The Copyright Cheat Affair: the hair-raising time The Man from U.N.C.L.E met Britain’s Barracuda comic hero

Codename: BarracudaIn the second of a series of articles, publisher, comics creator and historian of Tamil comics Nathan Viswa reveals some more disturbing and bizarre instances of British comics conflagration and copyright theft on the Indian sub-continent…

When British publisher Fleetway launched their Super Library Secret Agent series in 1967, they had twi alternative series running under the detective genre. One was the Millionaire turned secret spy Johnny Nero and the other was a dynamic duo of Barracuda and Frollo.

Otherwise known as Codename: Barracuda, this series was launched in Lion in 1966, pitting two secret agents against an evil organisation hell bent on destroying the world, W.A.M. (War Against Mankind).

With his high tech gadgets and superhuman strength Barracuda stands out over other comic heroes of the time, more than able to take on tigers with his bare hands or climb buildings despite a broken arm.

Notably for the purposes of this article’s focus, fellow superhuman agent Frollo is bald headed.

As with the other characters in the Superhero and Secret Agent series, Barracuda stories, many drawn by Italian artist Antonio Sciotti, who worked through the Giolitti Studio in Rome, were published beyond the UJ, including in translation and published in the Tamil language in South India. Together with localised editions of Steel Claw and Johnny Nero, the Barracuda stories enjoyed a huge fan following and formed a winning trio, the titles regarded as the giants of the Muthu Comics.

 As in the case with the previous article in this series, things changed with the emergence of one S. Vijayan. Previously, the entire universe of Tamil comics world was immaculate spotless in terms of regard for original copyright. However, Mr Vijayan changed all this with his, shall we say, “innovative” way of creating comics by merging two different set of characters in two different sets of comics.

Early in 1990s, when the arrival of satellite channels took their toll on the magazine industry and sales declined, our dear friend had to shut down a couple of his comics magazines. Whatever new characters he introduced, they didn’t help in increasing the sales. Also, the fact that all the classic Fleetway titles and stories had already been reprinted in Tamil – twice! – didn’t help him, either. Many letters urged him to bring back the classic Fleetway characters – Steel Claw, Jonny Nero and Barracuda. 

Instead of looking out for new set of heroes, our friend decided to get into action, riding roughshod over copyright laws and legal issues. So, in one of his editorials he announced that with so much demand for the three Fleetway characters, he had created new stories for Barracuda and Frollo (who had been re-named Lawrance and David in Tamil).

The "Paralogap Payanam Hotline" pages for Muthu Comics Issue Number 194 announcing "new" CID Lawrance (Barracuda) stories
The “Paralogap Payanam Hotline” pages for Muthu Comics Issue Number 194 announcing “new” CID Lawrance (Barracuda) stories

How he did it was a another case of casually ignoring the niceties of copyright, never mind having any regard for the creators who came up with the comic stories in the first place.

Devised by Sam Rolfe and Norman Felton in the 1960s, The Man from U.N.C.L.E. was (and still is) a popular US TV spy show which enjoyed huge success across the globe, so it’s no surprise US publisher Gold Key optioned it for comics (stories completely separate to the “Man from U.N.C.L.E.” strips in British weekly Lady Penelope). David McCallum and Robert Vaughn starred as secret agents Ilya Kuryakin and Napoleon Solo, often battling the evil organisation (THRUSH = Technical Hierarchy for the Removal of Undesirables & the Subjugation of Humanity), just as in the case of Barracuda and Frollo.

When there were no more original Barracuda and Frollo stories to be published in Tamil, Vijayan decided to simply re-work some of Gold Key’s Man from U.N.C.L.E. books into new “Lawrance and David” tales.

There was that one problem, noted above. Frollo is bald headed. Ilya Kuryakin is a Russian with blond hair. No matter what scrapes they got into, on screen or in their comic adventures, it should be noted neither Napoleon Solo nor Illya Kuryakin were bald headed. 

Editor? Err, No. Barber, Yes:

To surmount this hairy issue, Vijayan simply had the art on the Man from U.N.C.L.E. books changed, and turned Ilya into Frollo by making him bald.

Declaring “Here is Our Frollo (David)”, the new stories were trailed with  much fanfare and posters,  advertising that “Lawrance and David” were making a comeback, which they did in Muthu Comics Paralogap Payanam. Dell’s Man from U.N.C.L.E. #5  {“The Little Uncle’s Affair”) was the basis for the first story.

The covers of Dell's Man from U.N.C.L.E. #5 and Muthu Comics (Paralogap Payanam)
The covers of Dell’s Man from U.N.C.L.E. #5 and Muthu Comics (Paralogap Payanam)
The opening pages of Man from U.N.C.L.E. #5 and Muthu Comics (Paralogap Payanam)
The opening pages of Man from U.N.C.L.E. #5 and Muthu Comics (Paralogap Payanam)

Vijayan apparently had such confidence in the success of these stories that he increased the cover price of his comic by a whopping 50 per cent and as expected, all the thousands of books published sold out. Buoyed by the success of the book, he then went on to print one moreMan from U.N.C.L.E. comic as another Barracuda and Frollo comic.  This time, #8 (“The Floating People Affair”) and published it as a Lawrance and David story in Muthu Comics Parandhu Vandha Bayangaravathikal.

The covers of Man from U.N.C.L.E. #8 Muthu Comics and (Parandhu Vandha Bayangaravathikal)
The covers of Man from U.N.C.L.E. #8 Muthu Comics and (Parandhu Vandha Bayangaravathikal)
The opening pages of Man from U.N.C.L.E. #8 Muthu Comics and (Parandhu Vandha Bayangaravathikal)
The opening pages of Man from U.N.C.L.E. #8 Muthu Comics and (Parandhu Vandha Bayangaravathikal)

 If you think that this is hilarious, don’t worry! There are plenty more copyright-infringing japes to come in this series. 

The sad thing about this whole “Copyright Cheats Affair”, and which hurts deeply, is that Muthu Comics was founded by Soundhara Pandian, who happens to be a thorough gentleman and a great comic lover. He was the one who started a trend in South India, nurturing the Muthu Comics brand, which was brought to prominence by another industry giant, Mullai Thangarasan, who was the publishing editor for the first three years. Hence, it is all the more painful to see a great brand created by legends, tarnished by copyright violations.

It is even more painful to know that these hair-removing antics were carried out by Soundhara Pandian’s son.

For me, this is a classic case of letting your father’s name down. Miserably.       

Nathan Viswa is a publisher, comics creator and historian of Tamil Comics | TCU Syndicate | Contact: TamilComicsUlagam@gmail.com

There’s more about the original Codename: Barracuda on the International Heroes web site

Bear Alley – The Fleetway Super Library – Britain’s first graphic novel series?

The Man from U.N.C.L.E © MGM / Gold Key Comics | Codename:Barracuda © TimeUK     

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