Tuesday, 30 September 2014

Look Out! It's Look-In!

I've just come across a handful of Look-ins from 1978. For those of you young enough not to know what Look-in was: I hate you. But life will crush your dreams too.

Sorry, I mean to say: For those of you young enough not to know what Look-in was it was a comic-strip-peppered magazine known as "the junior TV Times" as it contained the week's ITV listings and features on new and upcoming TV shows as well as full-colour pin-ups of the stars of the day and other features.

It was first published by IPC (in conjunction with "Independent Television Publications Ltd") in 1971, apparently as a successor to the recently-defunct TV21 and was originally pitched as Magpie, a magazine version of ITV's popular too-cool-for-Blue-Peter kids' show.

The change of name to Look-in was wise as it ended up considerably outliving the Tony Bastable-fronted show. In fact it ran all the way up to 1994, seeing off many rivals and rip-offs (Fast Forward, anyone?).So let's take a "look in" (geddit?) this issue, 1978's No.28 (they started renumbering again every year), dated 8th July. First off: drink in that cover. It's easy to forget what a huge star Travolta was in 1978. The norm at this time was a painting of a star featured in the issue, however loosely. There was a competition inside to win the new Travolta album! And, presumably, a full-colour pin-up too, but my copy has had it removed.

Inside, the first feature we see is "The Benny Hill Page", a comic strip "introduced by" the cheeky funnyman, telling us a story about one of his cousins. Here we have cousin Mort, a winkle picker. The strips are usually devoid of the more, erm, seedy side of Hill's comedy but this one is set on a beach so I suppose this was inevitable:
Next up is the news pages, "hosted" by Ed "Stewpot" Stewart (ask your parents):Here we have pictures of upcoming TV productions, Pen Pal requests, album reviews (this issue has reviews of "Sailor's Greatest Hits", the "American Hot Wax" soundtrack and "White Mansions", which, we are assured, is "a musical play portraying life in the Confederate States of America") and other fun stuff like lookalikes. For instance this one from issue 38:Oh for a time when children were able to recognise the leader of the Post Office Union. Or any union. Or that we had a leader of the Post Office Union. Or had unions.

The second strip of this issue is of The Six Million Dollar Man, with art credited to Martin Asbury.Asbury is probably best known the artist of The Daily Mirror's Garth adventure strip which ran from 1976 to 1997 as well as many movie storyboards (his Wiki entry is quite impressive) and here he adds a welcome touch of horror to the adventures of Steve Austin. Let's be honest it was one of those fantasy TV shows that never quite delivered on its promise on screen but here we get lots of fun monstrous baddies. Take this yellow-peril-infused version of Wilson Fisk that appears in issue 38, for example:
Elsewhere in this issue a strip based on spin-off show The Bionic Woman (art credited to "Bolton") sees Jaime Summer visiting a house with a definite Universal horror feel to it:
Next up: a competition to win a Twister! The fun new game from Milton Bradley. Simply match the name to the hand or foot:

A later issue (1979 No 43, since you ask) has a competition to win a Battlestar Galactica jigsaw. All you have to do is paste the page to piece of card (if you want to play along at home, print the following picture out), cut carefully along the lines (ask an adult to help you) and rearrange them into a picture of a scene from Glen A Larson's Battlestar Galactica. Then send the picture to the usual address.
Yes, that's right, you have to construct and solve your own Battlestar Galactica jigsaw in order to get the chance to win a Battlestar Galactica jigsaw.

Another great love of mine (besides comics) is weird old cult telly so it's fun to read comic strip adventures based on various TV shows of the day. This issue also has The Man From Atlantis......and Logan's Run. I've actually never seen the Logan's Run TV series but if it can show me stuff like this sweet hover-car
and this cool killer robot then I'm watching it next.
Incidentally, is that the most redundant cliffhanger line ever? If there's more next week then it's NOT the end!

There is also "Gerry Anderson's Starcruiser", an educational sci-fi strip which may or may not have been originally based on work done for a TV series which was never picked up.I honestly can't find the truth behind it.

Later in 1978 there would be strips based on The Famous Five (with surprisingly good art)......the aforementioned Battlestar Galactica.......and Sapphire and Steel, a personal favourite of mine. And I'm pleased to say that the writer of the Look-in strip seems to have not only watched PJ Hammond's TV serials but also seems to actually get it. It's lovely horror-inflected weirdness.We also have an interview with Bill Oddie! Plugging his new Saturday morning show Saturday Banana!Wait, Saturday Banana? I don't remember that. Why have I never heard of Saturday Banana!?

