Nostalgia Collecting – Old UK Comics and Annuals

They say that nostalgia is the narcotic of the over-forties. I’m almost fifty-three, and I can definitely admit that it’s particularly true of me. I’ve always been a very nostalgic person, always fascinated by the past, even back when I was a kid. So pretty much my entire life, I’ve been on a quest to collect old stuff, particularly stuff that has some meaning for me, or which connects me to the “Golden Age” of my youth.

In recent years, I’ve spent a lot of time and money on Ebay, picking up many of the rare relics of my childhood and early-to-mid teenage years. One of the things that I like most is to grab the occasional old (and by old, I mean 1950s-1970s) British comic, as opposed to the US Marvel comics (which I also enjoy collecting) that I became a fan of from my mid-teens onwards. Way back in the day, before I ever encountered my first superhero comics, I was an obsessive collector of several of the traditional British weeklies. But that was before Marvel UK exploded onto the UK comics scene with The Mighty World of Marvel and its offspring from late 1972 onwards, and changed everything.

Over the years I’ve bought a lot of old issues of my favourite pre-Marvel UK British comics from the 1950s, 1960s and early 1970s, mainly Lion, Valiant, Eagle and Thunder. I would also dearly love to be able to buy a whole bunch of Countdown and TV21 (otherwise known as TV Century 21), but these seem to be harder to find on Ebay and when you can find them, they are invariably a heckuva lot more expensive than the likes of the Lion, Valiant and Thunder. Maybe someday, when I’m rich. 🙂

Another particular focus of my collecting has been those old UK annuals, the hardback, once-yearly collections of strips and other goodies from our favourite comics. I remember these annuals very fondly from when I was a kid. They were the “Holy Grail” for me back then, something that I eyed up enviously in the shops, and which I really, really wanted to get my hands on, but which were way, way out of my price bracket. We were from a poor family, and I didn’t have a lot of pocket money back in those days (the late 60s and early 70s). And annuals unfortunately did cost on average ten times the price of those weekly comics which were already stretching my meagre resources to the limit. Back then, annuals were simply far too expensive for me to buy on a regular basis, and so were usually only acquired when I got them as occasional Christmas presents from my Dad or other relatives.

So, in adult life, I’ve been trying to rectify things a bit by picking up a lot of these old annuals, and I’ve developed a real knack for snapping them up dirt cheap, or, at least, relatively cheaply. I’ve managed to get my hands on most of the Valiant, Lion, and Thunder annuals, and a whole bunch of assorted other UK comics-based annuals including Hotspur, Battle, 2000AD, Starlord, Eagle, Dan Dare, Countdown, The Trigan Empire and a few others. Add to those the various 1970s annuals put out by Marvel UK, and that’s a lot of annuals.

And just to add quite a few more to the already huge pile, I’ve also built up quite a collection of annuals based on various television sci-fi series, including pretty much all of the Doctor Who Annuals right from the very first one in 1964 up until the late-1970s, plus a bunch of Star Trek, Space: 1999, Blake’s 7, UFO and other assorted television-based annuals.

I often look at these ever-growing stacks of old annuals and comics in my spare room, and wonder “Am I going mental? Why am I collecting all of this old stuff? What the hell am I going to do with them?” Then I open one of them and feel the tidal wave of nostagia wash over me, all the old memories boring up from the depths of my moth-eaten excuse for a brain. And I feel good. Really good. Maybe nostalgia is the narcotic of the over-forties after all, and if it is, I hold up my hands and proudly proclaim that I’m a complete addict.

At least nostalgia is a much safer and more productive addiction than cigarettes, booze and drugs. And we all need our little hobbies to spend our money on, or life would be unbearable, all bills and shopping and crappy Real Life nonsense. The thought of that being all there is to life makes me shudder…

Advertisements

Classic British Telefantasy: My Top Ten Favourites (Part One)

I love television sci-fi (also known as telefantasy). But as much as I like the US sci-fi television shows, I’ve always been an even bigger fan of British telefantasy. So I’ve compiled a list of my favourites, in this case sticking to the more famous classic series, avoiding the more obscure shows, as they’ll be a subject of another article at a later date. I’ve also made a point of staying away from more modern series, preferring to concentrate on series from the 1980s and earlier.

There are also a few other series that I haven’t listed, as I never really watched them when they were on TV. Star Cops is a perfect example. I liked what little I did see of it (and it was VERY little), but I didn’t see enough of it to make any kind of informed comments about the series as a whole. Maybe one of these days I’ll get around to picking up Star Cops on DVD from Amazon UK, and rectify that situation.

I’ve also deliberately avoided listing the classic children’s telefantasy series, as those are a different category, and will also be the subject of a later article. Some of them, like The Tomorrow People and Timeslip, are quite well known, but most are pretty obscure these days, at least in comparison to Doctor Who, Blake’s 7 and the other more famous telefantasy shows, and are remembered only by those people who saw and loved them back when they were kids. I have only vague memories of most of them from my own childhood (I was only nine years old when Timeslip aired back in 1970). The ones I do remember, or that I actually have on video/DVD, will be the subject of a later post in the Classic British Telefantasy series.

