Tuesday, 17 October 2017

OINK!: A DREDD-FULL COMIC

It's Scream and Misty Eve.  What am I on about?  Rebellion, owners and publishers of 2000AD and Judge Dredd Megazine are resurrecting a gruesome twosome for Halloween this year.  The classic horror comics Scream and Misty are joining forces in one very special comic and it creeps its way onto shop shelves tomorrow!

After the acquisition of Egmont's back catalogue, who in turn had bought Fleetway's comics many moons ago, Rebellion are also the new owners of Oink!, so I thought this was the perfect reason (read: decent excuse) to gather together the few times the fearsome Mega-City One Judge was the subject of our comic's good natured ribbing:


All but one of these have been featured on the blog before but as a special treat for this occasion I thought I'd collect them together in one post, alongside the one strip I hadn't shown you yet, namely this first one below.  Written by co-creator and co-editor Mark Rodgers and drawn with the exact right atmosphere this spoof needs by Steve Gibson, Judge Pigg first appeared in #14.  He was right there in the very first issue of Oink!, and thus first ever comic, my younger self ever bought for himself!  As someone who is now collecting the Judge Dredd Complete Case Files series of books and the 2000AD Ultimate Collection partwork, this now seems like perfect synchronicity!:


I wouldn't have known at the time I first read that strip and neither did I know when I read the issue as part of my blog read-through back in November 2013, but now I can see there's some lovely Easter Eggs in there for Dreddheads.  If you're familiar with Joe in the pages of 2000AD did you spot any of them?  Like the spoofing of the way the blocks are named, the replacement for the eagle usually found on the shoulder of a Judge, or the graffiti reference to a certain perp from Dredd's very first year back in 1977/78?  Great stuff.

So below are the other three times Uncle Pigg's minions set about taking the hand out of future justice, all of which have featured on the blog when those issues were written about.  I'll not bother you with any further waffle from me about them, because I've already done that!  So here then for new readers, or as "another chance to read" for regulars are the return of Judge Pigg in #58 from April 1988 on probably his most important mission to date, Judge Dredd's run-in with Psycho Gran after she finds herself warped into the future courtesy of the mind (and pen) of David Leach and then finally there's David's cut-out Gran doll with various forms of attire included:


From Holiday Special #2 (1988)

From #42, the fashion special from November 1987

It may not be Christmas Eve yet, but it is the eve of something I'm really looking forward to.  Having never read either comic, but knowing they'd have been right up my street, I'm looking forward to my introduction to both Scream and Misty tomorrow.  Expect a full write-up at the end of the month around Halloween itself and click on the banner below to be taken to Rebellion's website with all the information (and one brilliant video advert!) you'll need:


Remember to set your alarms that little bit earlier in the morning, I'm certain you won't want to miss out on this!

Sunday, 15 October 2017

COMIC BOOK HERO: KICKING IT WITH THE KIDS

Released on 1st September this year, the book has a
brand new piece of cover artwork from David Sque

Firstly, I should say I do not like football.  I sometime go see our local ice hockey team here in Belfast, I run and cycle, then every two years I become obsessed with the Winter and Summer Olympics to the degree that I simply don't sleep so I can see as much as possible live.  But aside from these I'm not what anyone would call a fan of sport.  Unless it was on the Wii.  It's important to state this before writing about this book, because if you look into it you might see there's a lot of sporting references within and that might put you off if you don't like sport, but that would be the wrong thing to do.  This is a wonderful read.

Barrie Tomlinson is a giant in the world of British comics.  Recently I've started to (slowly) expand the blog as you'll know and two of the comics Barrie edited are top of the pile, namely Ring Raiders and Wildcat, the former of which is currently part of a fortnightly series of posts.  He also edited Teenage Mutant Hero Turtles Adventures, Mask and Super Naturals, all of which form memories of some sort from my youth.  But these licenced and/or short-lived titles were only the tip of the iceberg of comics Barrie created and this hardback volume sees him take us on a trip down memory lane in the most personal of ways.

The Wildcat spacecraft taking pride of place on the back cover

Lion, Tiger, Roy of the Rovers, Top Soccer, 2000AD, Battle, Speed, The New Eagle, Scream, Mask, Super Naturals, Wildcat, Hot-Shot, Ring Raiders, Teenage Mutant Hero Turtles Adventures, Toxic Crusaders, The Big Daddy Annuals, The Geoff Boycott Annual, The Suzie Dando Annual, Johnny Cougar's Wrestling Monthly, Scorer, one-off specials, magazines, World Cup poster magazines, sports quiz books, greetings cards, Ladybird books... this is a career which could take up several volumes of books full of intricate details, facts and figures, making-of features etc.  But instead what we have here is something much better than that.

