Monday, 24 December 2012

Xmas is here...

Well, Christmas Eve anyway. And there IS something special about Christmas Eve that makes it stand out more than any other day in the year, even more than "the big day" itself. Bill Murray (who else?) puts it best:

With this being the last post here before Xmas happens, I'd just like to say a MASSIVE thank you to everyone who's been following this thing since it started in July. Anyone who's commented on it or just looked at it, and obviously ANYONE can "do a blog", but... I'm still grateful, really.

So, in keeping with the season - join in!

Sing some songs:

Have some parties:

Be NICE for a change (or nicer than usual, if you're already nice):

Remember who your friends are (and that's ALL the time, not just at this time of year):

And overall, have a smashing Christmas:


Sunday, 23 December 2012

The Night Before Christmas

Okay, it's not the night before Christmas right now... More like the morning before the night before the night before Christmas. But time's sparse at this time of year, and there's JUST enough time to post my favourite ever festive book - it's been read almost every year since as far back as I can remember (save for a few years when it went missing after a house move - the one I have now is an Amazon-sourced replacement).

It's the classic poem by Clement C. Moore, with just plain nice illustrations by Lis Toft.

Read away, read away, read away all!

Friday, 21 December 2012

More festivities from Shiver and Shake

As the title suggests, here's a few more bits of December-themed bobs from Shiver and Shake. 

Beginning with... Horrornation Street, from the 1977 annual, by Tom Williams:

Also from 1977... Sweeny Toddler! By another Tom - Tom Paterson, of course:

From the days when Mr. Paterson was mostly "ghosting" for Leo Baxendale. It's as if it's from the same pen - if he wanted to, he could easily do a fourth Willy The Kid book!

And speaking of ghosting Mr. Baxendale... Here's Grimly Feendish from the 1985 annual, done by Leo's son, Martin:

(Thanks to Irmantas of Kazoop!! for that information)

Oh, and would you look at the time? Guess the world's not ending after all. Four more sleeps till Christmas!

A Sparky Xmas

Ah, Sparky - a comic that ended before I was born, and that I've only recently been able to "get into" properly through the wonders of eBay. There was always reprints before then, of course - through Classics From The Comics and the various annual hardbacks put out by DC Thomson under the Dandy Beano banner (or The Beano & The Dandy in more recent years).

One such annual, published in 1993 and given the title of Magic Moments is possibly my favourite of the lot. Here it is:

Got this on Christmas Day, 1993 (get it yourself for a penny - another last minute gift idea!). A big colourful book collecting memorable (or just plain good) bits from the Beano, Dandy, Beezer, Topper and Sparky, including a whole bunch of festive-themed bits for each comic. I've been reading this book every December now for a good few years - it's like a nostalgic look back at a book full of nostalgia (ha!). Anyway, this book is, as far as I can remember, where I first encountered anything to do with Sparky. And here are several of the Xmassy-Sparky strips that are featured in this book:

Gordon Bell's Spoofer McGraw there (every single one of these is a classic) - that fireside chat in the opening panel remains one of the cosiest scenes I've ever seen in a comic.

Dreamy Daniel (also from Gordon Bell), like the Beano's Les Pretend only with less costumes and more dangerous departations from reality (his Easter-based adventure in the same book's also a goody, but it's not Easter right now so we're not allowed to talk about it).

Malcolm Judge's Baron Von Reichs-Pudding - an aerial battle between the Kaiser's dopiest baron and Father Christmas himself. Great punchline on this one! 

John Geering's Puss an' Boots - not only does it look the business, the dialogue's just as hilarious as the drawings (particularly Puss's plea of "DON'T HIT ME!").

L-Cars, a couple of inept (yet ingenious) police officers from Bill Hill - nice little twist at the end of this one.

The thing with Sparky (L-Cars and Puss an' Boots in particular) is that the characters are a lot less one-dimensional than their contemporaries - Puss an' Boots go through extremes of rage, cowardice and sarcasm, whilst Cedric and Frederic of the L-Cars go through childlike idealism, utter despair and, occasionally, moments of true heroism. Sort of like comparing Bugs Bunny to Mickey Mouse, in a way. Providing we survive the end of the world and make it through to 2013, I endeavour to get more Sparky into my life!

Saturday, 15 December 2012

Christmas At Scream Inn

It's only recently I've started to discover the wonders of Fleetway's Shiver and Shake comic (mostly due to my Welsh benefactor who's sent me two annuals so far), and there's a LOT to enjoy within those pages. Of particular note is Brian Walker's Scream Inn - a haunted hotel run by ghosts, that offers the prize of a million pounds to any guest who'll last the full night there. Readers of Shiver and Shake could suggest who they think might stand a chance, and if their suggestion was chosen, they'd be rewarded with a shiny pound coin.

