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Thursday, 27 March 2014

"Reboot"??

The question has allways been, for me, do I 'reboot' UK Golden Age comic characters or do I leave them as they were?

Let's be honest here: there was no big writer-artist teams in UK comics of the 1939-1951 period. No Simon and Kirby's.  We've never really had an idea of what creators were paid in those days but I'm going to guess it was not a great deal.  Comics were cheap, throw-away entertainment that only cost a few pennies.

Gerald Swan is the best known publisher from this period and his attitude seemed to be that there was a huge gap in the market left by import restrictions (thanks to that Hitler bloke).  Swan was an entrepreneur and he paid what he thought was appropriate.  No doubt Harry Banger and others who could supply strips on a weekly basis got the best deals but even then the creator had to keep churning out the work.

I doubt that one of these men -or women- sat down one day and plotted a long term storyline for their characters.  This was not the "Marvel Age of Comics" and with all the restrictions facing publishers I doubt whether many even believed more work would be coming in and even if it was -for how long?

So, it was basically a strip with a few vizual gags and then a punchline or "wham bam action!" in the space of one or a few pages. No great characterizations.

Take Zom of the Zodiac by S. K. Perkins. One story in which Zom peeks around a corner, turns a bullied man into a taller, better looking man to trouncew the bully but when said man becomes too full of himself...Zom changes him back.  Yes, probably a moral in there and we Brits loved some morals in our comic strips!  But you have to ask -"What?" "Who?" "Why?"

I've used Zom now for almost 30 years and developed him into a more complex character but those questions still apply to a degree.  He seems to be friends with The All Seeing Eye, has had a hand in guiding super heroes/crime-fighters over the decades if not centuries but we still have no 100% answer to who or what he is.  The Green Skies will see a little more revealed and, perhaps, a glimpse or hint at who he might be.

And TNT Tom, and later his cousin Tina: given powers by aliens, Tom saves miners after a cave-in, stops a gang of cop-killers and even saves Earth from biological attack by aliens.  His main concern? That his dad does not find out "the Wonder Boy" is none other than his own son. Luckily, the odd press photographer is avoided but imagine TNT Tom based in 2013 with all the cameras, cell phones, dvrs and so on!


Characters such as Moon Man or Marsman had one off appearances but over the years they have been developed somewhat.  In the Black Tower universe there is life on Mars, albeit underground -even an explanation as to why the various Martian races took that root.  For the Moon Man, well, we have a very rich literary history of Selenite civilisation from the pulps onward.  Both Mars and the Moon races feature in Green Skies (the Martians referring to Earth people as "our biological cousins" which ties in with the belief that life on Earth may have originated from Martian meteorites).

Rodney Dearth, creator of The Iron Warrior has been a bit of a regular in Black Tower over the years -can anyone forget 2011s incredible The Iron Warrior Vs Big Bong??  Dearth was, as I've pointed out in previous postings, a typical Colonial Britisher. Save you going all the way back to 2011 postings...

Was The Iron Warrior A Villain???

It occurs to me that,today,a lot of comickers who have no real knowledge of UK Golden Age characters will make things up or make bad guesses based on what they might have seen.


This can be said to be true when it comes to the Iron Warrior.


I can onloy find one source with any information on the character up to 1990 and that is the late Denis Gifford’s Encyclopedia of Comic Characters [Longman,London,1987].  In the entry for The Iron Warrior,Gifford writes:


..the most violent and bloodiest strip ever seen in British comics to this time,and for several decades to come.  Rodney Dearth,seeking the Jewels of Junius,arrives at the site of the Temple of Sloth in Central Africa,accompanied by his robot,the Iron Warrior. Captured by a White Princess,he summons the Warrior (‘wavelength 60,impulse 400′).  Crying ‘I come Master!’ and also ‘Ahrrr!  Whoo-roo!  Roar!’,the Warrior’s built-in chopper slices up the Sloths,cuts up a giant crocodile,and pulls the head off an outsize eagle.”



