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Friday, February 12, 2016

Comic Cuts - 12 February 2016

Working from home means finding ways to entertain myself throughout the day when there's nobody else to talk to. At the same time, because of the kind of work I do, I can find it difficult to listen to the radio when I'm trying to write as the area of the brain you use for writing is the same bit of brain that you use to make sense of spoken language.

If I'm trying to figure out how best to phrase a sentence, it's difficult if, for instance, I'm also trying to figure out who the murderer was in an Agatha Christie audio drama on 4extra. I have had days when the writing has been going well and I suddenly realise that I've managed to listen to a 90 minute murder mystery and I don't have a clue who was murdered, let alone who was the murderer.

That being the case, I like podcasts because I can store them as long as I like once they're downloaded and I don't have to worry about them disappearing – unlike the iPlayer which, until recently, only held programmes for 7 days. Even a month, as it is now, can mean missing episodes while I scramble to catch up during the gaps between issues of the magazine I work on.

This week, while I was playing catch-up with the Attaboy Clarence podcast, I was delighted to hear Bear Alley get a mention. I discovered Attaboy Clarence and it's spin-off podcast The Secret History of Hollywood last October and put in a couple of links. It would seem that quite a few of you visited Adam Roche's site and it earned me a "Canterbury" (you'll have to listen to the podcast to understand that this is a high honour).

The latest series in The Secret History of Hollywood has just started. These are massive, so it's easy to understand why there can be a few months between episodes. "Bullets and Blood" is the title of the new serial, covering the history of the founding of Warner Brothers studio and the background of one of it's major stars, Jimmy Cagney. You can download the episode here, but make sure you've set aside 4 hours because it's absolutely compelling once you get into it. And if you like it, have a listen to the others, too, as they're as good.

Our random scans this week are a few sequels by other hands. Including the Philip Marlowe sequel by Benjamin Black. The title was one of 32 unused titles found in Raymond Chandler's notebook.

Hopefully this won't sound smug, but I'm rather pleased that I've managed to keep Bear Alley going every day, albeit with a brief post featuring Ace O'Hara most days. The quality of some of the recent episodes has left a lot to be desired, but I'm afraid these copies are the best I've been able to find—the storyline currently running dates back to 1954, so the papers are over 60 years old and the original scanner wasn't too worried about quality.

Ace O'Hara ep.75

Thursday, February 11, 2016

Ace O'Hara ep.74

Commando issues 4887-4890

Commando issues on sale 11th February 2016.

Commando No 4887 – Out Of Time
It seemed that the Grossin brothers couldn’t be more different.
   Marc was a mild-mannered watchmaker — the occupying German garrison had used his skills to mend various timepieces dotted around their base.
   Meanwhile, his younger brother, Bernard, was a member of the local French Resistance and he had begun to wonder if Marc was getting too friendly with the Nazis.
   That was the least of Bernard’s worries, though. During a shoot-out at a ruined churchyard, he wondered if he was finally OUT OF TIME

Story: George Low
Art: Rezzonico
Cover: Janek Matysiak

Commando No 4888 – Codeword – “Torch”
One man held the key to the operation called by the codeword — “TORCH” — the huge Allied invasion of North Africa. His name was Pete Macrory, a Canadian in the Royal Engineers — and nobody trusted him an inch.
   To find out why, and what made Pete tick in his own peculiar way, you had to go way back to General Wolfe’s attack on Quebec in 1759. That’s when a distant ancestor of Pete’s, young Jock Macrory, was involved in a deadly adventure of his own...

