For artist Graham Bleathman, Fleetway’s Thunderbirds: The Comic, launched in October 1991, 30 years ago this month, was an especially significant milestone in his career…
The next few days marks an important event in Gerry Anderson history, so to speak, and indeed, mine too. Dated 19th October- November 1st 1991, the first issue of Thunderbirds: The Comic hit the newsstands 30 years ago.
It seems to have been forgotten within the wider world of comics publishing and is certainly (and rightly) overshadowed by the likes of TV Century 21 and its stablemates, and Countdown, plus Look-In, the latter two also celebrating important anniversaries earlier this year.
For me, though, I cannot underestimate the importance of Thunderbirds: The Comic, in terms of my career.
I was initially contacted in the late Summer of 1991 by fellow artist Steve Kyte, who told me that former TV Century 21 and Countdown editor Alan Fennell was launching a comic to capitalise on the success of the BBC2 repeats of Thunderbirds, recommending me to him to paint cutaways for the centrespreads of each issue. He would do covers and comic strip adaptations of the episodes Fennell originally wrote, alongside other artists who were gradually brought in over the following weeks and months. These included Keith Watson, Keith Page, Rod Vass, Malcolm Stokes, Andrew Skilleter, John Cooper, and a few others.
The cutaways I did have since become well known – at least, I think they did – and led to numerous books and more cutaways for Redan’s Thunderbirds comic, too. I’ve probably drawn Thunderbird 2 about half a dozen times over the years in cutaway form.
The mainstay of the comic’s contents were of course reprints from TV Century 21, scanned from my own copies. I sort of regretted sending the comics off to Alan after a while, as the scanning department at Fleetway damaged a few of them, but at least they paid for replacements, which I found at comic marts etc!
In the years before the internet and social media, the comic was almost a mainstay of a new generation of young fans, some of whom now work on Anderson-related projects or in the comics, media film (etc!) industry. Like the comics before it, its (fortnightly) presence on the newsstand maintained interest in the series, and boosted fandom too.
It had shorter-lived sister comics of course, and I was privileged to work on those, too, but for me, the original comic, launched 30 years ago this week, will always be a bit special. It was aimed at a younger market than TV21 and Countdown, but Alan Fennell also understood that older readers would appreciate the reprints, even if the the target readership probably thought they were newly commissioned strips.
It was also nice to hear very occasionally that the cutaways were removed and stuck on bedroom walls, as secondhand copies of the comic found at car boots would sometimes attest!
Some of my early cutaways have been sold (something I now regret), but at least all of my Fleetway cutaways were reprinted a few years ago… but that’s another story.
Anyway, I couldn’t let the anniversary pass…it is important to me, even if I seem to be the only one to remember!
Graham Bleathman is one of the country’s foremost illustrators, perhaps best known for his work on projects involving Gerry Anderson’s television series including Stingray, Captain Scarlet, Joe 90 and, of course, Thunderbirds. Our thanks to him for permission to share his memories.
He is particularly well known for his “cross section” (cutaway) illustrations of the spacecraft, vehicles and buildings from those shows and his illustrations have appeared in a number of books, magazines and comics since the early 1990s, including the Thunderbirds 50th Anniversary Manual, published in 2015
• Graham Bleathman Official Site: www.grahambleathman.co.uk
• There’s a detailed listing for Thunderbirds: The Comic on the Thunderbirds Fandom wiki | Part One is here