 
Lion was a roaring success (sorry)

It's hard to describe Barrie's writing style in Comic Book Hero and do it justice.  To say it's "natural" is to use a well worn cliché and to sell it short.  But it really does feel like he's sitting next to you having a casual chat, reminiscing about his creations, his colleagues and friends, the personalities he met and all the fun he had along the way.  It's an extremely readable book and when you see there's no chapters as such, just the occasional comic title sub-heading in one, big diary of sorts it really stands out as something unique.  Before settling in to read it you may think this is a very brave move on the part of the writer, but just a few pages in you'll come to realise this is the perfect choice for Barrie's particular story and his style of storytelling.

Part of the typed instructions given to Barrie when he was
covering for the holidaying Lion editor

Barrie's work with Fleetway Publications began in 1961 and this book covers everything he worked on right up to 2011(!) and his subsequent retirement from the field.  The majority of the book is taken up with Tiger, the action comic which focussed on sporting stories, but not before we've had some fantastic insights into how the comics of the day were edited thanks to Barrie learning from the likes of Bernard Smith.  Even in times of high work volumes and obvious stress, Barrie is completely respectful and understanding of those he worked for and it's refreshing to read a book which doesn't relish in "exposing" or "bitching" in order to sell.

Now here's a real megastar for this non-sporting reader, the
one and only Eric Morecambe giving Barrie his patented face slap!

As I said I'm not exactly a sports fan, but I found it fascinating to read how loved and respected Tiger was in the world of sport, particularly football and cricket.  Obviously money and exposure would be part of it, but it genuinely reads like a lot of these stars would've taken part for free, such was the fun they had working on the comic as regular writers, as photo stars, at competition days with readers or special Tiger award events.  The photos of these latter gatherings in particular are fantastic and it's amazing to think of all these celebrities, including even the likes of Morecambe and Wise, came together in such a way for a children's comic title.

In many ways it's unfortunate some of his contemporaries accused Barrie of only wanting to further himself by holding such events or inviting stars onto the titles he edited, but as he explains it was all for the comics.  It worked a treat too!  Comics like Tiger and Roy of the Rovers enjoyed long lives and huge circulation figures and the exposure these guest stars brought certainly wasn't to be sniffed at in my view.

When the British Action Force toys and comics became
part of G.I.Joe Barrie's comics created their own original version

It's not all glitz and glamour, although there is a further section at the back of the book where we hear more about the celebrities Barrie met during his career (along with a naked radio interview story which has to be read to be believed).  There's plenty of insider information on the creation of the comics themselves, all delivered through the casual memories of a incredibly talented individual.  For particular interest to me were Barrie's personal thoughts about Ring Raiders' short lifespan, taking the helm of the Turtles juggernaut in the U.K. and some wonderful insider knowledge on the creation of Wildcat.  This takes the form of some Ian Kennedy sketches and the original synopsis for the script of the preview comic given away with the last issue of Oink!

Original Wildcat notes and sketches were a highlight for me

It was also fun to find out about comics I'd never read originally and I found it particularly fascinating to learn about Storm Force.  I'd seen adverts for its Battle comic debut in the pages of other Fleetway publications such as the very one this blog was created to cover.  I knew it was a big deal to the publishers at the time but didn't know why until finding out in the book that their contract to create Action Force comics had come to an end, with Hasbro taking over the toy line to relaunch it as the British version of G.I. Joe.  Here we see some sketches and get plenty of insights into how it came about and I agree with Barrie when he states the characters would've made good toys themselves!

A good example of not only the top celebrities within, but
also of Barrie's self-deprecating humour

Yes, this book covers a lot of comics from the 70s and early 80s, before the likes of Oink! came along, but I can promise you'll find a hugely entertaining and interesting read here.  I didn't discover the joy of reading comics for myself until #14 of Oink! towards the end of 1986, so I wanted to categorically state for any pig pals who were only introduced to the medium at around the same time, that if you collected any comics from IPC or Fleetway in your youth you'll love this.  I can almost guarantee you Barrie had a hand in it.

