Click on the above pic to visit our sister site Bear Alley Books

Friday, May 22, 2015

Comic Cuts - 22 May 2015

A chaotic week is coming to an end, although as I write this we're still in the midst of chaos. It's Thursday afternoon and I've just sent the latest correction into the studio for a page about new technology that's supposed to make the lives of hoteliers easier.

The latest correction was a simple typo, but so far today we've had to deal with major revamping of pages as editorial is sold-in as part of an advertising deal. So feature material written, subbed and submitted to the studio with photos, laid out on the page and made to look good... all that work disappears when we get a 250 word puff piece to accompany an advert. Usually the photos are poor or non-existent because all the effort has gone into preparing the ad. and nobody has thought about an editorial feature.

The results read like press releases and there's rarely enough space to run a picture bigger than an inch or two square. But it's paid for, so interesting opinions and views on the industry are turfed out in favour of fluffing the advertisers.

But that's what I'm paid to do, so long may the advertisers need fluffing.

A flashback to Box Mountain, first day of our move back in 2010 

While I've been getting to grips with a new magazine, I've also been sorting through boxes relating to an old one. I've had a few boxes marked "Miscellaneous Paperwork" sitting around in the living room since we moved and I've decided that this is a good opportunity to sort through them. It's a fascinating time capsule of press-releases, photocopies and junk dating back to my days on Comic World. Rather than just dump the lot, which was very tempting, I thought I might create a digital scrapbook, so I've been scanning some of the press releases material and the pictures, with preference given to colour artwork that is unlettered or black & white artwork before it was coloured, because that's when you can really see the artistry of artists.

I've posted a great many scans on Facebook, but I know that many of you aren't regular visitors to FB, so I'll gather up many of the best of the scans and post them here on Bear Alley so they'll be permanently available. I'll also be posting some longer pieces here over the coming weeks, starting this weekend with some really nice Ian Kennedy artwork.

(A brief pause while I try to think of an alternative title for an article submitted under the title "Mirror, Mirror on the wall". As this clashes with another feature entitled "Mirror Mirror", the new article becomes "Integrated Entertainment". Problem solved. Back to Bear Alley)

Some of the material I've been digging out has brought back some very fond memories, like a trip to Shepherds Bush back in 1995 to talk to the cast of Dirk Magg's radio adaptation of Spider-Man; other bits of artwork I've stumbled upon I have no memory of.

Here, for instance, is a 1989 Daily Mirror story about Jonathan Ross buying a copy of Detective Comics #27 for £20,000. The reporter was amazed at the prices back then. In 2010, another copy sold in the USA for over $1 million. It was reports like this that fueled the boom in comics and allowed Comic World to thrive for a few years.

I've had that newspaper clipping for 26 years and now that I've scanned it I can finally get rid of the damned thing. Goodbye forever!

And our random scans this week are definitely random. I suspect I received these when Comic World ran an interview with Brian Bolland in around 1992. I don't think I've ever seen them anywhere else but they're superb examples of not only Bolland's skill as an artist, but also his fine sense of humour and whimsy.

We'll have more of the same next week, as many as I can write up over the weekend.

Our column header, incidentally, is a fantastic cover produced by Bryan Talbot for Comic World. We had no budget and Bryan was good enough to produce a masterpiece for little reward. I think I'm right in saying that this was Bryan's first painting of Batman because I seem to remember having to get permission from DC Comics to do an original Batman cover and it had to be by a DC-approved artist.

So I phoned Patti Jeres and announced that I was commissioning a cover. "And who is the artist?" she asked in a tone that spoke paragraphs. Patti and I got on famously. She was a good friend to Comic World but I'm sure she would have turned me down in a second if the next words out of my mouth hadn't been, "I've asked Bryan Talbot."

"I think we can approve that," she said.

That's the way I remember it. Other people's memories may differ.

Thursday, May 21, 2015

Commando Issues 4811-4814

Commando Issues on sale 21 May 2015

Commando No 4811 – Fighting Frank
While London stood stolidly in the face of relentless Luftwaffe bombing attacks, petty criminal and expert safe-breaker Frank Raymond was on the run. He only stopped running when he enlisted in the Army.
   Though Frank had joined up as a last-ditch, desperate attempt to save his life, he’d actually found his calling. He even went on to join a tough Special Forces unit — one which would soon have a use for his particular set of skills…

Story: George Low
Art: Rezzonico
Cover: Ian Kennedy

Commando No 4812 – Sky Tiger
He led his squadron into the thick of the fiercest dogfights — and yet he always came back without a scratch. He took fantastic risks, for he seemed to bear a charmed life.
   They called him “Lucky” Lane, but even his own men came to hate and fear the young Squadron Leader, because they knew every time they took off, one of them would die. It wouldn’t be Lane, though…for he wore the Tiger Ring…

The cover of a compact graphic novel (for that’s what Commando is, isn’t it?) can do a number of things; illustrate a scene from the story, or a character or try to sum up everything in the story in a single image — like here. Over and above those things, though, the cover should most of all make you want to buy the book.
   Ken Barr’s artwork fulfils than function as much now as it did when it was first seen in 1965 by your then youthful editor. After all, you are going to buy the book, aren’t you?—Calum Laird, Commando Editor

Story: McOwan
Art: Medrano
Cover: Ken Barr
Originally Commando No 148 (January 1965), re-issued as No 767 (August 1973).

Commando No 4813 – Ramsey’s Raiders
They were a motley bunch — two Scotsmen, one Englishman, one Welshman, one Irishman and an Australian. Led by the unconventional Captain James Ramsey, they were known as the Special Raiding Force, and their job was to operate behind enemy lines in North Africa. They wrote their own rules, and their specially armed jeeps packed a real punch.
   They were good at their job — very good — and the Germans had every reason to fear Ramsey’s Raiders!

