Welcome back, folks, to the regular feature I like to think of as “The One That Seemed Like a Great Idea Until I Realised How Much Work it Would be for So Little Reward.” (Did you know I don’t even get paid to do this? In fact, just so that you don’t have to wade through ads, I pay WordPress to use their ad-free version!)
This time around, we’ve got five Marvel UK titles, a couple of classics — including one comic that’s so famous it needs no introduction so I’ll say no more about it here — and a handful of others, not much at all, really… not compared to next month which is going to be pretty intense, for reasons I mentioned back in January.
Standard disclaimer: unless I decide otherwise, these are only the “big” anniversaries (25, 30, 35, 40, 45, 50, 60, 70, 75, 80, 90 & 100+ years); dates are cover-dates where known; monthly comics with no confirmed day of launch default to the start of the month; and this list is accurate only to the best of my knowledge, so do please let me know of any errors or omissions! (See also Oct 2019, Nov 2019, Dec 2019, Jan 2020, Feb 2020 and Mar 2020.)
30 years ago:
April – Zones (London Editions, Apr 1990 to Oct 1990, 4 issues) launched.
Zones was a bi-monthly comic that reprinted DC strips like The Shadow and Swamp Thing, along with an assortment of text features. It was a noble idea, but with hindsight we can see that it was doomed to failure for a number of reasons. 1: The cover of the first issue is particularly eye-dropping (my new word: the opposite of eye-catching). 2: While Swamp Thing was very much in vogue at the time, there’s a very wide chasm between the first Swampy strips, which they reprinted here, and the Alan Moore-scripted strips that everyone wanted. 3: They chose the wrong kind of bi-monthly for the schedule: the one-issue-every-two-months version, not the two-issues-every-one-month version.
35 years ago:
20 April – Get Along Gang (Marvel UK, 20 Apr 1985 to 24 Jan 1987, 93 issues) launched.
The Get Along Gang comic is based on a cartoon which was based on a series of greetings cards, I kid you not. They’re animals in clothes who help each other out of minor scrapes and if one of them ever disagrees with the others, they’re always swayed to the adopt the opinion of the masses. It’s supposed to promote fair play, I guess, and that might seem like it’s a good thing… but it comes at the cost of individuality and that, boys and girls, is a very bad thing. This world already has plenty of sheep: it needs more free-thinkers!
27 April – Marvel Super Heroes Secret Wars (Marvel UK, 27 Apr 1985 to 10 Jan 1987, 80 issues) launched.
These days it seems like every issue of a Marvel comic is part of some massive cross-over event — if not part of several such events at the same time — but back in the mid-eighties these things were considerably less common, so Secret Wars was a pretty big deal. And it was great, too: all your favourite heroes and Cyclops battling it out in a giant punch-up full of adventure and intrigue and plot-twists. Awesome stuff, and no less awesome when you learn that it was created solely to sell toys. Looking back, Secret Wars does suffer from acute resetitis — like almost all Comic Book Big Events — with the exception that this is where Spider-Man received his black costume, and we all know what happened with that… (The living costume is a symbiote that took control of his body, but he eventually managed to shed it, and it became Venom, one of Marvel’s best-loved characters). This reprint title was published fortnightly up to issue #10, then switched to weekly thereafter. From issue #32, the title was changed to Secret Wars II, which it retained for the remaining forty-nine issues. Update: John Freeman’s brilliant Down the Tubes blog has an excellent article on the “Secret Artist” two-page feature that appeared in the early issues — well worth a read!
40 years ago:
April – Spider-Man Pocket Book (Marvel UK, Apr 1980 to Jul 1982, 28 issues) launched.
An A5-sized “digest” comic that reprinted the US Marvel Team-Up books which always featured Spider-Man fighting alongside another hero (but not until they’ve had a misunderstanding and given each other a few good thumps). Also featured the earliest tales from Amazing Spider-Man, which hadn’t been reprinted since The Mighty World of Marvel and Spider-Man Comics Weekly almost a decade earlier: very handy because these were the days before graphic novels, and it wasn’t easy to track down back-issues.
April – Star Heroes Pocket Book (Marvel UK, Apr 1980 to Jul 1982, 28 issues) launched.
I really liked this one, but the Micronauts strip was dropped after issue #8, and Battlestar Galactica strip after issue #10, at which point it became an X-Men comic (with issue #12, the title was changed to reflect this). It’s a shame really because the Marvel US comics from which they were reprinted ran for much longer: twenty-three issues for Galactica, and fifty-nine issues for Micronauts, so it’s not like they ran out of material. In fact, the US Micronauts comic was still in print while Star Heroes was running. Presumably the SF strips just weren’t popular enough. I did quite like the X-Men but the stories were reprinted from the beginning, these 1960s strips feeling very primitive compared to the then-nearly-current early 80s strips.
