Thursday, 21 June 2018

FROM IRON MAN TO BIG EGGO: 35 YEARS OF LEW


What do these three seemingly unrelated 80s comics have in common?  Apart from being three of my own personal favourites, they include the work of a certain Lew Stringer.  Anyone who grew up with comics in the 80s will tell you the man was everywhere!  He was certainly a constant in my own comics.

Oink! was my own first comic title and through it I got to know Lew's classic Pete and his Pimple and Tom Thug, obviously, but when The Real Ghostbusters came along I felt it was given an air of legitimacy by having Lew's take on Slimer in those early issues after seeing his Robo Capers and Combat Colin in the pages of their Transformers comics.  Of course I'd soon add that comic to my growing list too!

Well, Lew is celebrating this week as it marks the 35th anniversary of his first professionally published work in the pages of Daredevil comic in June 1983.  Below is just a snippet of that first piece, the full image you can see by clicking on it and going to Lew's own personal blog, where he reminisces about his career to date and that first, fateful published work:

Click to be whisked to the full image on Lew's blog

One of the greatest things about doing this blog has been getting the chance to chat to and get to know those whose work I not only grew up with and which formed an important part of my life, but who I greatly respect.  Through this I've been able to make some true friends and I'm so pleased to be able to count Lew among them, finally getting the chance to meet him in person at last year's Enniskillen Comic Fest.

Working away in the likes of Beano (where he's resurrected the very first Beano character, Big Eggo), Doctor Who Magazine, Toxic and the just-about-to-lauch Goof!, Lew is still leading the way in British humour comics and any fans really should make sure they check out both his Lew Stringer Comics blog for insights into his work past and present, and his Blimey! blog for entertaining and informative posts about the UK comics scene from all eras.

To finish off for now, here's all five Oink! covers Lew drew for our favourite comic, the first being his first for any title!  Happy anniversary Lew and here's to many more years of the Lewniverse to come!

Sunday, 17 June 2018

PSYCHO GRAN RETURNS: BRAND NEW COMIC


She's back!  So it appears I was wrong when I said the original Psycho Gran Vs was a one-off when I wrote about it back in February 2016.  Oink! cartoonist extraordinaire David Leach has announced a second issue, called Psycho Gran Versus: Volume II is almost finished, with a hopeful release date to coincide with this year's London Film and Comic Con taking place between the 27th and the 29th July.

Just like the first issue, this is a collection of beautifully detailed, full-colour spreads of Psycho Gran meeting famous fictional figures from various entertainment worlds, always in her own inimitable style.  For example David has been sharing some images on his Twitter feed which have included the old dear alongside Captain America, the Fantastic Four, Luke Skywalker, even Charlie Brown and there's her own take on Sharon Stone from Basic Instinct.  More guest artists have also been lined up, this time including Doug Braithwaite, Alex Saviuk, Tom Mandrake, Paul McCaffrey, Chris Browne and others.


So make sure you follow David on Twitter to check out the latest teases of this comic before its official launch.  At the comic con he'll also be selling copies of his The Dinner Ladies from Hell graphic novel, a strip from the ill-fated Toxic comic (not the one that's still on sale now) from 1991.  I haven't read this particular strip myself but according to Wikipedia, it's "The Omen and To the Devil a Daughter crossed with Ripping Yarns.  In a nutshell, the wives of the Four Riders of the Apocalypse have six days, six hours and six minutes to corrupt seven children with the deadly sins and only one man and God's cookbook stand in their way."

Sounds very David!

In the meantime you can catch up on the previous comics from Psycho Gran by going to the New Material section of the blog where there's write-ups on the previous Versus title, as well as #1 and #2 of her comic strip title and a look at her appearances in Aces Weekly.

MEET THE BLOG STARS

As for that little convention thingie in London, if you can get there you'll be at a loss for who to visit for a signing or drawing first!  For readers of this blog, some guests who may be of particular interest alongside David are Lew Stringer and John McCrea (who guest-starred in #64 of Oink!).  For anyone following my Transformers Instagram series there's writer Simon Furman and artists Geoff Senior, Mike Collins, Stephen Baskerville (who was also an artist on The Real Ghostbusters) and Lee Sullivan.  Beano legend Nigel Parkinson will be there alongside one of my favourite artists of the current comic, Ruby's Screwtop Science's Cowgirl Em.  The hilarious Ian Richardson who I met at last year's Enniskillen Comic Fest will also be in attendance, as will Aces Weekly editor David Lloyd.

