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…

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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.

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