Tuesday, 31 July 2012



This is the first issue of Marvel UK's licensed STAR TREK: THE NEXT GENERATION comic, launched in November 1990 to roughly coincide with the show's first airing on British TV (shared out between the BBC and B-SKY-B).

It's notably for being almost entirely assembled from material originally produced by Marvel's rival US publishers.  The bulk of each issue consisted of reprints from DC Comics' ST:TNG comic book (beginning with their original six-issue mini-series, produced and published during the show's first season and, initially at least, slightly unsure of the tone of the characters and the show*), padded out with articles lifted from Starlog Group's OFFICIAL STAR TREK: THE NEXT GENERATION MAGAZINE.  Unfortunately, Marvel made no effort to hide the origins of the later, simply rerunning the original US text pages and photos.

Neither the comics nor the magazine had enjoyed mainstream distribution in the UK although both were readily available from specialist retailers and ST:TNG fans, desperate for any fix they could get prior to the show hitting British screens (CIC were releasing episodes for home video although initially only as too-expensive-to-buy rental tapes), were already buying them.

TNG was, in many ways, the quintessential Marvel UK publication (albeit assembled from non-Marvel material): hastily assembled with the minimum of origination and creativity.  Fans hoping for something along the lines of DOCTOR WHO MAGAZINE were very disappointed.

Origination was limited to the covers and some editorial pages.  The former were mostly crudely assembled from TNG's (frequently dull) publicity shots (which often also adorned Starlog's magazine) and actual panels from the DC comic strip.  None of the DC covers were reused, suggesting that either M-UK felt them unsuitable or an extra payment was involved.  The originated editorial pages were restricted to an editorial for each issue and a new letters page.  The whole thing had the feel of a comic hastily assembled by someone on work experience just before deadline.

The cover of the first issue was a fairly crude montage of background art created by Paramount for publicity purposes with art (by Pablo Marcos) from the comic strip slapped over the top.  The free gift was a fabric patch of the sort you might attach to your swimming trunks (if you are seven).

Marvel obviously realised they'd boobed (probably when the sales figures came in) and belatedly relaunched it (with an increased page count, better design and a new logo) as a monthly with issue 20.  The origination budget was also jacked-up and new UK editorial added to increase the title's appeal to more discerning British fans.

However, it was too little, too late and the 24th issue (dated 4 January 1992) was the last.  Unlike many of their publications from this era, the TNG magazine did have an official last issue but didn't merge with another title.

Marvel also published an ST:TNG ANNUAL for Christmas 1991 which followed the exact formula of the fortnightly, making it appear particularly poor value.

This wasn't, of course, Marvel UK's first voyage in the Trekverse: they'd published two standalone STAR TREK holiday specials in the early 1980s as well as serialised Marvel's Trek strips in the pages of FUTURE TENSE.  Marvel's adaptation of STAR TREK: THE MOTION PICTURE had also appeared as an annual by Marvel/ Grandreams.

* DC themselves placed this initial adventure, produced (for deadline reasons) just as the show was starting to shoot, between the pilot Encounter at Farpoint and The Naked Now, the show's first two outings.

Monday, 30 July 2012


Here's a unique piece of X-MEN art which, nevertheless, will be familiar to long-time Marvel UK readers - and devotees of early-morning British breakfast TV.

In May 1985, Marvel New York despatched Chris Claremont, John Romita Jr. and Dan Green on a European tour, officially to promote their X-Men title but really as a company-bankrolled reward for making it a bestseller.

The UK was one of the stops on the tour and they made a live promotional appearance on GOOD MORNING BRITAIN, ITV's national breakfast programme from TV-am's Camden Lock studios.

As part of the appearance, the art duo created this piece featuring TV-am presenters-of-the-day Anne Diamond and Henry Kelly.

After the programme, the artwork was included in Marvel UK's Prize Draw to help Ethiopia.  Two versions of the art were included: the fully painted final version (framed!) and Romita's original pencils.

The draw took place at the Westminster Central Hall Comic Mart in December 1985.  Quite what happened to the art after that is lost to the mists of time.

