Category Archives: british comics

The award for the most inappropriate kids comic competition of 1976 goes to…..

….Action Comics!!

Not only was it violent, not only did it use 1970’s ‘youth’ colloquialisms such as ‘ya’ (as in ‘Action is ya favourite violent comic’), but it also held a gloriously bad taste competition. Well, that’s my view anyway. It was also a great competition prize, and an exciting one. But definitely in bad taste. Let me explain in words and pictures;

That shark just above is dubbed Hook Jaw, the undoubted star of IPC comics notorious ‘Action‘ title. Hook Jaw was clearly inspired by, and capitalising on, the Shark craze of the mid 1970’s (prompted by the Spielberg Blockbuster ‘Jaws‘). Some of the works inspired by the film were quite bizarre. Hook Jaw, however, was just plain terrifying. This comic strip amplified our terror of the deep and exaggerated the fearsomeness, the size and predator instincts of a Great White Shark. The shark that appeared in Action acted as a moral avenger, appearing to act out a vendetta against mankind.

Created by Pat Mills (who went on to have a hand in the creation of another seminal British comic character, Judge Dredd), the story had an environmental edge, the Shark, while eating any human unlucky enough to be in its proximity, seemed to target those who would exploit the Seas (the first strip was based around an oil rig);

(the panel above was taken from issue 2 of Action, dated 21st of February, 1976)

So there we go, Hook Jaw, the Great White Shark who was a cover star of the most notorious British Boys comic of the 1970’s;

Competitions in comics are nothing new. They attract new readers, reward existing readers and keep them loyal, and some lucky guy gets the first prize. Action decided to run a competition, one that tied in with one of the comic strips, and one that captured the spirit of the comic, as it certainly promised ‘action’ with a capital A, and one lucky reader got to do the following;

Right – so that’s a fishing trip, to catch a shark! Great opportunity to go out shark fishing, you might even catch HOOK JAW!!!

Er, okay, maybe not.

Amazingly, they did have children enter the competition. They found a winner. The winner did go out on a shark fishing trip. Did he catch Hook Jaw? Did he come back in one piece? Did his dad go with him? Did he come back as well? Were Brody, Hooper and Quint on board? Did they go in the Orca*? All is revealed below….

Finally, here is a gratuitous panel from Hook Jaw from issue 2 of Action (dated 21st of February 1976) – can you see the nod to the Spielberg movie??

Hook Jaw

Jaws

* The Orca was the boat that Quint, Brody and Hooper used to hunt the Great White in Jaws. It still (allegedly) exists (as a bit of a wreck) – have a look

Walls lolly advertising in 2000AD, July 1980 (plus Tharg is a Rude Boy)

Taken from the back page of 200ad prog 170, dated 26 July 1980.

I do remember the ‘Black Hole’, basically an updated ‘Count Dracula’s Deadly Secret’, which was mentioned in a previous post. Both Funny Feet (which was a wodge of ice cream on a stick, and the successor to Funny Faces) and Magic Monster Lolly are memorable (Magic Monster Lolly in particular – I cannot remember all of Frankensteins friends, but there was a Dracula and Wolf man). Incredible Hulk is the only one I have no recollection of, but was obviously cashing in on the popularity of the hit TV show of the time.

The same prog is also host to a quintessentially late 70’s / early 80s phenomena as Tharg the Mighty gets the Rude Boy / 2 Tone treatment, courtesy of someone from Nuneaton, a mere few miles away from Coventry, the 2 Tone movements hub;

Dan Dare and the Mystery of the Money Men (1981)

In prog 206 of the British science fiction weekly 2000AD (dated 4th of April, 1981) there was a curious news item that made an appearance just above an advert for ‘Tiger and Speed’ comic;

Well, I knew the following – that in 1975, Elton John released the album ‘Rock of the Westies’, and this included the track ‘Dan Dare (Pilot of the Future)’. I also knew that in 1979, David Bowie referenced Dan Dare in his song ‘DJ(song)’, taken from the ‘Lodger’ album. What I didn’t have was any information on the proposed TV series and its subsequent collapse. However, all has been made clear in an excellent article at downthetubes.net;

http://www.downthetubes.net/features/comics_characters/dan_dare/the_lost_dan_dare.html

where you get a detailed account of what happened, including fascinating trivia such as James Fox was set to play Dan Dare, and Phil Redmond was mooted as the writer of the show. It all makes perfect sense with hindsight, and would have probably been brilliant, regardless of the technical / special effects budget constraints on TV at the time (when relatively cheap CGI was still a long way off).

