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Sunday, December 31, 2017

Commando issues 5083-5086

Commando issues released 28 December 2017.

Brand new Commando issues 5083-5086 are out now! Jump into action with shoot-outs in the snow sheathed tundra, Commando bank heists in Tuscany, “Devil Dog” dealings in Belleau Wood and a nasty hostage situation in the Channel Islands…

5083: Terror on the Tundra
With German Alpine troops and Finnish Sami soldiers prowling the Russian Tundra, the Eastern Front was a hard place to fight – but that didn’t stop British Navy Engineer Gavin Wright and Royal Artillery Corporal Jim Nolan from joining in. Marooned in the Kola Peninsular, their search for engine parts to fix their ship was held up by a new terror on the tundra – a German Landwasserschlepper equipped with a sPzB 41, that certainly packs a punch. Now, working with the Russians to defend their line, Gavin and Jim may have uncovered a secret weapon of their own…
    With stylish interior artwork by Castro and Morhain complimenting George Low’s hyperborean story, the bleak snowscapes and thunderous blizzards of the Russian tundra come alive. Meanwhile, David Alexander’s cool cover shows these awesome winter terrain vehicles in action, their guns at the ready! 

Story: George Low
Art: Castro & Morhain
Cover: David Alexander

5084: Strike Swift Surge Sure
They called Archibald Bull an assassin. It wasn’t the first time an officer had died on one of his missions. But Bull didn’t have time for these men. He was an explosives expert Commando and he didn’t let anyone tell him what to do. But with a lifestyle like that, it wasn’t long before Bull made enemies in high places. Now, tongue lashed Bull is told that some Royal Engineer Sergeant has come to take his place as explosives expert… but we’ll see who the real boss is!
    With Penalva’s gritty barbed wire cover, the tone is immediately set for Eric Hebden’s story of one headstrong Commando with a knack for demolition. This is only solidified in Bellalta’s detailed interior art – you can almost feel the heat of the explosions!

Story: E. Hebden
Art: Bellalta
Cover: Penalva
Originally Commando No. 441 (November 1969) Reprinted No. 1287 (January 1979)

5085: Devil Dogs
The Germans called them “Teufel Hunde” or “Devil Dogs”. It was thanks to their fearless tenacity that the U.S. Marine Corps earned this iconic nickname, as they marched straight into German machine gun fire in their battle to reclaim Belleau Wood in the First World War. And leading one such squadron was Johnny Diamond, a professional riverboat gambler from New Orleans, but one way or another, he would have to learn to trust his fellow Marines and take charge if they are to survive.
    Janek Matysiak’s dynamic cover showcases the gritty action of the issue, which really hits hard in Richard Davis’ story, portraying the battle as relentless from the moment the Marines reach France, never stopping until victory – or death take the men. And, completing the triad is debut illustrator for Commando, Paolo Ongaro, whose interiors are incredibly stylistic, combining halftone shading and unique compositions – one standout panel showing the silhouetted Marines viewed through the long grass, the moon acting as the only source of light.

Story: Richard Davis
Art: Paolo Ongaro
Cover: Janek Matysiak

5086: Blood Hostage
Trapped on a German-occupied Channel Island, three unlikely allies must work together if they are to rescue an imprisoned British Officer who may have key Intelligence regarding something called “Operation Torch”. One man is a Russian prisoner of war, whose hulking appearance makes him a formidable foe for the Germans; another is a wheelchair bound local, mistakenly underestimated by the Nazis; and the final member is just a young boy, who happens to possess an ace shot with a catapult…
    Taking on the Commando writer mantle, like his father before him, Alan Hebden’s ‘Blood Hostage’ may feature tongue-in-cheek wit, but remains grounded as the threat always feels real. Likewise, interior artist Garijo’s faces are charmingly expressionistic, while the quintessentially English villages on the Channel Islands are incredibly detailed and lifelike.

