Riches, Adam. Tim Parker and Robert Frankland When the Comics Went to War.- Edinburgh: Mainstream Publishing, 2009.- 256 page.- ill. b+w, col.- ISBN 9781845965549.- Price £19.99, but probably cheaper if bought via a web bookshop.
This volume tells the story of how daring do war adventures for children began to be published in the latter half of the 19th century through to their demise in the late 20th century. Of some of the magazines that were published, the people who had an influence on the progress of the magazines and comics. The story of boys war comics is arranged by timeline.
War stories for boys had begun as text stories, focusing on the Napoleonic and Crimean wars. Publishers realised that they were popular and thanks to better education more boys could read. Books in the latter half of the 19th century were too expensive for most boys to buy, but magazines could be published cheaply (thanks to the abolishment of a duty tax on paper). And the competition between rival publishers was fierce. As Britain's military forces were fighting in one war or another there was no shortage of material for writers.
By the late 1950's, early 1960's the war stories had evolved from text adventures to picture stories. (One influence was the American comics market). These new breed of comics proved as popular as their predecessors. (Although they never sold in the same quantities as the text stories. The golden age of boys war comics had long been passed). One by one the comics disappeared. Today in the UK there are small (very small) pockets holding out, the main one being the Commando! booklets published by D.C. Thomson, who still publish eight titles every month. Another being war stories (usually written by Garth Ennis) about British armed forces, but published by American comic publishers. (Not sure if they count as British comics or not).
As with any work which deals with a mass of information and dates, errors are made. I did a check of dates for those Victor and Hornet stories that were mentioned in the book. Most of the information was correct, but some wasn't. And in the interests of accuracy, (not me just nit-picking) the correct information is as follows:-
The book suggests that the Hornet front cover stories were usually from the First and Second World Wars. But this is incorrect. The stories were usually about soldiers or civilians who fought either side of or in between the two world wars. (Although to be fair there were some front and back cover World War One and Two stories).
Strike the Black Eagle and Die! is a stand alone story, not a series (artwork by the Spanish artist Felix Carrion).
Will O' the Whistle picture story appeared in the Victor, not in the Hornet.
The Walkie-Talkie Warrior appeared in the Hotspur (not the Hornet), in picture form starting in issue 498 (May 3 1969) and finishing in issue 505 (June 21 1969) and is set in WW2 Germany. There was another series called The Walkie-Talkie Warriors which appeared in the Hotspur in 1976. These are different characters and feature Australian soldiers fighting the Japs in Malaya. (Thanks to Phoenix for this information).
The War of the Second Best Guns in the Victor does feature the Gurkhas but they are only a small part of the story. The story was really about the 18 pounder guns and the men who manned them. It also featured a series character Tom Holliday who had also appeared in an earlier series, The Galloping Gunners.
The Spy in the Suitcase - this series had originally appeared in The Hornet (first issue 73 dated 30th January, 1965). The book suggests that the reprints of the series was the first time it had been published. (By the time the Victor and Hornet comics entered the 1970's, earlier popular strips were being reprinted).
Twelve Days to Save Britain! Another printing error. The day and month is correct, but the year was 1974, not 1973.
Jungle Joe, issue dated 15th January, 1972, not 13th January, 1972. (Ok, I agree, I am nit-picking slightly here).
Zeppelin Safari started issue 880, 31st Dec 1977, not 7th January, 1978.
Riches, Adam. Tim Parker and Robert Frankland Football's Comic Heroes.- Edinburgh: Mainstream Publishing, 2009.- 256 page.- ill. b+w, col.- ISBN 9781845964085.- Price £19.99, but probably cheaper if bought via a web bookshop.
Review of the above book to follow shortly.
Both volumes provide an interesting general overview of war and football (soccer in America), comics history. Because of the multitude of characters and strips mentioned, neither work has time to go into any great depth about each and every character/strip. It's very much a fast gallop. To be fair, this is what both books set out to do.
Printed on quality paper, (each book weighs over 2 1/4 pounds each), both books are colourfully and entertainingly presented. The scans of the stories are bright and clear and illustrations appear on most pages throughout each book. Finally, (and this is a nice touch), each volume ends with a small selection of example text and picture war and football comic strips.
On the negative side, if you're looking for information about artists and writers, you won't find that information in these volumes. Also there is no index of characters or strips. It's a question of flipping through the book to find your favourite character, artist or story. (Although some people find that an attraction in a book).
The authors are to be congratulated on putting these two volumes together. It must have taken many months of locating, obtaining and reading of comics, noting down dates and deciding on which illustrations to publish.