But it doesn't stop there, Comic Book Hero covers the formation of Creative Editorial Services, when Barrie and his team worked freelance at home creating comics for the publishers.  You'll know I'm covering Ring Raiders at the moment on the blog and to think this was created in the comfort of his own home, I'm insanely jealous of Barrie's job at that time!  Also in here are the later publications Barrie created when he moved on from weekly/fortnightly comics, right up to the final episode of Scorer in the Daily Mirror in 2011 after it ran for an incredible 22 years!

That in itself is a huge achievement.  Indeed, the last section of the book is simply entitled, 'What A Life!' and I couldn't agree more.  From chatting with Barrie about the comics he worked on, both for the blog and over on Twitter, I can say he's an absolute gent, is hugely open about all his work and puts the fans first even to this day.  This all comes across throughout every page of this wonderful, personal book.

If you're a fan of British comics you owe it to yourself to grab a copy of Comic Book Hero.

To purchase it for yourself you can click here to do so on Amazon.

There's also a two-part interview with Barrie here on the blog where he discusses both Wildcat and Ring Raiders, which you can jump to part one of by clicking here.

Ring Raiders still remains a cherished childhood favourite and it's currently being covered, starting with an introduction you can read here.

Saturday, 14 October 2017

RING RAIDERS #3: A CHILLINGLY GOOD READ


Poster segment by Sandy James (we think), Chiller
is by regular cover artist Ian Kennedy

So last time Skull Leader Chiller appeared both in the first story of the issue and on the introductory letters page and I told you how he was a fan favourite, with his Wing being a difficult one to come across in the toy shops.  It was one I missed out on as a kid because of this, but that didn't mean he was any less of a favourite character in the comic.  Think "Megatron" and how difficult he was to get as a toy back then due to demand, but we still loved to hate him in the comic and on the telly!  Chiller was the equivalent for 'Raiders collectors.  Those memories came flooding back with this issue because he's all over this one.  As well as co-starring on the free poster and on the comic-produced advert (both below), he's also on the cover, has his own pin-up inside and is the star of no less than two of the five strips, including as the title character of the complete story, the first Skull pilot to do so.

With a sleek plane equipped with a freeze ray and am equally slick haircut equipped with a white stripe he was the epitome of villainy, probably more so than their leader Scorch at this early stage.  Although to be fair there's only so many pages to develop characters and the comic is slowing moving its way through the large ensemble cast.  Speaking of ensembles, I picked up this issue to read for this post and was pleasantly surprised to feel it was heavier than usual, because the poster was still inside, still attached by its staples!  I had both posters (Ring Raiders were on #2's) on my bedroom wall at the time but we're a bit lost as to who drew them.  I did previously state it was Sandy James but a close look at it and, when comparing it to Freedom Flight I'm not so sure.  Even editor Barrie Tomlinson isn't sure when I asked him, so hopefully I can track the answer down:

The two posters worked well side-by-side on the wall as one
long poster of all the top Wing Commanders and planes

The poster may have looked well on the wall, but to be honest when compared to #1 and then #4 onwards which had some dynamic air action, the covers of this and the previous are rather tame.  Not that I was complaining at the time of course, it was still a novelty to see these toys drawn as full-sized machines.  For the first story inside, part two of Battle Zone '99 we're given the reason for the attack last issue; to de-stabalise the balance of world power.  This was the raison d'être for Skull Squadron from the toys, to take advantage of time travel and attack key targets that would form a future where they could assume control of the whole world.  It was an original idea for the time, even if it's become somewhat clichéd these days.  But this was 1989, looking towards the future of 1999 remember...

Apart from Chiller's toy fact-file stating he often flew missions alone instead of in his Wing, there's no explanation in Barrie's story as to why the usual formations aren't used here, but as an extended introduction to the early days of the comic and some of the Wing Commanders it works really well.  Especially for Chiller, who has already destroyed a sub and killed dozens of people and then gets rescued by Skull Leader Scorch from an ambush:

Carlos Pino's colouring has a lovely energy to it,
perfect for such a high-action comic

His plane damaged, Chiller ejects and ends up parachuting onto the deck of the sub he was about to destroy, where the crew attempt to capture him.  Scorch then flies by and takes a pot shot at the sub, not realising Chiller is on it until it's too late.  He and his captors leap into the water for safety, all of them thinking Scorch was targeting them, but Chiller clambers back on board, kicks the rest into the water and heads towards the inside of the sub looking for its weapons system.  Cursing all the planes in the air, we were left wondering how far he'd go to enact his revenge and would that include Scorch?  These characters' blank slates were slowly getting filled and we were learning what they were all about, so it was anyone's guess as to what was coming up next, and I can't remember.  So I'll have to wait another fortnight.

