Bear Alley Books, run by author Steve Holland, is bullishly battling back against the perils of the Coronavirus Pandemic with the release of a new guide to a short-lived 1950s weekly boys comic, Rocket, and new editions of two previous releases.
Rocket was, some might say, ahead of its time. Seeking to capture the spirit of the age where technology was rapidly evolving and capturing imaginations, it offered features on missiles and descriptions of three-stage rocketry, and mapped out a blueprint of how we might break the bonds of gravity and seek adventures beyond the stratosphere.
“Colourful comic strips gave its readers glimpses of the kinds of world that could be discovered in our solar system and in other galaxies, ” Steve notes, “but it lasted a mere 32 weeks and was long gone by the time ham radio operators tuned in to hear the Russian satellite’s signal as it orbited 15 times a day, or citizens heard recordings of it on their regular news broadcasts.
“These were the days when Dan Dare of Eagle and Captain Condor of Lion commanded a readership of over a million children between them, and dozens of other comics – and adult newspapers – had space heroes whose names still echo down the years: Jeff Hawke, Rick Random, JetAce Logan, Don Conquest, Space Kingley and Jet Morgan, to name but a few. Capt. W. E. Johns and Patrick Moore were penning intergalactic adventures and Journey Into Space was the last evening radio show to attract a bigger audience than the television shows it was broadcast against.
“With science fiction proving so popular, the question has to be asked: why was Rocket such a failure?
“Hopefully Rocket: The First Space-Age Weekly will answer that question, looking at the strips and features that made up Rocket’s contents, the creators behind them, and revealing how the weekly paper was doomed from almost the moment the first issue hit the newsstands.”
Bear Alley Books has also released a new edition of Hurricane and Champion: The Companion Papers to Valiant. The first edition was terrific, as both myself and Jeremy Briggs have previously noted.
The good news is that this updated index is even better, detailing not only the histories of both papers but revealing the names of many of the creators behind the classic comic strips that filled their pages – some for the first time thanks to Bear Alley Books dedicated research. It also now includes information on the twelve associated annuals.
Heavily illustrated throughout, the new edition of Hurricane and Champion also includes an expanded creators’ indexes covering both papers and annuals, and a new full-colour cover by Jordi Penalva.
Finally, we’re treated to the release of a collected volume containing all 116 episodes of Eagles Over the Western Front, the classic story of aerial warfare set during the days of the Royal Flying Corps. Created by Trigan Empire co-creator Mike Butterworth and artist Bill Lacey, which was serialised in the pages of Look and Learn in 1971-73. Eagles was previously available in three volumes.
Bill Lacey’s stunning artwork – with two-thirds of the story scanned from surviving original art boards – captures every terrifying moment as Harry Hawkes, the hero of Eagles Over the Western Front, joins the only recently founded Royal Flying Corps and, with only a few weeks training, is sent to France to fly scouting and observation missions over the enemy lines at Ypres.
Author Mike Butterworth is better known for writing “The Rise and Fall of the Trigan Empire”, but his career began many years before as a scriptwriter and editor for the Amalgamated Press’s Sun, where penned dozens of stories featuring historical characters (Billy the Kid, Dick Turpin, Robin Hood) as well as creating “Max Bravo, the Happy Hussar” and “Battler Britton”. For Comet, he wrote authentic historical dramas as well as creating the science fiction adventurer “Jet-Ace Logan“. Editorially, he created the innovative Playhour Pictures, Valentine and the teenage magazine Honey. A prolific novelist, he wrote crime thrillers, bodice-rippers and historical novels under a variety of pen-names.
Bill Lacey‘s first strips appeared in 1951, although the best of his early work appeared in the pages of Super Detective Library, where he was the original artist for Rick Random and Blackshirt. Lacey’s work appeared in dozens of comics in the 1950s and 1960s, including Mickey Mouse Weekly, Cowboy Picture Library, Knockout, Express Weekly, Thriller Picture Library, Princess, Film Fun, Valiant, Buster, Tiger and Lion; during this time his strips ranged from adaptations of western novels such as “The Covered Wagon” to weird fantasy classics like “Mytek the Mighty“. In the 1970s he drew extensively for Look and Learn and for a number of DC Thomson’s boys’ papers, Bullet, Crunch and Buddy.
It’s great to see Steve and team are back in action and delivering three terrific new titles. Check out them out now on Bear Alley Books web site!