Battle Picture Library - Various Issues

New Fleetway Picture Library collections announced, past publishing secrets revealed

Battle Picture Library No 1 (1961). With Holiday Special (1967), Combat Picture Library No 1 (1951) with Combat Picture Annual (1962), Combat Library No 1 (text, 1959), Lion Picture Library No 1 (1963), Top Secret Picture Library No 1 (1974), Valiant Picture Library No 1 (1963), War at Sea Picture Library No 1 (1962), Secret Agent Picture Library Holiday Special (1968) and War Picture Library Holiday Special (1970)Artist Carlos Pino has unearthed a fascinating letter from longtime Fleetway editor Ted Bensberg, dating the end of originated strips for the original runs of titles such as War and Battle Picture Library – just as further details emerge about Book Palace Books next Fleetway Picture Library Classics titles.

The comics had the same format as DC Thomson’s still-running Commando, offering action adventure stories with war themes – and although cancelled, Battle Picture Library was revived in 1985, edited Ron Phillips, and continued publication until 1992.

Battle Picture Library #611 cover art by Graham Coton
Battle Picture Library #611 cover art by Graham Coton

Launched in 1958, War Picture Library is regarded as the first war-themed “picture library” format title in the UK, emulated by other publishers such as DC Thomson, Famepress and Pearsons.

(It should be noted that it was not the first “picture library” – Cowboy Comics / Picture Library launched in April 1950, and Thriller Picture Library in 1955).

“It is possible that I was one of the last [artists] Ted Bensberg… commissioned a story for Battle Picture Library,” veteran artist Carlos Pino, whose credits include TV21, 2000AD, Victor and, today, Commando, says, in comments in discussion on the Facebook-hosted Commando and British Comics – Collectors and Swaps Page.

“I had not finished the first 20 pages when [Ted] told me he had received orders to stop all work. He asked me to send him what I had done, pencil pages included, they paid me. And there the story ends. I worked very well for Ted for eight to 10 years.”

A letter from IPC Magazines
A letter from IPC Magazines “Pocket Library” editor Ted Benesberg to artist Carlos Pino, informing him that origination on his titles had been curtailed by IPC management

Carlos last work and presumably unpublished strip was titled “The Spud Bus”. Whether a decision was later taken to complete the story with a different artist is unknown, but with over 40 pages still to be drawn and the titles cancelled shortly after Carlos received the letter from Bensberg, it seems unlikely.

Carlos himself didn’t keep a copy of the script. “There was no point”, he explains, as “it had no use for me.”

Moving on to other work, the artist had already realised the titles were to close, well before receiving Ted’s letter confirming it.

“At the beginning, we had two months to draw a Library,” he recalls of his early assignments on the titles. About two years before receiving Ted’s letter, the time was extended to three months. “In the end, it was six months to draw a story! That was no longer very interesting, except to do it as a filler with other works.

“By then my work in advertising absorbed me almost completely. However, I did regret that Battle was over.”

Battle Picture Library Volume 1 Issue 339, cover by Jorge Longaron
Battle Picture Library Volume 1 Issue 339, cover by Jorge Longaron

Born in Marylebone, London, on 31st July 1920, Edward John Bensberg was, editor and publisher Dez Skinn recalls, a sergeant in the Royal Signals Corps, and from the late 1950s an editor at Fleetway/IPC’s digest comics, including Air Ace Picture Library, Battle Picture Library, Thriller Picture Library, War at Sea Picture Library and War Picture Library.

Ted, as he was known and preferred, initially worked under Alf Wallace, later succeeding him and eventually becoming managing editor. He recruited Spanish artists, including Victor de la Fuente, Carlos Pino and Vicente Alcázar, to work for his titles in the 1960s, and reading his letter, he was clearly very sad that origination on his titles had to draw to a close, although some felt the title’s were long past their sell by date long before their demise.