So here, in reverse order, is the first half of my list of Top Ten Classic British Telefantasy series, spanning the period from the 1950s to the 1980s:

Firstly, at Number Ten, we have Survivors, the extremely grim Terry Nation post-apocalyptic series in which 95% of the human race has been wiped out by a plague, and a small group of survivors tries to piece together a semblance of normal life and re-establish civilization. Despite most of humanity being eradicated by a virus, thankfully there isn’t a single bloody zombie in sight. Every viral apocalypse in telefantasy these days ends up with freakin’ zombies taking over the world – I’m totally sick and tired of the endless zombie crap pushed in our faces. The most dangerous enemies that our central characters faced in Survivors were themselves and other humans. With the structure of society gone, we saw the best, and worst of humanity in this dog-eat-dog world. I also really liked the modern version of Survivors. A very good remake indeed.

At Number Nine, it’s Captain Scarlet, the direct predecessor to UFO, and the only Gerry Anderson puppet show that I ever really liked. Almost certainly this was because of the more overt sci-fi content of the series, compared to, say, Thunderbirds, which was more of a hi-tech thriller with a few sci-fi elements, gadgets and visuals thrown in. I was too young to have anything but the most vague memories of anything before Thunderbirds (although I reckon I’d have enjoyed Fireball XL5, as it was a hardcore space opera series, my kinda thing). As a sidenote, I’ll also add that I REALLY liked the more modern CGI incarnation of Captain Scarlet. I actually preferred it to the original, to be honest, with the exception of the dire theme music, which doesn’t remotely compare to the gorgeous theme music in the original series. It’s a great pity that Gerry Anderson is no longer with us, as CGI could’ve been the way forward for future possible revamps of other Anderson series, such as UFO and Space: 1999 (2099, 2199?). We’ll never have the chance to find out now.

At Number Eight, it’s Red Dwarf, the funniest sci-fi comedy, ever. I know a few sci-fi fans would consider this opinion as sacrilege, but I always greatly preferred Red Dwarf to Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy, which I usually found to be very… unfunny. HHG was a good satire on serious SF concepts, but I guess I’ve just never been a fan of the Douglas Adams brand of humour. Give me the crazy shenanigans of Lister, Rimmer, Cat, Kryten and Holly any day. Red Dwarf “sent up” sci-fi themes in a much more grass-roots, funny way that appealed to me and all its legion of fans. Some of the daft situations that Lister and co. ended up in were both mind-bending and hilarious.

At Number Seven, we have Space: 1999. As with UFO (and most Gerry Anderson series), I absolutely loved the hardware and visuals, although, I couldn’t always say the same about the acting and stories, which could be hit and miss, particularly in the “revamped” Season 2. But my biggest beef with the series was the science, or, rather, the lack of it. I know that realistic science in UFO and the earlier Anderson shows was also pretty much non-existent, but Space: 1999 really took the biscuit, even by Anderson’s usual naff-science standards. And by the time Space: 1999 appeared on UK television, I was a bit older, in my mid-teens, at grammar school, and increasingly interested in and savvy about science. I was starkly aware of just how ridiculously stupid the science and many of the plots in Space: 1999 really were, and it bugged me quite a lot, despite my overall enjoyment of the show, which was visually gorgeous and trippy, in a post-2001: A Space Odyssey kinda way.

At Number Six on the list, aptly enough, it’s good old Number Six himself, The Prisoner. This was a really weird series, very cerebral and complex, and half the time, I didn’t know what the hell was going on, but it was definitely great fun. To be honest, I think that everyone involved with the series was smokin’ weed or something, it was so trippy. All I know is that I enjoyed it a lot, and made a point of tuning in every week to watch the adventures of Number Six, and his attempts to escape from The Village. My favourite bits always involved Number Six getting chased all over the place by those big, white ball thingies making those weird roaring noises. I certainly got a rollicking great surprise in the final episode, when it was revealed that the elusive Number One was none other than Number Six himself.

At Number Five in my list of Top Ten Favourite Classic British Telefantasy Series, it’s Blake’s 7, an inverted, dark mirror image of Star Trek. The human Federation of this series rules much of the galaxy, but this is no enlightened civilization. This Federation is a monstrous, oppressive, totalitarian dictatorship of a kind that the likes of Hitler or Stalin could only have had wet dreams about. Opposed by Roj Blake, Kerr Avon and their motley band of honourable outlaws, the ruthless and evil Servalan gave us one of the smoothest, most glamorous and icy-cold female villains in all of telefantasy. Despite liking the entire four-season run of Blake’s 7, I had a preference for the “Liberator Years” of the show, as I got really miffed when they destroyed the Liberator and replaced it with that crappy garbage scow, Scorpio. Imagine replacing one of the best ships in all telefantasy with that POS! This was a stupid and overt attempt to imitate the Millenium Falcon, with Star Wars being the then-current box office phenomenon. Star Wars was riding a huge wave of popularity in all forms of media, and everyone was tripping over each other trying to imitate it in some way or another. It’s a pity that the producers of Blake’s 7 decided to downgrade from the Liberator to the Scorpio in order to follow a damned media trend.

