Tuesday 31 July 2012


Images copyright MARVEL COMICS

Once again we present for your pulsating and protruding peepers more Mighty Marvel greatness from years ago.  Continuing our salivatory series of SPIDER-MAN covers by the stupendous STEVE DITKO, we herewith unveil the next six in the sequence - none other than MARVEL TALES #s 155 to 160.  I'm sure I can't be alone in wishing that, despite the care and attention lavished upon the MASTERWORKS and OMNIBUS volumes which the House of Ideas currently publishes, it would be great to see their vast back catalogue presented in actual monthly comicbooks once more.  Just think - The FANTASTIC FOUR, THOR, The HULK, The AVENGERS, Dr. STRANGE, etc., all with their original cover artwork.  All those in favour, say "Aye!" - "AYE!"

Right, that's it carried then.  Now it's up to Marvel.

Remember to tune in again soon for another six super covers in this smashing series.


Here's a little something I rediscovered recently.  It's an order of service I did for a friend's wedding back in 1980.  Done freehand, apart (obviously) from a pencil guide underneath each line of lettering to keep it straight.  The lettering itself was done with an ordinary italic fountain pen.  It didn't turn out too bad in my opinion, but, then again, I'm somewhat biased.

Paeans are most welcome in the comments section.

Monday 30 July 2012


I remember (back when I was a lad) raising my hand in class one day to ask permission to go to the toilet.  The teacher must have enquired whether I would be 'standing' or 'sitting' because I recall her opening a cupboard and taking out a roll of loo paper, from which she tore off one sheet and handed it to me.  I was only 5 years old at the time, but no way in hell was one sheet of bog roll going to be up to the job required of it - especially as it was IZAL toilet paper, which was rough on one side and smooth on the other.

Using the rough side was like scraping your bum with a cheese-grater, and using the smooth side only smeared any remnants of your 'deposits' all over your nether-cheeks.  (Either way, the jaggy edges it acquired when it became scrunched on 'application' almost tore your @rse apart.)  I'm sure this teacher would've used more than one sheet to wipe her own posterior, so what she was thinking of in doling it out only in single figures is a mystery worthy of Sherlock Holmes himself.

Izal medicated toilet paper had other uses of course.  It came in handy for playing the comb'n'paper (shame on you if you don't know what I'm talking about), and also as tracing paper for those less artistically inclined than myself.  A couple of years and another primary school later, I recall one lad coming in one morning with a tracing of RUMPELSTILTSKIN from his school reading book and trying to pass it off as an original drawing.  The game was up when the sheet of Izal was placed over the page in the book, revealing him as the bare-faced liar that he was.  (And became renowned for in subsequent years.)  "My sister drew it!" he lamely proclaimed - much to the ridicule of the rest of the class.

Looking at the picture at the start of this post, I can even remember what the paper smelled like - before use, I mean.  It had a slight whiff of disinfectant that was not altogether unpleasant, and the memory of it whisks me right back to my childhood.  It was even commonly used in homes, not just schools and hospitals.  Having said that, however, thank goodness for the advent of the ANDREX puppy and the soft, cushioned toilet rolls with which it so playfully romped.  Life is full of enough trials and tribulations without the performance of one's necessary toilet ablutions being yet one more of them, I'm sure you'll agree.

And, in case you want to relive a moment from your youth, Izal medicated toilet roll and tissues are still available online from various suppliers.  Go on, treat your botty to a good ol' fashioned scrape at the earliest opportunity.  (In a non-pervy way of course.) 


Well, strictly speaking, the above drawing isn't a sketch, but I thought you might like to see it anyway.  I drew it back in 1979 while working in my local library, for a colleague who was heavily involved with the SNP.  An election was upcoming, so he asked me to produce an illustration which symbolically depicted the Scottish Lion Rampant awakening after a long sleep - just in case, you understand.  I drew this quickly with a Tempo felt-tip pen, but I could've saved myself the bother - his party did diddly-squat.