I know this “By Special Request” issue is a bit earlier than usual but there are a number of good reasons for that. First, this story — the maiden Ramsey’s Raiders tale — has had more requests for a fresh airing than any other book during my tenure as editor. As it’s now ten years since the Raiders first broke cover, I reckoned it was time.
   The second (and third, I suppose) reason is that we’re going to issue a pair of brand-new Raiders adventures in the next couple of months so re-living their first raid is a great way to raise the curtain for new and seasoned readers alike.
   Yes, that’s right, a new pair of Raiders’ stories is heading your way. You’ll enjoy them, I know.—Calum Laird, Commando Editor

Story: Ferg Handley
Art: Keith Page
Cover: Ian Kennedy
Originally Commando No 3854 (October 2005).

Commando No 4814 – Past Crimes
When Captain Rod Tyler was sent to the war in Indo-China as a British observer with French forces, he found himself with the losing side in a savage guerrilla-style conflict. Not only that, he became piggy-in-the-middle between a bull-headed Foreign Legion officer and an alleged Nazi war criminal!
   Just what had he let himself in for?

What would happen if a soldier was convinced that one of his so-called comrades was a former war criminal but had no evidence to prove it?
   That’s the intriguing premise at the heart of this tough tale set during the war in Indochina. The French Foreign Legion’s motto is “Honneur et Fidelite” (translated, perhaps, unsurprisingly, as “Honour and Fidelity”) — and the story is about both of those things, where “fidelity” really means “loyalty” or “duty” as opposed to its modern meaning of “faithfulness”.
   So, then, Past Crimes is a fairly left field entry for Commando but it certainly works, thanks to Markham’s script, veteran Denis McLoughlin’s interior art and Ron Brown’s emerald-hued cover.—Scott Montgomery, Deputy Editor

Story: Markham
Art: Denis McLoughlin
Cover: Ron Brown
Originally Commando No 2375 (May 1990), re-issued as No 4001 (April 2007).

Wednesday, May 20, 2015

Flexiback Books

Flexiback Books was the creation of John Youe who, back in 1993, was planning to publish a series of titles in a saddle-stitched magazine format. According to Anthony (Tony) Saunders, who was Flexiback's Editorial Coordinator:
Through the DTI, John recently engaged the services of a marketing consultant, Richard Williams. His comprehensive work shows that there is a real opening in the market for Flexiback Books. The market research has shown that people will buy Flexibacks, especially if they are on sale in newsagents, for example, rather than traditional bookselling outlets.
    A lot of useful, positive information was also gathered by a team of volunteers armed with a market research questionnaire. The idea behind this was to find out what the public thought about Flexibacks. The response was good.
The format was to publish a 40-55,000-word book in a 64-page magazine format, A4-sized with the text in two columns and heavily illustrated—a maximum of 24 pages of illustrations distributed throughout the text.

There were to be four broad areas covered by Flexibooks: Thriller/Crime, Romance/Historical, Science Fiction/Fantasy and Action/Adventure. There would be two titles a month, with categories alternating. Month one would see one crime and one romance title, whilst science fiction and action would make up the output for month two. Month three would then see the return of crime and romance.

Even as Flexiback Books was announced in October 1993, Youe was still meeting potential distributors and had had several meetings with W. H. Smith; he was also looking to raise capital and potential authors were told:
It is only fair to say at this stage that no payment can be made until the project is financed. Until then, you must appreciate that although you are contributing to the likely success of the project there is no guarantee. Capital is essential to our success.
Despite the lack of finance, a couple of notable names had been attracted to help put together a group of dummy books: John Grant (Paul Barnett) was (and still is) a well known SF author and Ron Tiner, who was working as an illustrator, having drawn a variety of comics in the 1970s and 1980s. Both were based in Exeter, Devon, and would subsequently collaborate on The Encyclopedia of Fantasy & Science Fiction Art Techniques (1996). John was also the co-editor of The Encyclopedia of Fantasy (1997) which I was a contributor to. Ron, meanwhile, was an occasional contributor to Comic World where he wrote a Masterclass series on how to draw comics.

Flexiback Books never got beyond the planning stage. All that remains is the photo above of the first six planned "picture paper novellas" with their evocative titles and rather nice covers, mostly by Tiner.

Tuesday, May 19, 2015

G. W. Backhouse

Geoffrey William Backhouse was born at Bryn-y-Garreg, near Northrop, Flintshire, in North Wales, on 16 November 1903, the sixth surviving child of James Christopher Backhouse and his wife Effie Maud Backhouse. He grew up in Manchester where his father worked as a journalist.

After studying at Heatherleys, Backhouse worked for Modern Art Studios. In 1927, he began drawing ‘Strongheart the Magnificent’ for Comic Life, the comic strip adventures of a magnificent German Shepherd modelled on a canine Hollywood film star. Strongheart, one of the earliest adventure strips to regularly appear in British comics, continued his adventures when Comic Life was relaunched as My Favourite and would continue to appear, drawn by a number of different artists, until 1949.

Shortly before the war, Backhouse drew ‘The Stolen King’ for Comic Cuts and ‘Buffalo Bill’ for Butterfly. After the war, Backhouse illustrated a number of books for Collins, including Mr. Mole's Circus by Douglas Collins and a number of books by Denis Cleaver, including Pongo the Terrible, On the Air, On the Films and A Dog's Life, which featured the adventures of two dogs named Pongo and Peter. Backhouse's association with Collins also included illustrations for The Children’s Picture Dictionary (1951) and modern editions of Alice In Wonderland and Enid Blyton’s Shadow the Sheepdog.

Backhouse’s expertise at drawing animals and nature made him the perfect choice to draw a colourful feature strip starring George Cansdale for Eagle in 1954, following Cansdale's trips around the countryside, and the adventures of ‘Tammy the Sheepdog’ for Swift (1955-58). Backhouse subsequently contributed many wildlife illustrations to Look and Learn and Treasure, appearing in the former from 1962 onwards. Some of his most notable contributions were for a series of short animal stories written by F. St. Mars, Alan C. Jenkins and F. G. Turnbull that appeared in 1967-68.

He lived at 16 Upper Tollington Park, London N.4, and died on 1 August 1978.