A series did eventually make it to television in the early noughties, and was broadcast by Five in the UK. It lasted for one series. This was a CGI re imagining, and the return of Captain Scarlet a few years later also went the same way, but lasted for 2 series. Here is the trailer for the Dan Dare series;

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Great British Comic Strips Part I – ‘The House of Daemon’ (Eagle, 1982-83)

Following on from my ‘Tower King’ article, we go back again to the early days of the relaunched Eagle comic, and after the conclusion of ‘The Tower King‘, the following weeks issue saw the arrival of another illustrated strip, again rendered by Spanish artist Jose Oritz. Entitled ‘The House of Daemon’, it was written by 2000AD stalwarts John Wagner & Alan Grant (best known for Judge Dredd). Running for 5 months from issue no.25 (September 11, 1982) to issue no.47 (February 12, 1983), this was a creepy and bizarre horror tale, one of the best Eagle produced.

The story of a dream house that becomes possessed by an evil spirit, its nightmarish and dreamlike qualities were vividly brought to life by Oritz, a gifted artist who really could depict evil very well. The evil spirit (the ‘Daemon’ of the title) traps the architect who designed the house (Elliot Aldrich) and his wife (Cassandra – who the house was built for) and they are left at the mercy of his demented plans. As ‘Daemon’ has the ability to transfer the rooms in the house into his own evil creations, the strip takes off an all sorts of tangents. For example, the kitchen became a recreation of the Vietnam conflict, with the punishing environment being labelled ‘Hells Kitchen’ by the GIs fighting within it. Their enemy are labelled ‘The Gimps’, a creation of Daemon. They are seen in the page scan below carrying a door across ‘Hells Kitchen’;

All sorts of horrors awaited those trapped in the house, and death lurked around every corner as the dimensions of the rooms bent to the will of ‘daemon’ to become wide open spaces or dark, tiny & claustrophobic areas, all filled with terror, such as these huge caterpillar-type creatures ;

Over the course of the story, Cassandra, the architects wife and one of the main recipients of the malevolent Daemons’ evil, was revealed to have psychic powers. This empowered the embattled prisoners of Daemon, enabling them to fight back, by overcoming their fear of the environments Daemon created, showing them up for the mind-altering games that they were.

Eventually Daemon is revealed as a powerful dark sorcerer from the 26th century. He is, in that future, effectively imprisoned in the ‘House of Daemon’ by 3 wizards from that same future, who combine their powers to keep him incarcerated. This all becomes apparent when Cassandra locates the 3 wizards in the lounge, part of which is a ‘sanctuary’ for them, protected from Daemons evil.

Daemon, despite his jailing, has managed to go back 500 years and his evil intent is to torture and imprison those in his future jail. At the stories conclusion, they
track down Daemon to the attic, where a surprise awaits them – those thought killed by Daemon are actually alive, all part of Daemons mind games and reality altering powers. The physical form of Daemon is poisoned by Cassandra, and the modern day prisoners of his evil plans manage to escape. finally, Elliot Aldrich and his building firm proceed to surround the house with high brick walls, to keep unwitting visitors away, and to isolate Daemon until reality and time catches up with him in the 26th Century.

As if inspired by this strip, Grant & Wagner went on to create another dwelling-based Horror strip within a year when ‘The Thirteenth Floor‘ debuted in ‘Scream‘, and fittingly, ended up at Eagle when the former title merged with the latter. It went on to become another of Eagles most popular strips.

I remember ‘House of Daemon’ being, like The Tower King, a great read and better than a lot of the stuff that 2000AD was publishing at the time. ‘House of Daemon’ would have been a great addition to ‘Scream’ comic as well, but as it is it rankls amongst the very best that Eagle offered. Also, like ‘The Tower King’, I do not believe this has been reprinted. I think its time someone put these 2 titles together in some sort of trade paperback. They’d have my business for sure.

Links!!

