Monday, 13 March 2017

Bear Alley Books Sale - Part One "Frontline UK".

Fans of old British comics have been delighted by the news that Rebellion, 2000AD owners, are to reprint some of the best strips from the IPC archives.  But over the past few years other strips have been reprinted by enterprising fans and individuals.  One of those is Steve Holland, a professional magazine editor, journalist and the man behind the excellent Bear Alley Blog.

I've just seen news that the license on two of his reprint books is about to expire and, until March 31st, he is selling the remainder of the stock at a 25% discount.   The books reprint a couple of excellent D.C. Thompson adventure strips from the late seventies and very early eighties and are well worth a look.

The first of the books, Frontline UK, dates from September 1976 and comes from the pages of boys adventure weekly Bullet.  Bullet was a more contemporary looking comic than its stable-mates, The Victor and The Hotspur.  Page layouts were more dynamic and the stories were, perhaps, a little more hard-hitting.  It's often overlooked because of its IPC rival which started at almost the same time.  Both Bullet issue one and the first edition of Action are cover dated Feb 14th 1976.  Bullet would last a little longer than its rival, finally merging into Warlord in December 1978, but there is little doubt that it was Action which had a longer lasting and more profound impact on British comics.

Bullet had the usual mixture of genres for a boys comic, with war and football strips to the fore, but there was a different 'feel' to the new title.  There was less humour and more hard-hitting action.  There were also one or two excellent strips. 
Ian Kennedy art from the opening Episode of Frontline UK

Frontline UK, originally intended for Warlord, was certainly among these.  It first appeared in issue 31, dated September 11th, as part of some much needed promotion for the title.  A free gift, of "2 super clip-together models of veteran cars" was displayed on the cover along with the promise of three 'tough new stories'.

Issue 31 of Bullet
Opening the issue was the William Corderoy scripted story of Sergeant Sam Strong and the crew of his Scorpion Tank with art by Ian Kennedy.  Based in 1976 it tells the story of our heroes as they lead resistance efforts against the invading "Yellow Moon".

As Steve Holland makes clear in his excellent introduction, the strip was part of a long tradition of 'invasion' tales in British comics and story papers and can also be seen as part of the yellow peril tradition.  Indeed within a year Kennedy would find himself drawing yet another tale of a small band of British heroes battling an invasion from a fictional Asian army, 'Invasion' in 2000AD?

D.C. Thompson editor Bill Graham identifies the older stories that inspired him to come up with the idea for Frontline UK.  This allows Steve to reprint the opening episode of "The Yellow Sword" from New Hotspur in 1962 which Graham has identified as one of the key inspirations.

The strip had two stints in Bullet, the first from issue 31-45 and then again just over a year later in 85-99.  The final episode, in the December 31st 1977 issue, saw Britain liberated and the tank crew driving off into the sunset in a brand new Scorpion tank.

Stories are compact and until the last few episodes tended to be complete in each issue.  Art was uniformly excellent, with some of Ian Kennedy's pages being as good as anything he has ever done.  His attention to detail in drawing military hardware is always excellent and there is something special about his faces.  Somehow he manages to give the impression of great detail, with very few marks on the page.  His replacement, Clemente Rezzonico, drew in a slightly different style, less crisp and defined but with the excellent story telling ability needed for these compressed tales.   

Final Episode of Frontline UK
A comparison with the Invasion series from 2000AD shows the revolution Mills and Wagner brought to comics in the late seventies.  But 'Frontline UK' remains an excellent reminder of the D. C. Thompson style of war comic from the same period and stands up well by itself.     

With articles on the comics work of the writer, and each of the artists this book is a lot more than just a good adventure yarn to be enjoyed.  In all of his books Steve Holland adds real value with his knowledge and the research he does.  His production values are high, the work of the artists looks better than it did on first publication with bigger pages, better reproduction and higher quality paper.   At 128 pages, A4 size and perfect bound this is a bargain at £10.49 plus P&P.

Go to the Bear Alley Books Web-Page here to buy a copy before they are gone forever.

And check out his excellent blog here.

Next Splank! post will be on the second of Steve's books that are about to go out of print, the science fiction adventure, Arena.

No comments:

Post a Comment