Friday, 15 December 2017

FROM BELFAST TO BEANOTOWN: PERSONALISED COMICBOOK


What's this?  Is it breaking news of a new Beano strip coming soon from DC Thomson?  Or is it a daring reboot?  Well, don't worry, it's neither of those things and it already happened two years ago and quietly passed you by.  That's because this was part of a special one-off comic for a special birthday "boy".  Namely, me:


A couple of years ago, long before I expanded the blog to cover other comics, my friend Emma (and her dog Izzy) went online to Signature Gifts' website and made up a personalised copy of the Beano for my birthday. Yes, just a couple of years ago so that means this was for my 38th birthday.  Not my 8th.  My 38th.  Hey, we're as young as we feel, right?  Emma was able to substitute the names of three characters with my name, her's and that of our mutual friend, Roger.  Dennis the Menace was unfortunate enough to be given my name and, funnily enough, Roger was the name given to... erm... Rodger the Dodger!  Emma's character I'm not familiar with because it's been years and years since I read the comic, but whoever she is bares an uncanny resemblance to the real person, so that just made it all the funnier for me!:

"Unusually kind" of me?  Thanks Roger!

The basic plot is that Santa and Rudolph, distracted by the warbling of carols by the "softies" Walter et all, puts himself directly in the flight path of Dennis... oh, I mean me and "my" pet dog Gnasher, after a stunt using a homemade ramp shoots us into the air a tad too high.  Gnasher comes up with the idea of getting the help of all the other stars from the comic to help deliver the presents to everyone in Beanotown, but unable to actually communicate this I take the credit:


One part I found particularly funny was this next segment involving Emma's character.  Let's just say this little bit of the script suited her to a tee and was perfect for her character!  Emma and I both agreed and laughed about it together and for this reason I'd highly recommend this.  If you can find it though.  But in the meantime, did the writer somehow know who was going to be portrayed in my copy?!:


With 32 high-quality pages and a thick, glossy cover complete with a small spine, it's a high quality piece and a great idea if you've any young Beano or Dennis the Menace fans in your life.  Or even a 30-something-year-old one.  I'd be recommending this in a heartbeat, but unfortunately it looks like I can't right now.  Signature Gifts seem to cycle through various personalised books and comics and at the moment this particular comic isn't available.

However, there's a wealth of others on their website, such as personalised Beano annuals, lovely looking The Railway Series (Thomas the Tank Engine) books, Horrible HistoriesMinecraft, Winnie the Pooh, Disney and Marvel titles, as well as a staggering amount of non-licenced books, newspapers and more, all completely customisable for gifts.

Or even for yourself.

Tuesday, 12 December 2017

SPREADING CHRISTMAS JOY FOR 30 YEARS!


Can you believe it's been 30 years since this issue of Oink! plopped into the hands of pig pals across the UK?  The issues from this time in the run of the comic are my very favourite, specifically #36 to #44 and The Oink! Book 1988 and I've taken to dubbing it as its Golden Age, although that's obviously just my own personal opinion.

The Naughty, Nasty Noel Issue that was #43 was just a superb festive special.  It stands up perfectly today and is an absolute must-read at this time of the year!  You can pop along and read the post for this issue I wrote back in 2014 which includes some highlights from Haldane, Tony Husband, Charlie Brooker, Chas Sinclair, Dave Huxley, Davy Francis, Mark Rodgers, Ian Jackson and Lew Stringer.

Speaking of Lew, it's also the issue containing the infamous Tom Thug Christmas tree angel, which I cut out of my copy of the comic a few years back and which has been my traditional tree-topper ever since.  In fact it's a bit of a tradition to show him off every year now, so here's Tom looking mighty annoyed at having been placed atop the branch in a somewhat compromising position again, with a rather confused friend looking on this year:


Want to have your own thug looking down on you as you wrap your presents this year?  The cut-out is part of this particular issue's highlights, but for handiness I've included it here for you too.  Just print it out, glue the whole thing onto some thin card (I appear to have suitably used a mince pie box by the looks of Tom's innards) and cut him out.  It's incredibly simple and will definitely get noticed by any visitors!:


That's not all I've covered for Christmas, naturally.  I've always gone a little overboard this time of the year on the blog and as well as the two annuals, The Oink! Book 1988 and The Oink! Book 1989 which both received multi-part write-ups, there's a whole section dedicated to the season in the Extra Stuff page of the Relive Oink! part of the blog.  Here's a direct link to the page in question, just scroll down until you spot Tom again and you'll find a veritable Christmas feast of funnies.