Wiki entry

Brief forum discussion on this strip and ‘The Tower King’

Futuresport of the past part III – 2000AD loves you!! (1977-1989)

2000AD – the British comic of the future from the 1970s right up until today. One of their favourite themes in the early years was future sport. Early strips in 2000AD had some basis in popular culture (MACH1 was another take on the 6 Million Dollar Man, Judge Dredd a version of Dirty Harry/ Clint Eastwood) and so the first future sport strip ‘Harlem Heroes’ was probably influenced by the commercial success of Rollerball, the 1975 film starring James Caan. It is also worth noting that most British boys comics of the time had sports strips, from ‘Roy of the Rovers’ (who had graduated from ‘Tiger’ to his own comic in 1976) to ‘Look out for Lefty’ from ‘Action’ comic, which also had the prototype for future sport titles, ‘Death Game 1999‘. The strip was written by Tom Tully who went on to create both ‘Harlem Heroes’ and later on, ‘Mean Arena’ for 2000AD.

Harlem Heroes (progs 1-27)

Although I can speculate that the interest in future sports had come from the success of ‘Rollerball’, ‘Harlem Heroes’ was actually a strip based around the fictitious game of ‘aeroball’ that had swept the world by the year 2050;

“It’s Football, Boxing, Kung Fu and Basketball all rolled into one! Players roar through the air wearing jet packs (controlled by buttons on their belts) and score “air strikes” by getting the ball in the “score tank”. One of the top teams is the all-black Harlem Heroes!”
(taken from the first ‘Harlem Heroes’ strip in Prog 1 of 2000AD, 1977)

and the titular team are obviously inspried by the ‘Harlem Globetrotters‘ who had their own Hanna-Barbera cartoon series in the early Seventies.

One of the main stars of the strip was the team captain, John ‘Giant’ Clay, and his character was one who would crossover into another title – a rare ‘cross-over’ event within the 2000AD universe – as he was the father of Judge Giant, an important figure in the early stories of Judge Dredd, who helped defeat the tyrannical Judge Cal. The series followed the fortunes of the ‘Heroes as they competed in the ‘World Aeroball Championship’. In a storyline reminiscent of the Munich disaster that claimed the lives of 7 Manchester United football players, the Harlem Heroes have to recover from the devastating loss of most of their team who are killed in a bus crash following a preliminary round victory. Subsequent episodes followed by the survivors and new recruits as they battled through the Championship against the likes of ‘The Baltimore Bulls’ and ‘The Siberian Wolves’. The early episodes were drawn by Dave Gibbons, but the amazing Massimo Bellardinelli took over the art duties on the final episodes and its sequel, Inferno.

Inferno (progs 36-75)

Inferno was the direct sequel to Harlem Heroes, again scripted by Tom Tully and illustrated by Bellardinelli. Billed as being ‘Deadlier than Aeroball’ on its very first page, it lived up to its promise. Overtly violent compared to its predeccesor, it followed the ‘Harlem Hellcats’ who were the rechristened, surviving ‘Harlem Heroes’ as they contested in ‘Inferno’, a legalised spectator ‘death sport’. The plot wreaks havoc and death upon the team, with very few surviving to the gloomy, nihilistic finale. Even Tharg seemed to have had enough by then, popping up in the middle of a page in the final episode, adding narration and explaining another Hellcat loss, as opposed to Bellardinelli visualising it. All very brutal and downbeat. This wouldnt be the last time a strip would be ended so gracelessly (see the entry for ‘The Mean Team’, further down this post).


Harlem Heroes / Inferno Links

The Harlem Heroes entry at 2000AD online
Harlem Heroes at wikipedia

2000ad.org entry for Inferno
David Bishop on the Inferno controversy
The ‘progslog’ blog details the final episodes of Inferno

The Mean Arena (various progs from 1980 until 1982)

That man Tom Tully again. Alongside several artists (notably Steve Dillon did a stint, but John Richardson was the first artist on title) Tully created another futuresport scenario – this one was a bit like street football and rugby, but with whole urban areas given over to it. There was, of course, the possibility of death lurking around every corner. The hero was called Matt Talon, and he led the Slayers in the ‘Mean Arena’, helping them rise from obscurity to new heights. Think ‘Rollerball’ meets ‘Roy of the Rovers’. Sub-plots abounded such as Tallons brother dying as a combatant in the ‘Mean Arena’, and the possibility of a traitor in his own ranks. Despite its numerous appearances over several years, it was never a classic in my opinion, but gets 7.26 thrillpower at the 2000AD site (mind you, only 19 people have voted…)

Mean Arena Links

The 2000AD fansite nails it with all the info, including all progs that featured The Mean Arena
2000AD site entry
This is great – a really fascinating insight, writer david bishop interviews 2000ad editor steve mcmanus (aka ‘tharg’) and puts it on his blog. There is a short conversation about Mean Arena


The Mean Team (various progs from 1985, 1987 & 1989)