Had the SNP won, the intention was to publish this in newspapers, but it would really have needed to be in colour to work properly.  If you look closely, you'll see that the top bedsheet is the Union Flag (commonly, but erroneously, called the Union Jack - unless it's flying from the mast of a ship), with the Scottish Saint Andrew's Flag underneath.  As far as symbolism goes, it wasn't a bad idea - even if it was a tad optimistic from that particular party's perspective.

Sunday 29 July 2012


If, by some magical process, you had one wish, what would you wish for above all else? Would it be wealth, health, youth, looks, immortality - or some other aspect which could be yours for the wishing? Sex appeal, hair, height, charisma, etc., you name it and just imagine you could have it in a heartbeat.

In the following poem, the writer's wish is abundantly clear - but what would you wish for?


Halcyon Days

           The time hangs heavy on my hands as I think back on bygone days,
           When in fair childhood's far-off lands I played beneath Sol's golden rays.
           I thought myself immortal then and never spared a thought for death,
           For I was just a lad of ten, but now I'm old and short of breath.

           With little time ahead of me, my mind turns backwards to the past,
           And days of glory do I see of happy times I thought would last.
           But Time, the one who mocks us all, will have her way as years pass by,
           We are but captives in Time's thrall and 'tis appointed that we die.

           But in my mind I'm young once more, surrounded by my childhood friends,
           And things are as they were before in mystic time that never ends.
           There's Tom and Jim and Joe and Bill, restored to youth once more in dreams,
           We play again upon that hill which rang with laughs and joyous screams.

           Then they grew up and went their way; they met and married loving wives,
           They gave their all in work and play, they led such rich, fulfilling lives.
           There was so much I meant to do, but never seemed to find the time,
           And now I sit here whilst I rue that I'm no longer in my prime.

           But then as if freed from a trance my reverie comes to a close.
           In mirrored-glass I catch a glance and wonder if that old man knows
           When he was young he had it all, the whole wide-world lay at his feet;
           He should have conquered and stood tall - but now I stoop low in defeat.

           My friends are gone, dead many years, and I am left to face my fate,
           I try to hold back stinging tears and know I've left things far too late.
           I should have made more of my life and not just let it slip away,
           And raw regret cuts like a knife for things unsaid I meant to say.

           Regret for things I meant to do, but sadly, madly, left undone.
           The women that I meant to woo, who might have borne to me a son.
           I sat and watched life pass me by as I was left upon the shelf,
           And then it was too late to try and I blame no one but myself.

           So one truth now I realize, that life is like a bitter pill,
           And as I dab tears from my eyes I dream once more of that green hill,
           Remembering with poignant joy the happy lad I was at ten -
           And wish I was a little boy, if only for one day again.


Feel free to share your wishes in the comments section.

Saturday 28 July 2012


Images copyright MARVEL COMICS

I bought my original copy of the above mag - FANTASTIC FOUR #126 - in a newsagents in Hamilton, Scotland, on Friday, October 6th 1972.  I should've been at school, and would've been if not for the fact I'd already been off ill for a day or two and there was no point in going back on the last day before the weekend.  I therefore remained absent, and - as I was feeling slightly better as the morning wore on - my father took me with him when he journeyed into Hamilton on some errand or other.

I also picked up another copy of The MIGHTY WORLD Of MARVEL #1 that very afternoon (released only the Saturday before), the second issue being due out the next day.  I well remember the fun I had comparing JACK KIRBY's version of the FF's origin with JOHN BUSCEMA's - it sure was difficult to decide on just which interpretation was best, although Big John's was perhaps a tad more dynamically rendered.  Having said that, he was channelling Jack's solid storytelling principles through his own style, so Kirby deserves a share of the credit, I suppose.

This was ROY THOMAS's first issue as regular scripter of the FF.  He'd written some fill-in stories before, of course, when STAN LEE was on vacation, but this was his 'debut' as the quartet's ongoing scribe now that Stan had been promoted to president and publisher with little or no time for writing.  At least, that was the plan, but Rascally Roy's increased duties as newly appointed editor-in-chief meant that he soon had to turn the regular scripting chores over to someone else.  (Step forward twenty-year-old boy-genius, GERRY CONWAY.)