Wednesday, 13 June 2018

DAVEY JONES ON LEO BAXENDALE: LISTEN NOW!


Ah, the unmistakable style of Dave Jones and the brilliant The Kingdom of Trump from the pages of Oink!, this particular strip being a classic and a favourite of mine.  A regular contributor to Viz, Davey was recently a guest on the Rule of Three podcast, the description of which reads as follows:

"Comedy writers Jason Hazeley and Joel Morris talk to people who make comedy about something funny that they love.  Guests pick a TV show, a film, a book, an album or a comic that means something to them.  Maybe we find out something about how comedy works.  Maybe there's just a lot of giggling."


Sounds good to me!  So what was Davey invited on to talk about?  That would be the work of legendary comics artist Leo Baxendale.  Thanks to David Leach for letting me know this existed!  It's a great listen, an hour of Davey and the presenters reminiscing about the strips of Leo's, his style, working methods and his completely insane sense of humour.  You may have doubts about how well an interview about a visual medium (and indeed a very visual comedic artist) could work, but trust me it really does.  While it does discuss various comics he worked on, the podcast focusses mainly on The Beano and Leo's own Willy the Kid books, which I must try to track down based on the details the team chat about here.

Leo Baxendale's Nellyphant from an issue of Funny Fortnightly

There's some chat about Davey's own career including Viz and Oink! too, making this an unmissable slice of comics talk which is available for free right now on Apple podcasts.  The reasons and working methods behind the creation of his Vibrating Butt-Faced Goats is worth the download on its own.

But obviously the main event is Leo's work and they do a brilliant job of really firing your imagination and any old grey memory cells you may have left and you're soon picturing his detail-laden panels.  The imagery they've painted in my mind for Willy the Kid has me excited about the possibility of reading them one day, I'm sure the same will happen for you too.  This is all interspersed with some snippets of Leo himself being interviewed during his heyday which are the icing of the cake, so go get this downloaded now for your next bus journey/car journey/bath right now!

To finish off, here's one more strip from the mind of Davey and the pages of Oink! and it's a corker!  If you haven't read it before you're in for a real treat with the Monty Python-esque Phantom Moose-Napper:

Sunday, 10 June 2018

JAMES NICHOLAS INTERVIEW: WRITING RING RAIDERS


Ah, welcome back to the world of the time travelling Ring Raiders, featuring the very best pilots and aircraft from every era of aerial combat, where The Command Was In Their Hands!  I adored these toys and was ecstatic when their very own comic appeared from Fleetway in September 1989.  It was criminally short-lived, but even today stands as testament to the very best in British comics from the time.  Superb storytelling was at the centre of this epic comic.

With its huge ensemble cast, near limitless possibilities and turning small plastic 'planes on rings into fully rounded, three-dimensional characters in compelling stories it was not a small task and editor Barrie Tomlinson assembled the very best!  This included James Nicholas, pen name for James Tomlinson, acclaimed writer for EagleBattle and Scream!, as well as the man behind one of my favourite stories from this favourite comic of mine, and son of the aforementioned editor.


A huge "aviation nut" according to Barrie, this seemed like the perfect comic for James to work on, surely!

"With the aviation connection, Ring Raiders really did stand out for me amongst so many here today, gone tomorrow, titles," begins James.  "Thanks for the questions, an interesting selection!  I'm glad to try and answer them, it does bring back some great memories of marvellous times long ago.  So good to hear that Ring Raiders was, and still is, appreciated so much by those that read, and continue to read, the title.  It makes us writers (and artists I am sure) so nostalgic and proud.  It was indeed so sad (I'd use the word tragedy, but that may be a bit too far!) Ring Raiders lasted only a handful of issues, it deserved a longer print run for sure.  Many others clearly think the same!"

They did indeed James, they did indeed!


James very graciously, not to mention rather excitedly, agreed to answer some questions about this brilliant comic which unfortunately launched at a time when comic sales across the board were in decline and it seemed nearly every one I started to collect didn't last long.  The fact it remains as my favourite (other than Oink!, obviously!) comic all these years later is testament to its quality.  That's not a case of rose-tinted glasses either, as you can read in the series of posts I wrote last year covering every single issue, with the second half of the Special still to come as of the time of writing.