And from this we get entries in the Internationalheroes site:

“A robot controlled by Rodney Dearth, who used it to hunt treasure with him in Africa.
The Warrior isn’t really a hero, as it kills anyone who threatens its master, whose own goals are far from altruistic.”


Hmm.  But then we get,at the League for Extraordinary Gentlemen fan site:

“The Surrogate League of Extraordinary Gentlemen

When the government decided to form the Worral’s League they based it very closely on Mina’s first League, “When in 1946 it was apparent that Miss Murray and her colleagues had deserted our employ by going missing in America, MI5 elected to replace the group with surrogates in an attempt to recreate the impact of the 1898 ensemble…
  • The Invisible Man (Peter Brady) = The Invisible Man (Hawley Griffin)
  • Prof James Gray = Nemo (both submarine builders, Nemo even inspired Gray in League V2)
  • Worrals = Mina (female leads experienced in death)
  • Wolf of Kabul = Quatermain (both in the great white hunter tradition, they even both wear pith helmets)
  • The Iron Warrior = Hyde (both really killers pressed into service).
The Iron Warrior is a robot built by Rodney Dearth, Dearth was not a hero and had a more villainous overtone. He would command the Warrior to do various illegal things, including kill people, but mainly Dearth used him to hunt for treasure in Africa.”



YAAAR! RRRAHHH!  NOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOO!


Oh. I do beg your pardon.  Had a bit of an “Iron Warrior” moment there.  Seriously,I hate this whole “we know nothing about the character but it seems it was a killer controlled by a killer so let’s write that” crap.


“…Dearth was not a hero and had a more villainous overtone. He would command the Warrior to do various illegal things, including kill people.”


Dearth was not a villain or scheming killer.  Anyone read any old boys adventure books or H. Ryder Haggard?  By applying what the League page and Internationalheroes entry has written then we have to re-classify Alan Quartermaine as a cold blooded villain.  In fact,up until more politically correct times,most heroes would need to be re-classed according to this methodology.  Biggles takes on arch villain proportions.  Even Indiana Jones would be classed as out-doing the Nazis considering how many deaths he’s caused directly or indirectly.  Think on that.


Let’s get a little bit of perspective here.  Sit down kiddies because if you’ve not watched any films made between 1920 to…well…now,and if you’ve not read any history on the British Empire or American Imperialism ["Hey,Japan:we've gun ships and troops harbored offshore now do business with us 'voluntarily' or we'll make you!"] -in fact any empire or power!- you may be shocked.


Most sea-faring nations such as Spain,Italy,England,France etc.,sent out exploratory ships/fleets to seek out new lands and new treasures and subdue the local population by any means including genocide [keep some alive for slaves,of course]. The Ashante were great at being slavers and made a lot of money out of it.  It’s a two-way thing you see -are black african slavers villains? Hey,slavery still exists today and amongst some of the West’s best pal nations.


But these Europeans were brave hero-explorers.  Anyone hear of a little group called the Conquistadores?  Dutch East India Company? The British East India Company -all had their private armies to,uh,”smooth things through”.


Ever read King Solomon’s Mines?


In comparison,Dearth was a limp-wristed liberal!  Hmm. If you were a British soldier at Rourke’s Drift with Zulu warriors rushing toward you would you throw down your rifle and wave -”Hello! I’m really against all this imperialism stuff -care for tea and a chat?”  Mind you,in Zulu Dawn,Denholm Elliott’s character more or less did just that -and was killed straight away!


Whichever city you lived in -London,Berlin,Paris- you would hear stories of strange lands,lost treasures and much more.  The urge to follow those tales continue to this very day.  If a chap was on his uppers and the old estate was falling to bits and,to be frank,the family coffers had been emptied long ago it was disgrace and destitution -but if you could find the “lost treasure” or anything worth a few quid you were saved!


I know that it is wrong to just go marching in,putting down the “locals” and stealing things that belong to them,whether they want to exploit it themselves or not –hey,I’m still for returning the Elgin Marbles and all those Egyptian artefacts we,uh,borrowed!