Story: Alan Hebden
Art: Garijo
Cover: Ian Kennedy
Originally Commando No. 2721 (December 1993)

Paul Temple and the Barracombe Boxes part 14

Saturday, December 30, 2017

Jim Baikie (1940-2017)

Jim Baikie, best known as an artist for Look-In, 2000ADndash;where he painted the adventures of Skizz, an alien lost in Birmingham–and Star Wars: Empire's End for Dark Horse, died on 29 December 2017, aged 77.

Jim Baikie (1987)
James G. Baikie, born in the Orkney Islands on 28 February 1940, served as a Corporal with the RAF in 1956-63 before joining a printing company. Baikie joined Morgan-Grampian studio as an artist in 1964 and was an illustrator for the National Savings Committee in 1965-66.

He began his career as a comic strip artist drawing for Fleetway Publications' girls' comics in the mid-1960s, producing romance and biographical strips (e.g. The Small Faces, The Herd) for Valentine. Over the next decade he drew strips for Lady Penelope, Look and Learn, TV 21 & Joe 90, June, Tammy, Sandie and House of Horror, his work including a brief run adapting Star Trek, drawing Doctor Who and Dan Dare for annuals and, in between, drawing 'Gymnast Jinty', 'The Reluctant Nurse' and 'No Time for Pat' amongst many other stories for girls. Baikie was one of the leading artists for Jinty in the late 1970s, his strips ranging from the bizarre 'Spell of the Spinning Wheel' (sports meets horror!) and the ecological SF of 'The Forbidden Garden'.

Baikie then made a name for himself in the pages of Look-In, drawing adaptations of Charlie's Angels, CHiPS, The Fall Guy and Terrahawks. At the same time he came to prominence in 2000AD with the Alan Moore-penned 'Skizz' and, in Warrior, the Steve Moore-penned 'Twilight World', which led to work for DC Comics in New York.

He subsequently drew Batman, New Teen Titans, The Spectre and other major characters. Other notable strips by Baikie include 'New Statesmen' for Crisis in the UK, Star Wars: Empire's End for Dark Horse Comics and 'The First American' in Alan Moore's Tomorrow Stories anthology.

Baikie won the 1983 S.S.I. Award as Best British Adventure Artist and the 2000 Eisner Award for his contributions to Tomorrow Stories. In later years he retired from comic strip artwork. In 1984 he was awarded the Winston Churchill Travelling Fellowship, which "enabled me to spend valuable time in America doing research."

Outside of comics, he was also a member of various bands, playing bass in The Whirlwinds (fl.1962, formed in Cyprus while Baikie served with the R.A.F., performing at the Akrotiri Families Club and possibly releasing a single), Jaymes Fenda & the Vulcans (fl. 1964, who released a single on Parlephone, 'Mistletoe Love'/'The Only Girl', in 1964 and who supported The Kinks), Cross Ties / Lonesome Jax Blues Band (1966-68, which also included 'Lonesome Dave' Peverett, later of Foghat and Savoy Brown), Spilt Milk, Compass and Gerbil (three Orcadian bands, the latter launched in 1972 or 73 and who played together for 34 years). Baikie and his family moved back to Orkney in 1970, living in an at first run-down house in the village of Stenness that remained their home for almost fifty years.

In 1991, Baikie was diagnosed with Parkinson's Disease but was able to carry on working until 2004, when his condition made it impossible to continue. He died peacefully from complications from the disease.

He is survived by his wife, Wendy, children Jacqueline, Jane, Vanessa, Caitrian and Ellen, twelve grandchildren and two great-grandchildren.

Paul Temple and the Barracombe Boxes part 13

Friday, December 22, 2017

Comic Cuts - 22 December 2017

My last report of the year. It started badly with the loss of a job and has ended very pleasantly with the publication of a book I'm very happy to put my name to. I dedicated myself for most of 11 months on two project: earlier in the year I had hopes of getting the Valiant Index completed this year. Working on Hotel Business for a couple of years meant very little time for Bear Alley Books, and I think I got caught up in my new-found freedom and overindulged myself. My notes on the stories I was reading are extensive—43,000 words... and I've probably not read more than half the stories!