“If anybody ended up in that elephant’s graveyard, you knew they’d made some colossal cock-up and were serving penance,” Dez Skinn recalls of the pocket library department at IPC during his time there in the 1970s, “as most of the titles were reprints – deemed impossible for even the worst trainee to mess up! In fact, they were so tucked away that in five years at IPC I never actually came across their offices.”

Battle Stations: War Picture Library. Note this may not be the final cover Battle Stations: War Picture Library, to be released next year. Note this may not be the final cover

Despite such criticism, some of the stories – both art and script – offered some memorable moments for many, and the cover art was almost always eye catching. Two collections of cover art, edited by David Roach, have also been previously released and some have been reprinted in collections edited by Steve Holland.

Book Palace Books has also announced further titles in their limited edition Fleetway Picture Library Classics range, including Tacconi’s Air War Stories, a collection with all interior art by Ferdinando Tacconi

Earlier this year, Rebellion Publishing announced plans to publish over-sized editions of stories drawn by the legendary Hugo Pratt, written by Donne Avenell, creator of Corto Maltese, who, as artist Keith Page noted in this article about the artist, drew several War Picture Library stories.

Ted Bensberg died in February 2005. His son, Paul, worked as a letterer for various UK comics in the late 1970s and 1980s.

FURTHER READING

All links in this section are Amazon Affiliate links – using them helps support downthetubes, thank you

The War Libraries by Steve Holland and David RoachThe War Libraries by Steve Holland and David Roach  – the first title in a series of three volumes offers more details on the war comic titles. The Fleetway Picture Library Index chronicles the full credits of all the Fleetway Picture Library comics

Aarrgghh!! It's WarAarrgghh!! It’s War: The Best War Comic Cover Art from “War”, “Battle”, “Air Ace” and “War at Sea” Picture Libraries
by David Roach

From the 1950s to the 1970s, Fleetway and its successor IPC was the world’s biggest comic-book publisher and its line of digest-sized “Picture Libraries” was the jewel in their crown. The most popular and longest lasting titles were “War”, “Battle”, “Air Ace and War at Sea” which ran for a combined total of over four and a half thousand issues.

This book collects together 400 of the finest “War”, “Battle”, “Air Ace and War at Sea” covers, digitally remastered from the original archived artwork in a lavish format with the finest quality reproduction.

The Art of War: More of the Best Cover Art from War, Battle, Air Ace and War at Sea Picture LibrariesThe Art of War: More of the Best Cover Art from War, Battle, Air Ace and War at Sea Picture Libraries
by David Roach

A further collection of over 400 of the finest “War”, “Battle”, “Air Ace” and “War at Sea” covers, digitally remastered from the original archived artwork in a lavish format with the finest quality reproduction.

Tacconi's Air War Stories (Fleetway Picture Library Classics) Out next year: Tacconi’s Air War Stories (Fleetway Picture Library Classics)

Tacconi’s Air War Stories (Fleetway Picture Library Classics)
by Ferdinando Tacconi – to be published in 2020

A stunning collection of four complete Air War Stories with all interior art by Ferdinando Tacconi: “Broken Wings”, from
War Picture Library #49 first published May 1960, cover art Nino Caroselli; “Scramble!”, from Air Ace Picture Library #11 first published June 1960, cover art Graham Coton; “Last of the Gladiators”, from Air Ace Picture Library #37 first published January 1961, cover art Nino Caroselli; and “Target Tirpitz” from Air Ace Picture Library #54 first published June 1961, cover art Nino Caroselli

Aces High: The 10 Best Air Ace Picture Library Comic Books Ever!Aces High: The 10 Best Air Ace Picture Library Comic Books Ever!
Edited by by Steve Holland

Ten stories in Aces High take you from the flak-blasted night sky over Germany to the sweltering heat of the tropics, twisting and turning like a Typhoon with a Focke-Wolf in its sights!