Next, writer Angus Allan and artist John Cooper continue their epic Trackdown! with part three of this epic tale.  The comic feels so confident here, it not only continues to have two original pilots (unnamed in the toy line) as the main characters at this part of the story, but we also only see the fighter aircraft in one of the final frames of page four.  For the majority of this episode Raider Riley and Skull Runtz stick to a Mountain Forestry helicopter, stolen by Riley when he realises he doesn't have the time to tell the Rangers the fantastical tale and convince them it's the truth.  But it's no less exciting and below you can see how the guest chopper is the main mechanical star this time around:

A cross section of Trackdown Part 3

The story and its characters are the most important thing here, they come first and foremost above everything.  Of course in an action comic you always have to factor in some adventure and we always got that in each issue overall, but if it's pointless and you don't like those taking part it falls flat.  A perfect blockbuster movie for me will contain a good overall story, it can be complicated or it can be simple as long as it's told well, with good characters that are three-dimensional enough to care about what's happening to them.  Without those key ingredients all the special effects and action in the world ends up a boring mess.

It never felt like Ring Raiders' team of writers were trying to shoehorn in the toy planes and the action that the title was based on; this was a proper, quality comic!  Even though we'd no idea at this point how long Trackdown would last, it still felt like the main story.  There was something epic about it only twelve pages in and it stood apart from the other strips. Perhaps it was the fact it was inventing new characters, maybe it was the scope of Skull Squadron's plot, or maybe it was the human element.  Whatever it was, this felt like the comic's star strip and I would be proved right in the end.  More on that in a future post though.

The middle strip was always a page longer than the "main story", although it was a series of complete tales as regular readers of the blog will know by now.  Chiller returns again and now it's his turn to reminisce about an event from his past to paint a picture of his character.  I honestly don't intend for this to be a pun, but this is a rather chilling tale!  This is definitely my favourite out of the profile stories:



It's interesting (to me anyway) to note how it's the same team of writer Scott Goodall and artist John Gillatt that come back every issue to tell us a complete, original story.  Having read back over the whole of the comic's run previously, it's clear each of the serials would be followed with another from the same creative team.  If the comic had lasted longer it would've made for nice consistency and I'd like to think these complete stories would've carried on for months and months and months under the guidance of these two wonderfully creative individuals.  They've settled into a format, starting with a battle in the various aircraft before getting lost in the memories of the protagonist.

CHILLED TO THE BONE

What I really like about this one is how this character, who was just "another evil doer" in the toys, was actually painted as a regular guy with a job (which of course was tied to flying), trying to scrape a living and generally pissed off with life.  Even though he obviously had some kind of inner evil streak given what he shows he's capable of in the end, he most likely wouldn't have ended up in Skull Squadron if he hadn't run into this "American".  I quote that because it's use makes me think Chiller is meant to be British, though I may be jumping to conclusions.

The image of the frozen climber was somewhat shocking to me as a kid and was totally unexpected.  Chiller epitomised Skull Squadron to me.  He's certainly leaving the highest death toll in the comic so far.  Along with Battle Zone '99's sub massacre, actually killing a Ring Raider at the start of this strip, then leaving a man to freeze to death... he was a genuinely evil, menacing presence and after this story we couldn't wait to see him return.  More than ever.

Moving on, pages 16-19 were forever destined to feature stories written by aviation fanatic (and editor Barrie's son) James Nicholas and illustrated with the intricate detail of Don Wazejewski.  Last time I mentioned how the cliffhanger involved Raider "Cub" Jones unconscious in his cockpit, his canopy blown out and Hubbub's Artificial Lightning Guns were baring down on him.  I said how I hoped Cub didn't get out of the situation too conveniently.  Well, he didn't.  He got shot down!:

Don's artwork and Nicholas' love of aircraft combined to bring a
great World War II atmosphere to Bomber Blues

A Raider shot down, the airfield of World War II bombers almost completely destroyed, Skull Squadron returning to finish the job.  Hope seemed lost.  A quick blast into the future shows Ring Commander Vector instruct there to be no rescue attempt, that Cub had a score to settle and would want to do so on his own.  Indeed Cub's craft was repaired just enough to fly again, but the undercarriage had been completely destroyed and the aircraft was up on maintenance stilts.  He had no way of getting it into the air.  That is, until the young, ingenious pilot who'd originally fought in the War came up with the plan in the final photo above.  I loved this as a kid, but now I'm just wondering how on earth the Bomber itself was able to take off when it's clear its own undercarriage wouldn't have touched the ground with the F-5 underneath it!