Another strip illustrated by the peerless Massimo Bellardinelli, who made memorable anything he worked on (Ace Trucking Co, Meltdown Man, early Slaine, Harlem Heroes, Inferno), ‘The Mean Team’ was another mixed affair. Sometimes it was downright bizarre as well as bleak, brutal and ham-fisted. Initially written by Wagner & Grant under the pseudonym of ‘The Beast’, this was initially a future sport title, where really bad people got to play some sort of death sport with death around every corner (you follow me?), but turned into something like a quest. It was a bit silly really and a lot of it was forgettable – especially the sequels to the original ‘Mean Team’, those being ‘Return’ in 1987 and ‘Survivor’ in 1989. Anyone who has read the story will know that this is how silly it could get;

That is ‘Bad’ Jack Keller finding the right combination of words to get some magical staff working to save himself and his fellow team members. Lucky those words happened to be ‘The Mean Team’, eh???

There were times when you could almost read the new instructions coming from editorial decisions panel by panel, as the future sport theme was clearly not working, so they changed tack so that the story turns into a sort of quest, followed by a last minute decision to ensure that most of ‘The Mean Team’ would not be coming back for a sequel – I mean, how abrupt an ending is this?

As freakytrigger
succinctly puts it in a great article about the end of The Mean Team, it is probably the worst ending to a comic ever – it just feels like its execution (pun intended) is done on a whim, almost an afterthought to wrap up the story.

Mean Team Links

International Hero profiles the Mean Team
2000ad entry for Mean Team
Well, at least someone likes it
2000AD review site
Wiki entry for Bellardinelli
2000AD online entry for The Mean Team

Finally, someone called Vodkashok has been moved enough by recent Harlem Heroes and Mean Arena reprints to create a game in their honour, called ‘Deathball’;

http://neilgow.blogspot.com/2008/03/deathball.html

British Comics Part II – Scream! the fleeting British Horror comic (1984)

After the runaway success of the British Science Fiction comic 2000AD, IPC launched a series of short lived titles in its wake to capitalise on its popularity. However, the likes of Starlord and Tornado had a very short life before becoming integrated into 2000AD. In the mid eighties, a new title, ‘Scream!’ was their attempt to move into the relatively untapped Horror comic genre.

There may have been several factors as to why they chose horror as the theme, such as the popularity of Stephen King books and the novels of British author of James Herbert, who had seen success with the likes of The Rats and The Fog.

Another reason why IPC chose Horror as a good platform for a new comic launch could have been the greater access to horror movies due to the home video boom of the early eighties. Horror films proliferated in the early days of video rental, a situation that created the Video Nasties phenomena and its resultant legislation encapsulated in the Video Recordings Act. The controversy surrounding films such as ‘The Evil Dead’ and ‘The Texas Chainsaw Massacre’ only gave Horror greater exposure. Also, the theatrical and subsequent video release of Horror anthology ‘Creepshow‘ introduced the world of EC horror comics to a wider audience, years after controvery and political pressure had killed off the likes of ‘Tales from the Crypt’.

British produced Horror comics had been around in the 1970’s, with the likes of Shiver & Shake and Monster Fun, but these had been played for laughs and were more Scooby Doo crossed with The Beano than Hammer Horror in tone. Scream was generally a serious attempt at a British Horror comic, though some times it could not quite decide what it wanted to be – more on that later.

Further back in time, British readers had been thrilled by the American imports of EC comics. In an event that preceded yet predicted both the backlash against ‘Action’, and the type of moral panic that enabled the legislation against so-called ‘Video Nasties’, the British Conservative Government introduced the ‘Children and Young Persons (Harmful Publications)’ act in 1954, becoming law in 1955. The american horror comic imports were almost immediately removed from sale. For more information on this subject, Martin Bakers definitive account ‘Haunt of Fears’ is a must. There is a link to the google book at the bottom of the post.

By the late Sixties and early Seventies, the publisher Warren was re-introducing the British public to horror with the likes of Eerie and Vampirella. There was an appetite amongst the British for a serious Horror title, and IPC aimed to fill that gap in the market.

Issue #1 of Scream! was released on the 24th of March 1984, with its end coming abruptly on June 30th of the same year. 15 issues in all. Screams demise was so unexpected that issue 15 carried preview captions for the aborted issue 16, the one below from the ‘Monster’ strip;

Why was it cancelled? There are some theories that stick when googling, such as;

1) National Union of Journalists action in the Summer of 1984 helped kill off the title as production was affected

2) The sales figures simply were not good enough

3) Due to the comics content, IPC executives were quick to avoid any repeat of the controversy that ruined the Seventies boys comic Action, another IPC comic, and therefore pulled the plug on Scream!