A top comics writer, a favourite childhood toy, an ace comic based upon it with a huge fan of all things aviation at the helm of some of those action-packed stories.  I was looking forward to this interview and James was not to disappoint!  So let's begin.

- - -

The Oink! Blog and Beyond: It was great to hear you're still an aviation nut and have fond memories of your time working on Ring Raiders.  Are there any particular ones which stand out for you today?

James: Yes, indeed I'm still very much an aviation nut after all these years!  Rather than just one story, I think it was the whole concept that really stood out for me.  Pilots and aircraft from different eras locked in mortal combat in contrasting time zones all over the globe.  It really had the makings of a long-running and thrilling sky-based adventure which seemed to be just what the kids back then would have loved.  Well, that's what I think anyway!

TOBaB: What was the process like when a new licence came through, to get up to speed on everything you'd need to know about something like Ring Raiders?  I imagine it wouldn't have been a very long timeframe before having to start producing stories?

James: With these sorts of stories, based on toy products, there's really no definite answer to this one.  It varied so much.  Sometimes we were given a lot of information about the characters and storylines, other times there was much less for us to go on.  Of course, in the latter scenario, this could be a good thing as it allowed writers to use their own imagination more and pad out things with their own ideas.  Again, the amount of time we got to read up and prepare for something new like Ring Raiders varied hugely.  Often there had to be a very quick turnaround with the stories, on other occasions we had months to get things just right.


TOBaB: You very kindly sent me a Ring Raiders folder from the licence holders you used at the time (coming soon blog readers) and as far as the characters themselves it's very scant on details for each, basically consisting of the information from the toy packaging.  Did you get any more to go on, or was it up to you as a writer to embellish them as you saw fit?

James: From what I recall, there was indeed not a great deal to go on with the characters from Ring Raiders, so it was a case of each individual writer embellishing the characters.  Obviously, if the licence holders didn't like what the writer had done with the characters they could object and ask for changes, which did happen on a fairly regular basis (although not so much, thankfully, with Ring Raiders).


TOBaB: Ring Raiders was like an anthology comic in many ways.  Who came up with the story ideas and chose the characters you'd focus on in each one?  The reason I ask is because your first story, 'Bomber Blues' is set in World War II in the same year as the the main hero of this tale, 'Raider pilot Cub Jones had originally been beamed away from to join the air force of the future.  It's also chock full of B-17 Fortress Bombers fighting modern day jets and classic prop planes.  It just seems the perfect choice for a writer fascinated with aircraft.  Was this your doing?

James: I think most of the basic story ideas came from the writers themselves, apart from those that, say, focussed on the early life stories of the individual heroes and villains.  Those were probably more down to Editorial decisions.  Bomber Blues was very much my sort of story, with all my kind of ingredients.  I'd always been a fan of stories about the Flying Fortress of WW2.  This big 'plane with a big crew and a ton of guns really caught my imagination.  Searching my dusty old memory banks, I seem to recall there was a serial story in Battle about an American Flying Fortress squadron flying out of wartime England which I always enjoyed.  To have a Flying Fortress going up against jet fighters from the future was just perfect in my eyes.  I'm sure I had a lot of input into this story choice!


TOBaB: Both of your published stories were beautifully illustrated by Don Wazejewski, how did that come about?  Did you write your stories and they were assigned to Don or did you work together more closely to produce the final product?

James: It was just luck that a great artist like Don Wazejewski was chosen to illustrate Bomber Blues.  Certainly, in my time writing I never worked closely with the artist who would eventually illustrate my work.  We always worked very much apart.  Many lucky artists lived abroad in the sun anyway and it wasn't so easy to keep in touch as it is today; no internet, emails or social media back then!  I always thought the many different artists who converted my (sometimes difficult!) ideas to a finished visual work did a superb job.  I wish I could have produced work half as good as they did.  Unfortunately I've never had any drawing talent at all (always a bit of a drawback if you want to become an artist!).  Artists like Joe Colquhoun, John Cooper and Sandy James were at the top of their game (the latter two also produced some stunning work for Ring Raiders - Phil).  I take my hat off to their much missed talents!