Mr. Mole's Circus by Douglas Collins (Collins, 1946)
Pongo the Terrible by Denis Cleaver (Collins, 1946)
On the Air by Denis Cleaver (Collins, 1947)
On the Films by Denis Cleaver (Collins, 1947)
A Dog's Life by Denis Cleaver (Collins, 1948)
The Runaway Four by Ann Beverly (Newnes, 1948)
Tales from a Bamboo Hut by A. H. Matthews (Nelson, 1950)
Alice in Wonderland (Collins, 1951)
The Children’s Picture Dictionary compiled by Lavinia Derwent (Collins, 1951)
Soko at the Circus by Donald Cunningham (Collins, 1954)
Sea Hunters by Frank Robb (Longmans, Green & Co., 1955)
Do You Know About Animals? by David Stephen (Collins, 1962)
Puppy Tales (Collins, 1962)
Shadow the Sheep-dog by Enid Blyton (Collins, 1976).

Monday, May 18, 2015

Kenneth Lilly

Kenneth Norman Lilly was one of the finest of British nature artists, his drawings of wildlife - most notably the kind of wildlife you would find in your hedgerow or nearby fields—drawn with a passion and interest for the subject.

Born in Bromley, Surrey, on 30 December 1929, the son of Cecil Lilly and his wife Raibie (nee Mayes), Ken Lilly became a prolific contributor of  illustrations and covers to Look and Learn and Treasure. He produced a number of notable series for the former, illustrating Maxwell Knight’s ‘This Month in the Country’ (1967) and Ken Denham’s series on ‘Animal Families’ (1968).

Lilly was also a regular illustrator of books from the 1970s onwards and an exhibition of his animal paintings was held at the Medici Galleries in London in 1983. Some of the best illustrations can be found in Kenneth Lilly’s Animals (1988). As well as books, Lilly also illustrated a set of stamps entitled ‘Friends of the Earth’, released in 1986.

In 1992, Dorling Kindersley published a series of short children's books under the title 'Kenneth Lilly's Animal Ark', which grouped animals with common features (feathers, scales, spots or stripes) with a single sentence description by Angela Wilkes. A later series by Tessa Potter featured different animals and different seasons. One of his most notable series was a number of books which depicted animals at life size.

Lilly, who lived in Devon, died on 11 May 1996, aged 66.


Illustrated Books
Birds of Prey by Glenys and Derek Lloyd. London, Hamlyn, 1969.
The Seashore by Jennifer Cochrane, illus. with others. Feltham, Hamlyn, 1971.
Seabirds by David Saunders. London, Hamlyn, 1971.
The Scandaroon by Henry Williamson. London, Macdonald, 1972.
Some Birds and Mammals of the Woodland. London, Medici Society, 1978.
Some Birds and Mammals of the Field and Hedgerow. London, Medici Society, 1980.
The Squirrel by Margaret Lane. London, Methuen/Walker Books, 1982.
Baby Animal Board Books. London, Methuen/Walker Books, 1982.
The Fox by Margaret Lane. London, Methuen/Walker Books, Sep 1982.
Animals at the Zoo. London, Methuen, 1982.
Animals in the Country. London, Methuen, 1982.
Animals in the Jungle. London, Methuen, 1982.
Animals in the Ocean. London, Methuen, 1982.
Some Birds and Animals of the Riverbank. London, The Medici Society, 1983.
Animal Board Books. London, Methuen/Walker Books, 1984.
Animal Jumpers. London, Walker Books, 1984.
Animal Climbers. London, Walker Books, 1984.
Animal Swimmers. London, Walker Books, 1984.
Animal Runners. London, Walker Books, 1984.
Animal Builders. London, Walker Books, 1984.
Daytime Animals by Joanna Cole. London, Walker Books, 1985.
Night Time Animals by Joanna Cole. London, Walker Books, 1985.
Come, Come to My Corner by William Mayne. London, Walker Books, 1986.
Kenneth Lilly's Animals by Joyce Pope. London, Walker Books, 1988.
Large as Life Animals by Joanna Cole. London, Walker Books, 1990.
The Animal Atlas by Barbara Taylor. London, Dorling Kindersley, 1992.
Kenneth Lilly's Animal Ark:
  Colourful Animals by Angela Wilkes. London, Dorling Kindersley, 1992.
  Stripey Animals by Angela Wilkes. London, Dorling Kindersley, 1992.
  Furry Animals by Angela Wilkes. London, Dorling Kindersley, 1992.
  Prickly Animals by Angela Wilkes. London, Dorling Kindersley, 1992.
  Scaly Animals by Angela Wilkes. London, Dorling Kindersley, 1992.
  Wrinkly Animals by Angela Wilkes. London, Dorling Kindersley, 1992.
  Spotty Animals by Angela Wilkes. London, Dorling Kindersley, 1992.
  Feathery Animals by Angela Wilkes. London, Dorling Kindersley, 1992.
A Field Full of Horses by Peter Hansard. London, Walker Books, 1993.
Baby Animals by Kate Hayden. London, Walker Books, 1996.
Digger: The Story of a Mole by Tessa Potter. London, Andersen, 1996.
Fang: The Story of a Fox by Tessa Potter. London, Andersen, 1996.
Greyfur: The Story of a Rabbit by Tessa Potter. London, Andersen, 1996.
Sam: The Story of an Otter by Tessa Potter. London, Andesen, 1996.
The Big Book of Animals by Sheila Hanly. London, Dorling Kindersley, 1997.
My Little Animals Board Book. London, Dorling Kindersley, 1998; as My First Animal Board Book, ed. Rachel Wardley. London, Dorling Kindersley, 2010

Sunday, May 17, 2015

Egmont Classic Comics

Back in November 2012, Egmont UK announced the expansion of their Classic Comics imprint, which was the imprint being used by the company to reprint a wealth of classic comics from the Egmont archives. Four volumes of Roy of the Rovers appeared as e-books in June 2012 and the latest launch added a fifth, plus The Thirteenth Floor from Eagle, Johnny Red, Major Eazy and Charley's War from Battle and material from Misty.

I believe the experiment came to an end a year later—in November 2013—when Charley's War Book 16, taking the story up to March 1917, appeared. Over that year there appeared Kindle editions of Tales From The Mist (1 vol.), The Thirteenth Floor (2 vols.), Major Eazy (2 vols), Rat Pack (2 vols), Hook Jaw (1 volume) and Thunderbirds (5 vols).

