THE COMIC STRIPS PRESENT

From the screen to the page! In the sec­ond in­stal­ment of a major three-part ret­ro­spec­tive, Alistair Mc­Gown cel­e­brates the comic strip tie-ins that de­fined a decade...

SFX - - Contents -

The sec­ond part of our jour­ney back into the realm of TV shows and movies turned comics reaches the ’70s. There will be beige.

THE UK COMICS IN­DUS­TRY HAD whole­heart­edly em­braced small screen spin-offs in the 1960s, with the com­ing of the first TV gen­er­a­tion. For SF fans that meant the likes of Doc­tor Who and The Avengers now ap­pear­ing in the pages of TV Comic, though the big deal in TV tie-in pub­lish­ing had been TV21, a leg­endary weekly pro­mot­ing Gerry an­der­son’s fu­tur­is­tic pup­pet heroes.

By 1970 the comic was limp­ing on but faced dwin­dling sales. it was TV21, Jim, but not as we knew it, de­ter­mined to carry on with­out an­der­son, TV-RE­LATED strips Land Of The Giants and The Saint now nestling with scuba divers and Glaswe­gian foot­ballers.

chief draw was Star Trek, then run­ning on BBc1 for the first time. ex-TV21 il­lus­tra­tor mike no­ble pro­vided glo­ri­ous cov­ers plus in­te­rior colour spreads, pearls among swine in the oth­er­wise tatty comic. nig­glingly, Kirk wore a mor­tal­ity-bait­ing red shirt but then vir­tu­ally no­body at home had a colour TV and would know any bet­ter.

no­ble found lu­cra­tive em­ploy­ment else­where, as we’ll see later, and was briefly re­placed by ex-Daleks artist ron turner, then var­i­ous lesser scrib­blers. new own­ers IPC even­tu­ally merged TV21 into the war heroes

and wizard wheezes of Valiant in oc­to­ber 1971, where Star Trek re­tained the colour pages and an ex­cel­lent artist in John stokes. clearly some­one at Valiant had a colour telly, as ev­ery­one’s shirts were at last the cor­rect hues.

Star Trek fi­nally beamed out of Valiant over christmas 1973.

mean­while Polystyle’s TV Comic was plod­ding on with car­toon fare like Tom and Jerry. one fan­tasy strip buck­ing the trend since oc­to­ber 1968 was The Avengers, where John steed and doe-eyed acolyte tara King fea­tured in high-camp hi-jinks, drawn usu­ally by the over-en­thu­si­as­tic John can­ning. clever sto­ry­lines such as hyp­notic ice lol­lies brain­wash­ing cin­ema pa­trons into at­tack­ing a vis­it­ing pres­i­dent soon be­came too out­landish even for the avengers, in­volv­ing gi­ant beanstalks and pop broad­casts that made peo­ple dance un­con­trol­lably. out­last­ing the TV show it­self, the strip ran un­til sum­mer 1972.

When new doc­tor Who Jon Per­twee de­buted in 1970, TV Comic scriptwriter roger cook pro­vided more twee fare con­cern­ing ri­ot­ing school­boys and gi­ant in­sects. sto­ry­lines im­proved un­der for­mer TV21 ed­i­tor alan Fen­nell, with the Bri­gadier and TV as­sis­tant Liz shaw also join­ing the line-up, but John can­ning’s third doc­tor re­mained a pop-eyed bean­pole loon.

For­tunes changed dra­mat­i­cally in Fe­bru­ary 1971, when a TV Comic spin-off for space-mad older kids was pub­lished. Count­down tapped into the space race craze, pre­sent­ing a mix of To­mor­row’s World-style sci­ence fact and post-TV21 sci­ence fic­tion.

a phoenix from TV21’s ashes, Count­down was edited by for­mer TV21 art ed­i­tor den­nis hooper. Gerry an­der­son prod­uct was ini­tially cen­tre stage, with pride of place given to his live-ac­tion TV de­but UFO. add the free trans­fer of a vastly im­proved Doc­tor Who from