TOBaB: You second (and unfortunately final) published tale, 'Castle of Doom' involves more time travel into the past and a plot by Skull Squadron to undermine the then-future formation of their arch enemies.  It seemed to be setting up a larger scale story in the background, like it was part of a long-term plan.  Was this the idea behind it, as something you could return to at a later date?  Or am I reading too much into it?

James: Once again, Castle of Doom was just my cup of tea when it comes to a story.  Travelling back in time to change what will happen in the future has always intrigued and interested me.  Maybe because I watched a lot of Doctor Who and The Time Tunnel when I was a youngster!  I really don't recall if there was any plan to make this story part of a long-running adventure (like my story Operation Deep Cover which I wrote for Battle Action Force) but it's an interesting idea.  Perhaps you should have been on the Editorial team and suggested it, Phil!

TOBaB: Oh if only!  Once the 'Raiders perfect time travel I'll see you then!



TOBaB: In that story the main characters are the Ring Raiders' Yakamura (in the X-29 fighter) and the Skull Squadron's ghoulish Wraither (in the P-51 Mustang).  These two characters' craft were in a two-plane 'Starter Pack' which was how I started collecting the toys as a young child.  Is this a coincidence or was it set up by Those Characters From Cleveland/Matchbox that these two were personal enemies?  There's nothing in the licence folder to indicate it, but as a child it was a thrill to read your story as these were my favourite planes.

James: I'm almost certain that the Yakamura X-29/Wraither P-51 Mustang were deliberately chosen to go up against each other in this story given they could be bought together in a Starter Pack.  The idea was probably to encourage youngsters (such as yourself!) to go and buy the X-29/P-51 combo (then available in all good toy shops) and re-enact the dogfights from Castle of Doom.  Whether this decision was down to Those Characters From Cleveland/Matchbox/someone in Editorial or even the humble writer is lost long ago somewhere in the clouds!


TOBaB: That's amazing!  The fan in me just grinned from ear-to-ear at that!  For UK fans you all really were responsible for developing the characters beyond the toys.  Did the licence holders ever ask for any alterations at the approval stage which personally affected your work?  I know Barrie has already told me the people behind Ring Raiders were a lot more understanding than most.

James: I'm glad the then young UK fans appreciated our efforts to flesh out the characters from what was perhaps a not-so-detailed starting point.  Licence holders could often be very fussy about things and ask/demand/insist that changes were made.  Usually this was at the script stage although, when deadlines were tight, sometimes the artwork had already been completed.  I'm thinking of Teenage Mutant Hero Turtles comic here rather than Ring Raiders.  Last minute changes to the actual artwork were usually impossible, given that many artists lived on distant shores and there was just no scope to alter things late in the day.  We'd usually say we'd take on board their comments and make sure we did things properly next time!


TOBaB: Barrie also told me you were responsible for the Photo File series, which unfortunately only started in the final issue and the Special.  The comic really seemed to get a new found confidence with that sixth issue so I was gutted it was the last one, I was looking forward to seeing how it would develop further.  Can you remember any plans you or the team had for stories or the physical comic itself beyond these early issues?

James: Yes, I was behind the Photo File series, I'd produced similar types of aircraft fact files for other titles in the past.  Again, this was right up my street as I obviously had more than a little(!) interest in the subject matter.  I was disappointed only a couple of these were completed, the P-51 Mustang and the F-104 Starfighter, the latter for the Special.  The Starfighter was another of my all-time faves, a really special 'plane which had the nickname 'The Rocket With A Man In It'!  I do agree that Ring Raiders was getting better all the time and the sudden end of the title was a real shock to us all.  What the long-term future held for the title is difficult to say with any certainty.  I would have hoped it would have gone from strength to strength as we got more used to the characters and expected storylines.  There was just so much scope with all that dogfighting action through the centuries!


TOBaB: Finally, Barrie gave me some details of unpublished stories which were being worked on when the comic was cancelled.  There was apparently a Christmas story and another called 'Blow Bubbles' which were written by yourself.  Can you remember anything about them?

