Friday, February 1, 2013

BOOK REVIEW

British Comics: Commando, Love Stories, 
and All Girls

Evan Lewis has the links to this Friday’s Forgotten Books at his blog Davy Crockett's Almanack of Mystery, Adventure and the Wild West where you’ll find many interesting entries.

Issue No.1, July 1961
Last Friday, I took a trip down memory lane and relived the many hours I spent reading the Hardy Boys with my childhood friends. Not surprisingly, I took a few blog friends with me on this nostalgic whirligig. We shared the joys of reading the adventures of amateur detectives Frank and Joe, and Nancy Drew.

A week later, I am still in memory lane, pottering around in the library of my youth, shaking the dust from some more books, and comics, I read as a kid. Of these I have fond memories of three kinds of comic-books I read back then—war, romance, and young adult.

These comics had four common features: their pocket size, impressive cover art, black-and-white illustrations, and speech bubbles. Otherwise, the themes and stories were as different as Daredevil and Donald Duck.

Commando: For Action and Adventure (originally known as Commando War Stories in Pictures), published by D.C. Thomson and Company of Dundee, Scotland, since 1961, remains my favourite war comic-book, though there have been several offshoots the size of your palm.

The Commando comics, numbering more than 4,000 including reprints in celebration of 50 years in 2011, are usually set during WWII and feature stories of bravery, friendship, patriotism, nobility, defection, and cowardice. Most of the time the enemies are the Nazis and the Japanese, who are depicted as very evil, but it is not uncommon to see an Allied soldier and a German soldier becoming friends and risking their lives to save each other. In a typical scene one enemy soldier will carry the other on his shoulder and run to safety. In one particular comic, two enemy soldiers discover, in the thick of battle, that their fathers knew each other, as friends or foes I don’t recollect.

My favourite Commando comics are the ones where the battle plays out in a different war theatre, such as North Africa, the desert sands of Arabia, or the battlegrounds of Indo-China. Likewise, I have a preference for non-combat troops like the French and Italian partisans who fought alongside the Allies.

There is no dearth of ideas for the storyboard and nearly every one of the 68-page comic-book seems real. The stories are fictional, of course, but they leave you wondering if the events really took place. The comics are known as much for their cover art in colour and black-and-white sketches inside as they are for the stories and their often exaggerated plotlines.

Their popularity is evident in the continuation of the series over more than 50 years, new reprints in a size falling between a pocketbook and a regular comic-book, and omnibus editions. These modern-day Commando comics sell for Rs.60 (a little over $1) in India. However, a few years ago, I was fortunate enough to buy a big lot for as little as Rs.5 (almost free in dollar terms), all original.

Unlike Commando, which I still read, I don’t have much recollection of the pocket-sized romance comics called Star: Love Stories in Pictures published by D.C. Thomson or Love Story Picture Library published by the Amalgamated Press, both British imprints. These romance comics also had covers in colour and illustrations in black and white. The stories and pictures were never erotic or vulgar and kissing was the maximum you could get out of a man and his gal. They were milder versions of M&B except they were in comic-book format.

D.C. Thomson, which used to publish the popular Beano and Dandy comics, also brought out a series of pocket-sized comics for young girls under the age of 16. These were known as Bunty, Judy, Mandy, and Debbie. In later years, some of these comics, Judy in particular, were merged with Emma and Mandy and it’s all very confusing. If I remember correctly, the comics were only titled as Bunty, Judy, Mandy, and Debbie and there were no real characters by those names. 

The comics told stories about the everyday lives of teenage girls, their trials, their triumphs, and their glories, with a moral in the end. The all-girls comics were around until the 1990s and I think they have long ceased publication.

Do you remember reading any of these comics? What are your memories of early comic-books?

11 comments:

  1. I bet I would have loved Commando but I never saw these. We didn't get many comics in our area when I was a kid.

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    1. Charles, I am sure you will love Commando comics. The charcoal-shade illustrations inside are terrific.

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  2. British comics got very little US distribution play at the height of my 1970s reading...even Japanese manga, thanks to reprints in Charlton horror comics titles, were more accessible to me (and, for that matter, I never heard of such European titans as Asterix till high school, and had read Tintin only in CHILDREN'S DIGEST at the end of the '60s). Though we certainly still had romance comics and a few others aimed at girls, and a proliferation of war comics...

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    1. Todd, I am quite surprised that many of the British comics are not available in the US. Tintin and Asterix is religion in India and not a month goes by when I don't read either of the comics. They are hugely popular in this country as I am sure in the rest of Asia. Spielberg's TINTIN ran in theatres for weeks and I am hoping he will buy the film rights for Asterix comics too. I had a few Charlton war comics though I don't recall reading any horror comics under that imprint.

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  3. Never saw any of these, living on the west coast of the U.S. That's a great cover on "Secret of the Alps".

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    1. Richard, nearly every Commando comic has a "great" cover. The kind of art you wish you could do yourself. Many of the stories are sentimental and over the board at times.

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  4. My brother liked Marvel Comics -- The Fantastic Four was his favorite. He had a bunch of those and some other superheroes I cant' recall. When I stood next to him looking over the comics at Squash's Newstand in our hometown I couldn't help but be drawn to the lurid images on the horror comics. I used to buy all sorts of those. House of Mystery and House of Secrets were two I remember. These wer 1970s era comics, not the earlier pre-code EC comics. But I wasn't only interested in the scary and gruesome stuff. I also bought a lot of the Harvey comics: Richie Rich, Casper the Friendly Ghost and Wendy, Sad Sack. It was a very sporadic and brief phase in my life. I never became addicted to them or collected them the way I now read voraciously in crime fiction and collect old vintage mysteries.

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    1. John, I read all the comics you mentioned including EC's pre- and post-code horror comics (some of which I still have) and Harvey Comics' Richie Rich, Casper, Wendy, Little Dot, Little Lotta, Hot Stuff, and Sad Sack. I don't see these comics now though there are some sites where you can read them online and even download. I am still hanging on to my assorted collection of nearly a 1,000 comic-books dominated by the DC and Marvel clans.

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  5. As a child I read comics like Richie Rich, Casper the Friendly Ghost and I had forgotten about Little Dot, Little Lotta, and Hot Stuff. For several years we collected comics as they came out, DC and Marvel but also some independent titles ... too many to list and no names coming to mind anyway. We also used to get Beano and Dandy for my son, when we could find them. Maybe some were at used books stores. We still have boxes of them but not 1000. Fond memories.

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    1. Tracy, I don't read comics as often as I used to though I do read vintage comics online, the ones I don't have access to in India. I download these and read them whenever I feel like. I am not too fond of Beano and Dandy both quite popular in their time. I am not happy with the modern-day DC and Marvel comics for three reasons: don't like superheroes with long hair and ponytails; don't like the comic-books running in parts; and don't like the modern art, however snazzy it may seem. Comics up to the 1990s were good and then they lost it.

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