Monday 25 March 2019

Nostalgic For My Childhood - Tornado comic at 40

Forty years ago this week, IPC Magazines launched a new comic called Tornado (that first issue, undated, appeared on March 24th and came complete with a cover mounted spinner).  Coming hot on the heels of The Crunch (which I wrote about here), I picked it up as a happy ten-year-old, pleased to find another new stand-in for the recent demise of the much-loved Bullet the previous December (which I wrote about here).  Unfortunately, Tornado wouldn’t be around for long…
Tornado came from the same stable as 2000AD (which it would eventually join up with) and, following the cancellations of Starlord (which I wrote about here) and Action, was created to use up stories already commissioned for those titles meaning it included a mixture of war, horror, science fiction and detective stories as well as the usual letters page.

Printed on low quality newsprint stock, it was edited by Kelvin Gosnell, who’d taken over the reins at 2000AD from Pat Mills before overseeing the launch of Starlord (until its merger).  The title had five stories per issue which were written and drawn by the regular IPC stable talent and, as such, it had some terrific quality to it.  The main series included:

The Mind Of Wolfie Smith, about a young boy who becomes a runaway when his telepathic and telekinetic powers emerge, was written by Tom Tully and illustrated by Vincente Vaño.

Angry Planet, set in the late 21st century on Mars, was written by Alan Hebden, drawn by the superb Massimo Belardinelli and ran for the life of the comic.  In an interesting touch, the Mars Inc. troopers look very similar to Cylons from the then-recent Battlestar Galactica series (1978).

Wagner’s Walk, set in Siberia in 1948, concerned Major Wagner, an escaped German POV, fleeing the Red Army with his tank crew.  Originally set to feature the character Hellman (from Action), it was written by Pat Mills (credited as R. E. Wright) and featured artwork from Lozano and Mike White.

Blackhawk, written by Gerry Finlay-Day and drawn by Alfonso Azpiri, featured a Nubian galley slave who rescues his ship from pirates, is granted his freedom and earns a commission as a Centurion.
Wolfie Smith (from issue 2), Storm (from issue 3), The Lawless Touch (from issue 11)
The Lawless Touch, about a thief called Jonny Lawless recruited to work for a secret agency, was created by Kelvin Gosnell, Steve MacManus and Barrie Mitchell.

Storm, about a ‘wild-eyed gypsy boy’ in the highlands of Scotland, was written by Scott Goodall and drawn by Musquera

Victor Drago was originally Sexton Blake until a contract dispute forced IPC to make the name change (Blake’s assistant Tinker became Spencer).  Chris Lowder, the original writer, wasn’t pleased and told Judge Dredd Megazine #384, “I complained bitterly, and I was so angry because I'd done all this work and had all these things lined up. I said, ‘No, it's not just a name change, you're missing the point.’ I told them to get someone else to finish it off."  The strip, with great artwork by Mike Dorey, was credited to Bill Henry.

There was also the curious Captain Klep, from Klepton, who had superpowers on Earth due to the environmental differences between Earth and Klepton.  I never found him particularly funny, though one of his tag-lines - faster than a microwave oven - managed to tickle my ten-year-old sense of humour.

Dave Gibbons in the centre, Nick Landau not pictured
As with Tharg (played by Kelvin Gosnell under a Neanderthal man mask), Tornado’s ‘editor’ also appeared in person.  Known as Big E, he was actually comic artist Dave Gibbons and the photo-strips also featured Ken Armstrong as Percy Pilbeam (Big E’s cilivian persona), Beverly Henry, Nick Landau and Kevin O’Neill.

Dave Gibbons worked for D. C. Thomson and IPC but got his big break with 2000AD where he drew the first 24 installments of Harlem Heroes before moving on to the likes of Dan Dare, Ro-Busters, Rogue Trooper, Judge Dredd and Tharg's Future Shocks among others.  Going on to a successful career with DC Comics, he co-created Watchmen with Alan Moore.

Ken Armstrong was IPC’s foreign liaison editor and wrote Hook Jaw for Action, The Mind of Wolfie Smith, Flesh and Dan Dare for 2000 AD and Lofty's One Man Luftwaffe for Battle Picture Weekly, among others.

