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 several titles which should be on bookshelves, but at this time are not.
One missing gem is ROBOT ARCHIE by George Cowan and Ted Kearnon. This was a British adventure strip which weathered a few format changes over the years to emerge as one of the most well-remembered British comics of the 1960s.
Robot Archie was the superpowered associate of Professor Ritchie, whose nephew Ted and best friend Ken would use to sort out a number of threats, rannging from bank robbers to saboteurs to alien menaces. Imagine a cross between America's Jonny Quest and Japan's Giant Robo, particularly in its 1960s iteration, and you've got a fair idea of what this strip's about. Lots of derring-do with a pair of morally upright young people, and their egotistical, super-strong robot saving the day.
This is clearly, more so than most of the series I've mentioned in this tag, a strip for younger readers. The artwork, all uncredited but mostly believed to be the work of Ted Kearnon, is very good, and the plots are pretty solid for what they are, but this is really wish-fulfillment stuff at its core, and not particularly complex or nuanced. It's just a basic action-adventure story for ten year-old boys, and for what it does, it works very well.
Robot Archie had a pretty long run for a strip of its kind. It ran for about sixteen years, making an impact on enough readers for the character to be remembered by many creators. Alan Moore used an Archie analogue briefly in Captain Britain, and another version, called Tom Tom the Robot Man, is a recurring character in Paul Grist's Jack Staff. Grant Morrison resurrected Archie in his strip Zenith as a techno-rave robot obsessed with dance music of the late 80s. Most recently, he was seen in Leah Moore and John Reppion's Albion series from 2005-06.
Any proper reprint of Robot Archie would have to be a lengthy one. The character's first appearance was as The Jungle Robot in the first issue of the anthology comic Lion in 1952. This story ran for six months and was concluded, but Archie was revived in 1957. The relaunched strip ran in almost every issue of Lion from then until the comic's cancellation in 1974, along with a host of ancillary specials and annuals which continued for at least another three years. Reprint volumes appeared throughout Europe, with a Dutch version, written and illustrated by Bert Bus, running into the early 1980s. Archie, de Man van Staal was resurrected for a new one-off book in the Netherlands in 2004, but the book failed to launch a new series.
Even with episodes only 2-3 pages each, that remains a heck of a lot of material to reprint even before you consider whether to collect the Dutch episodes. Titan is certainly the first name that comes to mind when considering new publishers. They've had some success with other titles from the period (although the lack of follow-up volumes for The Steel Claw and The Spider / King of Crooks remains a little worrying), but Robot Archie, perhaps more than other titles in their portfolio, has a little shot at appealing not merely to nostalgists but to today's kids. There is certainly more sophisticated fiction out there to appeal to under-tens, but maybe if you catch 'em young, the simple whimsy of Robot Archie could find a new audience. So how about it, Titan?
(Originally posted May 19, 2008, 20:29 at hipsterdad's livejournal.)