But, UK fanzine SPEAKESY did include it on the cover of one of their (undated) 1985 editions to accompany an interview with the X-creatives.  Presumably the art was loaned for the cover before it found a new home.

I've done a You Tube search to see if I can find the original TV-am footage but it doesn't appear to have been uploaded anywhere.  TV-am itself lost its franchise in the 1991 auction (along with fellow ITV license holders Thames, TVS and TSW) and ceased broadcasting on 31 December 1992.

The TV-am archive, which appears to be fairly comprehensive, was sold-on to the Moving Image Company.  They have set up a dedicated TV-am You Tube channel with selected material, although not this particular interview.  The TV-am brand has also been sold to journalist Ian White who now operates a website devoted to the company.

Marvel Editor-in-Chief Jim Shooter also appeared on TV-am's kids show the WIDE AWAKE CLUB (aka WAC) whilst visiting the UK in October 1985.

October 1985

Friday, 27 July 2012


Here it is: the seldom-seen (and not on DVD goshdarnit) full-length Filmation animated movie FLASH GORDON: THE GREATEST ADVENTURE OF THEM ALL, in nine easy chunks courtesy of a random stranger on You Tube.

Originally produced in the late seventies, the movie was shelved until 1982.











It's back-to-the-FUTURE (magazine) yet again (I'm really getting my monies worth out of these sometimes hard-to-find back issues) for this great behind-the-scenes feature on the Filmation FLASH GORDON animated series.

The show, part of the post STAR WARS rush to get SF projects on-screen, premiered on NBC in 1979 as THE NEW ADVENTURES OF FLASH GORDON (not to be confused with the later DEFENDERS OF THE EARTH).

The show ran for (an unusually high) 32 episodes, split into two 16-episode seasons.  Surprisingly, the second run didn't appear until 1982.

The show remained faithful to Alex Reymond's original creation, even retaining the movie serial-style continuing adventure formula for season one (abandoned, in favour of self-contained episodes, for Year Two), and boasted animation several notches above Filmation's usual standards.

The show, apparently, didn't reach the UK until the BBC aired it from 17 October 1983.

Confusingly, there is a also a feature film version which is much more elusive than the TV series (which has been released on both sides of the Atlantic, although both sets now seem to be deleted).  The film (FLASH GORDON: THE GREATEST ADVENTURE OF THEM ALL) was, apparently, produced before the series but mothballed (possibly at the behest of Dino De Laurentisis to avoid any competition/ confusion with his own spangly Flash Gordon extravaganza) until 1982 (and pretty-much unseen since).  The principle difference between the two animated incarnations is that the movie is set on WWII era Earth.

Unlike the series, it's not been released on DVD but has definitely aired on British TV at some point (possibly a Saturday morning) as I've seen it!

July 1978

Thursday, 26 July 2012


Here's an advert, from one of Marvel's weeklies, for Grandreams' Christmas 1984 offering of Pop Culture goodies.

The Perfect Mailing Company handled Marvel UK subscriptions and back issues.  As a kid (and an adult too) I always imagined their Maldon warehouse (actually not too many towns removed from where I lived... curses for not going to have a look around!) to be a cornucopia of cool stuff in the RAIDERS OF THE LOST ARK tradition.


Here's a brief FUTURE magazine news piece (issue 7, January 1979) on BATTLESTAR GALACTICA.  The most interesting bit, however, is the seldom-seen (and tricksy-for-the-time) accompanying Cylon picture.  I don't remember seeing it anywhere else although, presumably, it was supplied by Universal's picture publicity people and not concocted by Starlog's own designers.


In the late seventies, pester-power extended to where your parents filled-up the car.  Whilst purveyors of petrol tried to lure in the punters with glasses and other trappings of the suburban highlife, the (now defunct) chain of NATIONAL STATIONS formed an alliance with THE SMURFS.  Britain's kids instantly reassessed which chain of garages were the best.

This is an advert, from LOOK-IN (October 1979), promoting the latest addition to the range: Golf Smurf (presumably one for the middle class dads as well).