It's a shame that the experiment seems to have come to an end. At the time, David Riley, Managing Director of Egmont Publishing Group, said: "Roy, Battle, Misty... these are iconic magazines which still have a place in the national consciousness. They deserve to be brought back; their appeal also has the potential to transcend the generation gap and reach an entirely new, younger audience. With the limitless possibilities offered up by digital publishing, there has never been a better time to bring these comics to the fore."

Despite Riley's belief that the Classic Comics titles could attract two audiences, the series seems to have fallen squarely between the two: attractive to the (relatively small number of ) fans of the original comic who wanted to read these adventures on paper and younger warriors of the digital revolution who read digital books but were not drawn nostalgically to forty-year-old characters.

When the second wave of titles was launched in November 2012, Egmont accompanied the press release with four promo postcards featuring comics from their archive. It's a shame there was no attempt to publish any humour in digital form.


Saturday, May 16, 2015

Beatrice Kelston

The legwork for this little biographical sketch was done by my pal John Herrington who told me, "Finally,  thanks to the BBC, I have now identified Beatrice Kelston. I discovered that in the 1940s she had written plays for BBC Children's Hour, and they kindly supplied the address she wrote from in Tunbridge Wells."

By cross-referencing the address with the names of occupants in the phone book for the late 1940s , John discovered that the author's real name was Mrs A J Bluett-Duncan.

She was born Adelaide Janetta Brownjohn in East Lydford, Sussex, her birth registered 1st quarter 1876. She was the daughter of Simeon Dowell Brownjohn (1838-1904), a clerk in holy orders and rector of East Lydford (1870-88), and his wife. Adelaide was the youngest of eight children. The Rev. Brownjohn's wife, Eleanor Cassandra Frances (nee Hawkins), died on 23 January 1876, aged only 36.

Adelaide was probably educated privately (a governess was one of the occupants at the family's East Lydford home in 1881). She was 28 when her father died, on Christmas Day 1904, aged 66.

Using the name Beatrice Kelston, Adelaide took to the stage, performing as early as July 1897 in The Eider-Down Quilt at Her Majesty's Theatre, Blackpool, where a reviewer noted "Miss Beatrice Kelston shows a pleasant vivacity as Rosamond Denison." Later in the same year she performed in The Sorrows of Satan, based on Marie Corelli's novel, in which Kelston "was quite successful as the vivacious Anna Chesney." (Lincolnshire Free Press, 12 October 1897).

Other roles included Dolly Coke in The Liars (Royal Victoria Rooms, Bridlington, 1898), Alice Ponsonby in Our Cousins (Theatre Royal, Brighton, 1899), Hyacinth Woodward in The Tyranny of Tears (Truro, 1899), Faith Ives in The Dancing Girl (Grand Theatre, Croydon, 1900), Fourth Sister in Cyrano de Bergerac (Wyndham Theatre, London, 1900), and Anna Cristy in a revival of The Sorrows of Satan (St Leonards Pier Pavilion, 1900). She continued to play various roles in theatre productions until at least 1905. She was elected a member of the Actors' Association in 1899.

Her first book, a book of verse entitled The Garden of my Heart (1906), was described as "purely lyrical and love is her besetting theme." (Yorkshire Post, 6 November 1907).

On 29 January 1910, Adelaide—at the time living at 8 Cardigan Road, Richmond—was married to Duncan Campbell Bluett, a gentleman, at the local Church of St Matthias and became Mrs Bluett. The two were to be found living at Wood End, Prestwood, Great Missenden, Buckinghamshire, at the time of the 1911 census, in which Duncan was described as a painter (artist).

It is from around this period that we find Beatrice Kelston contributing to a variety of magazines, including Young's Magazine and Detective Story Magazine, and girls' annuals.

She published seven novels , notably Seekers Every One (1913) and All the Joneses (1917). One reviewer noted that "In Seekers Every One Miss Beatrice Kelston showed what she could do in fiction that may be called 'real' rather than 'realistic,' since 'realistic' has come to mean a mass of preferably squalid detail and the abandoning of all attempt at selection. In the present book [The Blows of Circumstances] there is the same sincerity and quietness of treatment, drama without melodrama, and attractiveness conveyed by making a personality apparent rather than by loading a person with attributes." The reviewer for Punch said of the same book, "Miss Kelston writes extremely well, if a trifle gloomily for my personal taste".

All the Joneses was described as wildly improbable tale, although "the characters are so well drawn with humour and truth of observation, that one accepts the extraordinary complications that pursue the bequests of the wealthy uncle. There is quite an echo of Dickens in the quaint exaggerations which are happily contrived, and so true in the main to human nature, that they make the characters all the more vivid and real ... the story furnishes an instance of the proverb anent the 'many a slip 'twixt the cup and the lip,' and one surprise after another comes to quicken the reader's interest before the denouement, which is perhaps the greatest surprise of all." (Yorkshire Post, 6 February 1918).

Bertha in the Background was, according to The Argos, "a really entertaining story, combining wit and humour with ingeniousness in working out the story, and with good character drawing. And with it all, there goes a freshness and charm in the telling of the story that engages the reader's affection from the beginning ... Miss Kelston reveals a genius for deliberate farce."

Duncan Campbell Bluett—whose surname was also given as Bluett-Duncan—of 55c Nevern Square, Earls Court, died on 14 November 1933 at the Alhambra Palace Hotel, Granada, Spain.

Mrs Adela  Bluett-Duncan, as she became more commonly known, moved to Stonegate, East Sussex, where she was active as a producer and playwright and presided over the local Women's Institute during the Second World War.

After the war she lived at 108 Cheyne Walk, Chelsea, London. She died at Brompton Hospital, London S.W.3, on 17 June 1951.


A Three-Cornered Duel. London, John Long, 1912.
Seekers Every One. London, John Long, 1913.
The Blows of Circumstances. London, John Long, 1915.
All the Joneses. London, John Long, 1917.
The Edge of To-day. London, John Long, 1918.
Bertha in the Background. London, John Long, 1920.

