Recently on one of the Facebook war comics groups, archivist Vic Whittle – curator of the long-running British Picture Libraries web site – posted a page of advertisements that included part of a five-part comic strip advertising the British-made Biggles: Adventures in Time movie. But who drew it – and which company created the promotion?
Released in May 1986 the time-travelling yarn starred Neil Dickson as Lieutenant James ‘Biggles’ Bigglesworth and Alex Hyde-White as Jim Ferguson, the latter a time traveller from 1986 who travels to World War One to help Biggles (the character from the series of novels by W.E. Johns), with Biggles then travelling back to 1986 to save his new friend.
These sort of advertising comic strips seem to fall between the cracks with the comics fans ignoring them in a given title because they are adverts and the film fans rarely having enough knowledge to know about them in the first place, or access to the comics to get a full run if they do.
There were a series of six of these sort of ongoing comic strip adverts for Ray Harryhausen’s Clash of the Titans in 1980, illustrated by Pat Wright, which were covered over on Steve Holland’s Bear Alley back in 2010.
Comics publisher and author Dez Skinn also recalls two of his projects to bring comic art into advertising and publicise new films, one for Thief of Baghdad, with art by John Bolton, the other featuring art by Steve Dillon for the Tippi Hedren / Melanie Griffith big cat film Roar.
Of course, using comics to promote films was hardly a new idea. They were a promotional tool utilised as far back as the 1930s in the United States, for King Kong and its nearly forgotten sequel Son Of Kong for example, as noted here in this article, “Movie Promos of the Comic Strip Kind” by D.D. Degg on the Daily Cartoonist web site, strips drawn by Glenn Cravath.
The Biggles film is an odd time travel story, jumping back and forth between 1986 and the Great War, and is by no means a classic. It is probably best remembered as the late Peter Cushing’s last film, so of course his character appears in the strip, and the film is covered on the Peter Cushing Appreciation Society blog, which also mentions the strip without showing it all.
Here for your entertainment is the entire run of the Biggles strips, taken from Battle Action Force (cover dates 3rd to 31st May 1986) although it also ran in new Eagle amongst others comics.
Suggestions as to who the artist is are welcome. This particular strip was not one of Dez Skinn’s projects, who feels the lettering lets it down, but has suggested, as have others, that it is also the work of Patrick Wright.
While artist Trevor Goring has also been suggested, who was running London’s Helicopter Studios at the time, which created such material, he has told us it is not his work and does not recall the studio working on such projects, although there were many mooted, often at the suggestion of Sydney Jordan, aided by the late Gerry Dolan.
The second episode marks the first appearance in the strip of the anachronistic inter-war Stampe biplane, that also turned up in the third Indiana Jones film.
Von Stalhein’s biplane is an American Boeing Stearman trainer which, like Biggles’ Stampe, is actually a post World War One aircraft.
As the film advertising strip nears its conclusion, if not actually the conclusion of the film itself, it offers a bizarre bit of cross-dressing!
Finally, the Biggles advertising strip reaches its conclusion – although not the conclusion of the film itself to leave the reader hopefully wanting to now go see it.
Three and a half decades on we can only wonder just how many readers would have taken their comic along to the local ABC cinema to get the £1 discount on their ticket.
UPDATE 18th May 2020: After being shared on Facebook with some discussion as to who the artist was, John Ridgway, Davey Candlish and Timothy Stephen Keable all suggested 2000AD and Look-In artist Arthur Ranson, as did Lee Grice and Duncan Wilson on Twitter.
Steve Pini then spotted Arthur’s signature in the fifth panel of the first block putting the identity of the artist beyond doubt.
The strip also has a passing mention in the stripography on Arthur’s website.
• Biggles: Adventures in Time – is available on DVD, Blu-Ray and on Amazon Prime (Affiliate Link)