ITV's LOOK-IN had already realised the benefits of prominently featuring the little blue goons.  It's worth remembering that we're still years away from NBC stumbling across Les Schtroumpfs and, with Hanna-Barbera, launching them to Saturday morning glory (in 1981).

The National chain seemed to quietly vanish in the 1980s.  A quick bit of Wikipedia finger-work reveals that the chain, actually owned by BP since 1957, was phased-out through the eighties in favour of the stronger BP brand.  Individual stations were, presumably, refitted to operate under the BP facia.

It wasn't the end of the Smurfs however: the animated series (shown randomly on ITV in the UK: LWT, for example, used it as a Sunday afternoon schedule filler) led to fresh waves of merchandising and the figurines themselves were sold in other outlets including gift and card emporiums.

Wednesday, 25 July 2012


Spot C.Y.R.I.L's - ahem - deliberate mistake on the cover of Marvel UK's RETURN OF THE JEDI weekly issue 9!

The cover-mounted gift itself was a "May The Force Be With You!" pin badge, tapped to each copy top-left.  It's long-since vanished from this particular copy.

The lure of the badge, and Marvel's sometimes erratic distribution, meant I couldn't actually find a copy of this issue when it was published and only tracked-down this sans-gift copy many years later.

The photo-covers were a canny ploy by Marvel to attract casual readers and continued for quite some time... basically until the stock of suitable images were well-and-truly exhausted (some looked a little desperate although Star Warriors didn't care).  Dez Skinn had first introduced photo-covers to STAR WARS WEEKLY when he took the Marvel UK helm in 1979, although they never fully replaced artwork covers as a regular fixture.


Here's an interesting oddity I picked-up a few years ago online: two pages (four printed sides) from the 1989 ITV STYLE GUIDE relating to ANGLIA TV.

Although often referred to as ITV, and occasionally used on-screen as an overarching description of the 15 regional companies (plus TVam the breakfast contractor and ITN, the news service*) that made up the network, 1989 was the first time that ITV had tried to roll-out a consistent national brand across all regions.  Needless to say, it didn't quite go as planned.

The idea was simple enough: every region would use the ITV logo on-screen but each version would be slightly different, using the "V" to incorporate elements of their existing branding.  A clever, in the circumstances, solution.

However, at this point in the broadcaster's history it was still (unlike today) a loose affiliation of independently owned and managed regional operations, each of which holding (but not owning) the license to broadcast in their own geographical area.  As a result, not every region adopted the new "house style".

These pages are extracted from what was, presumably, a much thicker guide which included all regional variations as well as the overall ITV national brand.  It's interesting (to me at least) for two reasons:
1. Anglia Television, covering the East Anglian region, was 'my' ITV broadcaster growing up.
2.  Anglia never adopted the on-screen look shown here.

Anglia launched, in October 1959, with the classic knight-on-a-horse statue on-screen identity.  Amazingly, the knight survived, virtually unchanged, well into the 1980s.  This left Anglia looking increasingly anachronistic compared with its slicker neighbours to the north(ish) (Central) and south (LWT).

In 1988, the company drafted in designers Lambie-Nairn to overhaul the station's entire on-screen look.  The tradition of the knight was retained in the new design: a heraldic pendent (known to viewers as the "Anglia flag") which fluttered on-screen in all its CG glory.  Continuity announcers, previously normally seen in-vision, were relegated to voice-only work (except during the long gaps between programmes in the overnight schedules).

With such a radical overhaul only a year old, it was probably no surprise that Anglia's powers-that-be rejected the opportunity to jump aboard the national brand.

Copies of the full style guide (or "manual" as it describes itself) were presumably dolled out, along with the requisite video elements on tape to the presentation departments of each company.  The guide was intended to show/ remind each company how the logo was to be used on-air, preventing inconsistencies and brand no-no's when unleashed onto 15 different Graphics teams.

Here, courtesy of You Tube, is a nice compilation of Anglia's on-screen identities.