Air Ace Picture Library: The Wings of DeathWings of Death: Six Fantastic Flying Adventures from Air Ace Picture Library
Edited by Steve Holland

When War Picture Library was launched in 1958, it quickly became apparent that many of the most popular stories with the readers featured the adventures of the warriors of the air, pilots who soared and swooped through the sky, cannons and machine guns blazing. The flyers were seen as the glamour boys of the Second World War, handling the most sophisticated and technically advanced combat machines ever invented and there was almost limitless scope to develop stories based around their exploits.

The machines that they flew – fighters such as Spitfires, Hurricanes, Messerschmitts, Mustangs and Zeros were lovingly recreated by the finest artists, in the brand new Air Ace Picture Library in 1960.

Battle Picture Library: Death or GloryBattle Picture Library: Death or Glory
Edited by Steve Holland

When it comes to telling stories about the Second World War, few did it better than the authors of Battle Picture Library! This collection gathers together 12 of the toughest tales of war ever told. From the bomb-shattered roads of Europe to the stifling jungles of the Far East, below the crashing waves of the Atlantic or in the war-torn skies over England’s green fields – these stories of courage and comradeship stirred the imaginations of generations of British children whose parents and grandparents struggled against the Axis powers bent on enslaving nations. The stories you’ll find in this volume have an incredible range, from action with the Desert Rats to top-secret missions for Military Intelligence via the nightmare dreams of a Captain in the airborne division and the heroic rise of Jack Charlton (not that Jack Charlton) to the head of Baker Company. It’s not just rattling good history…it’s explosive!

Battle Picture Library: Hit the Dirt!Battle Picture Library: Hit the Dirt!
Edited by Steve Holland

By the time it was launched in 1961, Battle Picture Library already had two stablemates at Fleetway Publications – War Picture Library and Air Ace Picture Library. To avoid any conflicts with its sister magazines, Battle concentrated solely on stories based on land, although the authors and artists had plenty of scope when deciding on settings for their tales of action and adventure. Stories such as “The Rats of Tobruk” or “Blood on the Sand” pit fighting men against their bitter enemies in the heat and dust of the desert while “Dawn Attack” or “Shock Tactics” see them fighting hand-to-hand in the European battlegrounds.

The Hit The Dirt! features some of the finest stories ever to appear in Battle Picture Library, providing hours of entertainment for fans of fighting yarns whether they be revisiting the classic comic book series they remember from their youth, or whether they are going into Battle for the first time.

Battle Picture Library: Let 'em Have ItBattle Picture Library: Let ’em Have It
Edited by Steve Holland

Fix bayonets! Stand by to go over the top with the third volume of ten complete blood-and-glory combat stories from the War Picture Library. This selection promises to take you from the mud and thunder of the trenches to the sweat and suffering of the jungle in a series of adrenalin-fuelled picture stories that represent the cream of War Picture Library‘s 25 years’ of publishing.

Fleetway Picture Library Classics presents LarriganFleetway Picture Library Classics presents Larrigan

Stirring collection of four complete 64 page stories from Lone Rider Picture Library by del Castillo featuring the classic Western strip Larrigan. Plus comprehensive artist checklist and introduction.

Reprints Lone Rider Picture Library #1, #4, #9 and Cowboy Picture Library #463 from 1961/62; plus comprehensive artist checklist and introduction.

Rick Random: Space DetectiveRick Random: Space Detective
Edited by Steve Holland, art by Ron Turner

Rick Random, Space Detective, was a comic book character who appeared in Super Detective Library, published by Amalgamated Press, from 1954. His first appearance was in the Super Detective Library number 37 in a tale titled “Crime Rides the Spaceways”. Random worked for the Interplanetary Bureau of Investigation, and among his arch-enemies was a futuristic bank robber, John Jolson, who used a matter transmitter in one story to steal gold from London’s Interplanetary Bank.

Alongside his female companion, Detective Superintendent Andi Andrews, Rick Random proved as difficult to kill off in the real world as he did in his sci-fi adventures.

He was resurrected in the late 1970s in 2000AD, where he enjoyed a whole new audience.

