When I was thinking about what I could write about next, I was originally going to wax all lyrical about Commando, as I picked up a few that were given away at last week’s Glasgow Comic Con and it is one of the few comics that has been going since I was first introduced to comics and is still as good as ever. But I know I will write several posts about Commando as I have got a lot of love for that wee publication and I know a little about it as well.
However, on my weekly trawl of the local car boot, I picked up three annuals and I thought that it would be better if I talked about them and praise the work from them before I read them and stash them. The three annuals I picked up were School Friend 1958, Girls’ Crystal 1959 and Judy 1974. There were other annuals being sold by that seller, but I know that I have them in the house somewhere!
Now, as I have said a few times, I love the medium of comics and I am never going to discriminate between any comic as they all feature a high level of art and it takes a lot of work to produce any comic. So this is why I have a fair few comics that are not necessarily my first love comic-wise. And any that features the art of Ian Kennedy is a no-brainer for me picking it up!
So let’s first look at the comics that spawned these annuals. Girls’ Crystal and School Friend were both Fleetway publications and the copyright for them both currently reside with Egmont. Girls’ Crystal ran for an impressive 28 years from 1935 to 1963 and it was then merged with School Friend which had a spottier run as it was first published from 1919 until 1940 (However its’ name was changed to Schoolgirl in 1929) and it was revived in 1950 and ran until 1965 when it was merged with June. However the annuals had an even longer run as the School Friend annual ran from 1926 until 1980 and the Girls’ Crystal annual ran from 1939 until 1974.
D C Thomson’s Judy was another long-running comic. It started in 1960 and chalked up an impressive 31 years before it was merged with Mandy in 1991. The annuals ran from 1961 until 1992.
This brings up two points that always prompts a bit of interest for anyone unfamilar with British comic annuals. The first is fairly obvious in that the annual runs do not match the comic’s run. And the reason for this is simple economics. While a comic could easily drop below the profitable margin, the annuals mainly depended on Christmas sales and while they were still being bought in reasonable numbers, eg making a profit for the publisher, there was no reason for the publisher to stop producing the annuals when the comic stopped. School Friend is a perfect example of this. The comic had been going for 7 years before the first annual was produced and over the course of the annual’s life, an impressive run of 44 years, the comic was not published for 25 of those years. That now makes me wonder if any other annual outperforms the parent comic by such a margin in terms of longevity. Hmm, sounds like a good subject for another blog post one of these days.
But I digress. The other point that I want to make is that while these annuals have a date on the cover, this is not the year of their publication. British annuals were usually aimed at the Christmas market and they were sturdy enough to last at least from one year to another, so the date was always for the year ahead. This was done deliberately to make you think that you were getting something ahead of time and can sometimes cause confusion when discussing annuals.
All three of these annuals annoy me. For many people, that will seem absurd. But for me, it is genuinely frustrating that I don’t know enough about either the weekly runs, the characters or the annuals to give readers of this blog an in-depth step-by-step guide of them. I want to be able to explain why the Silent Three were amateur sleuths or why Sandra only danced for the Secret Ballet. I also want to be able to identify as many of the artists as I can, and to only identify two out of the dozen plus that have illustrated these annuals winds me up in a way that I know fellow comic fans will appreciate.
So let’s look at these annuals before I am off down another track. As I have said, I don’t know girls’ comics well enough to know if many characters were recurring or just invented for that annual. As the boys’ annuals featured a mix, I would think that the girls’ annuals would have done the same. As I have a copy of School Friend 1956, I can confirm that the Silent Three and The Kid are characters that at least featured in another annual. However, as I don’t have any of the comics, I can’t confirm more than that for the Fleetway annuals. However, thank to the wonders of the internet, I can confirm that many of the D C Thomson stories are characters that featured in more than one or two comics and annuals such as Junior Nanny, Skinflint School, Bobtail the Beach Rescue, Bobby Dazzler, Our Class, Polly and her Pram, Sandra and the Secret Ballet and Wee Slavey.
And this confirms something that I had wondered about, but had never been able to state until now. I had always thought that D C Thomson annuals used their characters better and now that I look at the list of characters being reused, I think that D C Thomson produced the better annuals as they mainly used characters that featured in the weekly comics and made their annuals better match the comic. Who would believe it? Brand loyalty being important in the 1970s.
I was always niggled by the Fleetway annuals and now I know why as they would use reprints in their annuals that had little or nothing to do with the comic. A good example of this is their reprint of the Battle serial Terror Behind The Bamboo Curtain in the 1979 Tornado Annual as most readers would not have had a clue what or where that story came from.
However, back to these annuals, the Fleetway annuals came in at a whopping 164 pages, and to my thinking, this made them worth the 7/6 (That’s 37 and a 1/2 pence to us whippersnappers that don’t remember pre-decimal currency) you would have had to pay for them. And that compared rather well with the 6/- you were charged for the D C Thomson offerings of the time which were only 128 pages. Thank you Lofts and Adley for your Catalogue of Boys and Girls Annuals. Both Fleetway annuals are an interesting mix of text stories, features and comic strips as we can see from very similar contents pages.
Both annuals are black and white with the exception of two strips in each annual, the colour covers, the internal panels and a frontispiece. The two strips are coloured in a fashion that reminds me of early US colour comics. The features did make me smile as they are a mix of weird facts, cooking recipes, adverts and puzzles.
What I really find frustrating is that these annuals feature artists that I think I should recognise, but just can’t quite put a name to them. One of them managed to get his initials printed, TL, and thanks to my meagre knowledge of 1950’s comics, I can’t even name him. However, one rather awesome artist, David Roach, is much more of an expert on this era and he has advised me that TL is Tom Laidlaw. He has also helped to identify that the artist who drew Daron Saves The Island Queen as Reginald B Davis and The Gay Highwayman was drawn by John Armstrong, who is better known for the Bella stories and Moonchild from Misty.
Now let’s look at the Judy which is from not only another decade, but another publisher. Here, we find that there are a lot more features, stories are shorter, and it’s mostly printed in three colour of red, black and white with some of the stories and features in full colour. I am on more familar ground here as I can spot the style of two artists straightaway. One is the incredibly talented Ian Kennedy drawing The Secret of Sylva. And the other is Paddy Brennan’s art on Sandra and the Ballet of MacBeth. Text stories are still hanging on and we have two of them in this annual. Some of the humour strips are definitely styles that I recognise, but I am stumped if I can name them right now.
All three are definitely in the nice to have category, but would I have gone actively looking for them if I had not found them at the car boot sale? Well that answer comes down on the No side of the ledger. I like finding comics that I don’t have, but there are so many out there, I just can’t afford to have them all. Although I am doing a very good impersonation of someone who wants to have them all.