I needed to step back. In parallel I'd been writing some longer pieces for Bear Alley on long-lost writers and finding it very satisfying to spend, say, a week on something that I could turn into a story with a beginning, a middle and an end, rather than the months I was spending reading comic strip... although I really did enjoy reading those comic strips, some of them for the first time since I'd read them as a kid. Then there were the weeks of compiling a vast Excel spreadsheet listing episodes of Captain Hurricane, Billy Bunter, The Crows, The Nutts and various other strips so that I could identify the sources for reprinted episodes. That wasn't much fun, but needed to be done if the index was to be of any value. This is probably the last time I'll get to write about the comic I grew up with, so I want to do it right, do it accurately and, as best I can, definitively.

So I switched tack during the summer with plans to piece together a collection of essays about long lost writers under the title Fifty Forgotten Authors. I think I'd forgotten that some of them, even the ones being written up for Bear Alley, could take a week or more.

I write roughly a thousand words a day. That's a thousand words that I hope won't need much revision as I revise as I go along. Sometimes I need to go back and do an extensive rewrite—that's happened this week with the latest essay—but I've still managed to get 7,500 words written that, barring a major discovery late in the day, and with only a few minor tweaks, will almost certainly be the words you read when they appear in the next book.

I'm now approximately 116,000 words into the book... which has had to become four books along the way because I didn't think that it would be such an epic size. The first volume is out and the second volume almost written—I'm working on the last trio of essays—but that's still only half the magic "Fifty". I'm also beginning to wonder whether I will end up with an 800+-page volume, or whether I should shrink the font size so that I can get it down to a more manageable page count. I may also have to increase the size of the book (the current volumes are 6x9" trade paperbacks), which will also save quite a few pages.

Because I'm earning no money while I'm writing these essays—and, let's be honest, I'm not going to be earning a fortune from the books—I'm trying to keep my costs down. Sometimes I just have to go out and blow some money on birth, death or marriage certificates. My hit rate recently has been two useful one for every three ordered. I've just received three more, two of them resolving long-standing mysteries (one a date of birth, one I believe identifying the name that hid another author and conman at the time of his death). One was the wrong guy. Still, not bad, and another step towards having volume two finished.

So, for the last time before Christmas, here are a few random scans. Not so random, as they're examples of books by some of the authors in the above volume.


That's it for today. Paul Temple continues over the weekend and next week and I might have sobered up for another column next Friday. Until then, have a great time over Christmas, indulge your every whim and hopefully you'll get all the presents you want. You can make my Christmas by buying one of my books.

Paul Temple and the Barracombe Boxes part 5

Wednesday, December 20, 2017

Paul Temple and the Barracombe Boxes part 3

Rebellion Releases (2000AD)

Rebellion releases for 20 December 2017. Note: there isn't a 2000AD released this week following last week's extra-large Christmas number. The next issue is released on January 3rd.

Judge Dredd Megazine 391

More action and adventure in the future-shocked world of Judge Dredd!
    Dredd must shoot his way out of an alien entity in the conclusion to ‘Contrabandits’ by Rory McConville and Leigh Gallagher; supernatural investigator Devlin Waugh battles for the life of his brother in ‘Blood Debt’ by Rory McConville and Mike Dowling; the colony fights back against the Dark Judges in the finale to ‘Dominion’ by John Wagner and Nick Percival; war comes to Badrock in Lawless by Dan Abnett and Phil Winslade; and there’s a complete Tale From the Black Museum by Rory McConville and Neil Googe.
    Plus in the bagged graphic novel this month, another tale torn from Tornado: a German soldier faces a long and arduous journey to escape from the Russians in Wagner’s Walk by Pat Mills and Mike White!