The Garden of My Heart. London, Elkin Mathews, 1906.

Love in a Mist (Eastbourne, Nov 1921; Pleasure Garden Theatre, Folkeston, 1923).
Harvest (performed Q Theatre, Nov 1926)
Indian Summer (adapted from All Passion Spent by Vita Sackville-West; performed Croydon Repertory Theatre, Sep 1933)
Hen Rules the Roost. 
A Debt of Honour (by Mrs Bluett Duncan) (fl.1940)
Lady Agatha's Frock (by Mrs Bluett Duncan) (fl.1943)
The Crystal Gazer (by Mrs Bluett Duncan) (fl.1944)
The Boy Friend (by Mrs Bluett Duncan) (fl.1946)

Radio Plays
Bull in a China Shop (BBC Children's Hour, 31 Jan 1945; 26 Aug 1947)
Hen Rules the Roost (BBC Children's Hour, 22 May 1945)
Dog With A Bad Name (BBC Children's Hour, 16 Nov 1945)
Cat With Nine Lives (BBC Children's Hour, 24 Jan 1947)

(* I previously wrote up Beatrice Kelston on 25 May 2010, at which time I failed to discover anything about her. I'm pleased to finally have the mystery of her career resolved.)

Friday, May 15, 2015

Comic Cuts - 15 May 2015

I'm pleased to say that copies of the new Complete Captain Future book went out on time and I began hearing from folks who had received their copies on Friday or Saturday of last week. The first review I had in was the comment that the book was "So different from some of the other strips you've reprinted. More energy, perhaps, than skill. The punk rock of British comics." I rather like that: "the punk rock of British comics"—the strip certainly had that home-made, raw energy over talent feel to it.

Anyway,  I had four dozen copies ordered before publication which is gratifying as I fully expected the book to struggle to even two dozen. Thank you all for showing some faith in this very self-indulgent project. If you haven't picked up a copy, the book is available now.

Meanwhile, I'm being kept busy with my new role as editor of Hotel Business magazine. It's a trade mag and can really only be considered a part-time job, so I'm hoping that, once I'm settled in, I can get back to work on more books. I've quite a few projects that I want to do once I've figured out how much time I have to spare and where in the month the spare time falls. Hopefully there will be at least one decent block that I can use to dedicate myself fully to the task of writing.

As opposed to re-writing, which is what Hotel Business is all about. Just this morning I've taken a couple of PR pieces and turned them into short features, one about refurbishing a self-contained apartment with a small kitchen and a second about refitting a hotel with new carpets.

And I always thought the life of a writer would be glamorous!

The main problems so far have been technical: I lost a morning to my internet connection about ten days ago: the connection wouldn't stay active for more than a couple of minutes, which meant every couple of minutes I was disconnected from the mail server used by the magazine. It seems to have been a weather-related problem at Talk Talk. And this Wednesday just gone, I woke up to find that the mail server was returning error messages and I was unable to connect. It was fixed briefly and fell over again in the afternoon. Thankfully I had a few bits that needed writing up, so I was able to keep going.

That's not why we have today's selection of random scans... well, having a bit of spare time did help! I grab scans from the internet whenever I see them, which means I now have a massive folder of scans—some good, some very, very poor—of which these happen to be the first four. Three are definitely by Edward Mortelmans: A Wreath for the Enemy (Four Square 55, 1958), Bury the Past (Four Square 69, 1958) and I'll Cry Tomorrow (Four Square 100, 1959). The Witnesses (Four Square 64, 1958) is unsigned but might also be Mortelmans but there were a couple of other artists working for Four Square at the time so I can't be 100% certain.

I'm hoping that the pair of artist biographies that I've had sitting around for two weeks will finally show up next week. Also a biographical sketch of Beatrice Kelston. I attempted to research her almost exactly five years ago and you can read the results in this May 2010 post. Did I find out more this time around? You'll have to wait until the weekend to find out!

(An attempt to generate a little tension. But seriously... do you think I'd put together another post if I hadn't found out anything?)

Wednesday, May 13, 2015

Space Captain Jim Stalwart: Foreign Reprints

by Jeremy Briggs

Surprisingly, for a little known British comic strip in a short run children’s newspaper, Space Captain Jim Stalwart was sold abroad and was printed in at least three other countries - Portugal, France and Spain.

Jim Stalwart was published in Portugal in the weekly comic Titã which ran for 42 issues between 12 October 1954 and 10 August 1955. Edited by José da Costa Pessoa and published by P&B, Titã translated and reprinted many well known comic strips including Eagle's Dan Dare and Jeff Arnold, Tintin comic's Blake and Mortimer and the American newspaper strip Terry and the Pirates.

The comic only published the first Jim Stalwart story, The Fantastic Adventures Of The Missing S.200, which ran for 25 weeks from issue 7, 23 November 1954, to issue 31, 25 May 1955, under the title "O Satélite S 200". The British publication of the first story was still ongoing when Titã began publishing it at the same rate as the UK, one page per week, almost three months after their British publication. For Titã the landscape layout of the newspaper strip was changed to a portrait layout to better fit the more traditional shape of the comic.

France began publication of the strip after the Junior Mirror had been cancelled in the UK. Jim Stalwart, Captain De L’Espace was published in the French monthly magazine Pierrot. Both Stalwart adventures that had been completed in the United Kingdom, The Fantastic Adventures Of The Missing S.200 and The Green Star, were published over six issues – numbers 5 to 10, December 1956 to May 1957, and the two stories were printed under close translations of their British titles, “La Disparition Du Satellite S-200” and “L’Etoile Verte”. This second run of Pierrot magazine, “Nouvelle Serie”, itself lasted only 17 issues from August 1956 to December 1957. 

Meanwhile, also in 1957, Stalwart was also published in the Spanish science fiction bi-monthly comic Futuro. The first two issues of Futuro in 1957 ran colour covers featuring Stalwart with the first issue featuring the Beta 1 spaceship approaching the S-200 space station for their version of the story “La Desaparicion Del Satellite S-200”.