This issue was intended to be a new beginning for the fabulous foursome, and the title managed to offer some respectable stories before losing its impetus somewhere along the line.  Eventually, the comic began to tread water, until writer/artist JOHN BYRNE came on board with issue #232 in 1981.  His 'Back to Basics' first issue succeeded in revitalising the flagging series and managed to restore some much-needed credibility to the title's famous front-cover tag-line - "The World's Greatest Comic Magazine!".  FF fans everywhere were mighty grateful.

However, with that landmark 126th issue back in 1972, the heady hint of promise hung heavy in the air, and - for a while at least - the expectations of the faithful were not disappointed.


Those of a certain age who are familiar with Glasgow's West End will likely remember the famous Grosvenor Cafe once situated in the equally famous Ashton Lane.  At one time it was renowned for its 'all-you-can-eat' 99 pence student breakfasts.  Unfortunately, I didn't discover this charming establishment until August of 1999, when I and a young lady partook of a good old-fashioned 'fry-up' one morning in an attempt to replenish the energy we had so enthusiastically expended the night before.  Breakfasts cost a little more than 99p by then (though still extremely reasonably priced), and I instantly fell in love with the place. Consequently, I returned as often as I could over the course of the next couple of years or so.

Imagine my dismay then, when I read in The Daily Record, dated Saturday, November 3rd, 2001, that the historic eaterie had closed its doors for the final time.  However, exactly a week later, on the 10th, the same newspaper reported that a new owner had moved the cafe upstairs. Alas, it was the same in name only - even though some of the staff from downstairs had come with it.  The original premises were turned into a Vodka-Wodka Bar, and the new Grosvenor didn't last too long before becoming a Mediterranean-style eaterie called Mimmo's.

(As it turned out, Mimmo's proved to be an excellent restaurant, and I had many a fine meal there over the years.  A few weeks back, however, I trotted along to treat myself to yet another gourmet delight - only to discover it had also now closed.  I was informed by staff in the bar downstairs that it had relocated, and that a new owner would be re-opening the upstairs premises under another name, but I haven't yet had a chance to get back along and check the place out.  Here's hoping it can continue the fine standard established by the previous owner.  Although I digress.)

So, for all those who remember the Grosvenor Cafe in Ashton Lane, here's a couple of photos from 2000 to stir up some fond memories for you.  (I'd have taken more, but my camera ran out of film.)  The mural on the wall was printed on the old cafe's menus a little while before it closed, and I managed to bribe one of the waitresses who went to work upstairs to part with one she'd kept as a souvenir.  One glance at that mural and it's 1999 once more, and I'm having breakfast with a young lady whose insatiable appetite was not confined to bangers, beans, bacon and eggs, regardless of how delicious they happened to be.

Ah, to be young again.


Re-reading this today, September 6th, 2013, I'm struck by the fact that The Grosvenor Cafe has now been gone for a couple of months short of twelve years.  My visits took place over a mere two year period (though seems longer than that), but the memories remain as fresh and as vivid as if they occurred only a few short months ago.  Where on earth does the time go?

Friday 27 July 2012


Images copyright relevant owner

Here it is - the fabulous finale of FIREBALL XL5's encounter with the Snowmen of planet Uraniture, written by ALAN FENNELL, drawn by MIKE NOBLE, and originally published in TV CENTURY 21 #39, cover-dated October 16th, 2065.  As a six-year-old boy, I was utterly gripped by this adventure and couldn't wait until the next instalment - and it never failed to deliver in the action, excitement and suspense stakes.  Kids of the '50s may have had EAGLE and DAN DARE, but to be honest, I think they were short-changed in comparison to readers of TV21, which really was a comic of the 21st Century.

The stories from Eagle seem rather dated now (and have done for decades), but strips from the latter periodical still hold up well today.  FRANK HAMPSON's Dan Dare tales can't disguise the obvious - they're a 1950's vision of what the future might be, and it shows on every page.  However, the FIREBALL, STINGRAY and THUNDERBIRDS strips are still far ahead of their time in terms of craft and uniform designs and are almost as fresh as the day they were first created.