Nick Landau co-edited the fanzine Comics Media and, after interviewing Pat Mills, became a sub-editor on Action and 2000AD, becoming its effective editor when Kelvin Gosnell was tied up with Starlord.  After leaving, he not only set up Titan Distribution (leading to Titan Entertainment Group, including comics and magazines) but also started the Forbidden Planet bookshop in London.

Kevin O’Neill worked on humour comics like Whizzer & Chips and Monster Fun before 2000AD where he drew, amongst others, Ro-Busters, ABC Warriors, Tharg's Terror Tales and Nemesis the Warlock (which he co-created with Pat Mills) as well as Judge Dredd. His short story Shok!, featured in the 1981 Judge Dredd Annual, was found to be the basis for Richard Stanley's Hardware (1990) and O'Neill and co-writer Steve MacManus were given writing credits on the film.  He also co-created The League Of Extraordinary Gentlemen with Alan Moore.
First issue editorial which seems terrified a reader will cause havoc with the free spinner...

Uh oh, "special news", that's not likely to be good...
A childhood bane, as a much-loved comic gets absorbed into another...
Unfortunately, Tornado only lasted 22 issues (the cover of the final one, dated 18th August, carried that typical “Special news inside for all readers!”) and it merged into 2000AD with prog 127 (dated 25th August).  Only Blackhawk, Wolfie Smith and Captain Klep made the jump, with the first two having their storylines adapted to make them fit the required sci-fi tone - all three characters had gone by September 1980.  A Summer Special was published in 1979 (a mixture of new material and reprints from past IPC titles) which featured Victor Drago, Klep and two stories each with Wolfie Smith and Hurricane Jones, among others.  Two Tornado Annuals were published in 1979 and 1980 (dated, as per custom, for the following year), the 1980 one featured Wolfie Smith and Drago from the weekly, the 1981 also included Blackhawk, The Lawless Touch and Storm, with both annuals containing stories unrelated to the weekly comic.  In a nice move, The Lawless Touch was re-issued free with Judge Dredd Megazine in 2017 and we can only hope something like that happens again soon.

I have fond memories of Tornado and, having picked up a few on ebay over the years, it's still a great read so it seems a shame the comic is sadly all but forgotten now.

Happy 40th, Tornado!

British Comics wiki
Great News For All Reader
Bronze Age Of Blogs

Monday 18 March 2019

Pocketeers - A Bit Of Nostalgia...

Dude & I were talking the other day about electronic games, partly because he finds it so hard to believe we didn’t have them when I was a kid (apart from the Binatone system you plugged into the TV, which I wrote about here).  I reminded him of Pocketeers, which I’d introduced him to a few years back when I found one (I had the Grand Prix edition which, unfortunately, was long since lost to the sands of time), quite by chance, in my friend Joe's Vintage Toy Shop in Leicester.  Dude had been intrigued by it and, after I showed him how it worked, we spent an enjoyable evening playing on it.  Now, of course, it seems very primitive (though I still think it’s cool) but back in the day it was brilliant.
Grand Prix was originally released in the UK in 1976 and the gameplay is simple.  When the dial's rotated, it moves the four magnetic cars around the track, doing as many laps as you want them to (or until the colour car you’d chosen won).

Arguably the GameBoy of my generation, Pocketeers mechanical games were produced by Palitoy in the UK from 1975, based on the original Japanese Tomy Pocket Games.  Pocket-sized, cheap and encased in a sturdy plastic shell, they were often themed puzzles or challenges and ideally suited to while away hours spent in the back of the car going on holiday or for lazy summer afternoons.  The original eight titles released were Cup Final, Fruit Machine, Crossbow, Blow Pipe, The Derby, Grand Prix, Pinball and Golf, with more being added over the years - by 1982, when the line ceased production, there were 46 different games available.

They were sold in America, by Tomy, as Tomy Pocket Games and also as Pocketfuls, under licence to MB and Coleco.  Most had identical gameplay to the UK versions, though usually with different names, themes or graphics (the Grand Prix, for example, became Speedway and our cricket game was adapted to baseball).

