Author Mike Chinn recalled his work on DC Thomson’s fondly-remembered Starblazer comic back in 2001 for his own web site, and has kindly given us permission to run an update version of the item here on downthetubes….
I’ve always thought D C Thomson’s Starblazer picture digest was one of the country’s best-kept secrets. Easily available in Scotland, south of the border it became increasingly difficult to find; and by the time it reached London, nothing more than a rumour. This was a shame since – all personal bias aside – it evolved into a pretty decent comic. Writers such as Grant Morrison cut their teeth there, along with artists who’ve since gone on to bigger and brighter things: Alcatena, Casanovas, et al.
At first the magazine was strongly in the grip of Star Wars fever, every issue strictly SF, with lots of space battles involving chunky star ships. My own involvement started in 1982, with #64: “The Exterminator” (not my original title). I introduced an uncaring world to one Glave Questor (honest – would I lie?), a young crewman who is terribly injured during one of the aforementioned space-battles. From that point on he becomes a mercenary – but instead of money (or credits), his payment is technology: increasingly sophisticated and deadly. Sounds pretty ropy, I know – but I had Alcatena doing the artwork … so nyah nyah!
The Argentinean artist illustrated my next offering too: #141 “Spaceroamer” (also not my title, I begin to sense a pattern). This was an altogether more baroque story, involving pirates, ludicrously advanced technology, and lots of silly costumes. Alcatena also seemed to be having a ball (at least I hope he was) since his artwork was complex, delicate, and each panel had more weird aliens than the Star Wars Mos Eisley cantina scene. Looking back, the whole thing feels slightly camp, too – all harlequin costumes and Regency fashions – years before The Fifth Element.
Issue 200 was a turning point (for me, anyway). Some issues back, the magazine had changed its Space Fiction Adventure in Pictures subtitle to the slightly more elegant Fantasy Fiction in Pictures. Editor Bill McLoughlin had asked me: “Can you write fantasy, at all?” Well – slightly more easily than space opera, anyway. Starblazer 200 was entitled “Demon Sword”, and was the first in a briefly-lived saga about the ruling family of Anglerre: the d’Annemarc dynasty. Stepping firmly back to my early Michael Moorcock influences, I concocted a tale about young Prince Veyne, leading his people in a war against the sorcerous hordes of Suvethia.
When Veyne is mortally wounded his personal physician and (very Merlin-inspired) sorcerer, Myrdan, discovers the only thing which can save the prince – and his realm – is the magical golden blade Cerastes. But Cerastes is cursed – fated to one-day take the life of the very person it saves (told you it was pure Moorcock). The story that followed – involving lost cities, strange voyages, gods and curses pretty much set the pattern for the stories that followed. “Rune War” (#224), “Godstone” (#231), “Sun Prince” (#250) and “The Triune Warrior” (#271). Once again I was blessed to have my scripts brought to (increasingly hallucinogenic) life by Alcatena – who would take every bizarre, otherworldly realm I’d described and make it even weirder! I typed up insane, impossible scenes: “Illustrate that!” I’d chuckle to myself. He would, and the results were far better than my descriptions.
Three generations of d’Annemarc heroes were covered: Veyne, his father Iagon (in “Rune War”, which was a prequel to “Demon Sword”), and Veyne’s own son Kurdis – already half-magical since his mother was a demoness, he became fused with the golden avatar of the vengeance-seeking demon blade Cerastes at the end of “Godstone”. If this sounds like pure soap opera, it was; worse, I’d probably have gone on writing it if the magazine hadn’t been cancelled.
By the time “The Triune Warrior” was written, I was pushing a bit – seeing how far D C Thomson would let me go. Characters were getting much longer chunks of dialogue, the weirdness factor just about through the roof, so I wrote a story where Prince Kurdis meets up with a character from one of my earlier, unrelated Starblazer stories – Garyn from #248 “Tales of the Otherworld” – and another from a short story that had seen print in Fantasy Tales Vol.12 #6 – Garban Quenéed – and shoved them all up against very Lovecraftian things from before time. And I got away with it.
But I wasn’t just writing Fantasy (although there were a couple of stand-alone, thud’n’blunder issues with the usual obsessions: devious deities, subverted reality; as much gore and nastiness as I could sneak past the censor). Along with my own, world-weary contribution to the Mikal R Kayn saga (a twenty-third century blind private eye created by Grant Morrison; very much in the Philip Marlowe mould and living in New Moscow), I found myself doing slapstick.