Update: Thanks to Lee Grice and Star Hero, I now know that Star Heroes did indeed reprint all of the US Marvel BattleStar Galactica comics: Issues #1 to #3 were reprinted in a BG movie special, and #4 & #5 were reprinted in a Star Heroes special that predated the pocket book. The remainder appeared in SHPB: issues #2, #4 and #6 reprinted two BG issues, and #9 reprinted five.
Also: Both pointed out that Micronauts was pulled from Star Heroes because it was used to bolster Marvel’s SF weekly Future Tense (which launched in November 1980). Thanks, guys! You both win a very shiny, brand new, genuine Rusty Staples No-Postal-Order!
April – The Fabulous Fantastic Four Pocket Book (Marvel UK, Apr 1980 to Jul 1982, 28 issues) launched.
I’ve spoken before of my feelings about Marvel’s First Family… Wonderful stories, but only fifty percent of the team are great while the rest are generally pretty dull. Well, OK, every now and then Sue and Reed will do something that makes me go, “Ah, yeah, I get it now!” but then they’d go off and become pompous / simpering again. But Ben and Johnny are almost always fun, except in the 2005 and 2007 movies, in which Johnny is massively annoying. And the 2015 “reboot” movie in which everything is massively annoying. Anyway, this pocket-book was definitely worth a purchase if you were a fan of the FF, because you got fifty-two pages of comicy goodness with lots of Jack Kirby art, leading into some of the team’s best tales. Within the first few issues, we got the introductions of the Black Panther, the Watcher, the Inhumans, the Silver Surfer and of course Galactus (arguably the greatest comic-book character ever).
05 April – Penny (IPC, 28 Apr 1979 to 05 Apr 1980, 45 issues) final issue: absorbed into Jinty.
As a vague rule, girls’ British comics tended to stick around longer than boys’ comics, but Penny was one of the shorter-lived publications, possibly because its title was lying and it should have been called Ten Pennies. I don’t know a huge amount about this one, to be honest, but I do know that it ran a strip based on Enid Blyton’s Secret Seven books. True confession: I was about eight or nine years old when my friend Brian told me about the Secret Seven, of which he had recently become a fan. He did his best to explain about the characters and the plots, but I somehow got the notion that he was talking about a superhero team. The remainder of that conversation was very confusing indeed…
Me: “Well, what powers do they have?”
Brian: “They don’t have any powers. They just solve crimes.”
Me: “Same as Batman, then?”
Brian: “No, not like bloomin’ Batman! They’re children!”
Me: “Ah, they’re like Robin, so, and the Teen Titans?”
Brian: “No! They’re just seven kids and they have a dog!”
Me: “Like the Inhumans have Lockjaw?”
45 years ago:
30 April – Noddy and his Friends (Hudvale, 09 Mar 1974 to 30 Apr 1975, 49 issues) final issue.
Hey, two Enid Blyton things in a row! Noddy, as is well known, is a toy who lives in Toyland. When I was a tiny kid, the notion that all the toys had a land of their own was quite fascinating to me, and I felt sorry for those who had to leave their version of Genosha and come and live in the human world with all its horrors like war and poverty and homework and country music. I also recall feeling very sorry for Noddy’s pal Big Ears because I knew that people should be judged and regarded for their actions and intentions, and not simply slapped with a label that referred to a physical attribute, as though that was their only characteristic worthy of note. It was decades before I realised that the same thing had actually been done to Noddy himself: he had a loose head and was constantly nodding all the time. (And now I’m picturing a scene in which Noddy is visiting the doctor to finally get something done about his medical condition. The doc asks him to undress so she can examine him, and Noddy removes his bell-equipped hat for the first time in years… and that’s the point at which he realises that he doesn’t also have tinnitus.)
70 years ago:
1 April – Cowboy Comics (Amalgamated Press, 1 Apr 1950 to 1 Sep 1962, 468 issues) launched.
Notable for, among other things, being the first of many British “Picture Library” comics, although it wasn’t officially known as such until issue #205, March 1957, when it was renamed Cowboy Picture Library. (Thanks to comics historian Steven Taylor for supplying me with the correct start-date for this one: I had it in my database as May 1950, not April.)