(At the time that this article was first published, in Eagle Times v23 #2 in Summer 2010, there was next to nothing on the internet about the Space Captain Jim Stalwart strip. Since that time the National Library of Australia has digitised a selection of newspapers on its Trove website and these include the Melbourne Argus which reprinted Jim Stalwart in its children’s section The Junior Argus. The Argus began publishing the first Stalwart story, The Fantastic Adventures Of The Missing S.200, on 15 October 1954 some six weeks after it began in the UK but does not appear to have completed it.)

Tuesday, May 12, 2015

Jim Stalwart Stripography

by Jeremy Briggs

The tabloid sized Junior Mirror was published by Pictorial Publications beginning with the issue dated 1 September 1954. Edited by Donald Zec, it sold for an initial cover price of 2d, rising later to 3d, and was based on the long running weekly Children's Newspaper which had begun in 1929.  It used the newspaper format of its adult namesake, the Daily Mirror, and featured a few cartoon strips amongst its text articles. For the publication’s young readers the humorous Pip, Squeak and Wilfred strip would have been familiar as it had been running in the Daily Mirror since 1919 while the science fiction Space Captain Jim Stalwart, the canine Flash The Wonder Dog and the western Fighting Tomahawks were new.

The paper was an initial success with sales in the region of 500,000 despite industrial action which halted publication for four weeks for the issues that would have been dated 30 March and 6, 13 and 20 April 1955. However the publication came to an end with issue 75 dated 29 February 1956. With a strike expected in March of that year, which did affect the publication of such comics as Knockout, Lion and Tiger, the decision was made to close the title rather than attempt to ride out what would have been the second strike in the Junior Mirror's relatively short life and its anticipated detrimental effect on the title's sales figures. Jim Stalwart artist Bruce Cornwell received “a curt letter from the editor that a printers strike was going to kill the project stone dead. I can’t say that I was upset. I had plenty of other work at hand and I must say cartooning was somewhat limiting for a trained illustrator like myself.”

The Junior Mirror published three Space Captain Jim Stalwart stories, The Fantastic Adventures Of The Missing S.200, The Green Star, and the incomplete Pirates Of The Spaceways!

The Fantastic Adventures Of The Missing S.200

26 episodes
1 September 1954 (A1) to 23 Feb 1955 (B26)

Space Captain Jim Stalwart is ordered to return to the E.24 base from London by the Space Marshall to investigate why the Genamica fuel powering the new C.12 space freighters is solidifying as they return from the Moon to the S.200 space station in Earth orbit. To make matters worse E.24’s observatory reports that the S.200 has disappeared although the radio room is still receiving the S.200’s signal. Jim and his co-pilot Flight Sergeant Archie Harbottle take the Beta 1 spaceship to investigate not knowing that Jim’s younger brother Space Cadet Tony Stalwart has stowed away. In orbit they find that the S.200 has gone but a small radio transmitting satellite has been left in its place.

An asteroid storm damages the Beta 1 but also pushes it to the same location that the S.200 has ended up. Finding their stowaway, the two men and the boy board the S.200 and talk to its commanding officer Major Borman who tells them of his problems with storm damage and an ill crew however as Tony explores the station he discovers an alien Satik from Saturn. Jim and Archie don’t believe Tony but on discovering that they have been locked in their cabin, the men escape and while Archie repairs the Beta 1 Jim disappears into a ballast tank. When they realise Jim is missing, Archie and Tony search the station and discover Jim being held as a Satik prisoner.

On telling Borman of their discovery, Borman pulls a hand gun on them and reveals the truth as the Satiks bring Jim to the room. On an inspection trip to the Moon, Borman had discovered a new metal with amazing properties which he smuggled on board the S.200 where crewmen were bribed into refining it. He was selling the new metal to the Satiks for a vast profit however the refining process gave off radiation which caused the fuel to solidify and Borman decided to move the station to Saturn’s orbit before he was found out. Unfortunately the asteroid storm had damaged the station. Now, obsessed by power and referring to himself as The Great Borman, he gives them 10 hours to decide between death or joining him.

Escaping from their cell, Jim, Archie and Tony send a mayday from the radio room before neutralising the radiation so that they can escape in the unarmed Beta 1. As they launch, they see armed Satik ships approaching but are saved by E.24’s G Squadron who drive off the Satik vessels and then take control of the S.200. A search of the station shows that Borman has escaped justice but his new metal, called Balite, will revolutionise spaceship construction. Safely back on Earth Jim Archie and Tony are all awarded the Space Legion Medal Of Merit and Tony is promoted to Chief Cadet First Class.

The Green Star

34 episodes
2 March 1955 (B27) to 16 November 1955 (B60)

Note: this story was advertised in B26 as “Next Week – The Mystery Of The Green Star” however the title panel of B27 refers to it simply as The Green Star.

Jim Stalwart is ordered to take command of Moon Base 1 with Archie Harbottle assigned with him and Tony Stalwart is included as part of his cadet training. With Beta 1 under repair they take an X.71 to the moon. The moon base is sealed under a transparent dome and after landing they are walking to the headquarters building when Tony saves the elderly Professor Erkintoss from being knocked down by a vehicle. To show his appreciation the Professor offers Tony a place on his expedition to the dark side of the Moon using Super Land Trucks, half tracked lunar rovers. Jim agrees and assigns Archie to the expedition as well. Setting out from Moon Base 1 the expedition sights the Green Star, a moving celestial phenomenon that has recently appeared in the solar system.

While driving over the flat Cara Plateau, one of the vehicles breaks the surface crust and partially sinks. While the other expedition trucks pull it free, Tony ventures away from the site and discovers a piece of alien equipment. As he attempts to free it he falls through the crust into a chamber. Discovering that he has disappeared, Archie informs Jim at Moon Base 1 and launches a search. Jim flies to the site in a Scooter Jet, and discovers Tony by falling into the same chamber which they realise contains an alien space craft. Once they are rescued from the chamber, alien craft appear in the sky and, with two circling, one lands. As the rest watch from a distance, Jim investigates the craft alone and is suddenly surrounded by the craft’s alien crew. Attempting to rescue him, Archie and Tony are also captured and when they are taken inside the craft, the Professor orders the Super Land Trucks to be parked around the spacecraft to prevent it taking off.