Well, that's what I think - feel free to disagree in the comments section.

For Part Five, click here.  For Part One, click here.


For all lovers of comics (particularly American ones), BARRY PEARL has a great site which can be accessed by clicking here.  Take a look - you're sure to love it!

Thursday 26 July 2012


Most people will remember her as ROMANA, assistant and fellow (didn't look like a fellow to me) Time Lord to TOM BAKER's DOCTOR WHO in the long-running BBC science-fiction series. However, I can't help but think of her as TERRY COLLIER's Finnish girlfriend, CHRISTINA, in The LIKELY LADS, the film version of the popular television series in the '60s and '70s. (The '70s series was called WHATEVER HAPPENED To The LIKELY LADS - without a question mark.)

I'm referring to actress MARY TAMM, who has sadly died from cancer at the far-too young age of sixty-two.  Mary appeared in various movies, TV, and theatre productions, but it's perhaps as Romana that she'll be best remembered by viewers of a certain age.  What's far more important however, is that she'll be remembered as a loving wife, mother, and comrade by her family and friends, and all those who were closest to her.

At the end of the day, that's the best anyone can hope for.  


Regular readers will doubtless have read me wittering on about my old primary school from time to time.  It's due for demolition in about a year, although it's currently housing pupils from another school while a new building is being constructed for them to move into.

However, the school on which I've previously waxed eloquent was not the first one I actually attended.  No, before that, when I lived in a different neighbourhood, I was the pupil of another educational establishment for which I also have a warm, nostalgic affection.

'Twas in this very school that enthralled pupils discussed television shows like The SINGING RINGING TREE and ROBINSON CRUSOE, on the mornings after their first broadcasts back in the '60s.  We likewise enthused about SUPERCAR, FIREBALL XL5 and STINGRAY on our TV screens, and also in the pages of TV CENTURY 21, which was then a new comics sensation.

Ah, happy memories of days gone by!  It was therefore sad to see, while passing it the other night, that the bulldozers had begun their work of obliterating it from the face of the earth.  I knew it was due to happen, but I had been informed (wrongly) that it wouldn't be 'til October, and had entertained hopes of getting access to take some photos and record it for posterity.

Fortunately, I had managed to get photos of the place some years back, though the camera I used wasn't as good as my current one and the pictures were of average quality.  That's why I was eager to repeat the procedure - so that I could hopefully obtain some superior images.  Alas, it was destined not to be.

However, I suppose I can still seek solace in my stock of older photos, as well as in the many happy recollections stored away in the cupboards of memory, ready to be accessed at a moment's notice whenever I once again want to walk down the first school corridors of my childhood.

Wednesday 25 July 2012


The perception of time has always perplexed me.  Let me give you an example.  Under normal circumstances, one would assume that a period of 20 years to a 60 year old, in retrospect, should seem, proportionately speaking, the same length of time as 4 years does to a 12 year old; in both cases it's a 3rd of their respective lives.  However, we all know that time seems to pass more quickly the older one gets, so 20 years to a person in their 60s probably only seems like 10 at the most, which is a 6th of their life.  But one 6th of a 12 year old's life is 2 years, so wouldn't that seem to him what 20 years feels like to a 60 year old?  That must mean though, that 2 years and 4 years appear to be pretty much the same to a 12 year old.  Or does it?  See what I mean?  It's confusing, isn't it?

However, regardless of whether I can get to grips with understanding what I just said or not, one thing I do know.  Even if I'm lucky enough to live for another 50 years or so, it's going to fly by far more quickly than I'd like it to.  It'll have passed before I even know it's begun.  It doesn't seem fair somehow.

Now, can someone please explain what I'm on about?

Tuesday 24 July 2012


Images copyright relevant owner

And now... the penultimate episode in this six-part adventure starring STEVE ZODIAC and the crew of FIREBALL XL5.  (Originally featured in TV CENTURY 21 #38, cover-dated October 9th, 2065.)  Off the top of my head, I can't think of another U.K. artist other than MIKE NOBLE who employed the 'torch in the face' lighting technique usually associated with U.S. comics creator WALLACE WOOD.