Chatting about it made both of us want to play it again and, even though it might now be 43 years old, 100% manual and not a patch on Fortnite (his opinion, not mine), Grand Prix still gave us both a delightful hour or so of fun.
ad from Look-In, July 1979
Thanks to James Masters

Monday 11 March 2019

If You Go Down To The Woods, by Seth C. Adams (a review)

In a new edition of the occasional series, I want to tell you about a book I've read and loved, which I think adds to the genre (both thriller and coming-of-age, in this case) and that I think you'll enjoy if you're a fan.

We were so young when it all happened. Just 13-years-old, making the most of the long, hot, lazy days of summer, thinking we had the world at our feet. That was us me, Fat Bobby, Jim and Tara the four members of the Outsiders’ Club.

The day we found a burnt-out car in the woods was the day everything changed. Cold, hard cash in the front seat and a body in the trunk it started out as a mystery we were desperate to solve.

Then, the Collector arrived. He knew we had found his secret. And suddenly, our summer of innocence turned into the stuff of nightmares.

Nothing would ever be the same again

Joey is 13 and, with his sister Sarah, parents and dog Bandit, has just moved from California to Payne, a small Arizona town.  Out exploring the nearby woods, he helps a kid his age - Fat Bobby - escape from some bullies and then meets Tara, who quickly becomes the girl of his dreams, at the Barnes & Noble bookshop his dad manages.  He's soon friends with both, as well as the local scrapyard owners son Jim and the four form The Outsiders Club as the school summer holidays stretch out before them.  While exploring the woods further, they discover an abandoned car and, fired with curiosity, open the doors and boot discovering not only a great deal of money but also a dead body.  This grim discovery brings them into contact with The Collector (“I collect things that are owed and at times I collect things for myself”), crooked police officers and gangsters as the kids try to do the right thing before their families are harmed.

I actually read this late last year - I picked it up, by chance, on a Christmas shopping trip to Leicester with Dude in early December.  Unusually for me, I decided to start it straight away and it slotted comfortably into my Top 10 Reads of the year (which you can find here).

As a big fan of coming-of-age stories, I thoroughly enjoyed this, which reads like a Stephen King novel without a hint of the supernatural (and has lovely echoes with Boys Life, my all-time favourite novel).  Taking place in the past (I’d assumed the 80s but from certain references - Die Hard on VHS and using the internet - it has to be the 90s, though thankfully no-one has a smartphone) and perfectly capturing the manner of 13-year-olds (I’m the father of one, it was pitch perfect), it deals well with friendship, love (friends, parents, aggravating older sisters) and death.  Payne is nicely realised, a perfect little town that is less so once you peek below the surface and all the characters leap off the page, especially the ones which exhibit a nasty streak.  The woods, which play a key part in several set pieces, are alive and you can almost feel yourself in them.  Adams sets a good pace from the off, which he maintains throughout and as things take several turns for the worse and the tension ratchets up, I found myself tearing through the pages, deeply concerned for Joey and his gang.  With a perfectly bittersweet coda, this is a cracking novel and I would very highly recommend it.

Monday 4 March 2019

The Joy Of Reading

Regular readers will know I take my reading seriously (check out my Westies posts - now up to number eleven! - rounding up what I've read in a particular year), I take book collecting seriously (my sleazy paperback library is something teenaged me would have been proud of) and I'm a real advocate for people losing themselves in a book.
So do yourself a favour - as it's World Book Day on Thursday go out and pick up a book.  You don't have to spend a lot of money on a glossy hardback, go to the library (if you have any left near you, he wrote sarcastically) or buy a paperback, or download an ebook, or go into a second hand or charity shop and pick up something for 20p.

It doesn't matter how you do it, it doesn't matter what you read, just pick something up and open the cover and start.
Dude, in 2014, enjoying one of his many Snoopy Coronet paperbacks
Me, reading "The Damnation Game" by Clive Barker, in Illfracombe, 1987.  Dennis Etchison's novelisation of "Videodrome", written under his Jack Martin pseudonym, is by my leg.

Happy reading!