Kung Fu Fighting

Way back in September 1974, The Osmonds and Carl Douglas were topping the charts, but I was feeling sorry for myself as I was on my sixth week of being stuck at home as a 5 year old with little to do and I was so bored! This is in the days before we had all day TV let alone 24 hour!

Now those reading this blog for the first time will wonder why I, as a Scottish schoolkid, was stuck at home.  Well, the answer lies in what happened on Tuesday 13th August 1974.  I was walking towards the playing field at the back of my school for a wee muck about before school started when someone shouted my name. I instinctively turned to see who had shouted at me when WHAM! I was hit square in the left eye with what looked to be one of the freebie frisbees, a free gift beloved of many a comic. Cue 999 being rung by the school and I was rushed off in an ambulance to the Dundee Royal Infirmary, known to one and all as the DRI.

I ended up with an eyepatch made up of hospital dressings and surgical tape, which was changed regularly, but was in place for several weeks. During my stay in the DRI, I was placed in the men’s ward, as they had no children’s ward. I was exposed to the dubious delights of communal living, Hospital Radio and excruciating boredom. I asked one of the nurses for something to read and I was brought two annuals. One was the 1967 Victor annual. The other was the 1970 Hotspur annual and that inspired my life long affection for Bert Vandeput’s footballing art. I lost count how many times I read those two annuals, but I read them over and over again. As a reminder to myself, I have just pulled out the 1970 Hotspur annual and it has reminded me of something I really need to add to my Ron Smith homage piece.

I ended up with a really funky scar on my left cornea. I was literally marked for life by comics from an early age. After what seemed like a decade, but in reality was only six days, I was released and allowed to go home. Which merely meant I changed one flavour of boredom for another.  To help pass the time, I watched the school programmes that were on of a morning on Grampian (who remembers those), Clapper Board and anything else that was even vaguely interesting.  I do remember getting strangely addicted to Crown Court because every so often one of the actors would be someone that I would recognise from a chat show, game show or soap that Mum and Dad would watch in the evening.

Thankfully we got four comics a week.  Monday was Wizard, Tuesday was Hornet, Wednesday was Hotspur and we got Victor on a Saturday, the Sunday Post on well Sunday for the Broons and Oor Wullie.  Every other week or so, one of my elder brothers would buy the Commandos, that had been released, with his apprenticeship wages.  I would read each and every one of those comics when I got my hands on it.  I was the youngest of five so seriously low in the pecking order!  As I had little else to do, I would read and re-read these comics over and over again and get deeper and deeper into appreciating the art and the different styles of the artists.  Those weeks of reading those comics over and over sealed my love for artists such as C D Bagnall, Geoffrey Whittam, Pete Sutherland, Jeff Bevan, Frederico Maidagan, Felix Carrion, Dave Gibbons, Ted “Tarry Rope” Rawlings, Keith Shone, Tony Harding, Jaime Ortiz, Jim Watson, Ken Reid and Dudley D Watkins to name but a very small selection. There was another couple of artists in that mix but their name escapes me for some reason! I think they even had decent careers, would you not agree Messers Kennedy and Kennedy?

However, the last Wednesday of September 1974 was different as two of my brothers decided to pool resources and get a new comic that had come out and helped to start a tradition that lasted until 1985 when I was the last to leave school and I was “too old” to still be getting comics.

The comic they brought home was the first issue of Warlord and something about it sang to me. I didn’t care about the free gift.  It was a case of let me at the content and boy I was not disappointed.  From the Carloz Cruz art on the cover to the sneaky Ian Kennedy on page 2, I was hooked.  I didn’t know that at least two characters were retreads from previous comics, but even if I had known, I would not have cared as Warlord was so different from what I had read up to that point. And to have one story that was 8 pages long. That was sheer unadulterated luxury and I wallowed in it. Lord Peter Flint was not exactly what I, as a kid on a farm in deepest darkest Angus, could easily relate too, but the action, the thrills, the ever-changing location meant that it kept me fascinated so when a story was set either on a farm, stable or in Scotland, I instantly engaged with that issue.

People nowadays have to remember that Warlord marked a paradigm shift in British comics.  I have spoken about this shift within my article Action All The Way With Warlord! 41 Years Young and on some of my social media posts.  Warlord was the fulcrum that changed British comics forever.  Without Warlord, we would not have had Battle.  Without Battle, we would never had Action, 2000AD, Viz, Crisis, Deadline or Revolver.

However, that is a discussion for a whole series of articles, so I am going to go back to what has prompted this piece and that is the news that Commando have conscripted Lord Peter Flint to join Commando in August 2019.  As you might be able to tell from what has gone before, I have a lot invested in Warlord so anything that deals with the Legacy of Warlord is something that I am going to take a keen interest in.

I think this is time to take us all back to July 1974 when a certain Manuel Benet was approached to do the art for Force Viper which was published in issues 57 to 67 of Warlord.  As evidenced by that date, Manuel has been associated with Warlord since before it hit the shelves for the first time ever.  He also worked on Canuck King, Catfoot and Rats United amongst a host of other stories for Warlord that I am still digging out of the run.

Manuel also worked on the Football Picture Story Monthly where he helped to transfer weekly characters such as Jon Stark and Jimmy Grant from the weekly comics to the picture library format, so for Manuel to be asked to bring Lord Peter Flint to Commando is a brilliant piece of corporate memory by D C Thomson.  It is also a great nod to the great tradition of weekly comics and picture libraries that D C Thomson has produced over the decades in having one of the artists that has worked on both formats, has previously been involved in the transfer of characters from weeklies to picture libraries and worked on the original weekly.  In case anyone missed the announcement of how D C Thomson are celebrating the 45th anniversary of the release of their ground breaking weekly Warlord, here is Gordon Tait’s announcement that Code Name Warlord is returning.

To add to the Warlord feel of the issue, the cover is painted by that master of acrylics Ian Kennedy who’s connection to Warlord is also well known as Ian drew 14 of the 15 annual covers, 13 of the 18 Summer Special covers and at least 85 of the weekly covers. That’s not to mention the dozens of articles he contributed to or the amount of pages he illustrated for The Tankies and Blitzkrieg Bomber to name but two stories he drew for Warlord.

And finally we get to the writer Iain McLaughlin , who has been kind enough to let me know of his connection to Warlord first time round.

When I did my interviews for D C Thomson I only knew that I was interviewing for the comics department. Even when I arrived at work on that first day in August 1985 I had no idea what I would be working on. I had kind of talked myself into thinking it would be Victor or Warlord because I’d been interviewed by guys from the boys papers. As it turned out I was sent to the funnies and stayed there for 29 years. My last 6 months with the company were spent on Commando, so I got there eventually. And five years after leaving the company I have finally got to add a bit of Warlord to my CV.

I am genuinely excited for this issue as it is an approach that has been done before and it works really well when it is done right and from the looks of it, it is being done right with the right people involved.

Issue 5255 goes on sale at all good book shops on Thursday 22nd August 2019.

All art (C) DC Thomson & Co Ltd

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