So off you pop and enjoy the selected highlights of Christmas Past!

Friday, 8 December 2017

TRANSFORMERS INSTAGRAM: MONTH #3 of 77

<< GO TO MONTH 2


November was an exciting month in the world of Marvel UK's Transformers weekly 32 years ago, especially now as I look back on it as an adult and a fan of the modern day movies.  Not only did we have five Saturdays and the next Collected Comics special, but the real excitement looking back over these now are all the little ideas and story beats that Michael Bay's movies paid such respect to (some critics should really read up on things before giving off).

The last time I read all of these was just after the first movie and before Revenge of the Fallen, which there's traces of in the storylines below as you'll see.  Now of course, at the time of writing I'm looking forward to receiving The Last Knight for my birthday and the movie's take on the Quintessons (the animation's original story), so obviously they're taking inspiration from both the cartoon and the comics.  But it's neat to see so much being recreated from the pages of this superb title in the kind of big, spectacular fashion we could only have dreamed of back then!

Anyway let's get on with another catch-up session.  Each of the following issue's photos and information went up on my Instagram account every Thursday of the month, on the date of their original release (each issue had the release date of the next issue as its cover date, like an expiration date) and you can follow me by clicking on the logo under my photo if you're viewing the desktop version of this blog.  If you're on the mobile version you can just click here instead.  It's public and you don't need an Instagram account to view it, but if you do have one then these posts will appear on your timeline every week if you follow me.

On with the show.


ISSUE 34


#34: 32 years ago this uninspiring US cover made the front of the Marvel UK Transformers comic, but inside the story from across the pond thrilled fans to the core!

Josie Beller's suit transformed (ironically) her into Circuit Breaker, we got the run down on what it's made from (believable back in the 80s) and what she's now capable of.  Jazz is an unfortunate casualty in her war against all Transformers and she'd continue her robotic-centred fascism in future issues, right the way through to the final one in fact.  But she's a sympathetic character under all that, with real inner trauma making her carry out her cruel justice.

As the comic continues we'd see her change and understand there's two sides, bit-by-bit.  Plus, is that Iron Man in the story??  Um, no, this is the last page of the comic and the cliffhanger to The Machine Man of 2020.  But as the editorial reminded readers, other Marvel characters had already crossed over into the Transformers story!  I'll get back to you with some photos of those cameos (below in Collected Comics #2).


ISSUE 35


#35: This issue we saw the creation of the very first brand new Transformers.  The Constructicons seemed like any other group, but Shockwave had a plan and the editorial hinted at what was to come!  This was also the issue we saw a still yet-to-be-activated Jetfire!  More on that interesting Transformer to come.

G.B. Blackrock was another fave human character (something missing from the modern comics but which the movies get spot on), the attack of his drilling platform by Shockwave injured Josie Beller and set her on the path to becoming Circuit Breaker.

Then there's Bomber Bill.  While this is all we saw this time (his inclusion explained the next week) it's a nice page, showing how even one-story characters got treated as three-dimensional.

Finally, this issue also included a Save the Children plea which appeared in all Marvel UK comics at the time and unfortunately it's one which could still be included today.

On the same day...


COLLECTED COMICS 2


CC#2: This week also saw the release of the second reprint collection, Collected Comics #2.  While not officially designated a "Winter Special", the first was the Summer one and for the rest of the run they'd be given such names.  This one included the second half of the original US mini-series (#5 to #8 of Transformers UK) and with it definitive proof the Transformers were officially part of the Marvel Universe.

We'd already seen the Savage Land in an early issue and they'd later crossover with G.I. Joe and of course Death's Head was created by Marvel UK and first appeared in Transformers.  But for now there's some highlights from Spider-Man's guest appearance!


BONUS POST


I had to post this up at the time too.  It may be from the 80s but there's something awfully familiar about this panel.


ISSUE 36


#36: This was the week Transformers UK introduced us to Devastator!  This huge combined Transformer's debut was rather muted inside, not being drawn much bigger than the regular characters by the American artists for whatever reason.  This wouldn't happen again, he'd tower over them next time, but at least we UK fans got this cover to get the idea across.