Here is an extract from Graham Kibble-Whites book on the history of British comics as he summarises the reasons for Screams failure;

“As for why the axe fell, rumours still persist to this day. Was the comic just too gruesome for the IPC bigwigs? Or was it just another victim of the hard financial realities of the Eighties? Whatever; with those fifteen Scream! comics now considered collector’s items by latter-day fans, it’s achieved some sort of life after death – which is entirely appropriate when you think about it.”

(from The Ultimate Book Of British Comics by Graham Kibble-White)

Scream was absorbed into another IPC comic, the revived Eagle (aka Eagle Mk II) from the middle of July 1984 until March 1985, when its name was dropped from the title. Naturally, due to limitations on the amount of pages in comics, very few of the strips from Scream! made the transition. Only The Thirteenth Floor and Monster made notable appearances in Eagle. The fact there was no mention of the merger in the last issue of Scream, coupled with the delay in Scream appearing in Eagle (a matter of weeks as opposed to a seamless handover) suggests the cancellation of the title was an abrupt one.

I have all 15 of the original issues – I may even have one of the summer specials. My memory of it was of a good read, especially The Dracula File and The Thirteenth Floor. Despite a lot of it being fairly credible, with some great artwork by the likes of Jesus Redondo, there were some problems with it. In terms of consistency it did suffer – the attempts at humour, with the likes of ‘Fiends and Neighbours’ were lame. That strip (‘Fiends..’) looked like a throwback to an earlier time, and it was in fact a reprint from the archives of Cor!! and Buster comic (see here). Also, the typical IPC device of having someone/thing other than a normal human editing the comic was present with this title. Whereas 2000AD had Tharg and Starlord had, er, Starlord, Scream had Ghastly McNasty. Ghastly was a Grim Reaper type figure, in what you can assume to be a reference to the EC Horror Comics such as Tales from the Crypt where characters like The Crypt Keeper acted as the host to the stories. However, Ghastly did not have the humour or personality of the Crypt Keeper, and if anything was rather bland and one-dimensional. Some of the stories didnt quite convince either – ‘Terror of the Cats’ seemed to be a nod to previous ‘animal horror’ works. These had proliferated in the Seventies, with novels like James Herberts ‘The Rats’, Peter Benchleys ‘Jaws’ and films such as Spielbergs adaptation of ‘Jaws’ and other producitons such as ‘Orca Killer Whale’ and the low-budget 1976 horror ‘Grizzly‘. However, ‘Terror of the Cats’ really failed to convince. Whereas predators such as Sharks and large animals such as Grizzly Bears are inherently fearsome, domestic cats are not. Large dogs would have made a much better subject matter. As you can see from the opening page of the first part of this tale, it really is not very convincing or frightening;

My memory of its end was like this – I went to get issue 16 on a Saturday, along with my 2000ad, and it wasn’t there. After a few weeks of being told by the newsagent that it hadnt turned up, I got the message that it was not coming back. I didn’t follow it over to the Eagle when it was merged into that title in the July of 1984.

Scream! was a brave attempt by IPC to produce something other than a war or science fiction comic. I do not know the exact reason why it was pulled, but it could have been due to the variety of reasons that have been mentioned here. It has retained a fan base who regard it with warmth and fondness, and this is really well represented at the fan site http://backfromthedepths.co.uk
where there are plans afoot to produce further issues of the comic.

I wonder if there is a copy of issue 16 anywhere??? Anyone know?

The sites and resources I used for this post are;

Back from the Depths – Brilliant fan site dedicated to Scream! with issues 1, 15 and a Summer Special reprinted in full

Short piece on Scream! at 26pigs

Scream! at Wikipedia

First 4 issues to view at The Manchester Morgue site

I used the excellent Toonhound site for some of the research – a great site and well worth your time.

Just to let you know, you can read Martin Barkers book, ‘Haunt Of Fears’ as a Google book

Lew Stringers wonderful blog has some detail on a new book that reprints pre-comics code Horror titles in a new book – read it here.

There is another useful google book on Warren, called ‘The Warren Companion’ by Jon B Cooke and David Roach – check it out here

The Manchester Morgue site has some scans of the Warren title Eerie