Fleetway Picture Library Classics presents Jet-Ace LoganFleetway Picture Library Classics presents Jet-Ace Logan
Due for release in September 2019

A collection of four complete 64 page stories featuring art by Ron Turner and Kurt Caesar – classic SF strips starring Jet Ace Logan. Plus comprehensive artist checklist and introduction.

Includes “Jet-Ace Logan…” from Thriller Picture Library #383 first published 1962; “Evil in Orbit” from Thriller Picture Library #410 first published 1962; “Times 5”, from Thriller Picture Library #418 first published 1962; and “Power from Beyond”, from Thriller Picture Library #442 first published 1963

John Steel Casebooks (Fleetway Picture Library Classic)John Steel Casebooks (Fleetway Picture Library Classic)
Art by Luis Bermejo and Reg Bunn – to be published in 2020

A collection of four complete John Steel Case-Books: “Blues For Danger” from Thriller Picture Library #363 first published June 1961, art By Luis Bermejo; “Violent Tempo”, from Thriller Picture Library #367 first published July 1961, art by Reg Bunn; “City of Shadows”, from Thriller Picture Library #395 first published February 1962, art by Luis Bermejo; and “The Rising Tide”, from Thriller Picture Library #403 first published April 1962, art by Luis Bermejo

War Picture Library: Against All OddsWar Picture Library: Against All Odds
Edited by Steve Holland

In September 1958, Britain’s children thrilled to the first issue of War Picture Library, where they could read of the valiant struggle of a motley group of British soldiers from the British Expeditionary Force whose units were overwhelmed by German forces swarming through the frontiers of Holland, Belgium and Luxembourg. “Fight Back to Dunkirk” was a page-turner of the first order, a shilling shocker that grabbed your attention for 64 explosive pages. The good news was, when you’d finished, there was another one waiting on the spinners at the newsagents.

Over the coming months and years, War Picture Library revealed to its young (and sometimes not-so-young) readers just what their fathers and uncles had been through in combat. The diversity of characters and breadth of locations available, from the home front to the steaming jungles, meant that there was something new for readers every month. Decades later, the stories still have the power to thrill and horrify.

Against All Odds is a carefully selected collection of some of the most amazing war stories.

War Picture Library - No Surrender!No Surrender!
Edited by Steve Holland

In all its grim glory, the Second World War is brought to life in 6 of these grittiest war dramas ever committed to paper. “War Picture Library” was the daddy of them all – the first pocket library and for many fans, the best. The conflict that engulfed Europe forced ordinary men to give up their safe, happy lives and fight for freedom against an enemy who had been preparing for war for years. Debuting in 1958, “War Picture Library” celebrated the heroic actions of the Allies as they fought back on land, at sea and in the air. No theatre of conflict was ignored. Written by authors who had themselves seen combat, from the baking deserts of Africa to the steaming jungles of the Far East, these complete stories gave youngsters growing up in the years after the war an answer to the question, ‘What did you do in the war, daddy?’.

War Picture Library: Up and at 'em!War Picture Library: Up and at ’em!
Edited by Steve Holland

Fix bayonets! Stand by to go over the top with the third volume of ten complete blood-and-glory combat stories from the War Picture Library. This selection takes you from the mud and thunder of the trenches to the sweat and suffering of the jungle in a series of adrenalin-fuelled picture stories that represent the cream of War Picture Library‘s 25 years’ of publishing.

 

WEB LINKS

• Copies of the original Air Ace Picture Library, Battle Picture Library, Thriller Picture Library, War at Sea Picture Library and War Picture Library can be bought from Book Palace Books, who also have an online gallery of covers – and of course, you can search on eBay and elsewhere

As noted above, Book Palace Books have published a number collections of Picture Library stories, with more in the works – their catalogue is here

Facebook Commando and British Comics – Collectors and Swaps Page 

Vic Whittle’s British Picture Libraries Page
Part of his brilliant site devoted to a number of British comics, particularly Commando)

downthetubes contributor Colin Noble writes about Picture Library titles on his own blog, NothingButAFan

downthetubes contributor Richard Sheaf’s Boys Adventure Comics blog also features Picture Library finds and  news items

SOME OF THE TOP ‘POCKET LIBRARY’ TITLES…

Air Ace Picture Library 109 - Air Ace Picture Library

Digest-sized, aviation-themed war comics published by Fleetway, and later IPC, from 1960 – 1970, before merging into War Picture Library. Each issue contained a single, complete, 64-page story.