They've stolen Earth vehicles to turn to scrap and into a giant satellite dish so Soundwave can let his Decepticon comrades know where they are and call for reinforcements.  Bomber Bill from last issue comes to the rescue and unfortunately is another excellent human character never seen again.

Also this issue a hefty bit of reading for the young target audience, a catch-up for new readers (an awful lot has happened in 35 issues!) and who else had any of these Tell-A-Tale books and cassettes?  For Transformers or any other franchise?


ISSUE 37


#37: So here we see that Buster Witwicky still has the Creation Matrix in his head.  Able to understand machinery and complex science it's driving him crazy, the Decepticons are after him and Bumblebee is out to protect him.  Some things never change, eh?

I love seeing how respectful the movies are to these original stories, how they're referenced all these years later and here we also see the inactive body of Jetfire!  Fans of Revenge of the Fallen will like what's to come.

Also, the first Transformers Annual was on its way to Santa's Grotto for many young fans.


ISSUE 38


#38: Another week and another 32-year-old Transformers UK comic from Marvel.  Jetfire has been built and is programmed by Shockwave to seek out Witwicky and the Creation Matrix in his head, all so that this new, formidable machine can be brought to life properly.  (Have to say I do prefer his aircraft mode in Revenge of the Fallen.)

Sleek, fast, unstoppable.  But not living.  Bumblebee has an idea and sure enough Buster disassembles the giant at the last moment using the power of the Matrix.  He then reassembles it into the alt mode, but not before Bumblebee takes out its "brain".  Still a blank slate (well, cube) Buster is going to attempt to control it to help them rescue Optimus Prime.

In the backup strip Machine Man and the Iron Man of 2020 (no longer Tony Stark) bash it out and on the letters page a young reader mentions how he discovered the comic.  An advert on TV for a comic!  Unheard of from the mid-to-late-80s onwards (in fact Oink! was the first to eschew this and go the "free preview issue" route), does anyone remember it?  Even better, does anyone have a recording?

- - -

With the final issue sitting on top of the baubles I was using to decorate my Christmas tree, we've come to the very end of November.  However, the next issue is already up on Instagram so get over there and have a nosey.  The next monthly round-up on the blog will be with you on (hopefully) Thursday 4th January 2018(!) but before then I simply won't be able to let the Christmas issue and Annual pass... so check back soon!

Thursday, 7 December 2017

THE COMICS SHELVES OF BELFAST TOWN (AND LARNE)

A couple of years ago I wrote a post in the early days of December encouraging readers to go and explore the comics shelves of their local shops, whether they were newsagents, supermarkets, comic stores or local corner shops, or to look into independently published comics and maybe go online and explore the world of digital comics that's exploded these past few years.  I really enjoyed that post and the positive reaction it received, so I'm happy to be back now to add a little bit of an addendum to it... albeit nearly two years later.

Following the likes of Lew Stringer and his Blimey! comics blog and John Freeman of the Down the Tubes website, I often see photographs of messy comics shelves in the likes of Tesco etc., with many of the titles hidden, no promotion given to the comics whose publishers had paid for special spaces, comics thrown onto high shelves out of the reach of the target audience, some comics kept behind the counter out of sight, new titles lost with no chance of discovery... the list goes on.  Basically, they often seem shoved out with no thought and certainly little care.

It's heartbreaking, because we know the comics and comic-magazines are there but the kids aren't getting the chance to discover them.  It's like self-sabotage on the part of the shops.  If they don't display them properly they won't sell, and if they don't sell the shops don't care.  A vicious circle.

Photo courtesy of John Freeman

From Lew, these photos show titles woefully out of reach of the
children who may like them if they could actually browse!

EASON

Now obviously these are just the shops visited by Lew and John and may not be indicative of the majority of comics shelves in England, but it's a tale comics fans hear again and again from many sources.  Sadly, from comments left on such photos it's quite possible it could be a widespread issue.  But I'm very glad to say it doesn't appear to be the case this side of the Irish Sea.  Belfast may not be the biggest city in the world and we may only have one main newsagent these days, but Eason's is such a superb shop I doubt anyone would be able to compete!

Have to say Belfast looks awfully picturesque here!