Aside: One of those other issues has the Muppets on the cover:Yeah, the Muppets. That's them with Father Abraham. There are, of course, many characters on The Muppet Show, so the cover artist had to choose which ones to paint. Obviously you want to go for the popular ones to get the casual newsagent-browser to pick up this issue. In this case the artist went for Annie-Sue Pig, Beauregard the janitor and the Muppet dinner lady who was in that one season. Gladys? I think she was called Gladys.

There is a quiz page; "Screen Quiz" testing your knowledge of TV, movies and pop.
A later issue contains this fantastic picture of "a famous TV personality" as a child. Can you name him?
There is also a recipe page. Issue 38 features a recipe for a dish that sounds like something Brian Butterfield would serve:
The full-colour pin-ups are usually accompanied by an interview or a short article.

Issue 38 tells me there was once a boy band called Child.

I don't know why, but I don't like it.

There were other humour strips too. A reprint a Peyo's Smurfs strip, for example, which is well before the Hanna-Barbera TV show and even pre-dates the UK release of The Smurfs and the Magic Flute.
At this point Smurfs are best known in Britain for the Father Abraham records (see above) and advertising National petrol stations. I know way too much about Smurfs.

(Edit: I have since learned that this was not a reprint, it was commissioned for Look In! The creators are unknown. More on The Smurfs here.)

There was a strip based on Doctor on the Go, the latest version of the "Doctor" series originally based on Richard Gordon's book "Doctor in the House" which led to many sequels a popular movies series and a TV show which started in 1969. And it's rubbish.

However one strip features this grim prank on a surgeon:
That's right. Some wag put a roll of flags-of-all-nations inside an unconscious patient, there to sit amongst his internal organs, waiting to be discovered. The idea of this is very upsetting to me.

Smile With Stewpot is a page where Ed "Stewpot" Stewart (ask your parents) shares hilarious jokes and cartoons trivialising domestic violence.
But aside from the Benny Hill strip from which this panel comes:
...there is fortunately little casual racism.

Which must be why they commissioned a strip based on Mind Your Language.

If you don't know Mind Your Language, count yourself lucky. A sitcom based around a TEFL class in which every character was a racial stereotype. There was a cowardly Italian, a sexy French woman and so on.

Arguably the worst was Ranjeet, the Sikh immigrant.
Somehow the strip makes it even worse. Honestly those "jokes" about confusing a turban for bandages seem just horrifyingly insensitive now. And I can't imagine were funny at the time.

At least we can say we've moved on from that now. You would not get such unpleasant "jokes" in a British comic today. I mean if I were to randomly pull, oh, I don't know, August 2014's Doctor Who Magazine off the shelf and read the strip...

Oh. Oh dear. Okay, but if I pulled the SEPTEMBER issue...

Okay. To be completely fair a Sikh reader of DWM wrote in to complain and got a full, honest apology from the writer, Scott Gray.

Finally, at the end of the mag, we get the real treat: the TV listings! Now it may seem surprising to some of you but in 1978 there were listings for 14 channels. 14 TERRESTRIAL channels.

All of them ITV. See, back then each region of the UK had their own listings for their own regionally-decided programming. It's genuinely surprising how many differences there are between them. I mean, I look at my region (Granada) and.... OH MY GRODD!!!

WE DIDN'T GET SATURDAY BANANA! No wonder I've never heard of it. 9 out of the 14 regions got Saturday Banana but for some reason Lord Bernstein wanted us to have "Saturday Matinee" instead.

Anyway, for those who are interested here are the complete listings for the week of 8 July 1978, if you lived in the Midlands (chosen because I like the ATV logo best):
So that was Look-in, 1978.

And if you had any doubt as to the cultural influence of Star Wars at this time, here is how pencils were sold then:
And finally, here's a picture you were not expecting, as a reward for making it through this blog:
I laughed so hard at this.

(Answers: The album was "Down in the Bunker" by Steve Gibbons Band; the celebrity child was Harry Secombe)

Wednesday, 17 September 2014

Crossing Over

This blog has become highly focussed on old British comics. Which is fine, but I wanted it to be a bit more general. So here's a thing about new, American comics. Cos I read those too.

Oddly there seemed to be a lot of character crossovers on sale last week. Crossovers are not a thing that happened much in UK comics.
They only tended to happen in annuals, specials or these "Comics Library" thingies.
I suppose it made them feel more special when they did happen.
However crossovers have become a constant feature of the comic shop shelves since the mid 90s. I still fondly remember being genuinely excited at seeing two characters from disparate universes meeting. I don't think many of them were any good, mind. Batman/Judge Dredd was ace but I can remember nothing about Catwoman/Vampirella. Apart from boobs.
Some day I'll write about Superman Meets Bugs Bunny and Mars Attacks Image cos those are some seriously weird books. So what have we now?
Grendel vs The Shadow is lovely. I'd forgotten just how much I liked Matt Wagner's work in general and how much I enjoyed Grendel in particular. Time travel shenanigans deposits the author-turned-assassin in the 1930s home of the dark avenger and Grendel realises it would be even easier to  rule a criminal empire where the gangsters are so untrained. But there is one man who aims to stop him.
The Shadow, if you're unaware, was a character created by Walter B Gibson in 1930 originally for a radio drama which swiftly became a very popular series of pulp fiction novels. Lamont Cranston was a rich man-about-town by day but a masked crime-fighter at night. He was Batmanning about before Batman. 