Read Money-Spinning: How Many Times can you reroint a Comic?

Battle Picture Library Volume 1 Issue 339, cover by Jorge Longaron
Battle Picture Library Volume 1 Issue 339, cover by Jorge Longaron

Battle Picture Library

Not to be confused with the weekly title Battle,Battle Picture Library was published by Fleetway (later IPC) from 1964 to 1984, and by Ron Phillips from 1985 to 1992.

Some issues feature in the collections Death or Glory, Let ’em Have It and Hit the Dirt!

Giorgio de Gaspari's cover for Thrilling Picture Library 266, a
Giorgio de Gaspari’s cover for Thrilling Picture Library 266, a “Spy 13” story

Thriller Picture Library

Thriller Comics (re-titled Thriller Picture Library from issue 191 onwards) ran from 1951 to 1963. Originally coming out twice a month, it switched to weekly publication in 1955. It was published originally by Amalgamated Press and later by Fleetway.

The first issue covered the exploits of Alexandre Dumas’ Three Musketeers; the stories that followed in the comic’s early years were generally similar such literary adaptations. Read more on the UK Comics Wiki

The final cover of War Picture Library 14, the background amended by the publisher. Art by Giorgio de Gaspari
The final cover of War Picture Library 14, the background amended by the publisher. Art by Giorgio de Gaspari

War Picture Library

Published by Amalgamated Press, Fleetway and IPC from 1958 to 1984, War Picture Library was launched by Leonard Matthews, with some stories written by Ken Bulmer and Donne Avenell, utilising artists such as Gino d’Antonio, Luis Bermejo, José Bielsa, Kurt Caesar, Francisco Cueto, Hugo Pratt (whose issues are to be re-published next year) and Artur Aldomà Puig. Cover artists included Graham Coton. Read more on the UK Comics Wiki

War at Sea Picture Library No.34War at Sea Picture Library

Published by Fleetway from 1962 to 1963, this naval-themed sister title to War Picture Library was nowhere near as long-lived, lasting only 36 issues

 

AP, FLEETWAY and IPC PICTURE LIBARY – Comic Book Price Guide Links

Battle Picture Library - Various Issues

All titles @ Rebellion Publishing Ltd

With thanks to Dave Howarth and Steven Taylor for additions and corrections

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John Freeman

The founder of downthetubes, John works as a comics editor, writer, as Creative Consultant on the Dan Dare audio adventures for B7 Media, and on promotional work for the Lakes International Comic Art Festival. Working in British comics publishing for over 30 years, his credits include editor of titles such as Doctor Who Magazine, Star Trek Magazine and Babylon 5 Magazine. He also edited the comics anthology STRIP Magazine and edited several audio comics for ROK Comics. He has also edited several comic collections, including volumes of “Charley’s War and “Dan Dare”. He’s the writer of “Crucible”, a creator-owned project with 2000AD artist Smuzz, published on Tapastic; and “Death Duty” and “Skow Dogs” with Dave Hailwood for digital comic 100% Biodegradable.

3 thoughts on “New Fleetway Picture Library collections announced, past publishing secrets revealed

  1. Some German ‘comic’ – performing this year at The Edinburgh Festival – commented on the way British TV still features programmes on WWII. The number of series on the Yesterday and Quest channels bears this out. And there is Dad’s Army…..yet again, on the BBC. At 39 years after the end of WWII, IPC may well have been right to kill “The Spud Bus”..

    1. And yet Battle Picture Library was revived a year after the end of its first run and as noted above, continued until 1992. War is part of the human condition; I don’t see that likely to change.

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