OK, that completes the first half of my Top Ten Classic British Telefantasy series. The second half is coming up in Part Two.

(To Be Continued)

Fanzines – Creative Genius at the Grass Roots (Part Three)

In my previous two posts, I’ve talked about my general experiences with, and thoughts on, fanzines. Now I’ll share a few more specific thoughts about the actual zines that I’ve come across over the years.

The earliest zines that I collected date from the 1970s and early 1980s, and were mostly based around SF literature and comics. But these were sporadic, one-off zine purchases, and I didn’t really become a hardcore zine collector until well into the 1980s. The pattern of zine purchases in that latter period was also different to what it had been before, in that most of the zines that I collected from the mid-80s onwards were deliberate, regular purchases of individual titles, in order to have a complete collection of each of my favourite zines. The pattern was also different in that the vast majority of these newer zines were based around my favourite sci-fi television series, rather than SF literature and comics.

My first regular fanzine (which I have every issue of, more than twenty of them) was published in the mid-80s, the excellent Flickers ‘n’ Frames, a reviewzine, which now has its direct descendant on the internet in the form of The Borderland website. Flickers ‘n’ Frames ran the gamut of pretty much everything, publishing reviews of sci-fi films, TV series, books, graphic novels, music, and the occasional piece of fiction. This one zine pretty much kick-started my current obsession with collecting zines, and I immediately moved on to collecting other fanzines, mostly based around telefantasy and SF.

My main fanzine collecting years coincided with what is known as the “Golden Age” of Doctor Who fanzines, circa 1985-1995. And so most of the zines in my collection are therefore based on Doctor Who, which just happens also to be my favourite ever TV sci-fi series. Although I’ve got quite a few non-Doctor Who zines in my collection, such as the previously mentioned Flickers ‘n’ Frames, and a large number of other zines covering various cult television shows ranging from Star Trek, to Blake’s 7 and the various Gerry Anderson TV shows, the bulk of my collection is made up of Doctor Who zines. That love of Doctor Who zines continues right up until the present day, and I still collect as many of the current batch of zines as I can.

The hoard of zines that I collected over the years covered many different themes and types, but most of them tended to fall into several different categories.

The first, and largest, category was the general review and article-based zines, which covered not only Doctor Who and other telefantasy series, but often other completely unrelated topics as well. They usually also included the occasional piece of fan fiction. These were mostly traditional A5 zines, and included (off the top of my head):

Circus (which also went A4 for several issues out of the eight-issue run).

Star-Begotten.

Soft Targets (A6).

625.

Brave New World.

Purple Haze.

Peladon.

Cygnus Alpha.

Auton.

Game of Rassilon.

Club Tropicana.

Burning the Ground.

the original Skaro.

Rumours.

Apocrypha.

Shockeye’s Kitchen.

Timelines (the fanzine of the Grand Order of the Time Lords).

Frontios.

Cybermag.

Sonic Screwdriver.

Queen Bat/Space Rat.

Eye of Harmony.

Vipod Mor.

Drake’s Drum (an A5 Star Trek zine).

and a few others that I can’t recall right now. But occasionally the zines were A4 and glossy (or sometimes not), such as:

Celestial Toyroom (the news/reviewzine of the Doctor Who Appreciation Society).

Second Dimension.

Matrix.

Skaro.

Antoinine Killer.

Metamorph.

Metamorph II.

Shadowsphere.

Neutron Flow.

The Tomb.

and a few others that I can’t remember off the top of my head.

The second category was fictionzines, mostly A5 but sometimes A4, zines composed almost totally of fan fiction based on Doctor Who, Star Trek or other telefantasy series. I’ve always had a soft spot for good quality fan fiction, so I have a LOT of fictionzines in my collection, including:

A5:

Mandria.

Silver Carrier and many other one-off fictionzine “novels” by the excellent Seventh Door Fanzines.

Chronicle.

Cosmic Masque (the fictionzine of the Doctor Who Appreciation Society).

Inner Door.

The Key and The Key Presents.

the various Gallifreyan Presses publications.

A4:

Inferno Fiction.

Fan Aid – The Storytellers.

Wondrous Stories.

Black Pyramid.

Universal Dreamer.

Vortex.

Trenchcoat (US Letter).

Myth Makers (US Letter).

and, again, quite a few others that I can’t recall right now. Again, mostly Doctor Who zines.

The third category was the larger A4, glossy (and often more colourful) semiprozines such as:

The Frame, which contained an enormous amount of photographs and background information on Doctor Who.

DWB, which started off as a semi-prozine dedicated to Doctor Who, but then morphed into Dreamwatch Bulletin and finally the professional newsstand magazine Dreamwatch, which covered telefantasy and sci-fi cinema of all shades.

Century 21 (based, obviously, around Gerry Anderson shows).

Portal 31 (a tribute to the classic TV21 comic).

There are quite a few other zines that I haven’t mentioned, as this is all from memory, but this is a good sub-section of them, all falling into the three categories which cover most of the zines in my collection.

To Be Continued…