Hibernia Comics uncovers “Lost Stories” for new Comic Archive

The opening page of a lost Grant Morrison and John M. Burns story, "Johnny O'Hara", intended for a fortnightly comic, Fantastic Adventure, that was dropped in favour of MASK by IPC/Fleetway.
The opening page of a lost Grant Morrison and John M. Burns story, “Johnny O’Hara”, intended for a fortnightly comic, Fantastic Adventure, that was dropped in favour of MASK by IPC/Fleetway.

Hibernia Comics, publishers of the terrific collections of classic British strips such as The House of Daemon and Doomlord have a new project in the works that has turned up some interesting “lost” gems from Britain’s rich comics history – including “Johnny O’Hara“, a strip by Grant Morrison, drawn by John M. Burns, that never saw the light of day, other than in pre-publicity for an abandoned IPC/Egmont project.

(If you haven’t seen Hibernia’s titles, there’s a sale on now in their Comicsy store until Monday)

Pencils for "Johnny O'Hara" by John M. Burns

Pencils for "Johnny O'Hara" by John M. Burns
Pencils for “Johnny O’Hara” by John M. Burns

“I’m putting together an article on unpublished comics for a future Comic Archive, and progress is very slow but fascinating,” says David McDonald, whose researches have already brought us terrific publications such as One Eyed Jack and the Death of Valiant, which focused on John Wagner‘s brief tenure as Editor on Valiant.

Zenith Apex Edition - Preview 2
Zenith as he finally appeared in 2000AD was very different to the concept mooted for Fantastic Adventure. Art for the new Zenith Apex Edition courtesy Rebellion

 

“One that is probably most interesting is Fantastic Adventure, proposed by David Lloyd in 1985 as a fortnightly comic to IPC, but was apparently passed over in favour of the licensed comic Mask.

As Ben Hansom documents over on Deep Space Transmissions, the format  of the title would mean that each strip within would reflect a current movie or TV trend, slightly altered to avoid any copyright infringement or costly rights issues. While not an entirely unusual idea – British comics publishers have long plundered TV and film, adapting popular culture in strips to maintain the appeal of a title, or plundering it ruthlessly, as in the case of Action and “Hookjaw” and the Dirty Harry-inspired “Dredger” – Fantastic Adventure would have featured numerous strips by some top talent, written by Jamie Delano, John Smith Now perhaps best known as the creator of 2000AD’s “Devlin Waugh”) and Grant Morrison.

When Fantastic Adventure was under consideration, Grant Morrison, who had previously written (and drawn) some issues of DC Thomson’s Starblazer, had just landed a job writing “The Liberators” for Warrior, and this new comic was originally to have been the home for his sprawling parallel-worlds superhero epic Zenith, which ended up in 2000AD.

“The original ‘Zenith’ synopsis was written two years ago for Fantastic Adventure,” Morrison would later recall in an interview with Steve Holland in After Image Issue 8, published in Januray 1988 after “Zenith”‘s debut in 2000AD, “the working title for a project David Lloyd never quite managed to get off the ground. It was a boys’ adventure comic for IPC, but eventually they rejected it in favour of Mask, the toy comic, which was a real disappointment to me. I had three strips in Fantastic Adventure! I really wanted to do this thing, you know, and David had lined up some really nice artists – that’s where Steve Yeowell actually got his first sort of professional break, and I was also working with John Burns, which was amazing.

“Anyway, one of the things I came up with was a superhero idea called Zenith. Originally it was a real grim story, closer to the mood of Watchmen, with an alternative world history and various generations of superheroes, but by the time 2000AD expressed an interest in doing a superhero story, Watchmen was already out. I still wanted to use the Zenith concept, but we decided to downplay the parallel world angle and to concentrate on making it more light-hearted and disposable, so that it wouldn’t really be covering the same territory as Alan [Moore] and Dave [Gibbons]’ stuff. We definitely wanted to get away from the idea of the mentally unstable superhero, which has begun to dominate the whole market. I mean, reality doesn’t necessarily have to be so grim and gritty. The only grit in my life is the stuff in the cats’ litter tray, and I’m not really keen on this new cliché that equates ‘reality’ with people leading grim and terrible lives.”

The original “Zenith”, as planned for Fantastic Adventure, was very different to the version that appeared in 2000AD. “I wanted to do something that paralleled superhero history, so we had characters in the ’40s who were very like the early Superman,” Morrison told Speakeasy in an interview published in Issue 76 in July 1987. “We had the Maximan character, who was very primitive, we had the ’60s characters who were very Marvel pop arty, then we brought it up to date with the realistic ’80s characters.”

