Wednesday, 24 May 2017

Space Ace Volume 8

It was difficult to decide where to start on the little pile of comics I have to write about, so I ended up picking the title that was on my bedside table this morning.   A decision that may have been influenced by the fact that it saved me getting out of bed to start work on the post.  Tablet computers really are a blessing.

Space Ace vol 8 is a full-size, 40 page glossy, colour magazine reprinting some of the best work from one of the top Science Fiction artists ever to work in British comics.

Ron Turner's Space Ace stories were first printed in Lone Star magazine, a science fiction strip in what appears, from the covers, to have been marketed as a Western Comic.  Lone Star was an unusual publication, an early toy tie-in, it was launched by Die Cast Machine Tool Ltd in 1952 to sell their Lone Star toy range.  It was later bought by Atlas Publishing and ran for about 100 issues over ten years.  From the first issue it featured the Lone Star Rider, a western hero, along with Captain Cutlass the Pirate and space hero Ace Hart.  To avoid confusion with another space-based adventurer of the same name, Hart became Space Ace with the third issue.

Turner wasn't the first artist to draw Space Ace, but during his time on the strip he left an unmistakable mark on the hero and made him his own.  Space Ace was aimed at younger readers than some of Turner's comics, the Rick Randon series or the stories in Tit-bit comics, but were equally, perhaps more inventive visually than his previous work.

Turner excelled at drawing machinery and space craft, but also created the most fantastic alien creatures.   This issue features, in the story "Space Ace and the Rescue", a particular favourite of mine, the Kraits.  Long-necked battle mounts, that are dynamic and truly alien, well thought out and superbly drawn.   This story, set as it is on a frozen planet features an alien wearing what looks like to me to be a left over Santa suit, an unusual look to say the least.

This is Turner at his artistic best.  John Lawrence,  publisher of Space Ace and friend and agent of the artist, has said that Space Ace was a labour of love for Turner, and it shows.  A huge amount of credit must go to John who has gone to great efforts to show his friends' work to best effect.  Most of the Space Ace strips were printed in black and white or with a single colour.  John Ridgeway has been brought in to colourise the strips, re-letter then and give them a more modern look.  The effect is stunning and this issue is particularly good.  The colours added to Turner's artwork make this one a must have for fans of old scifi strips.  A John Ridgeway article on how he goes about colourising the strips is a great addition to a great issue.

The stories in volume 8 have an interesting origin. When the Lone Star magazine came to an end in 1961 Ron found himself making most of his income from covers for Popular Mechanics magazine and the original paintings on which the 'paint-by-numbers' sets were based.

'Paint-by-Numbers' was the sixties equivalent of the adult colouring books of today and must have been quite lucrative.  But science fiction art was Turner's passion and when in 1963 he was offered the chance to draw Space Ace again, he did not hesitate. 

The stories in this issue were all drawn for an Atlas Annual publication, the Book of Space Adventures that was supposed to be the first in a series, as far as I can tell only one issue appeared.   I've not seen a copy, but John Lawrence reports in his introduction to Space Ace vol 8 that the artwork was spoiled by a terrible use of colour overlays, all but destroying some of Turner's best work.  We should be grateful that John, and especially John Ridgeway, have rescued this work and made it available to British comic fans. I hope there is more to come as each issue I've seen so far has been a delight. 

Copies of Space Ace vol 8 can be obtained direct from John Lawrence priced at £8.95 (UK), £13 (Europe), £14 (International) including postage and packing.  Payment by PayPal

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