Below is a compilation of ITV 1989 regional identities from the companies that used it (IE most of them!):


* Both of which sat outside the main ITV structure: ITN was jointly owned by the regional ITV companies to provide them all with national and international news bulletins.  TV-am held the national breakfast franchise (operating across the ITV network from 6-9.25am seven days a week) and sold its own airtime, an arrangement that put it in direct competition with the regional broadcaster's airtime sales teams (who also, at this point, also sold Channel Four's advertising space).

Tuesday, 24 July 2012

1984: C.Y.R.I.L in RETURN OF THE JEDI weekly

Here's the fourth instalment of C.Y.R.I.L's weekly one-page humour strip from Marvel UK's RETURN OF THE JEDI weekly.

26 November 1986


Here's a fun item for ACTION FORCE/ G.I. JOE collectors and fans of the Marvel/ Sunbow JOE TV show: the UK's ACTION FORCE STICKER ALBUM.

Collecting sticker albums (and the inevitable trading of swaps in the playground in a, usually fruitless, attempt to offload the ever-growing pile of duplicates in exchange for the final few illusive stickers) was a rite-of-passage for pretty much all UK-based geeks (unless they had cash-conscience parents who quickly twigged the futility of any such collecting project and put the kibosh on the whole thing).  The uncool kids collected albums based on movies, TV shows and licensed characters, leaving their more sporty opposite numbers to concentrate on similar football sticker collections.

The retail model was always the same: the album itself was a (usually) cheaply-produced book with hundreds of empty spaces for the stickers.  The album included additional text related to the (absent) image, usually (as in this case) telling a story.

To complete the album, collectors had to buy numerous (hundreds!) of extra packets of stickers, containing a random assortment (the unsporting idea of limited edition "chase" cards hadn't infected the industry at this point although some stickers, especially shiny ones, certainly seemed more elusive than others) of stickers.  These were sold behind-the-counter in local newsagents.

The lifetime of any collection was fairly limited which, almost inevitably, meant it was impossible to complete the album before the stickers vanished (but not before you'd spent a fortune trying) from sale. The back of the album did offer limited salvation: the opportunity to buy those elusive last few cards direct from the publisher.  For a price.

The sticker publishers (of which Panini* was the most prevalent although Merlin and others also made valiant efforts to muscle-in) realised that kids were unlikely to stumble across the albums and spontaneously start collecting and formed a faustian pact with Britain's purveyors of comics.  The deal was always the same: in the first week of the promotion, the album and a starter pack of stickers were polybagged free with the comic.  In week two, the comic would include more stickers, sometimes printed on a single sheet (presumably to prevent unscrupulous newsagents from flogging the packs) but sometimes just a standard sticker pack.  Readers were, of course, encouraged to keep collecting in breathless editorials.

The sticker lords loved it: it was the equivalent of giving would-be smack addicts their first hit for free.  The comics guys, in exchange, got two weeks of sales boosting free gifts without the effort of actually having to do anything themselves.

The only people that actually paid for the albums were non-comic readers or slow-starters who started collecting later than anyone else.  However, salvation was sometimes at hand: the same album would often be given away (in the same week) with multiple comics from the same publisher ensuring brand-loyal geeks had duplicate albums (we kept the stickers... of course!).

For the album publishers, selecting the right property always had a wheel of fortune element: how to predict which media property would be the next big thing... and dodge the stinkers.  It's unlikely many kids felt compelled to complete the DUNE album, despite a Tharg-endorsed 2000AD giveaway.

This particular collection appeared after Hasbro took over the ACTION FORCE range from Palitoy and buffed-up their marketing efforts.  The toys (already G.I. JOE in all but name) were reissued in smart new (and much more exciting) packaging based on the US line.  The TV commercials suddenly became much more polished and featured animation (lifted from the original US spots and the TV show) for the first time.  Inevitably, the comics license shifted from IPC's BATTLE ACTION FORCE to Marvel UK, who launched a glossy new weekly which looked far classier than its black-and-white newsprint predecessor.  