The context is that this was a totally different world.  Officers and troopers posing for photographs of themselves resting their feet on a heap of natives heads should have been totally unacceptable even in the 19th century but it happened -apparently “fun” hunts were organised with horse-riding officers carrying “pig-stickers” but I get a feeling the natives involved  weren’t having too much fun!


A white man would have his weapons because,even if a peaceful person,not all native persons were friendly in return [read some history].  I could write on the subject all day but it wouldn’t help.


The point is that we know,in the Iron Warrior strip,only that Dearth arrives in Africa with his creation.  If attacked he defended himself.  In volume 3 of the Black Tower Gold Collection,I published such a strip.  Dearth is exploring an area when a local priest stirs things up -Dearth is attacked and,though he could easily do so,he does not set about killing everyone.  In fact,he does fend off an attack by rushing straight at the warriors but then tries to use cunning to defeat the witch doctor.


Once the threat is sorted,Dearth goes on his way.  The one thing we see is that the Iron Warrior is far from some type of remote-controlled killer doing its master’s bidding.  It’s what would today be called a controlled vehicle or “power suit”.


Dearth get’s inside the Iron Warrior and operates controls and fires his weapons from here.  He also operates the axe-wielding arm.  Guessing at Dearth’s height the Iron Warrior has to be around 3-4 metres tall [10-12 feet]. But,it is still nothing more than a kind of hostile environment suit -almost similar to later [better designed] deep water suits.


What Denis Gifford wrote I have to take to be accurate -he did have a massive collection.  So,I’m guessing that there was  a remote control device and,it seems,a vocaliser of sorts.  This does not appear in the later strips I’ve seen.  That said,continuity was never a great strongpoint in comics back then.


Yes,the strip was violent but you have to recall that in early Tarzan films there were people being killed violently and arrows sticking out of heads. And,sadly,in war time Britain death was a daily event and kids [and adults] enjoyed a good “Darkest Africa” story with some white chap up against the natives.


So,do not think that,based on what people who have a narrow view of a character write,that Dearth and the Iron Warrior were just deadly killers.  They weren’t.


Now,back to Big Bong!


The Iron Warrior vs Big Bong:When Giants Fought,written & drawn by Ben R.Dilworth is available from:
http://www.lulu.com/hoopercomicsuk

The thing is that you have to understand the age these characters come from.  Putting 21st century sensibilities or any modern day ideas into characters from the mid-20th century just make them horrible Marvel or DC style reboots

How does this work when the characters come into contact with contemporary Black Tower characters?  Well, buy the books and find out! Following Green Skies there will be a more formalised chronology for the characters so that there is a definite JLA-Justice Society (Earth 1 and Earth 2) vibe going on.  Though the characters have met before the Green Skies saga will clear things up for newer readers but -and I have to emphasise this- the characters are not changed and certain not rebooted!!

If you cannot treat characters with certain respect and try to stay true to how they first appeared then you have failed as a creator.  We do not have to reboot so that TNT Tom is afraid his father will find out he is the Wonder Boy because his father is a violent child beater!!

The reaction from people who first read the comics as kids 60-70 years ago and purchased the Black Tower reprints was that they were "over joyed" and thought they would never see their favourite characters again.  Okay, not great sales but just those few comments give me a big boost.

You can add or develop these old characters but you MUST be true to what they were and, being honest, the industry is swamped in reboots, darkness, blurry-lined "good and evil" and just not enough fun.



Yes, I'm an old fart but I think you still have to see comics as having some fun...

Tuesday, 25 March 2014

Green Skies: The Fight For Mankinds Survival And Soul Begins


If you have not yet smelt the decay of Man. If you have not yet seen the increase in terror, chaos and anarchy in the world.  If you have ignored the freakish weather and geological upheavals.  If you have not yet seen the green tinted skies.

It is too late for YOU.


