First appearing in Fleetway’s Smash in “The Incredible Adventures of Janus Stark”, Janus Stark is a Victorian master escapologist with bones like rubber, able to contort in unbelievable ways and get through the smallest spaces or out of the tightest bindings.
Born in 1840 with bizarrely rubbery bones that enabled him to contort himself in ways no normal person could, orphan Jonas Clarke escaped the brutal regime of Simon Tragg’s orphanage and grew up on the streets, where he befriended the beggar Blind Largo. It was Largo who taught him his pickpocketing and lock picking skills, no doubt taking a leaf from the teen crime gang run by Fagin in Charles Dickens ‘s Oliver Twist.
As an adult, Clarke reinvented himself as the escapologist and showman Janus Stark, and became something of an amateur detective. Although he died in 1880, at the age of just 40, his unusual physiology proved to run in the family, as Janus’ brother’s modern day descendent John Stark possessed superhuman strength and was visited by Janus’ ghost.
Janus Stark — created by Jack Legrand, written by Tom Tully, with art by Argentinian artists Francisco Fuentes Man, Solano Lopez and Juan García Quirós — is one of several British characters to develop quite a following abroad.
Running for four years in Smash! between 1969 and 1971, the character survived that title’s merger with Valiant in the same year and the strip continued there until 1973. It was reprinted in France by publisher Mon Journal in his own title, Janus Stark, a comic that also featured other British characters such as Adam Eterno and the Leopard of Lime Street from 1973 to 1989.
After reprinting his English language adventures for three years, the company commissioned new stories of the adventurer between 1982 and 1986. These stories, which have never been published in English, were written by Angus Allan and Scott Goodall.
Based on Angus Allan’s recollections, the first original French story was published in Issue 38, written by Scott Goodall, who finally killing him off in Issue 89 in May 1986 after heroically saves his friend, Largo, from being crush ed to death – and introducing his descendants. These modern day characters only appeared in Janus Stark Issue 89 and the Janus Stark Special Issue 2
“It was Scott who imagined the death of Janus,” Angus Allan acknowledged in a short interview he gave in 2002 after his retirement from comics (in French). “His death was written solely for French comics… Scott wrote the story because the editors of MY Journalwanted to modernize the stories of Janus.
Further reprints of earlier stories followed for three years, ceasing with Issue 125 in June 1989. (The comic itself continued for a further ten issues with Mandrake the Magician as its lead strip, ceasing publication in 1990 with Issue 135).
• Janus Stark the comic character should not be confused with Janus Stark, the Peterborough-based punk rock band active between 1987 and 2002.
• This wonderfully detailed French site: janustark.free.fr, which even includes snapshots of original boards and how they were altered for re-presentation on the continent.
• The death of Janus Stark (in French) is here: http://janustark.free.fr/galerie/mort.html
• This French web site on pocket library titles in that country has some information on the Janus Stark edition, which also featured reprints of characters such as Adam Eterno: www.pimpf.org/mjm/janus.htm
• Deskartes: More information on Francisco Fuentes Man (in Spanish)
Janus Stark © Time UK