Interview first published 12th February 2007, links updated July 2019
Titan Books have just released their edition of the collected Albion, Wildstorm’s welcome revival of many British comics heroes owned by IPC. The trade offers the complete story – with some sprucing up of some of the art in places and a wonderful collection of original stories featuring some of the characters in the new adventure, culled from various annuals and other sources.
In the second part of an extended feature marking the release of the Albion collection from Titan Books (hot on the heels of Wildstorm’s edition last December), John Freeman talks to IPC’s Andrew Sumner about the project
A huge comics fan, IPC Media’s Andrew Sumner has worked in magazine publishing for over 18 years.
“I started out writing about comics and movies for magazines like John Brown’s late, lamented comic news magazine Speakeasy, Total Film and the music paper NME,” says Sumner. “I’ve written for IPC Media’s Uncut, the world’s biggest movie and music magazine, since Alan Jones launched it in 1997, and I’m the publishing director of Now, IPC’s multi-award-winning celebrity weekly.
Andrew is a lifelong comics fan, which explains his enthusiasm for the Albion project. “I’ve been a mental comics fan since Pops, my grandfather, bought me my first issue of Detective Comics in 1966,” he reveals. “The first film that my dad ever took me to see was the Adam West Batman movie. I’ve been hooked on comic books ever since and I’ve got 30,000 US comic books stored between London and Merseyside, where I grew up.”
downthetubes: The Albion: Origins collection has just been published in the UK by Titan, and it looks great. What shaped your choice of classic strips for this?
Andrew Sumner: Choosing those strips turned out to be less easy than I expected. I knew that I had 30-odd pages to fill and that I wanted to include a representative sample of the best IPC characters featured in Albion – but it rapidly became obvious that excerpting the best weekly strips from Lion, Valiant, Smash wasn’t going to work, thanks to their months-long story arcs (that are just impossible to jump straight in and out of for anyone who isn’t familiar with the strips in the first place).
The answer, of course, was to go back to those self-contained six to eight pagers contained in the mid-60s/early 70s annuals. Right off the bat, I knew that I wanted to use that superb full-colour Carlos Cruz House of Dolmann from the 1969 Valiant annual, the “War of the Worlds” Steel Claw from the 1967 Valiant annual (although, as lovely as Tom Kerr’s art is, I would really loved to have included a Blasco-drawn strip if we’d had more space) and that infamous “Tim Kelly survives an A Bomb” story from the 1965 Valiant annual.
The rest came together as a result of just combing through our archive and finding the most representative stories that fit the page length.
I’m happy with all of them: the Janus Stark isn’t the best story but a it’s great colour art job from Solano Lopez, the Captain Hurricane is an archetypal Nazi-stomping adventure, full of classic Charles Roylance “ragin’ furies” and I’m really pleased that we could end on a Spot the Clue with Zip Nolan, where Nolan is sporting his classic early 60s peaked cap look (although, if I’d had more pages, I’d have run the colour story from one of my all-time favourite annuals: Lion 1972 with the classic Elektra Glide in Blue-style Zip cover). I’d also cued up a colour Robot Archie and a Bad Penny – but I couldn’t fit them into our final page allowance.
downthetubes: Now Albion is complete, was it worth all that hard work getting this project off the ground?
Andrew: Yeah, most definitely! The truth is that, as a direct result of our hands-across-the-seas partnership with Bob Wayne and the boys at DC, we’re doing more with the IPC comics library here at Kings Reach Tower than we have done for 25 years.
IPC’s information manager David Abbott shares my enthusiasm for the comics library and he’s putting together some great deals (such as the upcoming audio adventures, Prion Books’ Best of Girl and Prion’s soon-to-be-published Mother Tells You How compendium, which is the funniest thing I’ve read in ages!)
downthetubes: What’s been the best thing about the project so far?
Andrew: Working with my old mate Bob Wayne at DC, Scott Dunbier at WildStorm and Dirk Maggs on his audio adventures: great blokes all. Plus, co-ordinating the Steel Claw and King of Crooks archives with the guys and gals at Titan.
downthetubes: And the worst?
Andrew: Ask me in person at the next Bristol con, and I’ll tell you!
downthetubes: What’s next for the IPC character range? Can you tell us which characters will be revived next?