I don’t think I’ll be spoiling things for you, as there is a big clue in the title, when I reveal that this story features Operation “Torch” — the real life British/American invasion of French North Africa in the winter of 1942.
   However, people often mistake Commando for some kind of history book but this is not the case. Although we use authentic military events as a backdrop (and strive not to be wildly inaccurate regarding their use), we will always have fictional principal characters placed among them, ensuring that the stories are works of the imagination, with scope for action and adventure.—Scott Montgomery, Deputy Editor

Story: Eric Hebden
Art: Victor De La Fuente
Cover: Ken Barr
Codeword – “Torch”, originally Commando No 220 (July 1966), re-issued as No 859 (August 1974)

Commando 4889 – Polish Pride
When their unit was wiped out in the Blitzkrieg that heralded the beginning of World War II, Lieutenant Bartek Abramski and Sergeant Jakub Brejnak reluctantly found themselves on the run from the Germans.
   These proud Uhlan cavalrymen were determined to survive and live to continue their fight another day. As time wore on, though, the chances of this seemed increasingly slim. However, when they teamed up with a downed pilot, a fellow Pole, it looked like they might have a chance to escape the clutches of the enemy…

Story: George Low
Art: Carlos Pino
Cover: Carlos Pino

Commando No 4890 – Dive And Kill!
It took nerves of steel to survive in the deadly skies over war-torn Europe…Pilot Officer Chris Bennet had proved that. Or so his fellow pilots thought. They reckoned he was the bravest guy they knew.
   But even steel can break, and so could Chris…

I reckon we could call this story a “bromance” — even though it was published long before that particular word came into widespread, everyday use.
   Its main focus is on the friendship between two pals — who have known each other since their university days — and how they cope with the tumultuous pressures of being RAF pilots at the height of the Battle of Britain and beyond.
   Naturally, both men are very different. David Gouldie’s quiet introspection is a neat counterpoint to Chris Bennet’s dashing showmanship — but it seems that he really is putting on a show…—Scott Montgomery, Deputy Editor

Story: Ian Clark
Art: Terry Patrick
Cover: Ian Kennedy
Dive And Kill!, originally Commando No 2470 (May 1991)

Monday, February 08, 2016

Illustrators #13

The latest issue of Illustrators leads off with a lengthy appreciation of Mitch O'Connell, the self-proclaimed "World's Best Artist" from Boston, although nowadays based in Chicago. A lover of kitsch, he revels in the lowbrow, trash culture of America. Growing up on comics and monster magazines, he studied at the Art Institute of Chicago and American Academy of Art, quitting when he began receiving commissions from Heavy Metal, Playboy and the Chicago Sun-Times.

After a couple of years as art director at a role-playing games company, he drew the graphic novel The World of Ginger Fox (1986) and commercial illustrations. His most lucrative assignment was creating clip art for ad agencies, newspapers and magazines. His books have included Good Taste Gone Bad, Pwease Wuv Me and the 2013 retrospective Mitch O'Connell: The World's Best Artist.

Diego Cordoba's feature is heavily illustrated with O'Connell's brightly coloured pop art cartoons which range from tattoo designs of Elvis to unused character designs for Dastardly and Muttley.

I'm usually more at home with painters and illustrators of a more realistic persuasion, so the article on Sep E. Scott is a real delight.Primarily a poster and advertising artist during the years before the Second World War, Scott's bold use of figures made him an excellent choice as a cover artist for comics in his latter days. Usually chosen to tackle swashbuckling characters, Scott's figures in heroic action were a highlight of Thriller Comics Library in the 1950s.

David Ashford provides many examples of Scott's earlier poster work, delightfully promoting various destinations served by railways, and adverts for Mars, Lifebuoy and Players. There's also some interesting comparisons made between some of Scott's later covers for War Picture Library and the film stills he used for inspiration.

Jeff Miracola is a fantasy artist whose work I was unaware of as his work was for the role-playing trading card company Wizards of the Coast, with later work appearing from Blizzard Entertainment and Warhammer; he's also worked in design for toys and games.

Editor Peter Richardson also interviews children's book illustrator Brooke Boynton Hughes, who paints beautiful, simple images in watercolour, and the issue is wrapped up with a brief look at the work of Tor (Victoria) Upson who has worked in theatre design and illustration.