Admittedly, there's no example of it in the accompanying two pages, but it was often evident in many of the strips that he illustrated in his long and illustrious career.  (I'm not suggesting that Noble imitated Wood, only that there was sometimes a similarity in the way they both rendered shadows on faces.)

Noble really was a brilliant storyteller, and his action scenes were always compelling and second to none.  Of the four Fireball Annual covers from the '60s, it is arguably the one by Mike Noble that remains in people's memories so long after the fact.  Quite a few artists, amongst them the renowned FRANK HAMPSON and DON LAWRENCE, drew the exploits of Fireball XL5 (in TV21 and other publications) over the years, but Noble remains the one most associated with the strip.  No mean feat in the face of such stiff competition.

Anyway, hopefully you've been enjoying this look back to yesteryear, and will join us again soon for the final part of this action-packed adventure.  (For Part Six, click here.)


Returning from the shops a week or two back, I stopped at a bench on the outskirts of the park near my home.  As I sat gazing into the distance and enjoying the rest, I was struck by the formation of the clouds on the horizon, which seemed to me like some vast Olympian city of the gods hovering in the sky.  In my imagination I could see tall, robed figures, their noble brows adorned with laurel wreaths, strolling leisurely amongst immense, marbled columns, untroubled by the cares and woes that so often beset we mere mortals.

The park greenery lay before me like JACK KIRBY's NEW GENESIS, while 'SUPERTOWN' floated serenely overhead.  Were they, in some benign and bemused way, studying we finite beings who live our lives in the blink of an eye compared to the eons-long span which gods are heir to?  Did they observe me looking longingly at their heavenly haven?  Did kindness touch their hearts for one brief moment and cause them to call to me, inviting me to stride the streets of their celestial city, there to spend my days in idyllic pursuits, free from the ravages of time?

Then a dog barked and, alas, the fragile spell was broken.  Returned to reality, I bent and retrieved the shopping bags which lay at my feet.  With one last lingering look at the city in the sky, I turned and slowly made my way up the hill to where, at journey's end, a far more humble home awaited me than the one which had so recently seemed to beckon. 

Monday 23 July 2012


Copyright DC COMICS

I acquired the above comic many, many years ago.  Either the late '70s or early '80s, but I'm not exactly sure, to be honest.  May even have been a little later than that, but not by much.  I say 'comic', but to be more precise, it seems to have been extracted from a 'parent' publication - probably ACTION COMICS, I would imagine.  It's dated 1976 in the indicia, and the cover is not glossy - just regular newsprint comic paper. 

Does anyone know for sure which comic it comes from?  Any details would be greatly appreciated.


For the 'sketch of the day' today, here's an old pencil sketch from 1980, which I drew standing up whilst looking down at the subject - who, incidentally, was reading my then-brand-new copy of HOW To DRAW COMICS The MARVEL WAY.  (Which I got autographed by STAN LEE eleven years later.)  However, lazy me couldn't be bothered drawing the book, so I blacked it out to avoid any unnecessary detail.  You'll have to take my word for this I suppose, but it was a perfect likeness and everybody knew who it was on sight.

The subject was rather gangly and the chair was quite low, so because of the angle I was observing from, it really did look as if he was too big for the chair.  Perhaps I should add in some background detail to give a better sense of perspective, but that can wait until I've watched some paint dry.  If you enlarge the picture, you'll see that it was drawn on the back of some computer print-out paper which just happened to be lying around in the subject's flat.

Not too bad for ten minutes work.


Update:  Below is a photo taken around a year or two after I did the drawing.  As you see, just like I said above, the chair is low and the subject is rather gangly - and the likeness is spot on.  I should draw for Crimewatch.

Sunday 22 July 2012


Images copyright MARVEL COMICS

Have you ever looked at one of your comics and thought to yourself "I remember buying that a few years ago", as if it's only a fairly recent acquisition?  Then noticed the date on the cover or in the indicia and been amazed to recall that you purchased it around 30 years back?  That's usually how I feel when I look at certain favourite comics in a dreamy daze - it often seems that it wasn't so long ago since they came into my possession, and it can be a shock to the system when the realization dawns (as it always must) that over half my life has passed since I first bought them.