Obviously, Dirk’s Steel Claw and Sexton Blake audio adventures are on their way, while Titan are currently planning a third reprint archive (which may feature more than one character this time around). There’s some other stuff in the pipeline also…
downthetubes: Several UK publishers have had considerable bookshop success with Christmas-oriented collections of classic comics material – I’m thinking here of Carlton’s Commando collections in particular. Do you have any plans for similar collections given that IPC has a huge war comic library?
Andrew: This is something that I would love to do. Carlton have done a great job with their DCT Commando collections and our harder-hitting war digests would be utterly suited to the same beautifully-presented treatment. David Abbott and I talk about this constantly, so watch this space!
downthetubes: IPC recently sold rights to Look and Learn but you retained the rights to some key strips, such as Trigan Empire. What was the reason for this?
Andrew: Trigan Empire is a valuable slice of steady-earning intellectual property for IPC, we’d be crazy to sell the rights on to a third party. As I’ve said before, if I could nip back in a time machine and undo the work of a previous administration, I would never have sold off Dan Dare and Eagle.
downthetubes: You’ve now seen publication of three IPC character US comics. Which one has been the most commercially successful?
Andrew: Albion, followed closely by Garth Ennis and Colin Wilson’s Battler Britton. Dave and John’s Thunderbolt Jaxon was great fun, but I think that it had it’s work cut out for it on the shelves because the original character was so obscure. Hopefully, it’ll find a wider audience as a trade (it deserves to, because John Higgins’ art is lovely).
downthetubes: Do you think the publication delays on Albion harmed sales and has this had an impact on Wildstorm’s plans for more IPC-inspired comics?
Andrew: The delays undoubtedly had a negative impact on sales (particularly for issues #5 and #6). Having said that, Albion was a profitable book from beginning to end and WildStorm’s plans for further revivals have always been contingent on the success or otherwise of the trade collections. Let’s see!
downthetubes: If there was one character you could revive tomorrow, who would it be and who would you like to see drawing it?
Andrew: The Steel Claw – in my opinion, the greatest strip IPC ever produced. Who would I like to see draw it?
In an ideal world (i.e. one where the project is happening and he wants to do it), Chris Weston would be the only man for the job.
downthetubes: Thanks Andrew!
WHAT IS ALBION?
For decades, children all across the British Isles thrilled to the exploits of their favourite heroes such as The Spider and The Steel Claw, stars of cherished comic-books such as Lion and Valiant. But the comics, and their heroes, disappeared…
Now Danny, a young student, and Penny, who claims to be the daughter of a forgotten hero, is investigating the disappearances. Meanwhile, in an isolated castle, a group of jailers watch over ‘criminals’ with peculiar pasts and bizarre names and abilities.
Is it all real? Are Danny and Penny delusional? Albion has the answers, in this epic tale that reintroduces these classic characters of yesteryear.
First published in Comet comic in 1949, the adventures of Jack Jaxon – a young boy who, wearing the belt of Thor, became the mighty hero Thunderbolt Jaxon – thrilled youngsters all over the UK! Now, the story begins anew, as Jack Jaxon and his friends, Saf and Billy, accidentally unearth the magical belt – only to discover that things in their home town are not what they seem, as the Norse gods and immortal giants are still fighting their endless battle! But can Jack wield Thor’s power and remain himself…?
This bold re-imagining of the classic series is written by the critically acclaimed scribe and artist Dave Gibbons (Watchmen) with art by John Higgins (War Story)
• John Freeman’s 2005 interview with Andrew Sumner about the Albion project first published on Comic World News
2007 Creator Interviews
Albion Guides and Annotations
• Comics Should be Good offers a quick Albion primer called “An Unnecessary Guide to Albion” and the AFB Blog has a brief but excellent guide to the major characters in the story here – but if it’s a full checklist, notes, links and more you’re after then your best port of call in the brilliant “In the Fifty Pee” web site, now archived on Wayback Machine, which includes issue by issue Albion Annotations by Pádraig Ó Méalóid, Damian Gordon and the Bash Street Contributors: Issue One | Issue Two | Issue Three | Issue Four | Issue Five | Issue Six | Annotations for the Collection
• International Hero
A terrific guide to British comic characters