THE COMIC STRIPS PRESENT
Some of the greatest adventures of our favourite heroes take In place beyond the screen. the first thrilling instalment of a major three-part retrospective, Alistair McGown discovers the comic strip tieins that defined the decades…
Long before comics became films and TV shows, TV shows and films became comics. Weird, huh? Take a deep dive into four-colour nostalgia.
oday every comic strip hero gets their own movie franchise or tv series, but time was when the opposite was true, with screen heroes spawning comic spin-offs aimed squarely at kids. Until the mid-1980s the UK comics market was huge, and many of those titles told new adventures of familiar faces from the flickering box in the corner of the living room.
as film and television became part of British life, the comics business cashed in. Launched in November 1951, TV Comic was originally aimed at very young children, with strips including BBc puppet horse muffin the mule. the title’s pre-school focus slowly matured.
Four Feather Falls, a marionette Wild West series from emerging tv puppet master Gerry anderson, appeared in 1960 and its successor, a show boasting science fiction hardware, seemed a natural follow-up for the comic.
Supercar debuted on itv in January 1961, the wonder craft appearing in TV Comic just two months later and shortly afterwards exploding into a colour centrespread which ran successfully until september 1964. anderson’s next stringbound sF space opera, Fireball XL5, joined TV Comic a fortnight before its tv launch in october 1962, simply drawn in monochrome by Neville main.
anderson withdrew his strip rights in autumn 1964 but a ready replacement was found in roberta Leigh’s puppet epic Space
Patrol. captain Larry dart in spinning-topstyled spaceship Galasphere 347 assumed
Supercar’s colour spread – and its artist Bill mevin – for the next year. on departing TV
Comic, Space Patrol found a perhaps unlikely berth in dc thomson funnies weekly Beezer.
William Hartnell’s Doctor Who admirably filled TV Comic’s anderson gap, first appearing in November 1964, a year on from his screen debut. the doctor and his grandchildren John and Gillian encountered ridiculous aliens in twee adventures, drawn for a year in black and white by Neville main before inheriting Space
Patrol’s colour centrespread and artist Bill mevin. though daleks remained absent, the antlike Zarbi appeared direct from tv, except that these were fake flying Zarbi piloted by alien invaders. it was that kind of strip.
excitable artist John canning, more suited to action/adventure than his predecessors, ushered in patrick troughton at christmas 1966. the strip soon relaunched on TV Comic’s cover as Doctor Who And The Daleks, when rights to the metal meanies came up for grabs. the cybermen also regularly featured – even if they remained portrayed throughout the 1960s as the bandage-faced goons of their 1966 tv debut. Less thrillingly, the Quarks, ineffectual spike-headed robots from a lacklustre 1968 tv serial, also appeared several times.
When troughton left the tv show, exiled to earth by the time Lords, the strip filled the six-month hiatus to Jon pertwee’s debut with the clever wheeze of having troughton’s earthbound doctor staying in a swanky hotel and battling mad professors. the nutty Hartnell and troughton strips were almost all written by roger Noel cook in his evenings off after a hard day at the TV Comic office. By issue 19 he bought his first e-type Jag with his freelance proceeds – and later went on to launch vHs-era soft porn phenomenon Electric Blue.
V Comic delivered the first mainstream weekly strip for outlandish secret agents the avengers (following a one-off annual strip in 1962, and a brief comic run in regional TV listings magazines for Honor Blackman’s cathy Gale in 1963-64). the immortal emma peel, played by diana rigg, debuted in TV
Comic and on tv screens in october 1965. during a year of light-hearted espionage serials drawn by pat Williams, one story adopted the tv series’ sci-fi angle, pitting steed and emma against a monster-mirage-making device.
parallel with TV Comic, a bonkers spin-off strip appeared in girls’ comic June And School Friend in the spring of 1966.
The Growing Up Of Emma Peel featured the 14-year-old emma Knight, learning her judo moves as she saved a young arabian princess from an arranged marriage to a cruel, warmongering sheik. politically correct? probably not. The Avengers’ next home was another girls’ weekly, Diana, an unlikely placing even given the name shared with ms rigg. against expectation, 26 weeks of glorious colour strips resulted, using suitably eccentric storylines featuring phantom bagpipers, atomic bomb-thieving vikings and a ray turning animals into killers.
n The Avengers’ absence, TV Comic sought camp thrills with Adam
Adamant Lives!, the BBc series about a starchy victorian adventurer awoken in the swinging ’60s, but its year-long 1967 run was a pretty jokey affair.
TV Comic may have dumbed down for the kiddies but in January 1965 a new rival blew their twee fare away – TV Century 21, published by Gerry anderson’s expanding merchandising arm. Newspaper-style cover designs, with headlines from 100 years into the future, made the title stand out in the newsagents. editor alan Fennell had written
TV Comic’s Supercar and Fireball XL5 strips, before promotion to tv scriptwriting for anderson. stiNGray Lost! screamed the first issue’s cover, with the futuristic super sub having been on screens from autumn 1964. ron embleton was the key artist for Stingray’s first year. the first issue also launched a Fireball
XL5 strip by artistic genius mike Noble, leagues ahead of TV Comic’s juvenilia, while the now rather dated Supercar ran as a heavily caricatured funnies strip.
mysteriously, one strip featured an upper-crust secret agent called Lady penelope and her hangdog-featured
Fireball XL5 followed the missions of the World Space Patrol.