TV Comic and suc­cess seemed as­sured. UFO and Doc­tor Who took the colour cen­tre­spreads and cov­ers, the for­mer drawn by Gerry hay­lock for a time, the lat­ter ini­tially by ex-Star Trek artist harry Lind­field. Prob­lem­at­i­cally, the rest largely com­prised ear­lier an­der­son hits and misses. his pup­pet shows were, by 1971, sun­day-lunchtime re­run filler fare and a short­lived strip for 1969’s quirky but barely screened show The Secret Ser­vice failed to set the world alight. Be­fore long, TV21 re­prints of St­ingray and Fire­ball XL5 pro­lif­er­ated. With apollo moon­shots also wind­ing down, Count­down came back to earth by mu­tat­ing into TV Ac­tion in spring 1972, riding the vogue for ac­tion/crime shows such as The Per­suaders! (already a Count­down reg­u­lar), Mis­sion: Im­pos­si­ble and

Hawaii Five-O. even Gerry an­der­son had de­cided “if you can’t beat them, join them”, with the start of his crime­buster series The

Protectors. the space-age UFO and Doc­tor Who re­mained chief at­trac­tions, how­ever, the lat­ter now beau­ti­fully painted by Gerry hay­lock on the front cov­ers.

is­sue 100’s re­vamp de­ployed cin­ema-style cover paint­ings, yet not even the des­per­ate in­clu­sion of pop pin-ups of cat stevens and alice cooper could pre­vent TV Ac­tion’s dis­ap­pear­ance in au­gust 1973. Doc­tor Who parachuted back to the less glossy TV Comic.

speed­ing TV Ac­tion’s demise was Look-in, the ju­nior spin-off to ITV list­ings mag­a­zine TV

Times. ironic, since it was the sec­ond phoenix from TV21’s ashes, cre­ated by for­mer head hon­cho alan Fen­nell. With free TV ad­ver­tis­ing and TV Times’ vast re­sources be­hind it, Look-in proved a win­ner from new year 1971.

Pro­vid­ing a heady weekly mix of glam rock pop posters, fea­tures on the lat­est kid-friendly ITV shows and a ros­ter of a half dozen TV-BASED comic strips, Look-in could af­ford Bri­tain’s finest il­lus­tra­tive tal­ent, while chief strip writer was ex-TV21 scripter an­gus al­lan, his in­ven­tive plots of­ten fu­elled by a dram of his favourite whisky.

rarely with­out an SF strip through­out the 1970s, from Look-in’s de­but is­sue mike no­ble pro­vided six months’ worth of glo­ri­ous colour se­ri­als based on chil­dren’s time-trav­el­ling saga Times­lip. never quite grasp­ing the time­line com­plex­i­ties of its TV par­ent, the strip nonethe­less had fun en­coun­ter­ing robin hood, UFOS and deadly ro­bots. With no­ble shifted onto other Look-in strips, var­i­ous lesser artists fol­lowed, work­ing in mono­chrome.

after run­ning light fan­tasy strips for manky ma­gi­cian catwea­zle and teenage spy-fi series Free­wheel­ers, Look-in was

quick to spot the pop­u­lar­ity of The To­mor­row Peo­ple, launch­ing a strip mere months after its 1973 ITV de­but. a record-break­ing run saw the tele­port­ing teens en­counter sa­tanic cults and ro­botic go­ril­las, and foil in­va­sions by plant peo­ple and gi­ant ants be­fore jaunt­ing out of

Look-in in spring 1978. su­perb black-and-white art came from mike no­ble, while John Burns pro­vided episodes in retina-burn­ing colour.

in septem­ber 1975, Look-in fi­nally ran a Gerry an­der­son strip, based on his new show, the epic Space: 1999. the show’s thought­ful na­ture meant slightly more cere­bral strips than usual, amid the oc­ca­sional gi­ant ant.

When, mid-se­rial and with­out ex­pla­na­tion, the strip adopted Space: 1999’s rad­i­cally re­worked sec­ond sea­son for­mat and char­ac­ters, it meant a more nat­u­ral fit with the TV show’s new comic-strip, ac­tion-ad­ven­ture slant. shape-changer maya be­came a vi­tal element of

Look-in’s strips, be­fore they abruptly ceased in spring 1977. no­ble and Burns again pro­vided ex­cel­lent art.