Sunday, 23 March 2014

The Improbability Of The British Super Hero

AND I’M NOT TALKING ABOUT ANY MASKED CRIME-FIGHTERS I PERSONALLY KNOW. JUST SAYING.
 
I was asked if I still had the link to this article (from March,2012) by a number of people.  Here is a re-posting with more art!



“Hmm. Don’t you understand?  Think about it –we have no skyscrapers!  How can you have American style super heroes in England?”

Those were the words of a Marvel UK editor (Dave White) back in the 1980s as I sat across from him having travelled from Bristol to London at his suggestion to discuss new projects.  About a month later a very senior Marvel UK editor responded in the same words but adding “That is why UK comics have never had super heroes.”

Firstly, as I pointed out to Dave White, we are the UK. Britain. You think of characters for a comic as being English you are excluding Wales, Scotland and Ireland.  Why?

My response to the senior editor is probably why things went a little “odd” work-wise.  My first response was “So, what exactly is Marvel UK publishing? And Power Comics (Odhams) before it? And…” I went on to rattle off a very, very long list of British super characters going back to the 1940s.  I think I ticked him off.  Really, he should have known better though, in one respect, he was right.
 
 



British comics never had super heroes.

Before you start thinking that I’m on new medications and answering “Yes” and “No” at the same time allow me to explain.

Tim (Kelly’s Eye) Kelly travelled the world and even in time and space at one point and was totally indestructible.  He was not a super hero.

http://superitch.com/images/2011/08/19.jpg
Clem Macy, television news reporter had a costumed archer alter ego…The Black Archer.  He was not a super hero.
Eagle Picture Library #3 - Comic Book Cover
Cathy had amazing cat-like abilities and wore a costume.  She was not a super heroine.

William and Kathleen Grange were incredible acrobats and wore costumes as Billy the Cat and Katie The Cat.  They were not super heroes.

In fact, for my graphic novel featuring many old IPC and Fleetway costumed characters, The Looking Glass, I noted several times that the characters were not super heroes.  In the UK we tended to call them “costumed adventurers” or even “masked crime fighters” but not super heroes.

Some, of course, were…uh..”revived” for the Wildstorm Studios Albion mini series which had great art but, sadly, showed a lack of any real knowledge of the characters by the writers –which they admitted to.  In comics you get paying work you take it!
http://img260.imageshack.us/img260/671/adamcover1th3.jpg
Characters such as Adam Eterno, the focal point in the Looking Glass story had no choice and were at times almost anti-heroes.  Whereas The Spider had a choice of being a master crook and then changing sides (basically all ego driven), Eterno did not.  He was cursed to be taken by the mists of time from one period to another where he encountered Spanish Conquistadores, pirates, sorcerers and even modern day (well, 1970s) crooks.

Olaf (“Loopy”) Larsen a rather meek school teacher found the Viking helmet of one of his ancestors and, donning it (that’s putting it on his head) became a super strong, flying Viking hero…The Phantom Viking.  There are stories of The Phantom Viking rescuing ships and much more and not a skyscraper in sight.

The great exponents of British roof-top crime-busting were, first, Billy The Cat and later Katie The Cat.  Running across the rooftops and leaping the often not so great gaps between one row of terraced houses and another, the duo were the fictional ancestors of today’s urban free-style runners/jumpers –examples found here:

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=CZ0YDF9bpZ8&feature=player_embedded#!

To most people who never get to see the rooves of terraced houses they assume they are all steep and sloping.  However, having on two occasions chased someone across terraced root-tops I can tell you there is plenty of room to move about (though at my age I now look back and get nauseous over that memory!).

Later, in the 1970s, William Farmer became the costumed crime-fighter known as The Leopard From Lime Street.  As one Fleetway boss told me (later confirmed by artist Mike Western) “Thomson had a schoolboy who fights crooks in a costume and if Billy the Cat was popular I was sure we could do better!”

Interestingly, in the Billy The Cat series he was later to be hunted as a vigilante by authorities who did not like what he was doing.  Likewise, The Leopard was also hunted down at one point.  In fact, a number of British comic crime-fighters found themselves not just ducking the crooks out for revenge but also the very side they were fighting for!