Inside the craft the aliens force Jim into a machine which allows them to learn English. The friendly Tukanan leader Socha warns Jim that the Moon is in great danger from the Green Star which destroyed their home world, Tuka. With time running short and the Green Star causing radio interference, the Tukanas agree to transport the expedition crew back to Moon Base 1. There Jim orders the entire base to be evacuated into space on ships and he decides to use the X.71 packed with the high explosive Tritureum to destroy the Green Star. Jim and Archie pilot the X.71 onto a collision course with the Green Star and escape in life pod as the explosion destroys the Green Star. With everyone safely back on Moon Base 1, the Tukanas are allowed to settle on the Moon by way of thanking them for their help.

Pirates Of The Spaceways!

15 episodes
23 November 1955 (B61) to 29 February 1956 (C75)

Note: this story was advertised in B60 as “Next Week – Pirates Of The Spaceways!” however none of the actual episodes include a story name in their title panels

After their near death encounter with the Green Star, Jim Stalwart and Archie Harbottle have been assigned to rest duties in the control tower of Moon Base 1 where they are growing bored. Tony Stalwart is on his way to Mars on the Martian 1 freighter commanded by Space Captain Jock MacKenzie when the Space Marshal orders the two men to fly Police Commissioner Higgins to Mars to investigate a security leak. They lift off the next day in the Martian 2 freighter along with the Commissioner, his bumbling secretary Augustus Potts and six large canisters of Eukalium fuel.

While in space they come across seven men floating in their spacesuits and on bringing the barely conscious men on board, discover that they are Jock MacKenzie and the crew of the Martian 1 but Tony is not with them. Jock warns them of the Black Raider, a spaceship that suddenly appeared from behind a radiation cloaking shield and attacked them. Now a prisoner on board the Black Raider, Tony is taken to see its commander Major Borman who now styles himself as an Admiral. Borman uses the Black Raider to attack Jim’s Martian 2 with a freezing ray but Tony is able to switch off the ray before the crew of the Martian 2 are overcome and Jim prevents Archie from firing on the Raider as Tony remains on board. With Tony restrained, the Black Raider attacks the Martian 2 a second time and successfully freezes the crew. Borman’s deputy, Leffman, boards the Martian 2 with alien Satiks to get the cargo of Eukalium but Jim is able to move enough to fire at the Raider and destroys its freezing weapon. As the Satiks escape, Leffman is left trapped on the ship.

Borman now offers his hostage, Tony, for the Eukalium cargo but Jim refuses and Borman makes his escape with the captive Tony in the now invisible Raider. Interrogating Leffman, Jim discovers that Borman’s base is in the Asteroid Belt and the Space Marshal assigns him a squadron of fast Gamma spaceships to hunt Borman down. Jim follows a trail of wreckage from the Raider towards the Asteroid Belt.

Note: This is where the strip concluded in the final issue of Junior Mirror. However the conclusion of the story was printed in text form below that week’s Stalwart strip under the heading “Now Read How Jim Stalwart’s Adventure Ended”, and included two panels from what would have been the next issue’s comic strip which would have been C76.

Tony refuses to give Borman any information on the Moon’s supply of Eukalium and Borman puts him in the captured Martian 1 on course for the Satiks on Saturn. Jim rendezvous’ with the Gamma squadron and leads them through the Asteroid Belt to recover Tony from the Martian 1. Tony has planted a tracking device on the Black Raider which means that Jim and the squadron are able to find and attack the ship. Borman uses a spacesuit to get to the Martian 2 before his ship explodes and he is arrested to stand trial for his crimes.

(* This article was first published in Eagle Times v23 #2 in Summer 2010.)

Monday, May 11, 2015

Bruce Cornwell's Forgotten Space Captain: Jim Stalwart

by Jeremy Briggs

Artist Bruce Cornwell joined the Hampson Studio in 1950 and so worked on Dan Dare from the very first issue of Eagle as well as working on the Tommy Walls advertising strip. His forte was the drawing of technology so while other team members concentrated on figure work, colours or backgrounds, Cornwell often produced panels that included spaceships and other vehicles. Leaving the Dan Dare fold several years later he would return twice to Dan Dare, first in the 1950s when the Hampson team had moved from Southport to Espom where his model making skills were used to create reference models of spaceships and again in the 1960s when he teamed up with Don Harley to illustrate the strip after Frank Bellamy moved from Dan Dare in Eagle to Thunderbirds in TV Century 21.

In those intervening years Cornwell worked on a number of different projects including illustrating the Kemlo and Tas science fiction children’s novels of EC Eliott, where he was credited as A Bruce Cornwell, as well as the Journey Into Space comic strip in Express Weekly based on the BBC radio series. However one of the first strips that he worked on after leaving Dan Dare was a black and white science-fiction comic strip in the short lived weekly newspaper aimed at children, the Junior Mirror. That strip was Space Captain Jim Stalwart.  

The Space Captain Jim Stalwart strip began in issue 1 of the Junior Mirror dated 1 September 1954 and continued in all 75 issues of the publication with Bruce Cornwell illustrating the strip throughout its run. He recalled, “My agent came up with the project. I wasn’t too keen but I must admit that the money had an influence”. The strip told three sequential stories, The Fantastic Adventures Of The Missing S.200, The Green Star, and Pirates Of The Spaceways! This third story was still running when the paper was cancelled and rather than leave it hanging the a brief text conclusion was printed in its final issue.

Set on Earth and in the inner solar system at an undefined point in the future, Jim Stalwart was a captain in the Space Legion and the officer in charge of Space Station E.24 which was actually a ground base near London. He was a commanding officer who flew his own spaceships and lead from the front. With him for the three stories were his co-pilot Flight Sergeant Archie Harbottle (above), “a handy chap to have in a tight squeeze” and his rather over enthusiastic younger brother Space Cadet Tony Stalwart (below) who was enrolled at the base school. The stories made use of spaceships, space stations, moon bases as well as aliens from both inside and outside the solar system with Tony Stalwart invariably being on hand to give a character for the strip’s young readers to identify with.

