It’s exactly ten years since I started to write. My first novel reached first draft in between the 2008/09 Championship play-off finals (as a result of which Burnley FC were propelled into the Premier League) and the start of the new season – 60,000 words. It was SF but nothing like the SF I first read.
As a teenager I used to have three paper rounds which took me around the centre of Burnley, delivering to the Public Library, the Police Station, Banks, Accountants, Solicitors and Building Societies, and also to the town Grammar School (which was actually three miles from the centre but as I attended it, I also dropped off their papers, magazines and periodicals). Coming from a one-parent family and well aware of the precious nature of money, I saved up pretty much all my earnings, only occasionally letting loose to splash out on second hand comics. Back then I’d grown out of titles like Beezer, Topper, Dandy and the Beano, preferring instead American comic books – basically Marvel and DC comics. Back then, most newsagents had a wire-frame stand carrying a few comic book titles but there best place for them was Burnley market: new comics from the bookstall in the covered market and second hand from the open market. Most of my pre-1970 comics came from the latter.
Let’s take stock of the Sci-Fi comic books I’ve had lying around since then, DC titles: Mystery in Space, Strange Adventures and From Beyond the Unknown. My sole copy of Mystery in Space is the oldest of these, cover dated May 1966 for #93 – this being a second hand comic book. The sub-title ends ‘… Mindless and Berserk’. The front cover is slightly schlocky. At the time I ummed and ahhed about buying it – certainly wouldn’t have bought it if it didn’t have ‘Space’ in the title. Space was exciting, rockets were real and having already been gripped by the story in Patrick Moore’s Invader From Space, Science Fiction was worth exploring. So I liked my SF to be spaceships, space cadets and plausible – but please, no flying saucers, these were for weirdos and the like, and a big no-no – barely a step up from the horror vampire / franken-gore types. Obsessive and Creepy.
Comic book stats
Comic book: Mystery In Space #107
No of story pages: 25
Original or Reprint: Original (DC and Marvel often pumped out reprints – avoid!)
Stories: Ultra the Split Multi-Alien, The Wierdies of Mist Valley
Ultra, the Multi-Alien was a (naff) series concerning a human who has been transformed into a multi-alien, made of of four super-powered aliens. It ran in Mystery in Space from #103 to #110, when the comic book was discontinued. Prior to Ultra, Mystery in Space ran Adam Strange.
Ultra, the Split Multi-Alien sees Ultra invent a device to make himself human again. The device malfunctions and splits him into four separate beings: ‘Three of them Mindless and Berserk’ Eventually he gets them under control but has to recombine with them and make Ultra to save the girl he loves. The story is far-fetched.
The Wierdies of Mist Valley concerns a reporter who falls for a girl and follows her to a vacation spot on Jupiter where a converter is used to transform her into a synthetic life form. He uses the converter to follow her and manages to rescue her father and protect her from an evil villain. They convert back to human and get married. As in Ultra, the events are far-fetched but the dialogue is snappy (US American colloquial).
Despite the fact it was second hand, The comic cost about the cover price. 10d = around 4p.
Points of interest
The cover, there’s a B/W checkerboard behind the DC insignia. The last story page in the comic book has the soundbite:
Don’t Hesitate… Choose The MAGS with the GO-GO CHECKS!
Most DC titles at that time could have had ‘avoid for sheer dullness’ stamped on them. The only stories I liked were Legion of Super-Heroes and Metal Men. Also note that the story ended two thirds of the way down the page. Did they run out of ink… or story? Were the artists on a piece rate per panel of artwork? I suspect this was part of dodgy corporate-think, kind-of: ‘The reader will be fooled into reading our dodgy Go-Go Checks because it’s: ON THE SAME PAGE AS THE STORY!! That’ll really put one over Marvel Comics – Muah-ha-ha-ha-ha-haaaa!!’
Also in this comic is an announcement that Direct Currents – a column devoted to previews of coming DC attractions’ will feature in DC comics. This announcement is accompanied by half a page of DC comic book chit-chat, in the style of Stan Lee’s Bullpen Bulletins (which had started in 1965).