This feeling is no doubt compounded by the fact that my comics are in the same condition as when I first obtained them; if they were well-thumbed, dog-eared and with covers hanging off the staples - had an appearance of age in other words - then perhaps I'd view them in their proper context, time-wise.  However, because most of my comics appear to be brand-new, that's a difficult thing to do.  The only comics I have which look their age are ones that were in that condition when I purchased them - usually back issues from long, long ago.

Anyway, that's enough philosophical profundity for today - let's get straight down to the business at hand.  Which is, you'll be glad to hear, appreciating the next six issues of early SPIDER-MAN covers by STEVE DITKO, as re-presented in MARVEL TALES back in the 1980s.  If you're not lucky (or rich) enough to have the original first printings of these stories, then these reprint mags are the next best thing.  So sit back, cup of tea in hand, and simply salivate at these exquisite pictorial presentations of your friendly neighbourhood Spider-Man at his very best.

Click here for Part One, and here for Part Two.


Regular readers may have noticed the occasional responses to some of my posts by a certain gentleman calling himself Moonmando.  So who is this mysterious and elusive creature of the night, and why does he appear to have nothing better to do than astound us with his keen, insightful and thought-provoking comments on the wit and wisdom so freely bestowed upon Blogger-land on a daily basis by my good self?

Well, now the hitherto closely-guarded secret can be revealed!  Moonmando is none other than a talented guitarist who delights in strumming his fingers down to the bone in his selfless efforts to entertain all lovers of good music.  Whether it be of the folk, country or classical variety, Moonmando gives it laldy on your behalf, and can often be found playing, singing or composing in his own private studio long into the night, in his all-consuming quest to master the intricacies of some musical masterpiece.

But don't take my word for it.  (Not that you ever do.)  Why not click on this link and see and hear for yourself just how accomplished he is in his chosen craft?  Go on, it'll give you a break from reading my blog at the very least.  (Hey, where the heck did everyone suddenly go?  Fair-weather friends.)   


I found this unfinished pencil sketch in a folder earlier today.  It was started when I was living down in Fratton in Portsmouth in 1985, copied from a photograph in an art book of the author, whose name I've long since forgotten.  (In fact, I can't even remember the name of the book.  If anyone knows, feel free to pass it on.)  I never got to finish it before having to hand the book back in to the library, being too busy pursuing my career as a calligraphic artist (okay then... a letterer) in the world of comics.

At the beginning of the book was a quotation from MICHELANGELO, which I was so impressed by that I made a note of it.  Hopefully, if you harbour any artistic aspirations, it may inspire you to achieve them.

"Let this be plain to all: design, or as it is called by another name, drawing, constitutes the fountain-head and substance of painting and sculpture and architecture and every other kind of painting, and is the root of all sciences.  Let him who has attained the possession of this be assured that he possesses a great treasure;..."

Now - go forth and conquer!

Friday 20 July 2012



And now, from the vaults of history (and a box in my cupboard) comes yet another six sensational, classic covers - plus their back page pin-ups - from that perfect POWER PACK publication from the swingin' '60s - the frighteningly-fearless, fabulous FANTASTIC.  All hail to ALFBART, and COS, Britain's bombastic stand-ins for STAN, JACK, and, er... IRVING FORBUSH.

Ah, I only have to gaze upon these pulsating pictures by KIRBY, HECKROTH, and SMITH to once again (in my mind's eye) be merrily frolicking back in the heady, halcyon days of my childhood, when the world was a better place and I thought I would be a boy forever.  Chances are, you did too - unless you're a girl, that is.

So come with me now - on a journey back to when the world seemed fresh and new, and wonders aplenty were aborning each and every week in the pages of Britain's Brightest Superhero Comic.  There is - there can be - simply no other word for it - it's - FANTASTIC.

Don't forget to tune in again for future instalments in this Fantastic series.

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