It's the same with WHAM!, another of the five POWER COMICS, as
they were known. I didn't become a regular reader until the comic started
featuring THE FANTASTIC FOUR, sometime around August of 1966.
The title was merged into POW! an issue or two into January of '68, which
means that I had only been buying it for less than a year and a half before its
untimely demise. Yet, when I think back, it seems (and seemed) that the
weekly periodical was a feature of my life for a far longer time than
was actually the case.


Regular readers may remember that, some time ago, I mentioned in
a previous post a quotation I heard on the radio a good few years back
which ran something like this: "The memories of childhood are without
time and without end." When I revisit my own memories of childhood,
I'm convinced of the truth of that insightful piece of wisdom. If anyone
can tell me its source I'd be much obliged. 

Wednesday, 12 September 2012

A NOTE TO ALL 'KID-ITES'...



Just to let all you cataclysmic comic fans out there know that I'm currently
having computer and scanner problems, so posts might be a bit thin on the
ground over the next few days - if not completely non-existent. Responses
to comments may also be a bit slow. Normal service will be resumed as
soon as possible. (I hope.)

Monday, 10 September 2012

HULK SMASH!



Presented for your appreciation and approval, the covers of the first
three THE INCREDIBLE HULK Annuals. The face on #1 was redrawn by
MARIE SEVERIN, although JIM STERANKO's original fizzog remained
untouched on the cover reproduction used in adverts for the title. There
was something magical about these publications that modern, so-called
"King-Sized Specials" just can't match. I wish they'd bring them back.


Saturday, 8 September 2012

SUNNY SUMMER SPECIALS OF YESTERYEAR...



One of the things that every blogger has to concern themselves
with is just what to write about for each new post, in the hope that at
least someone will be interested in reading the result. One can never
really tell with any certainty just what will float a reader's boat so it's a
bit of a gamble whenever a blog host takes the plunge with yet another
entry for his members' perusal and hopeful appreciation. Will a catchy
title arouse their curiosity? Will a dramatic opening illustration grab their
attention? Sometimes I'm surprised as to just what attracts a significant
number of hits - and sometimes I'm disappointed in equal measure
as to what seems to escape under the radar.


So, "what's the recipe for today, Jim?" - and will it be enough to lure you
into my blog's web for a few enjoyable minutes of reading pleasure? Let's
try the subject of Summer Specials - or Holiday Specials as they were also
sometimes called. Apart from the three Ultimate Beano Summer Specials
which graced the shelves of WH Smith fairly recently, the particular breed
known as the Summer Special seems to be extinct. Hardly surprising given
the dying interest in comics in general, but certainly no less disappointing
for that inarguable fact.


Those of a certain age will recall the glory days, when - for a mere
2'6d (usually) - 96 pages of fun and adventure could be had to pore
over again and again. There was just something about those extra thick
publications that seemed to beckon to us from the newsagents' counters -
enticing us to spend the half-crown that an indulgent grandparent or uncle
had given to us only a day or two before. We were mainly unaware that,
inevitably, these bumper packages contained an allocation of reprinted
strips from comics or annuals of an earlier era - and what did it matter
anyway? They were definitely new to us.


So come with me now on a short journey, and let us return to an age
when Holiday Specials were a welcome distraction as we sheltered
under the leafy shade of an overhanging branch from the heat of the
sweltering Summer sun. A bottle of pop in one hand, an oversized paper
periodical in the other, the future remained an undiscovered country -
in which, sadly, all too soon we would find ourselves residing while
wondering how we got there.