Anyway, the annual from 1977 (or 1976 if you like, the way annuals are numbered will always be a source of confusion) featured a festively-themed tale, with the "guest" being a sweet old lady who writes poems for Xmas cards. Here it is:

(Oh, in case you don't know by now, click on the pictures to make them bigger, then click again to make them even bigger than that!)

Little Dracula's Christmas

It's Little Dracula again, and this time, it's Xmas time in Transylvania. Lots of fun to be had here (it's all in the dozens of details and sight gags Joseph Wright manages to pack into each picture), and as perfect an argument against minimalism as there ever will be.

Published in 1987, been with me since... 1990? Thereabouts? Let's read it.

Wednesday, 12 December 2012

End of the Year List Thing

Everyone else is doing it, so why shouldn't I? There's been fifty weeks for "good stuff" to get made so far this year, and traditionally (or around mid-October if you want), now's the time to do a "round-up" of "what's best" in the form of several lists.

Slight problem though - I don't really pay attention. There's been six visits to the cinema this year, and that's not enough for a Top Ten. Can't really do a Top Five out of that lot either, because I really enjoyed each of those six films.

Outside of a couple of compilations of 1950's music, no albums have been listened to this year. There've been approximately two new songs that I've enjoyed, and the only new game I've bought this year is Soul Calibur V (can't really make a list with one item in it).

HOWEVER... There is ONE thing I've given my full attention to this year:

Yeah, Viz! That's the current Xmas issue there, go and buy it if you haven't already. I've been buying it semi-regularly since 1999, but 2012 has been the first year without missing an issue. With those qualifications, I feel entirely justified in doing a countdown of the "Top Nineteen Viz Strips Of 2012".

Oh, and it's NSFW, obviously.

Tuesday, 11 December 2012

Xmas Gift Guide, sort of.

Get some comics read on the 25th of this month! It's "traditional", as in, it's not Christmas without an annual to read. There's a few on offer this year, and they're cheap enough if you know where to look. For example, this year's Viz annual can be found for £6.99 (instead of £10.99) in that discount book chain known as The Works, whilst all the others (Beano, Dandy, Oor Wullie, The Broons and so on) can be had at three for £10 in Asda.

BUT... Why spend that much money when you can get over a thousand pages of classic comics for just over £5? Or £16.22 if we're including postage too. Observe:

Dennis & Gnasher & Friends Cartoon Capers

This cheap-looking and clumsily-titled wedge of a book was sneaked out into the shops without any advertizing (to my knowledge) back in 2000 - I'd never heard of it until finding it in a charity shop last year for 50p. Remember Classics From The Comics? This is essentially that, only it's 382 pages long! 

Hundreds of high-quality chuckles from a huge variety of characters. There's stuff from the Beano (including Dennis the Menace in both Law and Sutherland flavours), the Dandy, Topper, Beezer, Nutty, Sparky, Buzz and Cracker. Should last you through to at least the day before New Year's Eve. Yours for just a penny (plus postage).

The Big Comic Book 1988

For those that prefer Shiner to Smasher, there's The Big Comic Book 1988 (so big it wouldn't fit under the scanner!). Another one that's full of reprints, this time from Whizzer & Chips, Buster and Whoopee! Ken Reid's Faceache is in here, as is Reg Parlett's Ivor Lott & Tony Broke (possibly history's most consistently funny comic characters), and it's a big fat 254-page hardback - a nice contrast to the floppy phonebook-style of the above DC Thomson tome.

The Dog's Bollocks

Viz at its supposed "peak", I'm only highlighting this one as it's the first one I ever got, and has consequently kept me amused for the longest. As well as your usual crowd of Biffa Bacon, Roger Mellie, Billy the Fish and so on, there's a few "forgotten" characters in here such as Tubby Tucker ("The Big Fat... Person"), Norbert Colon ("He's meaner than a Scottish person"), Buster Gonad and his Unfeasibly Large Testicles, Boswell Boyce ("He Throws His Voice"), Mike Smitt ("He's a patronising git"), Jelly Head, Mrs. Neat, and the extravagantly-titled Miss Demeanour and her Concertina ("The Mischievous Token Female Cartoon Character Who's Got A Concertina").

126 pages, all good, and what unimaginative people are talking about when they say it isn't as funny as it used to be. All that for a penny, again.