The album (which is slightly wider than my A4 scanner, hence the slight loss of image at the edges) and stickers were based on the G.I. JOE animated TV show.  The stickers featured stills from a number of episodes, the album explained the story.  The JOE show never sold to a UK broadcaster (presumably they were already saturated with toy shows or the overtly militaristic tone made them skittish), forcing fans to track down the limited number of episodes released on VHS.

Below are a couple of sample interior pages:

* Better known these days for reprinting Marvel comics throughout Europe.  Marvel acquired the Italian sticker seller during the expansionist early 1990s and folded Marvel UK into its new European operation.  When the cash ran out, Marvel was forced to sell Panini but included the reprint deal as a sweetener. 

Monday, 23 July 2012


Here's a really nice interview with Glen Larson (conducted by Steve Swires), published in Marvel's EPIC ILLUSTRATED magazine (issue 2, summer 1980), where he discusses BATTLESTAR GALACTICA, BUCK ROGERS IN THE 25th CENTURY and GALACTICA 1980.

Amongst the points discussed: How Larson became involved with Buck Rogers; how it morphed from a TV project into a feature film... and back into a TV series and how he went undercover to pitch Galactica 1980* to ABC.  He also, surprisingly, touches upon the upcoming contract negotiations which would - eventually - see him part company with Universal in favour of a new deal at 20th Century Fox.

The interview, presumably conducted early in 1980 (Swires has seen footage from Galactica 1980's Galactica Discovers Earth but doesn't discuss the show in detail), doesn't make any reference to G80 becoming a weekly series.

It also includes some very nice Buck Rogers production art not seen elsewhere.

* A subterfuge which seems to contradict claims in later interviews that it was ABC that wanted to go ahead with the revival.

EPIC ILLUSTRATED, a magazine very much in the HEAVY METAL tradition, was a forerunner to the entire Epic Comics creator-owned line.  It mixed a variety of comic strips with the occasional text feature.  It ran for 34 issues, folding in February 1986.

Thursday, 19 July 2012

1984: C.Y.R.I.L in RETURN OF THE JEDI weekly

Here's the third instalment of Marvel UK's ongoing C.Y.R.I.L one-page humour strip, from the pages of RETURN OF THE JEDI weekly.

24 November 1984


Here's a print advert for the (brief) UK theatrical release of THE TRANSFORMERS: THE MOVIE, released (just in time for Christmas) on 12 December 1986.

The animated extravaganza (if you were a kid), or extended toy commercial (if you were a flummoxed adult dragged to the cinema against your better judgement), had been released stateside in August, giving devoted UK fans ample opportunity to snaffle up Marvel's three-issue US adaptation (published as a one-shot special in the UK) and be the first in the playground to know the plot.

Transformers lord Simon Furman used the new characters and timeframe introduced in the movie (Hasbro used the film's brutely high "death toll" to clear the decks of most of the original Transformers cast and advance the storyline two decades in one hit) to create his multi-part British TF epics, rightly still regarded by TF fandom as amongst

Marvel UK published a one-shot tie-in Poster Magazine which also used this artwork.

This advert, ironically, appeared in BATTLE ACTION FORCE (cover-dated 29 November 1986) which was, of course, largely comprised of strips based on rival toy brand ACTION FORCE (although, by this point it was well on the way to becoming a virtual clone of the US G.I. JOE range) alongside a few non-toy stragglers left over from BATTLE's glory days.

Tuesday, 17 July 2012


Here's the 1983 launch advert for Marvel's ALPHA FLIGHT regular series, written and drawn by John Byrne.

UK reprints were originally pencilled-in for CAPTAIN BRITAIN's new monthly before M-UK decided to run all-British strips (albeit a mix of new and archive material) before finally becoming the regular supporting strip in MARVEL SUPER HEROES SECRET WARS (presumably because it only enjoyed limited interaction with the rest of the Marvel Universe and worked well reprinted in isolation).


Here's a vintage COMICS FEATURE interview with Marvel's controversial guvnor "Jolly" Jim Shooter from 1983 (issue 23/24).

Cover by Mike Harris
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