14 April – Eagle (Hulton/Longacre/Odhams/IPC, 14 Apr 1950 to 26 Apr 1969, 987 issues) launched.
Blimey, seventy years! That’s amazing… Enough has been written about Eagle over the years that you could fill a book with just a list of the articles’ titles, let alone the articles themselves. And more still will be written in the coming weeks as the seventieth anniversary hits home. I’ll possibly even make a mention or two of it here on Rusty Staples, to go with some of my previous Eagle articles. The comic really was ground-breaking in so many respects. Dan Dare outshone every other strip by a great degree, which is unfortunate because many of those now-overlooked strips were very good indeed.
80 years ago:
April – Thrill Comics (Swan, Apr 1940 to 1950, 35 issues) launched.
I don’t know a lot about the Gerald G. Swan comics, other than that they tended to thrive during a period when so many other comics were failing. This was apparently thanks to some very great luck on Mr Swan’s part: the story goes that, being a publisher with more confidence in his publications than they perhaps deserved, he’d invested in great quantities of paper, far more than his sales figures might indicate was necessary. Then when the war broke out, and paper was so scarce that publications were being cancelled or merged all over the place, Swan was able to keep going, and — with fewer rival publications around — gain a much more secure foothold in the market.
April – Topical Funnies (Swan, Apr 1940 to Jan 1951, 36 issues) launched.
Another of what I like to think of as Swan’s “War Baby” comics. This one occasionally shows up as Tropical Funnies. Swan comics tended not to have cover-dates — or even a regular schedule: Topical Funnies‘ thirty-six issues over ten-and-a-bit years works out at about one issue every 3.5 months — so they can be tricky to pin down. Few intact copies have survived, which suggests that their print-runs might have been on the low side.
April – War Comics (Swan, Apr 1940 to Dec 1943, 20 issues) launched.
The issue-counts for some of Swan’s titles, including this one, can be a bit confusing: there were twenty regular issues of War Comics, plus a “Special Winter Number.” Here at Castle Rusty, we don’t include special issues (including summer specials) in the issue counts. One day I must do a feature explaining why not!
100 years ago:
17 April – Cheerio (Amalgamated Press, 17 May 1919 to 17 Apr 1920, 49 issues) final issue: relaunched as Kinema Comic.
As I’ve mentioned before, Cheerio is occasionally listed on other sites as a separate comic that was absorbed by The Kinema Comic, but this is actually an accident of language: the earliest issues of The Kinema Comic featured the words “With which is incorporated Cheerio!” under the logo.
17 April – Sparks (Henderson/Amalgamated Press, 26 Apr 1919 to 17 Apr 1920, 51 issues) final issue: relaunched as Little Sparks.
And if you thought that Cheerio‘s history was a little confusing, then sit yersel’ doon, comrade, because you ain’t seen nothin’ yet… [Deep breath…] This version of Sparks was a relaunch of The Big Comic (17 Jan 1914 to 19 Apr 1919, 224 issues), which itself absorbed the original Sparks (21 Mar 1914 to 29 Dec 1917, 198 issues). This version was subsequently relaunched as Little Sparks, for which see below.
24 April – The Kinema Comic (Amalgamated Press/Fleetway, 24 Apr 1920 to 15 Oct 1932, 651 issues) launched.
See Cheerio, above! So, yes, ordinary comic Cheerio decided to reinvent itself as a specialist comic for movie-fans. You could get away with that sort of behaviour in those days, but you’d be hard-pressed to do so now. Many copies of The Kinema Comic featured strips based on actor Chester Conklin, thus proving the value of comic-books: Conklin’s name is almost unknown nowadays, despite being in over three hundred movies, but I know who he was because he starred on the cover of The Kinema Comic.
24 April – Little Sparks (Amalgamated Press, 24 Apr 1920 to 30 Sep 1922, 124 issues) launched.
So the second version of Sparks (26 Apr 1919 to 17 Apr 1920, 51 issues, see above) was relaunched as as Little Sparks, and that in turn, was after two years relaunched as Sunbeam 7 Oct 1922, lasting until 23 Jan 1926 (173 issues), before it was re-launched with same tittle (Sunbeam), which ran from 31 Jan 1926 to 25 May 1940, for 747 issues, at which point it was absorbed into Tiny Tots (22 Oct 1927 to 24 Jan 1959, 1334 issues).
125 years ago:
05 April – The Boys’ Home Journal (Harmsworth, 05 Apr 1895 to 03 May 1895, 5 issues) launched.
One of those titles for which I’ve been unable to find a cover… And I’ve been searching for a very long time. The Boys’ Home Journal only lasted for five issues before it was relaunched a Comic Home Journal. That version had considerably more success, running from 11 May 1895 to 10 Sep 1904, for 488 issues before it was absorbed into Butterfly.