Beyond the Unknown #9, cover dated March 1971, was big 64 pages.
The thing that attracted me was the new insignia – below are a couple of extracted insignia.
Wow, it looks like an atom or a rocket. bet this comic is really cool.
There were seven stories inside, these were:
The Man Who Moved the World (5.66pp)
Riddle of Asteroid 8794 (7.66pp)
The Two-way Time Traveller (7.66pp)
The Man Who Aged Backwards (6pp)
The Last Horse on Earth (8pp)
The Sky High Man (8.66pp)
Doom Trap for Earth (9.66pp)
Note the ‘.66’s. This is where the story panels only fill 2/3 of a page. Sometimes it felt like I was being short-changed – as a comic book buyer I expected maximum art on every page. the other cheat was the splash page announcing the story without telling any story at all. Wasted pages. Below are the splash pages in From Beyond The Unknown #9. Pretty much every one of these barring The Man Who Aged Backwards had no story content. The splash pages are reproduced below, the latter at a larger zoom.
Back then I’d do the maths – what was I getting for my money: 64 Big Pages was the promise. Per the above page counts I was getting 53.33 pages, then strike out splash pages – that’d bring the result down to 47pp. Compared to a standard comic which were 32 pages with 24 or 25 pages of actual story… the 64 Big Pages wasn’t such a great deal.
It was only much later I discovered this was a relic from earlier times – these being reprint stories from the 1950s. Reprints – I’d wasted my money on reprints. Enough analysis let’s have more comics.
Yep issue no. 10, May 1971 was also chock full of reprints from the ’50s.
Moving on, Strange Adventures #221, cover dated Dec 1969 relates the adventures of my favourite DC SF hero of that time: Adam Strange. Also included was The Atomic Knights, and third story: The Square Earth. The comic book is a 32 pager meaning actual story content was around 21 pp.
Sadly this was another (unannounced) reprint, however he letters column does refer to the need for all new Adam Strange adventures.
Next up is Strange Adventures #233, cover dated Dec 1971, with the following stories:
- Earth’s Frozen Heat Wave (orig pub Strange Adventures 161)
- Adam Strange in Invisible Raiders of Rann (orig pub Mystery in Space 73)
- The Man Who Stole the Air (orig pub Strange Adventures 51)
- The Space Rovers in What Happened on Sirius-4? (orig pub Mystery in Space 69)
These were all reprints – by now DC had got into the habit of noting where each had been taken from. Total story content: 32pp out of a 48 page comic book. Around this time DC got a decent tally from the first annual Academy of Comic Book Arts awards – also known as Shazam Awards. Their success was noted in this (and other) comics. My old but seasoned eye would guess that the artwork on the page below was Neal Adams, Dick Giordano or a combination of them both – noting that both got honours at this event. So
- Best Continuing Feature: Green Lantern – Green Arrow
- Best Individual Story: No Evil Shall Escape My Sight*
- Best Writer (Dramatic): Denny O’ Neil
- Best Pencil Artist (Dramatic): Neal Adams
- Best Inker (Dramatic): Dick Giordano
- Best Pencil Artist (Humor): Bob Oskner
- Best Inker (Humor): Henry Scarpelli
- Best Colorist: Jack Adler
* Green Lantern – Green Arrow #76 which was by new writer / artist combo Denny O’Neill / Neal Adams, Cover date: April 1970. This is well worth noting as Neal Adams realistic art was a treat and the storyline was good.
These 48 page comic books arose from DC flirting with increasing comic book page count, for all its titles, this new format that lasted one year – from August 1971 to July 1972. Most of the extra pages were filled with reprints – National Periodicals had a burgeoning back catalogue. Marvel experimented this for one month, covering Oct-Nov 1971 editions, and then slipped back to the regular 32 page comic book. Pressure on costs meant a hike in comic book prices; the 32 page edition started at 15¢ and after it was 20¢.
With the benefit of hindsight I realise that comic book SF – though visually interesting – failed to deliver the SF kick. Times change. Maybe it does now, however my tastes are more complex and I now write the stuff.