Cover: Leigh Gallagher
JUDGE DREDD: CONTRABANDITS by Rory McConville (w) Leigh Gallagher (a) Gary Caldwell (c) Annie Parkhouse (l)
TALES FROM THE BLACK MUSEUM: FAKE NEWS by Rory McConville (w) Neil Googe (a) Simon Bowland (l)
DEVLIN WAUGH: BLOOD DEBT by Rory McConville (w) Mike Dowling (a) Simon Bowland (l)
LAWLESS: BREAKING BADROCK by Dan Abnett (w) Phil Winslade (a) Ellie De Ville (l)
DARK JUDGES: DOMINION by John Wagner (w) Nick Percival (a) Annie Parkhouse (l)
FEATURES: Faceache, Mike Dorey interview
BAGGED REPRINT: Wagner's Walk from Tornado by RE Wright, R Tufnell (w) Lozano, Mike White (a)

Monday, December 18, 2017

Paul Temple and the Barracombe Boxes part 1

Begins today!

It's becoming a Christmas tradition to have one of these old Paul Temple strips running over the Xmas and New Year period. This one is an extra-long series, so there will be six episodes per day until the first week of January. There will be other odds and sods posted during the next few weeks, but this allows us – I'm including Robert Kirkpatrick, who has been supplying many excellent artist biographies for the past couple of months – to have a bit of a break.

The strip dates from 1966, the artist is John McNamara and the writer is credited as Francis Durbridge but the strip was probably ghost-written by someone else.


Saturday, December 16, 2017

E E Briscoe

Robert J. Kirkpatrick

E.E. Briscoe was one of the most prolific artists employed by the Amalgamated Press between around 1903 and 1925. Some sources say that he was also a notable book illustrator, although only a handful of books which credit him as an illustrator have been traced.

He was born in Battersea, London, in 1882, his parents being Edward Briscoe, a printer and compositor (born in Ashton, Northamptonshire, in 1855, and the son of a labourer), and Emma Jane (née Scaldwell, also born in Ashton in 1855), the daughter of a shoemaker – they had married in Islington in June 1879. Christened Ernest Edward Briscoe, he was the second of four children, the others being Herbert (born in 1881), Florence (1884), and Oliver George (1885), all born in Battersea. At the time of the 1881 census, the family was living at 9 Queen Square, Battersea; ten years later, they were at 30 Pickets Street, Clapham.

Briscoe learned his craft at the Clapham School of Art, founded in 1884 by a group of local residents (one of its most notable alumni was the illustrator Margaret Tarrant, the daughter of the illustrator Percy Tarrant). He illustrated his first book, A New Guide to Lichfield Cathedral, in 1902, and at the same time he began working for the Amalgamated Press. He went on to draw countless black and white illustrations for several of the company’s boys’ story papers, beginning with The Boys’ Friend, followed by Cheers Boy Cheer and, perhaps most notably, The Boys’ Realm, for which he illustrated numerous sporting stories. He was also closely associated with The Nelson Lee Library, for which he drew a lengthy series of sketches of public schools – indeed, his drawings of the Nelson Lee’s fictional St. Frank’s school were based on his sketches of Eton College.

Other Amalgamated Press story papers he worked for included The Union Jack, The Gem, The Boys’ Herald, The Champion, The Dreadnought, Sport and Adventure, The Penny Pictorial, The Rocket and Little Folks. His work also appeared in The Boy’s Own Paper, Chums and Our Kiddies, and in annuals and similar large-format books such as The Pip and Squeak Annual, The Adventure Book, Our Boys’ Tip-Top Book, Hullo Boys: The Wireless Uncle’s Annual, Our Girls, The Best Book for Schoolgirls and The Greyfriars Holiday Annual. He was also an occasional contributor to Punch and, rather unusually perhaps, Peace News.

