Thursday, September 10, 2009

Reprint This! Update on Thunderbirds

The archivist, everything-in-order side of me doesn't approve of them, but Reynolds & Hearn has released the first two volumes in a series of large-format reprints of Gerry Anderson tie-in comics. These feature the lovely artwork of Ron Embleton, Mike Noble, Frank Bellamy, Eric Eden and others, with adventures from the comic versions of Thunderbirds, Stingray, Captain Scarlet and others. These originally ran in 1965-69 in the pages of the anthology TV Century 21 and its sequels and spinoffs. The first volume features an introduction by Chris Bentley, who makes a strong case for including this comic alongside Eagle and 2000 AD as the three most important and influential of British comics.

As a sampler, these are very good books. I finished the first one and enjoyed most of the ten stories in it, though I was disappointed by the reproduction of the Stingray adventure "Haunting of Station 17." I realize that reprinting double-page spreads is a challenge, but it's always a bummer to see artwork and word balloons disappear into a book's gutter. It's made worse when it's such lovely painting by Ron Embleton, and when the pages have an outside margin of about an inch. These could surely have been laid out with a greater inside margin to prevent that happening,

Otherwise, the book is a very good sampler of the comic, with a mix of short stories and the longer epics. It leads with a really interesting Fireball XL5 story which crosses over into both Stingray and Lady Penelope, which instantly disproves the old thought that a similar crossover in Battle Picture Weekly was British comics' first - TV21 beat them by thirteen years! My favorite story in the book was another Lady Penelope serial, drawn by Frank Langford. This, and many of the other stories here, were scripted by regular Gerry Anderson TV scribe Alan Fennell, but there's an interesting Zero X story about a planet of skeleton monsters written by Angus P. Allan, who went on to write the majority of the strips in Look-In during the 1970s and 1980s, which is worth a read. There never was a Zero X TV series; this was the ship that International Rescue and Spectrum had to keep getting out of trouble.

At any rate, Reynolds & Hearn released two volumes of this series in the spring. A third, "Escape from Aquatraz," and apparently focussing just on Stingray episodes, is due before Christmas. I would have preferred straight reprints of everything in their original order - I don't suppose we'll ever get such a thing - but whether you just want to kick back with some nostalgic, escapist fun or would like to reappraise some artwork that was even better than you thought it was, you should certainly check these out.

Read more of what (very little) I've written about Ron Embleton at A Journal of Zarjaz Things.

I have not any real reviews for this book, only previews. If you see a review of it, or post one yourself, let me know and I will list it here.

In other news this month, I do like to make updates when something from the Reprint This! wish list makes it back into print. Rebellion has made this reader at least a little happy by issuing a new, limited edition collection of the first storyline for the grouchy, future detective Armitage by Dave Stone and Sean Phillips. The reprint appears in the freebie "graphic novel" bagged with Judge Dredd Megazine # 287, and it's available in US shops now. If you're going digital, you can purchase PDFs or CBRs of this Megazine and the reprint (130 pages in all) from Clickwheel for just $3.99.

It's been strongly hinted that a follow-up edition, featuring some of the Charlie Adlard-drawn episodes, might appear in another Meg before the end of the year. Hopefully all the time spent adding these episodes to the company's digital archive will count towards a proper bookshelf edition before much longer!

I haven't thought of it in years, but when I was a kid, Dik Browne's H├Ągar the Horrible was one of my family's favorite strips. There have been dozens of paperbacks over the years, but it's finally getting the archival hardback treatment from Titan. The first collection, featuring all the strips from 1973-74, is due in November. Titan's look back at the British wartime strip Jane is finally back on the schedule as well. It was anticipated some months ago but delayed due to production issues. Still no sign of their long-overdue Best of Battle book, sadly.