The Giant Holiday Fun Comic Album

Last of all, there's this curiosity. We've had chuckles from the houses of DC Thomson, Fleetway and the rude kids, and now there's this one from... everyone else? It's a bumper variety pack pulled from the pages of Wham!, Smash!, Pow!, Wow, Knockout, Monster Fun, Shiver and Shake, Eagle and so much more - you'll even find Laurel & Hardy and Billy Bunter in this one. There's FIVE full adventures with The Cloak, roughly half of Ken Reid's Queen of the Seas pages, Steadfast McStaunch from Denis Gifford, a full Albert Hall the Office Boy adventure... Really, the amount of variety on offer here is nauseating. The print's a bit faded on a few pages (maybe just with my copy?), but this WAS a budget release to begin with - published in 1989, see.

A bit pricier than the rest at £4.99, but definitely worth it.

And how about that? Those four books combined, at £16.22 including postage, works out cheaper than three annuals from Asda plus the Viz book at £16.99 - and you don't even have to leave the house for these ones!

Crikey, it's December!

I've been so caught up with the development of my "response" to the last ever issue of the Dandy (should be good when it's done) that there's now only fifteen days until "the big day" - and not a single festive-themed post here. So here's the first one, to be getting on with while I'm working on the Dandy thingy:

Under-played Xmas Songs That Should Be Played More Often

Such a massive thing as that day in December has obviously inspired countless classic songs over the years - and the radio stations love to play around twenty of them from around the last week of November up to the first week of January.

And yet, for every Fairytale of New York (officially the best of the lot), there's this cracker from Britain's best band, Half Man Half Biscuit - It's Clichéd To Be Cynical At Christmas:

Full of the warmth that only December-based nostalgia can bring, it's fairly criminal that this one ISN'T played sixty times a day. And it's not often you'll find Nigel Blackwell with as positive a view on things as he does here.

For something a bit more on the silly-joyful side of things, we'll go back to 1991. Remember those Milky Way adverts? Well those smiling Cadillacs had their own festive release as well - Home For Christmas Day:

This may've been the first "chart" tape we ever owned, and it must've been played about nine or ten times a day (but the tape still works!).

Finally, for when it's all over (sort of), think about that fat bearded man who spends all year preparing for one night of work (he really does!). On Boxing Day, it's all over, and we just leave him to it for another 52 weeks. The Murder City Devils wrote a tear-jerker of a ditty about that - 364 Days:

May these songs become a part of your annual rituals, if they aren't already!

Wednesday, 5 December 2012

Spokojnoj Nochi, Fyodor Khitruk

A bit of a gloomy start to December. First we have the (final) death of the Dandy (my copy of the big fat farewell issue's still in the post, but it sounds like a good read), now I've learnt that Russian animation-man Fyodor Khitruk has left the planet at the ripe old age of 95.

It's a good age to live to, so it's not a "tragic" loss, but it's a loss all the same. In fifty years he made over a hundred films, and won even more awards. Here's several of them for the sake of enjoyment:

Story of One Crime (1962)

Man in the Frame (1966)

Film, film, film (1968)

Winnie-the-Pooh (1969)

Island (1973)

Lion and Ox (1983)

RIP to him. The planet's running out of talented folk at an alarming rate.

Sunday, 2 December 2012

Minor Dandy Obscurities

Just one more quick Dandy thing before it's all over (not to say there won't be Dandy-based stuff here in the future - it's just I like to work with loose themes). Here are several things that appeared in the comic during the late 1980s and early 1990s - and they don't seem to be remembered by most people. I like them anyway - and if you DO remember them, good for you!

First up is James, the World's Worst Schoolboy, by Jimmy Glen. I've talked about him before, but this one's worth seeing:

It's the complete lack of sense that's amusing with this one, and also the bit with the teacher crying. Really it's just nine funny pictures, but it's fun.

Richard's Snitch (by... Gordon Bell?) is just plain odd. A boy with a big nose, and that big nose has a face. And a mind of its own.

From the 1986 Summer Special is this Kath & Mouse, a set of characters I've never seen anywhere else. Reading this one as a seven-year-old stirred up a variety of confusing new feelings, so there's that.

Why is there a tentacle under the bed?

And finally, another nice bit of Tom Paterson-based joy. The World's Daftest Discoveries with David Chattenborough was a series of splash pages packed with all sorts of jokes, silly words and strange things to look at. The third of these featured "The Hairy Highland Haggis Hatchery of Glen MacHyooch":

One day, some sensible person will collect the complete works of Mr. Paterson and put them into a massive heavy book. One day.