James: There were at least three of my stories for planned future issues which were sadly unpublished.  Apart from Blow Bubbles and the untitled Christmas story, there was also a story called Hijacked.  Unfortunately, I don't recall anything about any of them!  I'm not even sure what stage the stories had reached, whether I'd finished or even started writing one, two or all three.  I'm afraid the three tales have disappeared into 'The Bermuda Triangle' of unpublished writing!

- - -

Thank you so much James for this brilliant interview and your detailed, enthusiastic answers!  It's been great to bring this comic back to life through the blog and to give it the appreciation it so clearly deserves.  If it had continued I've every faith it would've evolved into a title to rival any licenced fare in the UK, including even Marvel's Transformers.  With a toy line which proved very popular here but unfortunately less so in its home country of the US, and the aforementioned problems with comics sales in general in the UK, in a market which seemed to be getting saturated with new licenced comics, it was sadly not to be.

But I'm here to celebrate this comic, not mourn it.  I hope I've been able to do justice to it and its amazing creative team assembled by Barrie and there's a lot more to come folks!  So if you grew up with the toy line, loved the comic as I did, or are simply curious to find out more about this oft-forgotten gem, stayed tuned.  In the meantime I'll leave the last word for James:

"It's been a pleasure spending time revisiting the history of Ring Raiders.  Those were great days!"

TRANSFORMERS INSTAGRAM: MONTH #9 of 77

<< GO TO MONTH 8


It feels like so long ago since last we paid a visit to the Autobots and Decepticons in Marvel UK's Transformers because I've been ramping up the content being posted on the blog.  In catching up on things I've been meaning to write for a few months, it feels like it's been a very long, but hugely enjoyable May.  It certainly was for Transformers fans back in 1986 that's for sure, with this little treasure trove of goodies arriving week by week and now getting photographed for Instagram:


On a personal level this month has been particularly enjoyable for me.  Previously I'd been scanning over each issue, seeing what particularly grabbed my attention from within its 24 pages and taking photos of those things to publish on my personal Instagram account.  But I decided the best way of choosing which images to sum up each issue with could only really come from rereading them (I'd read issues 192+ many moons ago and then the whole run about ten years ago), which was the perfect excuse to go right back to #1 and catch up on every issue so far!

It's been great fun.  The only downside being that I was so used to reading several every day I then found it so hard to wait a full week for the next issue, especially after a cliffhanger!  I know, I know, seven days is nothing compared to the monthlies you read now, but I kept the promise to myself for the last couple of issues in May and from now on I'm only reading each 'new' issue on the day I'm taking photos of them.  That day is every single Thursday, with the whole month being summed up on the first Thursday of the next.  Okay, this one is three days late but I was away cat-sitting.  Forgive me.

ISSUE 60
3rd May 1986


#60: Great character-driven stuff this week!  Buster Witwicky is up against it, facing the might of Shockwave and it's terrific stuff!  The sense of scale and danger are immense and it must've been truly terrifying for young readers back in 1986.  Loving the depth given to the logical, monotone Decepticon here thanks to Simon Furman's writing, Barry's artwork somehow conveying it all perfectly even without any facial expressions!

Brilliant stuff and I'm only disappointed this story didn't stretch beyond two issues.  Rounding it off here is another of those classic hand-drawn (no photos for toy ads back then, folks) Hasbro advertisements, this time for the new range of Combiners.  Did anyone have these?  I never did get enough to combine any.

Cover by Barry Kitson
Robot Buster!: Part Two pencils by Barry Kitson, inks by Tim Perkins and colours by T.M. Cooks

COMMENTS HIGHLIGHT: @stealexanderuk "Love how Menasor is giving Bruticus advice in that last panel (the advert) rather than actually helping; "Shoot 'em, Bruticus!"

ISSUE 61
10th May 1986


#61: The Constructicons and the Autobots at a Demolition Derby.  It's Knight Rider meets Transformers!  Very 80s indeed.  Will Simpson's artwork and Mike Scott's gorgeous colouring bring this 32-year-old tale to life even today.

In the movies the Transformers can project inner holographic images of humans on top of their mechanics when in disguise, but back in Generation One they used instantly inflatable facsimiles (think Airplane!) and one is used to great comedic effect here.

Never heard of this Biggles movie until I saw these old comic strip ads, which seem to tell the whole movie plot over several weeks!

