Monday, February 18, 2008

Reprint This! Sapphire & Steel

Reprint This! is a periodic feature where I talk about some out-of-print comic book gems that are not available in collected form for readers to enjoy. This is hoping to let rights owners know that, yes, readers are out here, and we'd like to buy the things we can't get at this time!

Despite such an enormous variety of books available these days, and genuine efforts to present the material in reasonably-priced, archival volumes, there are still countless fabulous series from the US, Britain and Japan which are overdue for new editions. I've selected two dozen titles which should be on bookshelves, but at this time are not.

One missing gem is SAPPHIRE & STEEL by Angus Allen and Arthur Ranson. The title characters are agents of an unknown agency with incredible powers. They're not human. In the TV series that spawned them, they never explained what they were or where they came from, just that they appeared when something went wrong with the flow or order of time and required their presence to correct things.

Sapphire & Steel was the creation of PJ Hammond, who wrote 28 of the British TV series' 34 episodes. It starred David McCallum and Joanna Lumley and was notable for its minimalist sets, casting and special effects, telling its bizarre tales of other-dimensional hauntings and violence with a strange, deliberate pacing that recalled stage plays . Imagine Henrik Ibsen and MR James collaborating on a Doctor Who episode and you're about halfway there.

There used to be this incredibly fun comic called Look-In which featured comic adventures of practically everything which ran on Britain's commercial stations in the 1970s and 1980s, with a lineup of strips including (and I cribbed this list straight from The Look-In Picture Strip Archive) American imports like Charlie's Angels, Battlestar Galactica, Buck Rogers In The 25th Century, The Six Million Dollar Man, The Bionic Woman, Voyage To The Bottom Of The Sea, Knight Rider, Logan's Run and The Man From Atlantis, along with British productions like Space: 1999, The Tomorrow People, Sapphire & Steel, Timeslip, Robin Of Sherwood, Dick Turpin, Worzel Gummidge, The Famous Five, Catweazle, Freewheelers and Smuggler. Most of these strips were scripted by Angus Allen, one of the unsung heroes of British comics, along with several other writers and artists well known to anyone with an interest in the genre, from Gerry Anderson's old collaborator Alan Fennell to John Burns and Jim Baikie, who still put in work for 2000 AD.

Look-In ran for more than twenty years, with all the Sapphire & Steel episodes (76, comprising 14 adventures) appearing over two long runs from 1979-81. No, they aren't as good as the TV series which, while dated, still retains its remarkable power to scare the bejeezus out of under-tens, as my own kids' nerve-racking encounters with it in 2006 demonstrate. But it's still a super, unpredictable comic, with some downright weird and successful art choices by Arthur Ranson. The whole run could fit comfortably in a nice, 160-page hardback. Maybe Carlton Books, who put together that collection of TV21 Thunderbirds episodes, along with some "best-of" collections of British girls' comics like Jackie and Girl, could find a market for this*? So how about it?

The Look-In Picture Strip Archive is certainly worth a look. Its incomplete S&S archive satisfied me until I obtained a complete set of scans. They really would be improved by adding more material (they only have 36 of the 216 Tomorrow People episodes), but it's still a good source for examples of some other rare comics that need to be reprinted. Give 'em a visit!

And special thanks to my anonymous reader who prompted me last week to write this entry... whoever y'all are!

(Originally posted February 18, 2008, 19:20 at hipsterdad's livejournal.)

* ETA: Once again, my lack of knowledge about what's available in the UK confounds me. Turns out there is actually a "Best of Look-In" book from Carlton, which contains a three-part Sapphire & Steel story. It was released in September 2007. So there you go, Carlton's already ahead of me here. Now get the rest of the stories out, guys!!