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 rec-ognised 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. (Though nowadays it's usually referred to as the SSC.  Perhaps it was only Dinky who called it an SPC?)


I had all of them - and still retain the 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 manu-facturers 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, whenever 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 a  quarter of 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 (see what I did there?), 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...


Copyright relevant owner

It's no secret to those who 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, though 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 - I believe he thought the book would be better without pictures), though 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 far from satisfactory.  Shepard drew 'real' animals, whereas his predecessors 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 treat, here are those eight colour pages - plus a copy of a letter from THEODORE ROOSEVELT which, though written 22 years before E.H. Shepard's drawings were commissioned and became such an indispensable part of the text, reveals that even U.S. presidents were not immune to the enchanting charms of Kenneth Grahame's classic work of literature.








Thursday, 28 June 2012

THE MOORE THE MERRIER...?



I've only met ALAN MOORE twice.  The first time was in 1984 at a
comic mart in the MOIR HALL in Glasgow's MITCHELL LIBRARY,
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'd 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'll 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 quite 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' guide-
lines, 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 opin-
ion he trusts - who can be relied upon to stop him making a public spectacle
of himself whenever a microphone is waved 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 ad-
mitting 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 other heroes
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'd 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 constabu-
lary 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 pronounce-
ment on some subject or other - tell him to stick a sock in it.  Or bet-
ter 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!


Copyright CONAN PROPERTIES & MARVEL COMICS

Most people will be aware that, when MARVEL decided to launch their CONAN The BARBARIAN four-colour comicbook back in 1970Big JOHN BUSCEMA was first choice as artist to illustrate the swarthy Cimmerian's action-packed adventures.  Only one problem with that however - 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 comicbook 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 Big J'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 'The Man' 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.)



(Like below.  Click to enlarge, then click again for optimum size.)

















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
1950s.  I used to own the IPC/FLEETWAY file copies,
gifted to me by an editor in the mid-'80s, but I sold them
around 20 years later.  (Got a good price for them too,
even 'though they'd my name stamped on the back.)


Thing is, I missed having them around, so I acquired
these facsimiles from the successor to BRYON WHIT-
WORTH'little publishing 'empire' several years back.
(Bryon was the editor of the now sadly defunct The IL-
LUSTRATED COMIC JOURNAL and various non-
profit comics indices and facsimile issues.)


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

Sunday, 24 June 2012

WHAM! - A POWER PACK ANNUAL...


Copyright relevant owner

Here's a tasty treat from the past - some select pages from the WHAM! Annual for 1967 (issued near 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 POW! Annuals featured reprinted MARVEL stories, the Wham! and SMASH! volumes didn't - relying instead on home-grown humour and asventure 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 him 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 remember).  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'd drawn.  It was his annoyance at this that later caused him to quit U.K. comics altogether.  The irony is, if publishers hadn't defrayed 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're all 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 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.  Ken's 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 him at his absolute best, so be sure to savour every brushstroke and penline.
  



I'd love to see all of Ken's Frankie Stein strips coloured-up and released in a deluxe format book.  Why someone hasn't yet done it is beyond me. STEVE HOLLAND (of BEAR ALLEY BOOKS) would be the man for the job - if he thought there was 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.
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