What was that called again? Part 1

In many subjects, you will often hear current researchers talking about “standing on the shoulders of giants” when their latest research is published and lauded. For me, being a fan of comics does mean that I rely on the work of many that thankfully are still with us and many who have unfortunately passed away. And in this age of the internet, there is so much that is at our fingertips.

So this is the first post that is dedicated to the books and websites that I use frequently for information about comics and other geekiness that I enjoy. Hopefully, the two readers of this site may have heard of a few of these and may even consider buying some of the books that I mention.

So let’s start with three of the books in no particular order and why I would recommend them.

Action The Story of a Violent Comic

Action: The Story of A Violent Comic by Martin Barker. This is the story of the 1976 Action comic or if you prefer the seven penny nightmare. It reviews the controversy that surrounded the comic almost from day one and how it tapped into the zeitgeist of the time for many comic reading boys.

The comic was violent, it was politicised in a way that any comic had not been before and it was popular. The book disects the rise and fall of Action and ponders on how Action would have fallen if it had not been withdrawn in October 1976. And few people remember that if it had not been for Action, 2000AD would not have taken the direction that it had as much of the early years of 2000AD was overshadowed by the fear that it could be another Action

The book was originally published in 1990 and had a modest but respectable success at the time.Now, 25 years on, people have been latching on what a goldmine of information this book is. And as a result, this book that was reasonably priced in 1990 can now fetch quite a high price.

Sporting Supermen

Sporting Supermen: The True Stories of Our Childhood Comic Heroes by Brendan Gallagher. This is a fascinating look at the sporting heroes that have stood the test of time in comics.

The book concentrates on the three biggest names, the Amazing Wilson from the Wizard and illustrated in the Hornet and eventually the Hotspur (but no mention of his sojourn in Spike), Alf Tupper from the Rover and then illustrated in the Victor and Roy Race, the amazing footballer that still gets a mention every so often by sports commentators today! Roy famously featured in Tiger for years until he was given his own comic Roy Of The Rovers.

Brendan gives a mention to many of the other sporting creations, but for me, the gold that he gives me is the name of a writer. Gilbert L Dalton. Gilbert is the writer credited with creating Alf Tupper and The Amazing Wilson. It is also likely that he created Matt Braddock, the scourge of the Luftwaffe.

It has been claimed that Gilbert was, at one time, writing 50,000 words a week! To give you an idea of how amazing that is, Mort Weisinger, a DC Editor, would allow a maximum of 35 words per panel in a six panel page in a DC comic. I’ll let you folks do the maths to figure out how many pages that 50,000 words works out to. And if you consider that most of Gilbert’s work was published in the word heavy story papers which featured around 1400 words per page, then it becomes even more impressive a feat.

Denis Gifford Encyclopedia

Encyclopedia of Comic Characters by Denis Gifford. No article about comic reference books would be complete without mentioning one of the most prolific and knowledgeable collectors of the 20th Century. Denis’ Encyclopedia is essential for anyone that is serious about knowing their Dan Dare from their Judge Dredd.

Most of the characters featured are from British comics, but there is a smattering of characters from the US and Europe. For me, it is worth it as I was able to spot at least one error, which indicates that I am a tad more knowledgeable about comics than I ever realised. And it was scary how many of the characters I either knew or had a passing knowledge of.

And the bit that still makes me smile is the fact that my copy was an ex-Wiltshire Libraries copy and I bought it for the princely sum of 50 p! A truly serendipitious find.

And I am in shock that I have yet to mention Lofts and Adley, Paul Gravett, Vic Whitte, Alan Clark and many more who have done their part in giving us the history and behind the scenes information about comics. One of these days, I might even mention Paul McShane’s book about Rabbie Burns too!

5 thoughts on “What was that called again? Part 1

  1. Or John McShane, for that matter. And does he really need the publicity? He’s pretty good at it on his own.
    There are some errors in the Gifford book but I think that is more to do with the sheer amount of work involved in a book of that size, and perhaps the need for a good proofreader, than any big gaps in his knowledge.


  2. For older penny dreadfuls and story papers, “Boys Will Be Boys” by E.S. Turner is interesting, though a bit whimsical in places (very few publication dates or sources… though it was probably one of the first ever “comic research” books, anyway). It was first published in 1948, and speculated that the radio serial Dick Barton would “replace” comics..

    More recent, is “From the Penny Dreadful to the Ha’penny Dreadfuller”, by Robert J Kirkpatrick. This is a great overview of British proto-comics, story papers, and early adventure comics. Though it does have a few alarming omissions – namely DC Thomson’s story papers only getting one paragraph! But the writers have unearthed a goldmine of information on “proto-comics”, which, by necessity, encompasses all magazines for children (though some did resemble story papers). For years people thought the earliest one was from 1777, but he’s unearthed a partwork from 1723! …though it was in French.


    1. Mike, thanks for that. I am always on the lookout for extra reference books. And that one sounds like my kind of thing. I am still indebted to Al Notton, the owner of ComicsUK who directed me to find Adley and Lofts. As a result, I will buy any book written by those authors


  3. Regarding the books written by Bill Lofts and Derek Adley, it is important to bear in mind that they were not as accurate as one would wish them to be. Their worst book, in my opinion, is The Hotspur – A Catalogue 1933-1959, which is absolutely riddled with errors. It is difficult to decide where to place the blame because Bill was the researcher, Derek the compiler.

    A propos the reply from Mike, he is doing Robert Kirkpatrick a disservice by claiming that D. C. Thomsons’ story papers only get one paragraph. The truth is that within Chapter 11 Monopoly Denied – Harmsworth’s Competitors And Other Boys’ Papers, 1900-1950 there is a seven and a half-page section with the title D.C. Thomson And The ”Big Five” (pp 419-426), which covers all the company’s output for boys, including the Topical Times, the Dixon Hawke Library, and Dixon Hawke’s Casebook series, and which goes on to feature the story papers in pictures. He does make one mistake though when stating that The Red Arrow was launched a year after The Rover, when it actually occurred ten years later, in 1932 not 1923. To clarify, this was not simply a case of transposing numbers, Kirkpatrick wrote A year after launching Rover, Thomson launched the Red Arrow.


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