In an interview recorded in The Collectors Digest (August 1956) Briscoe recalled that while he enjoyed drawing the school buildings for The Nelson Lee Library, he was not keen on doing “sketches illustrating common expressions such as ‘grinding his teeth’ – I thought them very cheap and childish. However in those days I wasn’t able to pick and choose although later I was able to refuse such commissions that I thought were vulgar or not in accord with my beliefs – for instance I several times refused any work in connection with blood sports and in time that type of thing was not offered to me.”

He also occasionally turned his hand to writing – one of his short stories appeared in The Boys’ Realm in July 1920, and he also wrote for, as well as illustrated, a number of stories for The Pip & Squeak Annuals. He was also responsible for the text and illustrations in Byways of London: Picturesque Nooks and Corners Sketched and Described by E.E. Briscoe, published in 1926.

As far as is known, he illustrated only two children’s novels: an edition of Tom Brown’s Schooldays published in the 1920s, which contained 16 full-page black and white illustrations and a colour frontispiece; and Scouts of the Prairies by Wingrove Willson (the pen-name of Walter H. Light), published in 1925.

In addition, he was a member of the Royal Academy and the Royal Institute of Painters in Watercolours.

At the time of the 1901 census, Briscoe was living at 58 Fernlea Road, Steatham, with his parents and three siblings – his father and brother Oliver were both working as printers, and Hebert was an engraver, with Briscoe himself described as a newspaper artist.  He married Rosie Lilian Conner (born in Gibraltar in 1883, the daughter of Frank Conner, an innkeeper) at Chard, Somerset (where she was an assistant mistress in the Infants’ Department of the local National School) on 16 May 1907. He was living in Balham at the time, and the wedding notice in the local newspaper noted that the couple intended to settle in Warlingham, Surrey. However, at the time of the 1911 census the couple were living with Briscoe’s brother Herbert, who was working for a photo engraving company, at 10 Linden Avenue, Thornton Heath, Surrey.

In his Collectors Digest interview Briscoe described how he was stationed in Cairo during the First World War, where he was able to mount three art exhibitions. Unfortunately, there are no online records confirming his military activities at this time (bearing in mind that many of the army’s records were destroyed). After the war he placed his work with the artists’ agents the Byron Studios, in Farringdon Avenue, London.

In the 1920s and early 1930s he and his wife lived on the Isle of Wight, moving to Felbridge, Surrey, in 1932. They later moved to Tonbridge, Kent, where his wife died in December 1953. He had long given up illustration work, and was focusing on watercolour paintings of towns and landscapes. He died three years later, on 27 September 1956, at the War Memorial Hospital in Edenbridge, Kent (his home address was Littlecote, Uckfield Lane, Hever, Kent).  He left an estate valued at £3,905 (around £85,000 in today’s terms).


Books illustrated by E.E. Briscoe
New Guide to Lichfield Cathedral,  1902
Picturesque London, The Anglo-American Oil Company, 1920 (with Jessie Currie)
Byways of London by E.E. Briscoe, John R. Battley, 1924
Scouts of the Prairie edited by Wingrove Willson, Goodship House, 1925
Tom, Brown’s Schooldays by Thomas Hughes, T. Nelson & Son, (1920s, re-issue)
Our Girls’ Yarns by various authors, Renwick of Otley, 1930
Ourselves and Our Neighbours by B.G. Hardingham, T. Nelson & Sons, 1934
Richard Jefferies’ London by Samuel J. Looker, Lutterworth Press, 1944
Shakespeare’s Stratford-on-Avon by Laurence Swinyard, Charles F. Kimble & Sons, 1946

Friday, December 15, 2017

Comic Cuts - 15 December 2017

The first volume of Forgotten Authors is finally out and I'm very pleased with the results. It's not exactly flying off the shelves and is currently sitting at 422,134th in Amazon's best-sellers rankings. It has, on the other hand, breached the Top 100 of the Amazon Kindle Store's category for Books > Literature & Fiction > History & Criticism > Books & Reading, having reached #75.