One Saturday I received a letter from Bill McLoughlin which, along with other business, observed that 2000AD was publishing an SF spoof of The Magnificent Seven … so how did I fancy doing something similar with a stupid robot and the Western(s) of my choice. Thus was the Robot Kid born. A clapped-out droid, who’d spent most of his life serving in a movie theatre, winds up on a very Western-style planet (R-1Z-ONA – and you can blame Mr McLoughlin for that name) instead of the sheriff they’d sent for.
Two more saw print: “The Return of the Robot Kid” (Kung Fu movies) #232, and “The Robot Kid Strikes Back!” (Rambo) #273. Sadly, I wrote two more which never saw print – the magazine getting cancelled due to poor sales – and naturally, they were my favourite two of the lot. Provisionally entitled “The Prisoner of Zante” and “Robat”, that were, respectively, an affectionate send up of just about every swashbuckling movie you can name, and the first Tim Burton Batman movie.
“The Robot Kid Strikes Back!” appeared in 1990. It was the last script of mine to be published. A few issues later, Starblazer vanished forever.
D C Thomson has long been pretty traditional in their output; I guess Starblazer was a bit of a departure for them. If it had been more successful, there were all kinds of plans: large-format, full colour comics aimed at a more mature audience and sold through specialist outlets like Forbidden Planet. One was intended to be primarily Fantasy, another a Mikal R Kayn feature (to be called, God help us, “Red Eye”).
I expect there are a few fans who remember the magazine – maybe even the odd collector. I understand the late artist Alan Hunter was quite a fan. Sadly, he was probably one of a dwindling company.
Publishing’s a cruel business.
As well as Starblazer, Mike Chinn scripted an eight-week “Billy the Cat” adventure for The Beano back in the day. He then did his best to ruin any comics credibility he may have had by publishing two books on how to write for them: Writing and Illustrating the Graphic Novel and Create Your Own Graphic Novel.
He has had over forty short stories published, in such diverse titles as Ain’t No Sanity Clause, After the Fall, Birmingham Noir, The Black Book of Horror, Phantoms of Venice, and Postscripts 26/27 (Unfit For Eden). His Pulp Adventure collection The Paladin Mandates (The Alchemy Press) garnered two nominations for the British Fantasy Award in 1999; and the sword & sorcery anthology edited for The Alchemy Press, Swords Against the Millennium, was also short-listed in 2001.
He has edited three volumes of The Alchemy Press Book of Pulp Heroes, and an eclectic collection of his fiction, Give me These Moments Back, is due to be published in Spring 2015 (also from The Alchemy Press). He has also written a Steampunk Sherlock Holmes mash-up for Fringeworks, Vallis Timoris, in which the Great Detective gets to go to the Moon.
He occasionally posts his ramblings on http://saladoth.blogspot.co.uk
Mike Chinn’s Starblazer Bibliography
Issue 64 The Exterminator (1982)
Issue 141 Spaceroamer (1985)
Issue 172 Nightraider (1986)
Issue 200 Demon Sword (1987)
Issue 204 The Robot Kid (1987)
Issue 224 Rune War (1988)
Issue 230 A Plague of Horsemen (1988)
Issue 231 Godstone (1988)
Issue 232 Return of the Robot Kid (1989)
Issue 247 Kayn’s Quest (1989)
Issue 248 Tales of the Otherworld (1989)
Issue 250 Sun Prince (1989)
Issue 271 The Triune Warrior (1990)
Issue 273 The Robot Kid Strikes Back! (1990)
This page is part of our Starblazer section on downthetubes.
• Click Here for Jeremy Briggs article on Starblazer: Blazing Through the Secrecy
Jeremy Briggs ponders DC Thomson’s secretive nature about its creators down the years, and explores the secrets of its science fiction title Starblazer, whose creators included a young Grant Morrison and artist Ian Kennedy…
• Click Here for From the Command Deck: Starblazer editor Bill McLoughlin’s history of the title
• Click Here for Starblazer Ray Aspden’s feature on writing for the title
• Click Here for Starblazer Recalled: Forgotten Fantasy Fiction – With Pictures by series writer Mike Chinn
• Click Here for a complete Starblazer Cover Gallery (off site)
Cover scans for these Starblazer articles with thanks to ‘Gary’
Steve Holland is amazed at how many people remember Starblazer, noting the pocket books appeared as “regular as clockwork throughout the 1980s at the rate of two new titles a month so I guess over the nearly twelve years it appeared a vast army of young science fiction fans, high on Star Wars or Battlestar Galactica, sought them out.”
Starblazer fan Douglas Nicol began this article on the internet’s contributor-based encyclopedia
All Starblazer material inclusive of illustrations, text and front cover art is copyright DC. Thomson