 

 

When Dez Skinn was putting together his Quality line of 2000AD reprints, he put together several dummy covers. Here's the cover to the proposed Shock Treatment Issue One Featuring the Visible Man, one of the titles that didn't make the final line up. "It's amazing to see the process in constructing a cover made from stats," David notes. "The ink splash in the background, the strips cut out, titles and lettering pasted on, it really is an incredible piece (in my opinion, anyway!) a lost art in a way. This would be put together in photoshop now. While not original art, it certainly is a very original piece in the long history of 2000AD."
When Dez Skinn was putting together his Quality line of 2000AD reprints, he put together several dummy covers. Here’s the cover to the proposed Shock Treatment Issue One Featuring the Visible Man, one of the titles that didn’t make the final line up.
“It’s amazing to see the process in constructing a cover made from stats,” David notes. “The ink splash in the background, the strips cut out, titles and lettering pasted on, it really is an incredible piece (in my opinion, anyway!) a lost art in a way. This would be put together in photoshop now. While not original art, it certainly is a very original piece in the long history of 2000AD.”

Along with “Zenith”, Morrison, as he himself confirms, was assigned three strips for Fantastic Adventure; “Johnny O’Hara” (loosely based on Indiana Jones) with art by Modesty Blaise and Look-In alumnus John M. Burns; “Nightwalkers” (based on Ghostbusters) with art by Hellblazer and 2000AD artist Ron Tiner; and “The California Crew“, a science fiction take on The A-Team wih art by Steve Yeowell.

In an interview for Bulletproof, published in 2002, Steve Yeowell notes other artists involved included John Higgins, John Bolton, the late Steve Whitaker, Ron Tiner and David Jackson. Unfortunately, IPC dropped it in favour of Mask, a toy licensed title.

The opening page of “Johnny O’Hara”, along with two “pages in progress” featured in Issue 32 of Paul Duncan’s brilliant Ark fanzine – one of British comics many  ‘what could have been’ projects that never saw the light of day in its final form.

David tells us his  new Comic Archive will mainly cover IPC/Fleetway “unseen” titles mooted between 1968 and 1990. “I’ll touch on Renga and Dez Skinn’s stuff too,” he says, referring to the former Marvel UK Editor in Chief and Warrior editor who has documented many of his proposed but unrealised projects on his official web site, such as Shock Treatment, a 2000AD reprint title featuring “Visible Man” and “Slaine”.

Given David’s past work and his love of British comics in general, we’re sure this will be a fascinating item to look out for. Keep an eye on the company’s blog or Facebook page for more news.

• If you haven’t seen Hibernia’s fantastic collections before, there is a sale on in Hibernia’s Comicsy shop now. Bakers Half Dozen (news item here), a strip drawn by Mike Western, is available at half price when bought with either The Dracula Files (from Scream, reviewed here) or The House of Daemon (from New Eagle, reviewed here). Doomlord (also from New Eagle) is also available at half price. The offer is only for the bank holiday weekend, or until quantities run out: www.comicsy.co.uk/hibernia

•   One Eyed Jack and the Death of Valiant is still available price £3.99 plus £1.50 postage, Paypal to doomlord@eircom.net. More information at www.hiberniabook.blogspot.ie | Read our review here

The Zenith Apex Edition is available now from 2000AD

More about the Unpublished Grant Morrison here on Deep Space Transmissions

John Freeman

The founder of downthetubes, John describes himself as is a "freelance comics operative", currently working as a freelance editor for TITAN COMICS, as Creative Consultant on the new DAN DARE audio adventures for B7 Media, and on promotional work for the LAKES INTERNATIONAL COMIC ART FESTIVAL and LANCASTER COMICS DAY. John has worked in British comics publishing for over 30 years, starting out at Marvel UK, where he edited a number of the Genesis 1992 books with Paul Neary. His numerous credits include editor of titles such as Doctor Who Magazine at Marvel and Star Trek Magazine and Babylon 5 Magazine at Titan Magazines, where he was Managing Editor. He also edited STRIP Magazine and worked as an editor on several audio comics for ROK Comics, including TEAM M.O.B.I.L.E. and THE BEATLES STORY. Most recently he is writing CRUCIBLE as a creator-owned project with 2000AD artist Smuzz, published on Tapastic; and DEATH DUTY and SKOW DOGS with Dave Hailwood for the digital comic 100% Biodegradable.

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