The Shadow also turns up Justice Inc. by Michael "The Boy Who Loved Batman" Uslan and Giovanni Timpano. Eerily similar time travel shenanigans sends Doc Savage back to the 30s too. Doc Savage, Man of Bronze, is of a similar vintage to Lamont and is super-smart super-strong and has a fortress of solitude in the Arctic. Supermanning about before Superman. It also features The Avenger, about whom I know nothing but a quick glance at Wiki tells me he is also pulp fiction adventurer created in 1939. The issue itself tries to cram in a bit too much stuff to be properly satisfying but looks like it could be going somewhere good.
Elsewhere, Kevin Smith continues to atone for his crimes against Batman by writing (with Ralph Garman) an actually fun crossover based on TV versions of its stars. Batman '66 Meets The Green Hornet issue 4 (art by the great Ty Templeton) is out now and continues to be as ridiculous and entertaining as the regular Batman '66 comic.
While we're on the subject, Batman '66 issue 14 is also currently out and has an interesting crossover from another series. The plot has Batman inventing a robot.... excuse me... a BATrobot to fight crime for him while he goes on holiday. And, in the manner of the TV show window cameos, Batrobot is interrupted while climbing a building:
It's Lost in Space's Doctor Smith! Dude really hates robots. It's written by Jeff Parker and drawn by a rotating art team and you really should be reading it.

And while we're on the topic of comics based on 60s TV shows, issue 2 of a Steed and Mrs Peel (cos they can't call it The Avengers...) mini-series by Ian Edgington and Marco Cosetino is out. Diana Rigg looks a lot like Abbie Chase on the cover. I only bring it up here because of a panel of Mrs Peel driving to a village called Silver Sands which takes her powder-blue Lotus Elan past a sign for two other fictional villages.

I love seeing references to British comedy shows in American comics. Tubbs and Edward are in an issue of Transmetropolitan. There's an issue of Hitman with a Mrs Miggins Pie Shop.
Also out is Transformers vs G.I. Joe issue 2. I missed issue 1 so I bought that first. And it is terrible. I admit I've never been a big fan of either franchise (and will happily ignore the current movie series) but this had a charmingly retro look to it at first glance. The pages are even printed to look yellow through age. The dialogue by Tom Scioli and John Barber is however unreadable and the art, also by Scioli, is so bad it makes my eyes hurt. I didn't finish it. Look at this:
That's almost Shia LeBeouf level bad. Happily I then read the best crossover of the week:
It's odd but as a kid I never cared for Scooby Doo. I did grow up in the Scrappy years, mind. However Scooby Doo is great now! The cartoon Scooby Doo: Mystery Incorporated is really interesting and fun and Scooby Doo! Team Up is one of my favourite comics right now.

So far the series has teamed the gang up with cartoon versions of DC superheroes. We've seen them meet the "Brave and the Bold" version of Batman and the Teen Titans as they are in "Teen Titans Go!" In this issue they meet the Super Friends - the 70s Hanna Barbera version of the Justice League. It's full of fun little touches like the gang dressing up as the cartoon's gimmicky sidekicks as seen above. Love the joke about what happened to Marvin, Wendy and Wonderdog.

It's written by Sholly Fisch and drawn by Dario Brizuela and it is delightful.
Supergirl (who was never in Super Friends) is introduced with her 70s look too to match the aesthetic.
They even gave Brainiac his pet space monkey! I love it when comics remember Brainiac had a pet space monkey!
Amongst other fun things: Velma using Bizarro logic...
Sinestro being beaten by using Geoff Johns' retconning... But best of all....

TOPO! Oh my Grodd I love Topo! He's grown a bit, mind.
Chances are you've no idea about Topo. It's one of those wacky silver age things that serious comics people don't talk about any more. Like Bat-Mite or Comet the Super-Horse. Except no one ever brings Topo back. Till now.
Topo was Aquaman's octopus friend. Now that may sound like the worst thing imaginable but he was surprisingly useful. Viddy:

Topo is the best, you guys! THE BEST! I should probably stop now and have a little lie down.