Monday 14 May 2018

Nostalgic For My Childhood - Starlord comic at 40

In 1978, sci-fi was big in the UK following the release of Star Wars in January and nine-year-old me was eager to explore it as much as I could.  I'd already started reading 2000AD (and enjoyed it) and then saw ads for a new comic IPC were launching (they already published 2000AD but decided to capitalise on the craze and try to monopolise the market at the same time) and thought I'd give it a go...
The first issue of Starlord appeared on Saturday 6th May (cover dated as the 13th).  Originally planned as a monthly title, with longer stories and higher production values than 2000AD, the company got cold feet late in the planning process and changed their minds.  Lew Stringer reports he was told by an IPC editor that monthly comics were considered too risky back then, the thinking being the target audience, accustomed to weekly comics, would either forget the new issue was due out or lose interest between installments.  To accommodate the change, story episodes were shortened and the number of colour pages reduced but the better quality paper and printing were retained, showing a marked improvement on 2000AD’s newsprint quality.  This did, however, make Starlord slightly more expensive than its competition at 12p per issue - 2000AD was 9p while Marvel’s Star Wars weekly cost 10p.
2000AD’s then editor, Kelvin Gosnell, was asked to launch and edit the new title but apparently found it hard to keep both comics running simultaneously to the same standard.  “I allowed myself to be sucked into this Starlord bollocks,” Great New For All Readers reports him as saying, “when I should have stuck with the core characters of 2000AD, watched them, done the editor thing.”  With Gosnell occupied, chief sub-editor Nick Landau took over most of the responsibility for 2000AD which apparently didn’t make for an always happy working environment.

In keeping with 2000AD’s Tharg, the comic had a fictional editor and Starlord (drawn by Ian Gibson) introduced himself and warned readers of an imminent alien invasion but, on the bright side, they got one of six free badges (which were randomly taped to the cover).  The free gift on issue 2 was a ‘Space Calculator’, a cardboard slide giving information on the planets, whilst issue 3 had a ‘Starblast’ game, a version of Battleships with a re-usable wipe-clean laminated card.
The first appearance of Johnny Alpha and Wulf - written by John Wagner, art by Carlos Ezquerra
The first issue opened with “Planet Of The Damned”, written by R. E. Wright (2000AD stalwart Pat Mills), drawn by Lalia and it was followed by “Time Quake” , written by Jack Adrian and drawn (as beautifully as ever) by Ian Kennedy.  After an editorial came “Strontium Dog”, written by T. B. Grover (John Wagner, who also created Judge Dredd amongst many others) and drawn by Carlos Ezquerra - Johnny Alpha, the Dog of the title, would prove to be a hugely successful character who still appears in 2000AD now.  “Ro-Busters”, written by Pat Mills and drawn by Carlos Pino, takes up the remainder of the magazine (11 pages!) and would prove to be another successful strip (certainly it’s lead robot characters, Hammerstein and Ro-Jaws).
Ro-busters from issue 19, written by Jack Adrian, art by Pino.  The baddies name looks vaguely familiar, doesn't it?
Of the strips, “Strontium Dog” ran for the life of the comic with seven adventures, all written by John Wagner and all but the last drawn by Carlos Ezquerra.

“Ro-Busters” also ran for the life of the comic with eight stories written by Pat Mills (1, 2, 4), Bill Henry (3), V. Gross (5) and Jack Adrian (6, 7).  The artwork was split between Carlos Pino (1, 2, 4, 6, 7) and Ian Kennedy (3, 5).

“Planet Of The Damned” ran for 10 episodes, all written by Wright/Mills.

“Timequake”’s first story ran for three issues, it’s second (also written by Jack Adrian) ran for six and its third (written by Ian Mennell) lasted four.

“Mind Wars” debuted with issue 2 and ran for the life of the comic, written by Alan Hebden and drawn by Jesus Redondo.

“Holocaust” ran for nine issues from number 14, written by Alan Hebdon and a variety of artists.

There were also several one-off stories.  “Good Morning, Sheldon, I Love You!” and “Earn Big Money While You Sleep!” were written by Wagner and drawn by Casanovas, while “The Snatch” and “Skirmish!” were written by Alan Hebden and drawn by Pena
from issue 1
Although it appears (as reported online) that Starlord was the better seller of the two comics, it was also more expensive to produce with its larger format, higher grade of paper and greater use of colour.  Since neither comic was a big success for IPC during the summer of 1978, the decision was taken to merge Starlord into 2000AD, after 22 issues for the former.  Although it could be argued that was the better decision (2000AD had a stronger format, with shorter serials and a younger target audience and merging the two helped it mature into the cultural icon it is now), at the time I was cheesed off.  In the late70s, most of the comics I enjoyed ended up merging into something else which often meant, within a few months, I found myself reading a comic with none of my favourite strips left in it.  Thankfully, as mentioned, that didn’t happen with Starlord as 2000AD successfully ported over Strontium Dog and Ro-Busters (leading onto The A.B.C. Warriors), where they ran for decades.
As the titles merged, Starlord’s final editorial (and the cover) announced that his mission on Earth had been successfully completed and he was heading off to battle the evil Instellar Federation on other worlds but urged us readers to “keep watching the stars”.  In 1999, a reader asked about Starlord’s whereabouts and 2000AD editor Tharg wrote: “While Starlord has not been sighted on Earth since 1979, rumours that he was seen in a McDonalds in Basingstoke cannot be entirely discounted.”  He also claimed, on another occasion, that Starlord was “out in the Rakkalian Cluster, singing lead soprano with an Alvin Stardust tribute band”.
Starlord ended its run with issue 22, dated 7th October 1978 though there were also three annuals (cover dated 1980, 1981 and 1982) and a Summer Special (in July 1978).

The end of the line...
One of the banes of my childhood life, as a much-loved comic gets absorbed into another...
I have very fond memories of the comic and the great cover art and stories still stand up really well, making for a thoroughly entertaining read.

Happy 40th, Starlord - keep watching the stars!

Great New For All Readers
Lew Stringer's Blimey blog
British Comics Wiki (annual information)


  1. Brings back a lot of memories. I only started reading Starlord when it merged into 2000AD, but I did have the 1980 annual. As a 2000AD reader, I wasn't too pleased to have strips rapidly finished to clear room for the Starlord incomers, but that soon changed when I fell in love with the new titles. I did a podcast interview earlier in the month and was asked where the inspiration came for my latest novel. The answer, of course, was Strontium Dog. Still influencing authors 40 years later :-)