The new book lags behind The Men Behind Flying Saucer Review, out earlier this year, which is at the lofty heights of 254,883th in the best-seller rankings. As you can imagine, I'm not exactly dining out on these kinds of sales. Indeed, there's barely one good meal in the profits from both books.

Still, I'm hopeful that sales will pick up by good word of mouth and the second volume should be out some time in January. I would have said December, but with Christmas and New Year racing towards us, I'm finding plenty of distractions. There are, I think, three essays to write for volume two and I have most of the research done for all of them. I had a couple of certificates to buy—one birth, two death—which I purchased on Wednesday, so I'm hopeful that I can wrap-up most of the essays completely in a matter of a couple of weeks.

Although I may tinker with the contents before publication, at the moment the authors included will be Bracebridge Hemyng, Philip Richards, Frank Barrett, Ernest Protheroe, Charles Granville, Louise Heilgers, Alfred Barrett, C. E. Vulliamy, Evelyn Winch, Frederick Foden and David Roberts. But, as I said, that's not yet written in stone.

I forgot to tell you what happened with my laptop. As mentioned a couple of weeks ago, a failed attempt to put on some new anti-virus software left me with an all but useless box, designed and coded by some of the smartest minds on the planet that might as well have been a Tupperware box full of sand for all the good it was doing me.

Photo of our driveway, taken on Monday morning.
I had a friend look at it and he stripped most of the old programming out and installed some new software so that I can continue to play DVDs on the machine and surf the web. I'm pleased to say that it hasn't worked so well in years. I am, however, going to run into a problem at some point, because Firefox (my favoured browser) is going to stop supporting Windows XP, which is the operating system I have on that ancient machine. You can't blame Firefox... after all, Windows stopped supporting XP years ago, which is why it's prone to bugs of all descriptions. It's unlikely that I'll find—cheaply—another laptop with such a decent-sized screen (14½ by 9 inches) as laptops, in their drive to become more portable, got smaller. So what I might have to do is buy myself a second-hand tablet to do my internet browsing on and use the old laptop solely as a DVD player. It'll probably work out cheaper than trying to upgrade the laptop.

Talking of Christmas, Bear Alley will be providing its usual Christmas offering of an old Paul Temple strip for you to follow daily. This is quite a long one, so I will  be publishing it at the rate of 6 strips per day, so you'll at least have some reading matter if you want a quiet minute away from the mince pies. This will begin on Monday and run into the new year, although that won't be all that's on offer, as I'm sure other bits and pieces will find their way onto the site over the coming weeks.

We have our regular artist biography from the pen of Robert Kirkpatrick appearing tomorrow, and I'd like to take this opportunity to publicly thank him for doing such a sterling job of writing these pieces while I've been busy putting the book together. To prove how grateful I am, I will be loosening the chains that keep him attached to his keyboard. But only slightly. I don't want him wandering off.

Our random scans for this week illustrate a handful of old yellowbacks by the remarkable W. Stephens Hayward, author extraordinaire and bankrupt who gambled his way through a family legacy the equivalent of half a million pounds and who drank himself to death at the age of 35.

You can see why I chose him for the opening essay in Forgotten Authors!

The covers here include Hayward's  early science fiction yarn, The Cloud King, which might be the first SF serial in a boy's weekly paper.


Thursday, December 14, 2017

Commando issues 5079-5082

Commando issues available 14 December 2017.

Brand new Commando issues are out now! Expect fraternal face-offs, firefighting infernos in Sicily and Kuwait, and the toughest postie fighting in France… It’s all in a day’s work for our Commandos!

5079: Brothers
Latvian brothers Maris and Andrejs Vejonis joined the Wehrmacht after the Baltic States were annexed by the rise of Communism. However, it didn’t take them long to realise their mistake, as they witnessed first-hand the brutality of the Waffen S.S. But they were about to discover that the Russkies were just as callous, as Andrejs swaps sides and takes up arms with the Red Army. Now, fighting on either side of the battlefield, more than once Maris and Andrejs find themselves staring down the barrel of their brother’s rifle…
    Colin Watson’s thrilling story of fraternal friction perfectly fits into the Eastern Front setting, while the brothers’ chalk and cheese personas are rendered charmingly in Castro and Morhain’s art in both the old and young versions of the men, as well as the insets on Ian Kennedy’s cover.

