(Note: This was originally published on the always excellent but sadly-missed 2000AD and Beyond blog)
For a few years now I’ve been steadily compiling a list of all the comics (and story-papers) ever published in the UK. The list is nowhere near complete (it currently contains 1,559 different titles: I’m guessing that I’ve passed the half-way mark, but probably not by much).
This all started because I was trying to track down some Marvel UK reprint comics from the 1970s and I got to wondering how many different titles the company had published. I figured it was somewhere between thirty and forty. I soon discovered that I was wrong: so far, the list contains 194 Marvel UK titles (including some of the Panini titles and Marvel Frontier Comics). The comics aimed at little kids are very hard to track down. For example: I have so far completely failed to find out how many issues of Beep! Beep! (launched in 1989) were published – I know it’s at least 22, but were there more? Was it merged into another title? Did it absorb any other titles itself? Was it weekly? Monthly? Fortnightly? Likewise, Sylvanian Families (launched in 1988) was a fortnightly title that lasted at least 27 issues, but again that’s about all I know.
Rarer still are a couple of Marvel’s titles aimed at girls. Lady Lovely Locks was a fortnightly comic from 1988 that lasted at least five issues. It was a tie-in with a cartoon or a toy or something. And then there’s Bea…
Issue 1 of Bea contains 36 pages, 200mm x 280mm (7.9” x 11”), pretty much full-colour throughout – except the pages that are deliberately in black and white. Thankfully, long gone are the days when Marvel reprints used to contain hideous green or pink spot-colours (which were often poorly aligned, leaving Spider-Man with a pink halo all down his left side). Bea comes with a free 25mm Kylie badge (of the style that Americans call “button”).
Issue 1 has a cover date of October 1989, so straight away that tells us it’s a monthly publication (if it were weekly, the cover date would include the day of the month, and if it were fortnightly it would possibly – though not definitely – have two dates, something like “October 13 – October 26 1989”).
Further reinforcing the notion that Bea is a monthly publication are the references to it being just that in the introduction on page 2 by the presumably-fictional Bea. The same page contains a horoscope, a photo of a woman with a baby (said baby being Princess Beatrice, now a strapping 29-year-old), then it’s on to the strips…
First up is “Nicky” (a strip about a girl named Nicky), written by Patty Klein and drawn by Jan Steeman. First thing that caught my eye was that this opening page doesn’t contain a logo. Plus there’s a needless red bar across the top of the page, and another across the bottom. A-ha! I thought. Padding out the top and bottom of the page means that this is a reprint of a European strip that was designed for a comic of different proportions! And I was right: all of the strips within this issue of Bea are (C) 1985, 1989 Oberon BV, Haarlem, Netherlands.
“Nicky” is only one page long, but the next strip, “Maddie” (about a girl named Maddie) is better served, with eight whole pages. Maddie is credited to writer Patty Klein and artist Angeles Felices. Whereas Nicky appears to simply be a bratty teenager, Maddie has a job in Standing Hotel. I’m not entirely sure exactly what her job is, but Michael Jackson turns up and the hotel’s manager George doesn’t know who he is. Hi-jinks, etc., all resolved in the end.
Marginally more interesting is the third strip, “Rachel” (about a girl named Rachel – really pushing out the boat with those titles, guys), written by Fritz Van Der Heide and drawn by Jack Staller. Rachel works at the newly-built Schiphoven Airport, or she lives near it, or it’s in her back garden or something. I don’t know – I couldn’t concentrate on reading it because I kept being distracted by Rachel’s “Pretty sure no one knows I’ve been drinking all morning” expressions.
Seriously, most of the time she looks hammered, and she’s only about twelve. Is this the message we should be sending to our kids, etc.? Rachel’s strip receives ten whole pages and she still isn’t sober by the end of it.
The fourth strip is “The Price of Happiness” (about a girl named The Price of Happiness… wait, that’s not right). A period drama written by Creaciones and drawn by Vivas. This one is about a girl who falls foul of an evil wig-maker (because in the olden days girls couldn’t get jobs in hotels and airports). Only six pages this time, but they’re nicely drawn.
Next we get a two-page strip that seems to be called “The Surprise” but is possibly actually called “E&E” judging by (a) the grey text padding out the space at the top of the page, and (b) the two primary characters being Eric and Emma. It’s a sweet little story about delusional obsessive-compulsive stalking masquerading as a romantic crush (aw!), written by Otto Veenhoven and drawn by one of my all-time favourite comic artists, the absolutely legendary Jesus Redondo.
Last of the strips is “Annie” (about a girl named Nuclear Tungsten Porcupine Death-Strangler – no, wait, I got that wrong… it’s about a girl called Annie), story and art by Wout Paulussen. A one-page strip, much more cartoony than the others.
As well as the strips, Bea contains the standard features of a comic aimed at teenage girls. The aforementioned horoscope (apparently a new look will bring me out of the blue mood from which I’ve been suffering lately, so that’s nice), an article on beauty tips or something (I skipped it because one of the sections is called Hair Helpline and so it doesn’t apply to me), a competition to win a “Crayola Deluxe Art Case”, pop-music news or something, and one of those “Score two points for every ’A’ answer” multiple-choice quizzes: this one’s called “Show Your True Colours.” In the interests of science and research, I took the test. Turns out I’m “into the quiet, subtle shades – delicate rather than devastating.” Well, anyone who’s ever met me could have told you that!
So that’s Bea, issue 1. It also contains a “Next Issue” blurb promising more of the same, but I’ve no idea whether Bea ever made it past the first issue – if anyone out there can provide more information on the comic, do let me know.
According to the inside front cover, the editor of Bea was Sheila Cranna, working with designer Gary Gilbert, design assistant Jacqui Papp, and production person Julie Speller. I could possibly try to track down some of those people in order to learn more about this mysterious comic, and the only reason I haven’t is because I’ve only just thought of that. I could do it now, I guess, but it’s lunchtime, so I’m off to the Standing Hotel (conveniently located close to Schiphoven Airport) for a slap-up feed with my pal the wig-maker.