Action and Adventure in the Comics - Part 2
- Thu 01 Sep 2011
The 50s and 60s - From Stories to Pictures and the Birth of Commando!
In Part 1, we
saw how D.C. Thomson embraced the rise of the boys' story papers,
and the effects of the Second World War on these titles. With the
end of hostilities in 1945, many of the original creators returned
to work on the publications, but the shortages caused by the war
were still to limit production for many years to come.
A new look for an old
classic - "The New Hotspur" saw readers wave goodbye to the "story
The contents of "Adventure",
"The Rover", "The
Wizard" and "The Hotspur"
remained much the same as ever, with text adventures making up the
bulk of each issue. But, as the 1940s gave way to the 1950s, the
popularity of films - now in Technicolor - and the rise of
television saw audiences clamouring for more visual thrills.
In comics, "The Dandy" and
"The Beano" had begun to shift away from
their original mixture of illustrated text stories and comic
strips, with the comics taking prominence. The start of the decade
had also seen the launch of rival magazine, "The
Eagle", Hulton Press's glossy comic magazine
headlining the outer space adventures of "Dan Dare -
The Pilot of the Future", and further competition was
to come from Fleetway's "Lion", featuring
Dare lookalike "Captain Condor" and more
science fiction action with "Robot
Archie". The days of the story paper were numbered
and comics ruled supreme!
The first of the original "Big Five"
to fully reflect this change in tastes was "The
Hotspur". Having reached 1197 issues on October 17th
1959, it was back to Number 1 again the following week for
"The New Hotspur". A mid-50s outcry
against American horror and crime comics in both the US and the UK
that had led to worries about labelling a publication "a
comic" saw the new version of the classic title billed as
"a great new picture paper for boys!"
The changing face of
"Braddock" - from "Rover" text story of the 1950s to picture strip
"The Victor" in the 1960s, and on into the 1970s in
While the format may have changed, the spirit remained the same,
and there were to be familiar faces still on show -
"The Wolf of Kabul", who had appeared in
"The Wizard" back in 1922, made a
reappearance, now in comic strip form, in 1961, and would continue
to make comebacks for new generations of readers in the 1970s
in"Warlord" (in a prequel series,
"Young Wolf") and 1980s in
Other text stories from the days of "The Big
Five" would make the transition to the new comic
format. "I Flew With Braddock" was a
particularly successful example. The air ace had appeared since
1952 in "The Rover", with text adventures
proving successful enough to warrant being reissued in a number of
harback books - the opening chapter of the first of these can be
read here - and his exploits
were set to continue in comic form in the first of an all new
picture paper that reached the shelves on January 25th 1961...
The first of the new breed
of boys' comics - "The Victor" flew into action in
Braddock wasn't to be the only familiar face who would find a
home in this new, action packed publication. "Morgyn
the Mighty", "Alf Tupper - The Tough of
the Track" and "Gorgeous
Gus" had all appeared in "The
Rover" - the original publication having merged with
the paper which had inspired it to form "Rover and
Adventure" on January 21st 1961. The combining of two
declining publications into one - halving production costs while,
hopefully, retaining the readership of both titles - was common
throughout the comic industry. Although the inevitable announcement
of "Great news inside, chums!" on a comic's cover
wasn't always greeted as great news by the readers when favourite
strips went AWOL to make room for stories from another title!
"The Rover" would briefly re-emerge
under its original title in October 1963 before a second merger,
becoming "The Rover and Wizard" a month
later - "V for Vengeance" and
"Wilson" from "The
Wizard" would switch to "The
Hornet", whose first issue had appeared on September
14th 1963. This second union lasted until 1969, when the
"Wizard" title was dropped and the final
run of "The Rover" went on until January
23rd 1973. "The Wizard" would materialise
again in February of 1970 and continue until June of 1978, leaving
"The Hotspur" as last man standing out of
the original "Big Five".
The new wave of picture papers also saw a fresh supply of girls'
comics - "Bunty" leading the way for
titles like "Judy" and
"Diana". While perhaps chiefly remembered
for boarding school japes with "The Four
Marys" or tales of the ballet dancer
"Moira Kent", there was also room for
wartime drama - unsurprising since the editorial team for many of
these publications had not only cut their teeth on the boys' story
papers, but had also seen combat during the Second World War.
An unexpected source of adventure? "
Bunty" and "Judy" in the 1960s.
Readers of these girls' papers were no stranger to grim tales of
hardship and cruelty - there was a thriving market for stories set
in bleak Victorian orphanages or featuring vicious guardians - but
while the Nazis were invariably potrayed as vile and thuggish, the
storylines themselves were more quirky than the standard war epics
of the boys' papers. The circus performer heroine of
"Marissa and her Doves" in the 1963
"Judy Annual" aids a British airman's
escape by distracting the German search party with her performing
doves, while "Bunty" readers in 1960
thrilled to "Leap-Along Lesley", the tale
of a young girl who smuggles her scientist father's secret formula
across war-torn Europe... inside a pogo stick!
But even while the story papers were still holding their ground,
other new formats for telling exciting adventures had emerged.
Amalgamated Press had released the first of their pocket book sized
"War Picture Library" series in 1958, and
followed it in 1960 with "Air Ace Picture
Library". The clear attraction of these paperback
sized comics amongst readers (ideal for slipping into a handy
pocket or schoolbag!), plus the success of the new
"Victor", confirmed a continuing demand
for tales bristling with explosive action.
A demand that would inspire the creation of D.C. Thomson's most
famous war comic.
"Commando - War Stories in
Pictures" - the early days.
Initially appearing at a rate of two titles each month,
"Commando" was a sure fire hit with both
children and adults. The combination of highly descriptive captions
and action packed artwork gave them the feel of an illustrated war
novel rather than a comic book. It wasn't long before demand for
more "War Stories in Pictures" saw a doubling up
to four issues per month. Having seen out the 1960s, this was
increased again in its 10th Anniversary year to eight issues each
And, as Part
3 proves, while "Commando"
marched boldly into its second decade, the story of D.C. Thomson's
war comics was far from over.
(This article originally appeared as a tie-in to the
National Army Museum exhibition Draw Your Weapons: The Art of
Commando Comics - September 2011-April 2012.)