Cover by Will Simpson
Devastation Derby!: Part One art by Will Simpson, with colours by John Burns

COMMENTS HIGHLIGHT: @goose2041 "[I saw Biggles], it's not great, the script was rewritten to add in time travel following the success of Back to the Future around that time, it's often on satellite on the free movie channels, probably worth a watch, very 80s."

THE COMPLETE WORKS:
VOLUME 1
April 1986


CW#1: A big day for Transformers fans in the UK 32 years ago, with the next weekly comic (below) and the first hardback book of a new series: The Complete Works.  Reusing the be-a-u-tiful first issue cover from Jerry Paris, new inside covers of Cybertron and a full colour reprint of the first US strips from issues 1 to 8 of the UK run.


Strangely, they mustn't have had access to the original strip anymore, because that panel above the double-page is taken from a much later issue (#42, in the last photo there) with the text rewritten and you can see it's a different letterer.  The spread was used as a poster in #2 of the UK comic, the Transformers logo in place of whatever the original panel was and so they must've reprinted it from that issue instead of the original US comic.  Weird.

Cover by Jerry Paris
The Transformers and Power Play pencils by Frank Springer, inks by Kim DeMulder and colours by Nel Yomtov
Crisis of Command!: Part One panel art by Geoff Senior, coloured by Steve Whitaker

ISSUE 62
17th May 1986


#62: Another 32nd anniversary for Transformers UK today with a cracker of a strip and a belter slice of action.  Simpson's great sense of scale with Devastator is apparent throughout and really ups the ante!  Soundwave also brings his bite from the letters page to the strip.

Rocket Raccoon's new story is still insane.  I mean, come on, check out that first page!  The Marvel UK Transformers comic team have been building to the "Second Generation" (long before there was an actual Generation Two) and the next issue commands a full-page preview as a result.

Cover by Robin Smith
Devastation Derby!: Part Two art by Will Simpson, colours by John Burns
Rocket Raccoon: The Book of Revelations pencils by Mike Mignola, inks by Al Milgrom and colours by Christie Scheele

ISSUE 63
24th May 1986


#63: 32 years ago today (as of the date of the original Instagram post) issue 63 was a special issue behind a bland cover.  A free sticker booklet of the new Combiner toys (I only had Drag Strip and I loved it!) and a 3-page feature for new readers attracted by the marketing push from Hasbro and Marvel.


The US introductory strip would take a while to get here, so to plug the toys in the UK we got an exclusive tale of Buster Witwicky's terrifying (but gorgeous looking) Creation Matrix-enduced visions.  Optimus Prime was then hooked up to have a gander, save his friend and be inspired!  A clever fix and it added layers to the upcoming US stories.

Cover by Alan Stevens from Hasbro artwork
Second Generation!: Part One art by John Stokes and colours by Josie Firmin

ISSUE 64
31st May 1986


#64: This issue continued the theme of having to promote the new combining Transformers toys before the US strip reached these shores and without contradicting it, so cue dream sequence!  The impressive toys weren't brilliantly drawn though (the cover was a lot better), just bland robots with cars stuck on them.  They'd get better.  Megatron looks exceedingly shiny though!

Elsewhere Soundwave answers a letter with the first hints of Transformers: The Movie, Rocket Raccoon gets more and more bizarre (who doesn't love a deer flying its own personal hovercraft in the background as if that's normal) and who remembers these strange birds from the Kia Ora adverts?

Cover by Geoff Senior
Second Generation!: Part Two art by Barry Kitson and Tim Perkins, with colours by "W&P"
Rocket Raccoon: The Book of Revelations! pencils by Mike Mignola, inks by Al Milgrom and colours by Christie Scheele

COMMENTS HIGHLIGHT: @stealexanderuk "Holy cow!  They snuck in Sam and Max years before the PC game"


I'm only one issue in to June at the time of writing and already it's shaping up to be quite the follow-up to May!  The first issue (the only one I've reread yet again for this project) sees Megatron and Shockwave finally duking it out after teases for months and months, which also somehow manages to have one of the funniest panels the comic would ever produce.  Oh and I mean intentionally funny too!  There'll also be another extra issue, the third month in a row to have one, when the next Collected Comics makes its appearance, so make sure you check out my personal Instagram account (no need to sign up to look at it) or come back here next month for the round up.