Located right in the centre of the city a stone's throw from City Hall, it's a big store with a massive book department and coffee shop in the basement and, more importantly, a large magazine section clearly visible from the moment you set foot inside:

Just one of the two floors packed with reading material

I took some photos of the comics shelves a couple of months ago, with every intention of writing about them here at the time but I just never got around to it.  But it's actually worked out for the best. Since then I've been back quite a bit so can happily say the day I was in originally taking photos wasn't a one-off, it really does look like this every single day of the week.  No matter how busy it is, or how big their deliveries of new magazines are, it's immaculately kept.  Also, the delay has given me a chance to take an additional photo of their kids' annuals in the run up to Christmas.

I present to you how comics and comics-magazines should be presented:

The main selection of kids' comics.  All of Eason's shelves aren't too
high and are within reach of children, unlike some supermarkets
where the shelves can even tower above adults.

The latest from Marvel/DC/2000AD take pride
of place on their own end display along with
related titles and comics strips

The opposite end has the titles which are still aimed
primarily at younger girls.  A bright, attention-grabbing
display for potential readers

During a more recent visit I was very pleased to see Dandy
and Beano annuals beaming out at passersby.  This is the display
amongst the comics and magazines, but Eason's is also a book
store and the lower floor beneath this one is chock full of annuals!

Finally for Eason's a couple of related shelves with other magazines
which we know contain comic strips, as well as the partworks which
also include graphic novels and the like.  All easily found amongst
the main displays.

ASDA(!)

The exclamation there is because you don't usually expect supermarkets to really care about the comics displays judging by what many say online.  However, I live right next door to an Asda store and as you can see below the attitude of Eason carries on here too.  Again, they're arranged properly, like-minded titles side-by-side, nothing is out of reach of the kiddies so they can decide what they want to read (rather than the parents choosing which plastic toy inside to buy) and it's neat and tidy with everything visible.  This photo was taken on a Friday evening, a busy time for the store:

This Belfast store is an absolute credit to Asda.  Also worth mentioning
the Tesco store right smack in the city centre has a much smaller
selection but they are equally well-kept

LOCAL NEWSAGENTS (THE BOOK NOOK, LARNE)

There's certainly not anywhere near as many local newsagents anymore these days.  The shop I bought all my comics from as a child in the seaside town of Whitehead is now a Victorian knick-knack store.  But down the coast in Larne town The Book Nook is still going strong.  A nice long display of magazines greets the eyes as soon as you walk in, along with separate sections for partworks and specials.  The shelves do go quite high up, but all of the children's comics and magazines are kept down at their level and well organised.  It's not strange to see children flicking through them and browsing to find out what they want to read... before grabbing one and making their way to the large sweet displays naturally!

On Larne Main Street and doubling as a Post Office it's a busy wee shop too.  It just goes to show it's not only the places with plenty of staff that can look after their comics displays:

With only one or two staff on at any one time, this busy local
newsagent does a fantastic job on this front!

THAT'S (NOT) ALL FOLKS!

With all this above and Belfast adding to its comics stores this past year it's a great time over here!  As well as chain store Forbidden Planet there's two independents, the latest of which is called Coffee & Heroes and is a great wee store where I recently bought the new Ghostbusters Answer the Call comic and the graphic novel of Vampire Free Style (oh I haven't mentioned that yet have I?  More soon!).  Even Atomic, the vintage comic, book and toy store has moved to better premises and I'm hoping to feature it in the New Year on the blog.

The moral of this tale?  There's no excuse for messy comics shelves.  Take care of your comics and people will buy them!  It's not rocket science.  If this tiny part of the U.K. can manage it and see the results, so can the mainland.

So, dear reader, get out there and support the U.K. comics industry in all of its guises.  It's not just newsagent shelves remember.  There's independents.  Graphic novels.  Small press.  Digital.  Just as I said a couple of years ago, with festive issues and annuals aplenty this is a great time to introduce your little ones to the world of comics and all of the wonderful benefits they bring.

To read why I think reading comics was such an important part of my young life, and why I believe it still can be, you can read my post about the Save the Children campaign, Read On Get On.  After that, the post I alluded to above is still here too where I break down all those silly "rules" some people dish out to try to persuade others there's no U.K. industry to support.

Make it an even Merrier Christmas.  Buy a comic!