But anyway, previously I'd mentioned how the letters pages were alternatively hosted by the Raiders and the Skulls each issue, with readers picking sides, leading to some strips having cliffhangers where it'd actually be the Skull Squadron pilot in a life or death moment.  This was the first such case and was a nice reversal of fortune from the immediately preceding issue.

IT'S ALL BEGINNING TO AD UP

Speaking of the Skull Squadron, they were also the stars of the toy advertisement for this issue.  Created by the comic team instead of Matchbox they'd started off rather sparse and dull, but now we were starting to see original comic artwork from Sandy James come into the full-page ads.  I don't know of any other instance of a comic creating the adverts for the property it was based on, but they tied in these tiny planes to the stories in the comic in brilliant fashion.  I do wonder, if the comic and toys had carried on for longer (as they both deserved to) would we have seen this relationship tighten further and where would it have led?  Would we have seen Sandy's artwork eventually on the toy packaging?  Would Barrie and his team have taken responsibility for the tiny fold-out comics we got with our planes?  Just wondering aloud as a fan who really saw their potential and continues to do so to this day:

More unique advertising to come

This issue contains our first letters page with reader content, the aforementioned Chiller pin-up and a coupon to join The Ring Raiders Club, and one of the copies of this issue I have is actually my original and this coupon has been cut out and was sent off back in 1989.  Not that I ever received anything back.  I'll be taking a look at these features in future posts.  For now though, we've got to the final three pages and the strip which has surprised me the most in this read-through; Freedom Flight.

RINGING IN THE ACTION

I enjoyed all these stories when I was younger and again a few years back when I wrote my original Beyond Oink! post, but the ones that really stood out were other strips.  However, this time I'm just being sucked in here more than before and I think it's thanks to a new found appreciation of Sandy James' superb artwork.  Solid, colourful and extremely dynamic in its storytelling, it brings Tom Tully's script blasting out of the page.  Last time former-Russian-pilot-now-Ring-Raider, Commander Kirkov was plummeting towards the fort, his death seemed imminent and so did the successful change of a key moment in history:

Bold artwork and a bold introduction to the
namesake feature of the toys

Now, as I've said before when we played with the toys it wasn't the "power of the ring" in the way you might think from reading that above.  The ring itself didn't have any kind of power source inside it, instead it used the energy of its pilot to boost the plane in times of emergency and/or when extra power was needed.  It quickly drained the pilot's energy though, so could only be used as a last resort, and if used for too long could send him into a coma or even kill him.  The caption above may just be worded poorly though because after Kirkov dramatically pulls up, just missing the fort and taking out a Skull plane in the process, he frantically looks for a place to land his damaged bird before it's too late.

Mako (my second favourite Skull Squadron pilot after Chiller, thanks to his shark-themed motifs and a jet that could temporarily submerge itself in water) doesn't make it easy for him though and uses the above information about the ring to his advantage.  As he keeps Kirkov in the air by continually firing upon him, he screams, "Time's running out, Kirkov!  You can't fly on ring power forever or you'll burn out your own nervous system!".  There we go!  While previously I thought the comic didn't establish the ring properly it's now just proved me completely wrong and I'm very happy about that!  Great stuff.

The time travelling, the pilots and planes from various eras, the aim of the Skulls to de-stablise the world as we know it, and now the rings and the dramatic way they can be used (as well as for other little gadgets and as a pre-Bluetooth comms unit); all of these things were adding up to what could only be a thrilling comic!  For now though it's time to break for another fortnight:


With Kirkov losing Mako in the smoke of battle and landing in an area which seems to be overrun by rebels, the last page closes off another exciting issue.  It's sad to think we're already halfway through the run of the regular comic, but there's many more thrills, tightly scripted plots, great characterisation and amazing artwork to come over the next three issues and the big, fat special next year too!  Strap in and stay tuned!

Issue four will be winging its way to you on Saturday 28th October.