For more information about Illustrators and back issues, visit the Book Palace website where you can also find details of their online editions. Issue 14 should include features on Tara McPherson, Joe Jusko, Maurice Leloir and Adam Stower. 

Ace O'Hara ep.71

Friday, February 05, 2016

Comic Cuts - 5 February 2016

Attempt Number Two.

I'm writing this to an accompaniment of chainsaws as one of the trees just outside the ex-garage that I call an office is chopped into little pieces. This is attempt number two to write this opening as the guy operating the chainsaw managed to cut through his own wire. It didn't trip the fuses but there was a lot of swearing that had me thinking the worst and that paramedics were going to find it difficult to get along the passageway between garage and fence now that the tree was horizontal and not upright. But it wasn't a limb, only a wire that was severed.

It has been quite a lively week compared to my normal dull and tedious existence. Over the weekend I managed to get the Harry Bensley book almost finished—I've broken the back of it now and it just needs a day's work to tidy up a couple of things and write some copy for the back cover. I'm hoping that I can do this on Sunday and get the ball rolling on getting a proof copy printed.

Monday I was back on Hotel trying to catch up with the endless stream of mail that people send in. The junkiest of junk mail—I'm talking here about my work e-mail, not my Bear Alley e-mail address!—tends to come in over the weekend and I'm tempted sometimes just to highlight and delete anything that arrives on a Saturday or Sunday. Trouble is, you never know what might turn out to be interesting or useable, so I have to go through every mail. Opening mail and reading even only the first paragraph takes time. If there's an attachment or pictures, that can double or treble the amount of time you spend on it. Multiply that by 200 and add the 70-or-so mails that are dropping into your in-box throughout the day and it's easy to see how you can get to the end of a day without actually writing anything or even subbing any copy.

Tuesday rolled around and it was another trip to the dentist. I've one more scheduled visit (next week) and that will be it for a little while. At some point, in a few month's time, I've got to have root canal work on one tooth and a crown fitted, which is going to involve six visits. I'm not looking forward to it.

Wednesday was a pointless but fun work meeting. Pointless because we'd already run through everything that we needed to during the previous meeting, but fun because we just sat around and chatted. We'll be saying goodbye to one of our team at the end of the month, which is rather a shame as we get on well. The good news is that it's maternity leave, so she'll be back in six months.

Which brings us back to this morning and an early start made on some repairs that have needed doing for some months. The tree that is being taken down has always caused problems. It has grown too close to the fence, pushing the garden fence over. It has spread its branches over the fence and over the neighbouring garden in one direction—they've chopped it back in the past, but I'm sure it was still an annoyance. It's in the other direction that I'm more concerned. There is a small, plastic-roofed area at the back of the (former) garage, described without a hint of irony as "the conservatory" by our landlady but in truth it's a utility room with a leaky plastic roof.

The "leaky" is the problem. Part of the problem at this time of year is huge clusters of berries weighing down the branches and resting on the plastic roof. Firstly, it cuts out all the natural light to my office and I'm sure this is one of the reasons my eyesight has been getting worse over the past year. Secondly, it weighs down on the plastic and opens up gaps where the old seals have rotted or been damaged. Trickles of water seep in and when it rains heavily there's a steady drip, drip, drip from the corners of the roof.

Now that the tree is gone, the roof panels will eventually be resealed and I won't have to lay towels down on the floor any more during rainstorms!

To cap off this week of getting stuff sorted, I managed to sort out my problems logging onto HMRC's website and, tomorrow as I write but today if you're reading this on Friday morning, I'm off to the opticians to get my new glasses. All 360 quids worth. Plus £25 for the eye test! Thanks, Boots Opticians!

Random scans. I've managed to pick up a handful of SF Masterworks (and one Fantasy Masterworks) recently, which I'm more than happy to share with you. The artwork on the original series is gorgeous. I'm not so keen on the later issues and re-issues where the publisher manipulated and reversed-out colours. Like a fool I sold off copies that I used to own and only started picking them up again in the past couple of years. I probably have about thirty of them, so still a long way to go.