Towns, cities, villages, countryside, coastal locations –all featured in some very fun stories that endure in the memory to this day.  And not a bloody skyscraper in sight!

When UK creators were recruited to save the ailing US comic companies such as DC in the 1980s (I was at those UK comic art conventions watching how desperate they were to recruit British talent –and in some cases introduced both parties to each other) the idea of outlawing super heroes and tracking them down so they could be arrested was a new concept.  In the UK we’d been doing that since the 1940s ( thanks to the creators who churned out material for publishers such as Gerald Swan)!

The mistake in the minds of publishers is that they equate costumed crime-fighters with skyscrapers and the United States.  Despite the long history of such characters in the UK going back to the Boys Papers of the 1900-1930s.

What it says, really, is “This is just a job.  I don’t care about comics history.”

D. C. Thomson (may they be forever cursed in the hallowed halls of British Comics Hell) have enough characters to produce good costumed-crime-fighter comics.  The same applied to IPC who appear to have now taken the stance (a letter to me from senior management dated 19th July, 2011) “We were once publishing comics but that was over 30 years ago and have no further interest in comics.” Of course, had a rich stable of characters.

I have no doubt at all that a good “super hero” comics could work in the UK but so few Independent Comics writers/publishers seem to be able to produce an obscenities free scriptthat does not also include over the top violence and rape –the “Millar-Ennis-Morrison Legacy (MEML).”

But let’s mention, I really must, two shining examples of British “Super Heroes” by British creators that have excellent plotting, story and action without having to resort to the MEML.
Jack Staff and cast
The first is, naturally, Paul Grist’s Jack Staff.  Okay, he’s never accepted my offer to interview him in the last decade but I’ll not hold that against him!  When I first saw Jack Staff I thought “**** that anatomy is really off!”  I bought a copy.  I’m a comics bitch, I just can’t help it.

I read through issue 1 and do you know what? I..I..deep breath…I enjoyed it!  There it’s out now!  The anatomy did not put me off and, as the manager of Forbidden Planet (Bristol) said “It doesn’t make a blind bit of difference –it’s so enjoyable!” With references to old British TV comedy series and so much more each issue of Jack Staff was a must read. There was, I must point out here, a major flaw in each issue. There were not enough pages!

And while Grist takes a break from Jack Staff he came up with a new series –Mud-Man (which should not be confused with my German character Schlamm Mann –mud-man!).  Lovely stuff but, again, the major fault of not enough pages but maybe that is why this works: it is almost episodic like old British weekly strips…but with more pages…okay. Grist wins.

Then we have, and I have to say this on bended knees and in very humble tone…Nigel Dobbyn. When someone told me that he was drawing Billy The Cat I remember thinking to myself “I wonder whether his art style is any different than when he was drawing for Super Adventure Stories?”  (a 1980s comic zine).  I opened up the comic and a big thought balloon appeared above my head in which was written in bold Comic Sans “WOW!”

The style and colouring I had not seen outside of European comics (say Cyrus Tota’s work on Photonik).  After that I never missed an issue and I made a point of grabbing The Beano Annual as soon as it appeared in shops. But with this incredible talent working for them did Thomson take advantage?  No, they did something ensuring he would not work on new strips for them.  The story can be found here:

http://www.comicbitsonline.com/2010/12/12/nigel-dobbynbilly-the-cat-and-d-c-thomson/

You want to see how good Dobbyn is?  Visit his website which has great art on show including Billy The Cat colour pages:

http://www.nigeldobbyn.com/


Dobbyn even re-introduced (with help from scripter Kev F. Sutherland, of course) General Jumbo but as The General.  In fact, you go over those issues and I can see why so many people were telling me that they only bought copies for Billy The Cat. I could drool on and wax lyrical for hours about Dobbyn’s style and colouring.