Story: Colin Watson
Art: Castro & Morhain
Cover: Ian Kennedy

5080: Winged Dagger
Left behind by one of his own men after being shot through the leg by a German sniper, S.A.S. Major Jeff Turner was rescued by Italian villagers – but it wasn’t enough. Though saved from death, Turner was pronounced an invalid, meaning his days in the S.A.S. were over as he was reassigned to a firefighting detail. However, it wasn’t long before Turner came face to face with the man who left him to die… The man now in charge of his S.A.S. regiment.
    With spectacularly moody interior art by Gonzalez, the sheer grit of Spence’s story becomes apparent from page one. Topping this all off is a dynamic red and green cover from Penalva with thick oil strokes, really adding to the bulk of the S.A.S. figures.

Story: Spence
Art: Gonzalez
Cover: Penalva
Originally Commando No. 437 (November 1969) Reprinted No. 1255 (September 1978)

5081: Fire Fight
Their mission was to hold an oil refinery in the middle of the Kuwait desert. Reinforcements were due at dawn, but that was a long way away for ex-firefighter Carl Strode and his team, especially when Iraqi trucks pulled up, infiltrating the facility with guns… and bombs. This would be the hottest situation Strode had ever been in – but was he up to the task?
    With each page of Dominic Teague’s story more tense than the last, the stakes are raised along with the thermometer in this mighty issue. Expect blinding flames and dark shadows from Rezzonico, as well as a terrific first Commando cover from Neil Roberts, showing Strode overcast with purples, the flames changing from orange to white-hot behind him in an explosive panorama.

Story: Dominic Teague
Art: Rezzonico
Cover: Neil Roberts

5082: Special Delivery!
An ex-postman and stickler for the rules, when Corporal Johnny Bishop’s squadron is destroyed by a Stuka bomb, honour and determination meant one thing: he would deliver the surviving letter – even if he died in the process. But the British Expeditionary Forces’ retreat to Dunkirk was not the easiest route to navigate, as Junkers, Panzers and Nazi soldiers in their deadly Blitzkrieg chase Johnny right to the French coast.
    In Mike Knowles ‘Saving Private Ryan’-esque story of finding one soldier amongst an army of men, Knowles juggles action and tongue-in-cheek humour, with C. T. Rigby providing superb accompanying artwork to both aspects. Ian Kennedy’s cover is a real treat too, with our hero reaching out to reader, the eponymous letter clutched in his hand.

Story: Mike Knowles
Art: C. T. Rigby
Cover: Ian Kennedy
Originally Commando No. 2661 (May 1993)

Wednesday, December 13, 2017

Gerald Palmer (1935-2017)

The large opening frame is an example of Gerry Palmer 'ghosting' for Frank Bellamy.
Gerry Palmer, best known to comic fans for his association with Eagle comic and the ‘Dan Dare’ strip, has died, aged 82.

Born in St. Helier, Jersey, in 1935, Gerald Palmer was a schoolboy during the German occupation of the island between 1940 and 1945.

After showing some exceptional talent at school, his headmaster, Edmund Blampied—an established Jersey artist himself—helped him secure a grant which allowed Palmer to study at Portsmouth Art College.

With his National Diploma in Design secured in August 1955, Palmer headed for London with his portfolio and was employed as an editorial art assistant at Hulton Press in Fleet Street, drawing spot illustrations for Farmers Weekly and several papers before joining the staff of Eagle comic in 1957. “As staff artist, I was often asked to complete submitted artwork—bringing it up to the quality demanded in order to satisfy the standards set by my superiors,” he told Adrian Perkins in 2004. “I can still recall having to retouch several of the highly detailed centrespread paintings from Leslie Ashwell Wood.”