Look-in’s strip com­pared favourably with two amer­i­can ver­sions from charl­ton comics. John Byrne drew a more ac­tion-ori­en­tated comic book series, while Gray mor­row was artist on a mag­a­zine strip for an older au­di­ence.

Lat­ter-’70s fan­tasy on ITV was mostly glossy and amer­i­can, and both cy­ber­net­i­cally-as­sisted secret agents

The Six Mil­lion Dol­lar Man and The Bionic Woman achieved hugely pop­u­lar Look-in strips from 1975-9. the adventures of steve austin took a more pro­nounced fan­tasy bent than its par­ent show, mem­o­rably in strips fea­tur­ing evil robotics ge­nius the toy­maker and ec­cen­tric ma­gi­cian the Great man­dini, en­er­get­i­cally ren­dered by ex­pres­sive artist martin as­bury: Ker­rUnchhh!!! Us fans, as with Space: 1999, again had two charl­ton comics series to en­joy.

marvel comics also pub­lished their own amer­i­can ver­sions of other Us fan­tasy series adapted by Look-in in the late ’70s (see box-out). dystopian chase movie spin-off

Lo­gan’s Run was axed after just 14 episodes and Look-in’s strip ver­sion ar­rived as UK screen­ings neared com­ple­tion in april 1978. arthur ran­son pro­vided some sparse, ba­sic art with one of his ear­li­est ac­tion strips and six brief months in Look-in were nonethe­less twice Lo­gan’s screen shelf life. the sim­i­larly short­lived TV adventures of web-fin­gered, sub-aquatic su­per spy mark har­ris, aka the man From at­lantis, spawned just six months of Look-in strip dur­ing 1978, de­spite mike no­ble’s re­li­ably bril­liant art­work.

Us TV’s much-hyped Star Wars wannabe Bat­tlestar Galac­tica was more badly fum­bled. after ITV bought the 1978-9 series, rights is­sues with UK cin­e­matic re­leases greatly delayed its air­date. a dy­namic martin as­bury Look-in strip thus ran from oc­to­ber 1979 with­out a TV series on air. the strip ended frus­trat­ingly in oc­to­ber 1980, just as ITV’s air­ings be­gan. it was a Bri­tish show that spawned one of Look-in’s very best strips how­ever, after Sap­phire & Steel brought con­found­ing su­per­nat­u­ral chills to ITV in sum­mer 1979. arthur ran­son came of age in this stun­ning, at­mo­spheric strip, with night­mar­ish sto­ry­lines in­clud­ing a crea­ture re­sid­ing in mir­rors and the Pied Piper fronting a rock band. it ran for al­most 80 episodes, to spring 1981. the on­go­ing adventures of tom Baker’s Doc­tor Who in TV Comic mean­while res­o­lutely failed to scale such heights. the Fourth doc­tor had run con­tin­u­ously since Jan­uary 1975 in the by-now in­creas­ingly ju­ve­nile ti­tle. after a de­cent de­but drawn by Gerry hay­lock, fea­tur­ing alien killer plants, John can­ning soon as­sumed reg­u­lar art du­ties, with vari­able re­sults.

de­spite punt­ing a free­bie Doc­tor Who comic to ac­com­pany its tatty re­vamp as Mighty TV Comic in au­tumn 1976, cheap­skate pre­sen­ta­tion meant con­tin­ued un­der­in­vest­ment in the comic, other than in­clud­ing as­sis­tants sarah Jane smith and Leela. From June 1978 they all but gave up, and crudely drew tom Baker’s head and scarf over Jon Per­twee re­prints. such par­si­mony ex­tended to the sim­i­larly pop­u­lar Star Trek, in­cluded in TV Comic as Gold Key re­prints be­tween 1976-8.

come the tail end of 1979 how­ever, marvel UK looked to find the good doc­tor a new comic-strip home…

Next is­sue: The 1980s!

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