Now here is the real kicker.  Two talents such as Grist and Dobbyn whom any UK publisher (I know –“Who??”) should be fighting, spitting and kicking to get their hands on but are they?  Nope.  And while Grist publishes his books via Image Comics you have to wonder why Marvel or DC have not tried to get him on a title?  Could it be his style is just not understandable by people in US Comics such as Joe “I’ll sell that for a Dollar” Quesada or Dan “I’ve had another brilliant idea on how to destroy DC” Didio?  What of Dobbyn, then?

I know that if as a publisher I had the money I’d be employing both full time!!

I need to stop mentioning Dobbyn now as my knees hurt (a lot) and it’s hard typing from this position.

What both creators have shown is that there really do not have to be skyscrapers for a “super hero.”  There is enough car crime, drug crime…violent crime of most types going on in the UK and believe it or not none involve a single skyscraper.  Incredible, isn’t it?

Also, the UK is rich in legends, myths, fairy tales and much more that are just crying out to be included in storylines.  The reason the Americans and other comic readers world-wide like UK strips is because they are uniquely British.  In India, particularly in Southern India, The Steel Claw, Robot Archie, The Spider and many others are still very popular in reprint form over 35 years since they last appeared in print here.

Of course, now that the Evil Empire (Disney) has extended its stranglehold on Marvel (Panini) UK nothing new from the UK is allowed –though why doesn’t Panini with all its international branches pull in some new characters/books of their own?  Oh. Its cheaper tp publish reprint material, isn’t it? I can be so silly!

Black Tower Comics has published a wide range of comics and the costumed crime-fighters (or even non-costumed in the case of Krakos) are the most popular.

So the market is there but where are the moneymen, the backers needed to help revive the corpse that is British comics so that it can proudly boast an industry once more that takes advantage of talents such as Grist, Dobbyn and Jon Haward?

However improbable British super heroes might seem to sum I can tell you they are not.  There is a history going back 80 years and even longer if you include the Penny Dreadfuls of the Victorian era.

Here endeth the sermon.

Garen's Billy the Cat

Wednesday, 5 March 2014

I Repeat: Yes. I AM Still Alive.....Barely.


   It's been a while since I posted to this blog. There are several reasons why. The first is that certain folk have been grabbing scanned pages presented on this blog for the first time anywhere since they were first printed and claim the scans are theirs. This happens all the time on the net so it never surprises me but -BUT- I think it is sad that they cannot share AND credit the original scanners without whom they -let's be honest- would have nothing.But that is the nature of these people. 
      The other reason is that, oddly, I do get a lot of internet attacks against me because I am "using scans without getting the permission of the artists or publisher".  My response is that most of the publishers are dead.  Some of the artists we do not even know -I've spent years tracking down art and leads and naming more than a few.
      What I also get are regular -about one every couple of months- emails from American folk who want to know the copyright status of these UK Golden Age characters (many I have been using -and a few with permission from creators or publishers while alive- since the early 1980s. Why? Because they want to use them as "rebooted concepts" whatever that is.  I no longer answer these emails because when I explained I had used some in my own works I got hysterical come-backs such as "Oh, so EVERY Golden Age character is yours and yours only??" or "You are stealing these characters and I want to use them properly!"  The US has hundreds of unused GA characters -use them.
      Even the books I publish -at a loss (and that is provable) of Golden Age UK strips gets me grief. may have scanned a certain comic and if they did and I used something they get a credit. If the person scanned the book....

"Those are my scans!"/"I scanned that comic -have you credited me?"  Firstly, I thank those who provide scans but that, in some cases, is vague because "Comic1947" is an internet pseudonym NOT a person's name.  Secondly, a person
     Hey, I even at one point offered contributors of scans copies of the books their scans were used in. BUT no one wanted to give their names or addresses so how do they know they are not credited? Odd. The comic community used to be so different before silly web names came in. We used to correspond but that is out of the question these days!
    There are plans afoot for reprinting more old GA strips but in Black Tower Super Heroes amongst more modern day strips. Big collections that do not sell are too much work.
    So keep checking in -you never know what's about to appear!