A few months ago, I passed along the rumor, originally reported by Chris Duffy at the mostly-defunct "Comic Books Are Interesting" blog, that the obscure King Aroo, a delightful, surreal, pun-filled 1950s strip by Jack Kent, might be due for a collection. Publishers Weekly this month confirmed that IDW does indeed have a collection planned for 2010. It's part of their "Library of American Comics" imprint, and other strips selected for 2010 releases include Blondie and Secret Agent X-9. The latter strip was scripted by Dashiel Hammett, the godfather of American detective fiction, and drawn by Alex Raymond, and I've been curious to see it for many years now. Preceding all of these, however, is a collection of a later Raymond strip, the detective drama Rip Kirby, which began in 1946. IDW plans five volumes compiling all of Raymond's work on the title before his untimely death in 1956; the first of these fifty-dollar hardcovers is due late next month, and a second in March of next year.

I enjoyed the volume of Fred van Lente and Ryan Dunlavey's Action Philosophers that I read. I read at The Comics Reporter just yesterday that Evil Twin Comics is releasing a big collection of all three volumes, along with four bonus stories, later in the year. It's wacky, biographical fun, very well drawn, and a great gift for the know-it-all academic type in your life.

The two "Skinny Showcases" from DC that I have mentioned before are both out. Bat Lash, reviewed the other day at my Bookshelf blog and Eclipso are each about half as thick as a usual Showcase for around half the price. Two other anticipated "Skinny Showcases" are off the table for now: the Ramona Fradon Super Friends was cancelled without explanation at the beginning of the summer, and The Creeper was axed in favor of a hardcover, color collection of all Steve Ditko's episodes, including the late 1970s ones from the World's Finest anthology which were not planned for the Showcase. That's due in 2010.

This month's Marvelman update: Kurt Amacker interviewed writer Alan Moore last week, and he certainly seems to think that a collected edition of his old series is in the works. Even if, Alan being Alan, he'd like Marvel to publish the book without his name on it.

Finally this time, assuming Diamond can be trusted to deliver them, Yen Press's brand-spankin' new editions of Kiyohiko Azuma's oddball, addictive family comedy Yotsuba&! should be in stores today. They've reissued the first five volumes and brought out the first English-language edition of the sixth, with at least two more scheduled for 2010.

That's all for this month! See you in October!

Tuesday, September 1, 2009

Reprint This! Grimly Feendish

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 GRIMLY FEENDISH by Leo Baxendale. This 1960s strip had a huge impact on kids who saw it at the time. Feendish was a super-crook, a master criminal who was usually accompanied by bats and spiders and other creepy-crawlies, and when he wasn't confounding the forces of law and order represented by Eagle-Eye, Junior Spy, he was usually being thwarted by Britain's shopkeepers, who had installed special devices and traps to defend themselves against the ghoulish villain always breaking into their stores...

There's very little that I can add to the imagery which I've found to illustrate this article. One part James Bond villain, one part Dick Dastardly and two parts Uncle Fester, Grimly absolutely delighted kids in the 1960s, because kids know there's a great deal more fun to be had being downright rotten than nice.

Baxendale seemed to really understand the gleeful, subversive side to giving children comics which flat-out contradicted every social lesson they'd been told. You'd expect no less from the creator of The Bash Street Kids, and while I'm no expert on any of this material, I know a classic gag strip when I see it.

The rotten Mr. Feendish first appeared in the kids' anthology Wham! in 1964 and spent the better part of four years confounding Eagle-Eye before that strip ended. He also got his own headlining strip which ran for a good while in the similar Smash!, apparently concluding around 1969. Unfortunately, I haven't been able to find a proper stripography for Feendish's days in Smash!, or any other appearances in the Odhams / IPC annuals of the day, but it looks like he was around quite regularly for a time. (Wham! itself looks to have been a terrific comic, which also featured Ken Reid's Frankie Stein, a strip that folk-in-the-know speak of with gleeful reverence.)

At any rate, there's clearly a lot of material out there, and I think both today's kids and comic fans would love to see it again. I think some enterprising publisher could certainly compile a 160-page collection of this stuff for the children's market, and if they take the extra step of including the material in its original publication order, noting its original appearance and giving proper credit to Baxendale, then they'll satisfy the archivist geeks among us as well. Kids still like reading about rotten crooks - the millions who were into those Unfortunate Events books were all secretly cheering on Count Olaf, you know - and so I hope some enterprising publisher like Titan looks into bringing back Feendish for a new generation, and soon!