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Monday, May 25, 2015

It was twenty(-one) years ago today(-ish)

Almost exactly 21 years ago, Prog 889 headed into newsagents on the 19th of May, 1994. The cover date was 27 May.

About a month before, as I was editor of Comic World I received a packet of promo material from Fleetway Editions, probably put together by editor Steve McManus or John Tomlinson, who was working at Fleetway as an editorial assistant around that time. Whoever it was, the photocopies were all a bit wonky, guys.

Editors did not receive a huge amount of press material; I used to do a monthly summary of Judge Dredd Megazine based on a phone call to David Bishop, for instance, or if there was to be a relaunch or promoted issue, I'd head up to Fleetway with my trusty dictaphone.

But for some reason, I have a set of press releases from Prog 889 which I thought I'd share with you. Starting with the cover, which is an interesting study. The photocopy reveals a number of differences between the promo version and the final artwork that graced the cover. The printed image appeared squashed to make room for the lettering, but there are other, subtler differences. Dredd is holding his Lawgiver at a different angle, for instance, and the Eagle's "wing" on Dredd's shoulder has only five feathers rather than the published six (thanks to Chris Mitchell, who pointed this out when I posted the image of Facebook a few days ago). 

Because this was a relaunch issue, the number of pages was increased to 44 rather than the usual 36 and there was a cover-mounted free gift of £17 worth of discount coupons for videos and games at HMV, although this had to be weighed against a 5p price increase to 75p.

Some of these details escaped the information sheet that was sent out (above), which concentrated on the stories that were being launched that issue. Here are the promo sheets for each character and scans of artwork that accompanied them... nothing for Dredd, unfortunately, although I may stumble upon it at a later date.


(* artwork © Rebellion.)

Sunday, May 24, 2015

Iain M. Banks (Wired, June 1996)

In the June 1996, Wired carried an interview with Iain M. Banks along with an extract from his new novel, Excession. Fiction by Banks rarely appeared in magazines. I believe it only happened twice. [[Update: Not often but not quite as few as twice. Phil Stevensen-Payne sent over the brief list of Banks' magazine appearances, which also include stories for Interzone, The Observer Magazine and The Fiction Magazine, plus another extract, "The Business", in Computing.]]

Here's Wired's coverage along with a couple of examples of Daniel Mackie's illustrations.


Saturday, May 23, 2015

Ian Kennedy's Scalextric Catalogue

When Hornby celebrated their 25th annual Scalextric catalogue in 1983, they celebrated in style with a series of stunning illustrations by none other than Ian Kennedy. The front cover is quite a well-known image as it has been posted around the web on a number of occasions. However, Kennedy also supplied a number of illustrations inside the catalogue, which made innovative use of mixing art and photography.

The following year's catalogue wasn't nearly as exciting. The cover art—which you'll find below the Kennedy artwork—was by Leonard. Leonard who?


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.