Enjoyable as the work was, it was not financially remunerative and Marcus Morris had to intervene to get Palmer a pay rise after he found his finances strained. Seeking other opportunities, Palmer responded to a job advertised within Hultons to work with Frank Hampson at his Bayford Lodge studio in Epsom. Palmer, who had to commute via two buses from Esher, joined the studio in 1958 and worked alongside Keith Watson on backgrounds for the ‘Dan Dare’ episodes ‘The Phantom Fleet’ and ‘Safari in Space’. Palmer later said that he got on well with Hampson, recalling only one bone of contention between the them: Hampson, an almost pathological perfectionist, would often ask his assistants to redo pages, working over the weekend if needed. “Frank often asked me to stay working late but, being somewhat strong-willed, I refused as I had a very busy social life; and besides, it was in my contract that it was a nine-to-five job.”

The Hampson studio was disbanded in 1959 while part-way through ‘Terra Nova’, and Frank Bellamy was tasked with painting the strip. Bellamy preferred working alone, and for most of the year he was employed on Dare (1959-60), he would produce one page, leaving Don Harley, Keith Watson or Palmer to produce the other in a compatible style.

Following Bellamy’s departure, and with Don Harley and Bruce Cornwell established as the new Dan Dare art team, Palmer drew a variety of editorial features for Swift (‘Jimmy Hanley’s Notebook’, ‘The Editor’s Notebook’, ‘Ancient Wonders’) and illustrations for Eagle, including a number of cutaway drawing for the centre pages. The preparation for these sometimes involved trips to manufacturers to obtain first-hand information and photographic reference. In one instance Palmer, along with art editor Charles Pocklington and a Fleet Street photographer hired for the day, visited Lotus for a feature on the Lotus Elite. The photographer, looking for a scoop, took the opportunity to roam around the factory, photographing several prototype cars until being caught, resulting in the three visitors being escorted to the factory gate.

In 1961 Palmer went freelance, continuing to provide illustrations for Eagle (including the ‘Kings of the Road’ cover feature) and contributions to Eagle Annual and TV Express Annual.

For much of his artistic career, Palmer was able to concentrate on painting, both as an aviation artist—he contributed to exhibitions of the Guild of Aviation Artists (GAvA)—and as a painter of portraits, seascapes and landscape in pastels and watercolours. He contributed illustrations to magazines and books, the latter including three volumes on aircraft for Hamlyn: The Story of Flight by John Llewellen, Irwin Shapiro & Maurice Allward (1970); Aircraft  by John W. R. Taylor (1971), for which he produced 290 full colour illustrations; and Spotlight on Aircraft by Graeme Cook (1972).

In later years, once again living in Jersey, Palmer was able to concentrate on painting and also established himself as a modeller and sculptor, an example of the latter being an 8-foot bronze sculpture of golfer Harry Vardon, cast at the Underwood foundry, Mayenne, France, and unveiled by Tony Jacklin at Royal Jersey Golf Course on 30 July 2001.

Palmer also designed stamps for the Jersey Post Office, his designs including a 20½p stamp dedicated to the RNLI rescue of the ‘Cythara’ (1984) and a set of aircraft designs to celebrate the 50th Anniversary of the Battle of Britain (1990).

Paintings of local life and landmarks and landscapes painted in France, Spain and Yugoslavia, can be obtained as prints. Recently, he returned to Dan Dare, producing two paintings for Spaceship Away..., one of the Anastasia (2006) and a collaboration with Don Harley on a 1960s-style Dan Dare spacescape (2009).

Palmer, who lived at St. Brelade, Jersey, counted designing and model aircraft, from skimmers to gliders, skin diving, sail boarding and sea fishing amongst his hobbies. He died on 16 August after a long illness. He is survived by his sister, Jean, wife, Valerie, children Christopher and Fiona, and four grandchildren.