Tuesday 26 April 2011


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

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


Blind dog who has his own guide dog

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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

Saturday 23 April 2011


The mighty Christopher Reeve - gone, but not forgotten

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

Anyway, I'm not here today to talk about ol' Goldilocks - rather it's Superman I want to blather on about for a minute or two - and in particular CHRISTOPHER REEVE's impressive interpretation of The MAN Of TOMORROW.  It was almost as if The SPARKY's PETER PIPER had blown his magic pipes (now there's a reference bound to confuse any American readers) and ol' Supes had stepped straight out of the pages of his own comic.  Has ever a human being so personified a comicbook superhero better than Chris Reeves did?  

The answer is clearly "no" (I'm talking about cinematic portrayals, so relax, all you KIRK ALYN and GEORGE REEVES fans), so it will be interesting to see just how any future interpretations of The MAN Of STEEL measure up to Reeve's definitive portrayal.  BRANDON ROUTH managed a reasonable impersonation of Reeve, but failed to truly match the original.

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

Friday 15 April 2011


Willy sets out on his maiden voyage

I was wandering through my local JOHN MENZIES (now WH SMITH'S) one Winter's day back in 1976, when I spied a big square table laden with a selection of annuals.  Prominent among them was one I hadn't seen before, although the art style was familiar to me.  "Only £1?", thought me - "I'm having that!"  And thus was I introduced to legendary British cartoonist LEO BAXENDALE's latest comic creation - WILLY The KID

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

Ooer!  He's not even out of the harbour yet

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

In 1978 I bought Leo's autobiography, A VERY FUNNY BUSINESS, but, apart from a picture on the back cover, I simply couldn't find a copy of the 3rd annual anywhere.  (Many years later, a dealer told me not to waste my time looking for it as it had never been printed.  That would certainly explain why I couldn't find a copy at the time.)  I never saw a Willy the Kid Annual again - he had simply vanished from the face of the earth without even saying goodbye.

A lovely colouring job from Leo

Sometime later, in the mid-'90s, I ordered some books from Leo and took the opportunity to ask him about the annual, and he generously took the time to reply and explain what had happened with it.  Here's Leo in his own words from his November '95 response: "Yes, the third... book was published, in September 1978, simultaneously with... 'A Very Funny Business'.  But because writing the autobiography took 4 months of my time in the summer of 1977, I was that much late in starting... the third Willy the Kid book, and as a result... it missed the annual distribution set-up, and was published as a 'posh' book with a wrap-around loose cover, at £2.50 (by contrast with the first and second Willy books, which were £1 each)

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

At least it's not under his bed

So there you have it from Leo himself - the book was published - and don't let any dealer ever tell you different.  Bax then went on to say the following: "So, alas, alas... lots of dedicated readers couldn't find it, and in many cases have spent the rest of their lives looking for it (funnily enough, the day before I received your order, I'd had an order for prints and books from a young man in Catford in London, with a covering letter telling me jubilantly that only the previous week, he had finally found a copy of the elusive Willy the Kid Book 3 in a junk shop in Wales.)  So never give up hope."

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

Never printed?  Well, what's this then?

If you're wondering why the annuals didn't continue, the matter is touched on in Leo's book, The BEANO ROOM & Other Places, doubtless available from eBay and some second-hand booksellers.  Why not track down a copy today?

Incidentally, several letters and notes which Leo sent to me over the years appear on various posts on the blog, so if you want to see into the mind of the great man, use the search box to locate them, by simply typing in Leo Baxendale.   

Nope, it's not for sale - don't ask

Thursday 14 April 2011


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

This annual was the first I bought near the end of 1972 - with the proceeds from my Saturday morning car-washing exploits in the carpark of a local pub.  (The second I bought that year was the 1973 MARVEL ANNUAL, which hit the shops later than the others.  Perhaps it was a last-minute decision to publish it, hence its tardiness in appearing.)  Anyway, I still remember walking back from the shops with my Knockout Annual, gazing at the cover under the blue, cloud-kissed skies of a bright, sunny August or September late morning or early afternoon.

How not to show an illustration of
three books. From CRIKEY! #12

Knockout the comic (the '70s incarnation) was merged with WHIZZER & CHIPS in June, 1973, so by the time the second annual was issued around August/September of that year, the weekly was already history.  Amazingly, this didn't seem to affect the annuals, because there were 13 of them in all, released every year right up until 1984 (for '85).

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

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


Oh look - Clint Eastwood's stand-in

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

His marriage didn't last too long after that, nor, come to think of it, did our friendship.  However, I still have that self-same Smash Martian today, over 34 years later - in perfect condition too.

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

Wednesday 13 April 2011


All lettering on this page by Kid Robson 

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


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

Unpublished logo

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

Unpublished logo

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

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

Hand-lettered flyer

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


Images copyright MARVEL COMICS

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

To such an extent in fact, that it's almost as if I'm back in the house I lived in at that time; that shops which are no longer around today still exist; that friends who have since died are merely a telephone call away.  So immersed in halcyon days of yesteryear do I become that, when I look up from the comic's pages and find myself in the house I live in today, I'm almost momentarily surprised by the fact.  Anyone else ever feel the same, or am I just bonkers?

Okay, so I'm just bonkers.  Would it have hurt you to lie just this once?


Artwork by Big John Buscema

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

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

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

Monday 11 April 2011


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

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

Sunday 10 April 2011



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

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


Well, the answer is obvious - none, really.  So when I spied the coveted issue on sale on eBay recently, I must've hesitated for all of two seconds before snapping it up it to add to my already vast collection.  What can I say?  Only other rabid collectors will fully understand the need to fill that missing gap in a run - even if you already have other presentations of the contents.

I now have the MASTERWORKS editions, as well as the AVENGERS UNITED printings (a U.K. publication), the recent re-coloured 6-issue series, the THOR OMNIBUS, the MARVEL SPECIAL EDITION issues, the hardback book, the 1984 Walt Simonson covered comic - and now I have the '68 Special as well.  (Only 27 or 28 years after I first decided to one day make it my own.)  I have every Tales of Asgard story ever printed, in either partial or complete presentations of these mini-classics.  Surely now I can draw the curtains on that particular compulsion to have a complete set of these stories?

You'd think so, wouldn't you?  But I'm finding that recently released softcover edition mighty tempting.  Will someone please save me from myself?  

Saturday 9 April 2011



In the absence of ideas for anything interesting to write about at the moment, Crivs, here are a few more spectacular SILVER SURFER covers for you to feast your ever-hungry eyes on.  These are the last of the 68 page (including covers) King-Size Surfers - next time up, I'll feature the 36 page issues.  You'll soon have all 18 covers to pore over in this classic series, so don't let me ever hear you say that I never give you anything.

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

Wednesday 6 April 2011


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

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

Related Posts Plugin for WordPress, Blogger...