The art chores were split between Bruce Cornwell and C Bannerman with CE Webber providing the lettering. Cornwall remembered, “I did all the layout and all the finished artwork. I would do the artwork in pencil and then pass it to Bannerman who would put in the figures that I had drawn in rough form; on its return I would then finish the frame in ink.” While he never met Bannerman, Cornwell worked to his strengths on the strip with spaceships, cars and lunar rovers and the artwork is at its best when he gets to provide large panels featuring technical detail of his vehicles. “The fundamental reason for splitting the strip up this way was because of the time element. I had other work on board and couldn’t cope with the technical demands of the script and the figure work,” said Cornwell. He also never met Webber, “His job was to put the lettering in the balloons. The system worked logically in drawing the frame I would draw the balloon and dialogue and when finished would rub it out, knowing that he had room to do his bit.”

The format of the strip was black and white line art in three rows which would take up around half of page eleven of the sixteen page paper, the same page that the three rows of Pip, Squeak and Wilfred were printed on. Early episodes were fairly consistent in their layout and tended to be made up of a title panel with three small panels in the first row while the next two rows consisted of either three larger panels or four smaller panels. The original artwork was produced half size up – 50% bigger than the publication size.

The format remained fairly consistent until the 2 February 1955 issue when The Fighting Tomahawks, illustrated by Richard Jennings, was moved into the Pip, Squeak and Wilfred slot. It stayed there for seven weeks until it was moved away and with the May 4 1955 issue Jim Stalwart was increased in size to fill the full width of the page rather than the outside three quarters as before. This was done simply by increasing the size of the artwork reproduction as the lettering accompanying the art correspondingly increased in size. The beginning of the third story, Pirates of the Spaceways!, was heralded with a full length figure of Stalwart taking up the left hand side of the strip and four rows of panels before the art settled back the next week to three rows with the figure of Stalwart in the title panel becoming two rows tall. It remained this way with Stalwart in various poses until the title’s final issue.

Each episode was identified with a letter and number code, the letter indicating the calendar year beginning with A in 1954 and the number indicating the issue number of the paper that the art was appearing in. Therefore the numbering system ran from A1 in the first issue in 1954 to C75 in the final issue in 1956, with A18 on 29 December 1954 being followed by B19 on 5 January 1955 and B66 on 28 December 1955 being followed by C67 on 4 January 1956.

To eyes used to craft from 2001: A Space Odyssey and Star Wars, the designs of the spaceships and space stations now look as old fashioned as their better known Dan Dare equivalents, however Cornwell’s designs for both the earth based and the lunar vehicles remain remarkably fresh and the detail of the interiors still stand up to adult scrutiny over fifty years after they were drawn. Why have a simple doorbell when you could insert your hand into a “Foto Electric Bell Unit Mk 5” to announce your presence?

The figure work is generally good with the alien Tukanas (above) in the second story having a classy ancient Egyptian look to them. That said the Saturnian Satiks (below) who appear in the first and third stories look suspiciously like they could have come from an early episode of Doctor Who, created by actors in a radiation suits with metal claws for hands. Despite this the stories are surprisingly complex with plot points from earlier episodes only falling into place as the story progresses although the scripts do often rely heavily on meaningless technical terms to fill out the word balloons. “I don’t know who wrote the scripts and I must admit I never asked,” said Cornwell.

Yet it is hard to get away from the fact that the strip is a Dan Dare clone used by the Junior Mirror so that they would have a character similar to Eagle’s well known space pilot. While the fictional date of the Stalwart stories is never given, this is a world that has the same level of technology and a similar knowledge of alien cultures as the early Dare stories, with spaceships launching from ramps and space stations in orbit. Although at ten black and white panels per week it was never going to stand up to the two pages of full colour Dan Dare, in comparison to the early stories of that better known Dan Dare clone, Lion’s Captain Condor, the plotlines are more interesting and the artwork is considerably better.

The character was considered popular enough in 1955 for an actor dressed as him to open a space ship attraction in Hove near Brighton. The Junior Mirror dated 8 June of that year features a photo of the actor at the seaside resort surrounded by children and standing in the back of a three wheeled Bond Mark C Minicar (a predecessor of the better know Bond Bug) with prominent Junior Mirror advertising panels on it. “Free Taxi Rides For Readers” announced the photo’s blurb. “Junior Mirror taxi runabouts have made their debut for the summer season. Look out for them throughout the holidays. Use your Junior Mirror to flag them for free taxi rides.”

Indeed on the front page of issue 49 in August of that year the same Minicar from the photograph, registration 783 CML, was used for an advertising cartoon illustrated by Reg Smythe before he went on to create Andy Capp for the adult version of the Mirror.

Yet today the Junior Mirror is all but forgotten, along with its spaceman character, and even a search for “Space Captain Jim Stalwart” in returns just one solitary hit, a passing mention in Steve Holland’s history of Look and Learn magazine. Perhaps because the strip was in a publication that was to all effective purposes a newspaper, there was no desire on the part of its original young readers to retain it as part of a collection that they would reread in the future.

This is a pity because it has deprived that future of an interesting period piece containing some lovely black and white artwork.

With thanks to Ray Carnes and Richard Sheaf, and especially Bruce Cornwell for his time and recollections.

(* At the time that this article was first published, in Eagle Times v23 #1 in Spring 2010, as the penultimate paragraph suggests there was next to nothing on the internet about the Space Captain Jim Stalwart strip. When I broke the news of Bruce Cornwell’s passing on downthetubes in March 2012 , I mentioned the strip amongst the others that he had worked on, while Steve Holland here on Bear Alley and Will Grenham on the Eagle Times blog also mentioned the strip in their obituaries for him. The details of those obituaries have since been included in various on-line bios of Bruce meaning that at least the title of the strip is now much more widely spread that it was when this article first appeared. Indeed you can now read some episodes of the strip from its publication in the Melbourne Argus newspaper on the National Library Of Australia’s Trove website. However rather than update the original article I have decided to leave that part of the text in its original form as it displays how little was available at that time.)