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Monday, January 21, 2008

The Wolves of Gaul

(* Here's a piece from that dynamic detective duo Jeremy Briggs and Richard Sheaf relating to a piece of mystery artwork by the equally dynamic Ian Kennedy.)

The Wolves Of Gaul
by Jeremy Briggs and Richard Sheaf

As fans of Ian Kennedy's art we have both been aware of a half page of painted Kennedy comic strip which the Book Palace have had for sale for quite some time now. They describe it as “A fantastic comic page from the 1980s depicting Roman soldiers attacking a fort. From the series 'The Wolves of Gaul'.” This rather suggests that they do not know where it came from. They weren’t the only ones.

The discussion as to the origin of this art has come up several times over that last year or so. It has the look of a fully painted Look and Learn strip, except of course Ian Kennedy never worked for Look and Learn (only its Speed and Power sibling). There was also the possibility that it came from one of the 1970s Valiant annuals which had painted colour strips, often by Ian Kennedy, on high quality paper mixed in with the otherwise poorer quality black and white pages. However none of the Valiant annual collectors recognised the story. It really has been a puzzle - but, thinking laterally for a moment, where is the best place to find a puzzle? How about in a puzzle magazine?

In the mid to late 1970s there was a puzzle/quiz magazine called Quizzer which seems to have had somewhat of a torturous history. Dennis Gifford lists the history of the title as a single issue published by Williams in 1974, followed by 10 issues of Junior Quizzer published by Byblos in 1975 and 1976. After a pause of two years Byblos started a run of five Quizzer Specials which ran through to 1981, while publishing Quizzer Monthly which lasted thirteen months between 1979 and 1980. However, there may be even more than those based on the publishing schedule that Byblos maintained for their Tarzan and All War titles.

The first issue of Junior Quizzer from 1975 featured a low quiz content but high comic strip content. Half of the 36 pages are made up of mainly humour strips, but included the 2 page 'Dice With Death' with art by Ron Turner and 1½pages of 'Drag Strip Drama' by Ian Kennedy. However by issue 5 'Junior' had been dropped from the cover, although the letters page still refers to the magazine as Junior Quizzer, so perhaps the title change occurred around issue 4. The name change also led to a shift in focus to straightforward quizzes and away from the comic strips which by then took up only 6 of the 36 pages. The shift away from comic strips probably made the magazine even more ephemeral as now, once you had done the quizzes, there was little inspiration to keep the magazine since, in contrast to issue 1, there was little to re-read.

In amongst the quizzes and puzzles of issue 5, which is dated 1975, there is a 1½ page painted comic strip called 'The Wolves Of Gaul' which is a sort of an advert for Airfix HO/OO scale Roman soldiers. "Sort of" because it advises that you can recreate the story using the Airfix Roman soldiers, and it uses the illustration from the Airfix Roman soldiers box. Yet it does not use the Airfix logo or any of the normal type of advertising blurb you would associate with a straight advert, and that we have seen recently in the various Clarks Commandos and KP Outer Spacers advertising strips.

HO/OO scale soldiers are those little half inch high plastic soldiers that Airfix still sell to this day. HO and OO are actually two separate model train gauges, OO being a British scale of 1/76 and HO being a rest of the world scale of 1/87. Since Airfix was a British company the HO/OO scale was 1/76 and so was virtually indistinguishable to the universally accepted scale of 1/72 for model aeroplanes, which the majority of Airfix aircraft were scaled to.

Being in a magazine called Quizzer, the one-off story of the Wolves Of Gaul was left as a puzzle as to how the Romans were going to defeat the Gauls in the fort and on turning to a later page in the magazine the resolution was given in text form.

So for your delectation and delight we present 'The Wolves of Gaul'. If you want to find out the solution to the puzzle, look at the comments section of this entry. If you want to buy Airfix Roman soldiers, then try eBay or other collectables sites, as Airfix no longer produce them.

(* And if you want to read the solution, click the comments button immediately below.)

7 comments:

Steve said...

The solution...

The soldiers held their shields above their heads, and formed ranks each side of the battering ram. The shields formed a solid roof over the attacking force and, no matter what the tribesmen showered down, the Roman troops were protected. This tactic was known by the Roman army as the testudo, meaning 'tortoise', because it provided a shell over the attackers like a tortoise's covering.

Steve Flanagan said...

Those old Airfix Romans and Ancient Britons are currently available from an American company called HäT - though, if the reissued Airfix Robin Hood figurs I bought from them are any guide, the moulds are getting pretty worn by now, so there's lots of flash to trim off.

HäT have also used new box art, which is not as pretty as the originals.

Anonymous said...

Many thanks to Jeremy and Richard for a fascinating article.

David Simpson

John Freeman said...

While Airfix no longer do Romans they still make some WW2 soldiers -- if the box of 'em in the window of my local model shop isn't secondhand.

I've got lots of these figures, unpainted, in St Bruno tobacco boxes. Anyone wanting more info or to buy, contact me via downthetubes.net! :)

Captain Storm said...

Excellent article and just goes to show what good detective work can uncover!It would seem that these puzzle magazines hid little gems ofart often far superior to anything in comics.And the puzzle connection can be extended to another comic character-Cosmic.Take A Break puzzle magazine actually produced a comic of full color art strips based on this character intermixed with puzzles.Go here to see my long dormant project on Captain Cosmic :-)
http://cosmiccomic0.tripod.com/

Norman Boyd said...

Ah, come on you guys. Such a fantastic article and the real QUIZ is not answered!

HOW did you really make the leap to Quizzer??

I'd never heard of it and would never have thought of it!!!

Jeremy Briggs said...

Strangely enough Airfix have announced that they are re-releasing their Roman soldiers in March 2008. The box art is the same as the original releases but has been flipped so that the Centurian is now left handed.

www.airfix.com/airfix-products/dioramas-and-figures/figures/a01730-romans-172-a01730/

As for Norman's question about how we found Quizzer in the first place - as with most of these things it was a mixture of knowledge, co-operation, determination and luck. Neither Richard nor I expected to find the Wolves of Gaul in Quizzer.