First launched in February 1928, The Modern Boy magazine initially ran for 523 weekly issues, until February 1938.
While the title may look dated, it’s of huge interest to fans of author W. E. Johns, the creator of air hero Biggles, so you won’t be surprised to learn that there’s a web site solely devoted to the publication.
The dedicated work of Roger Harris, who also runs a number of other W.E. John’s-related web sites, the site features all 610 covers of The Modern Boy and information about content by W. E. Johns, plus information on the annuals, too.
Initially submitting artwork –W.E. Johns first painted the cover for the 21st December 1929 issue (No. 98) – his first credited article, “The Plane Smashers”, was published in the No. 148, cover dated 6th December 1930, but it’s believed that he wrote articles prior to that, as “Our Air Expert”.
He then contributed various articles until No. 257, when his “Biggles” stories commenced publication in serialised form, beginning with all the individual stories from The Camels are Coming, until, eventually his new books were first published in The Modern Boy in episodic format. The true first editions.
In addition to work by Johns, The Modern Boy also has the earliest cutaway artwork by L Ashwell Wood, best known for his work for Eagle comic, so far discovered, both in the weekly and in one of the annuals.
After its initial run, The Modern Boy, published by Amalgamated Press, the title now owned by 2000AD publisher Rebellion (but not Biggles), was re-launched with the issue cover dated 19th February 1938 in a new size and re-numbered from issue one again.
This second volume ran until No. 87, cover dated 14th October 1939. Production then ceased due to wartime paper shortages.
Roger notes that in the last issue of Modern Boy, cover dated 14th October 1939, readers were told that Biggles stories would continue with “BIGGLES’ SOUTH SEA ADVENTURE” in The Gem next Wednesday, 11th October 1939. This would be issue 1652 dated “week ending 14th October 1939” and The Gem itself would only last until the issue cover dated 30th December 1939,before it merged with The Triumph.
Roger’s site offers an impressive and fascinating look at this early title for boys and the gallery of covers is a delight. Well worth a visit.
Let’s hear it, too, for Captain Justice…
On last note. While Biggles is a separately property, comics archivist Philip Rushton has drawn our attention to another hero who frequented the pages of The Modern Boy – Captain Justice, best described as a sort of British Doc Savage, whose science fiction stories were initially written by Murray Roberts, (Robert Murray Graydon, 1890 – 1937, who wrote under a number of pseudonyms); and, following Roberts death, by John Garbutt. The character became Biggles’ main rival in the title during the 1930s.
The Science Fiction Encyclopaedia notes the very British, Captain Justice “wore white ducks, smoked cigars and worked out of Titanic Tower in the mid-Atlantic. In the course of battling for good he survived robots, giant insects, runaway planets and an Earth plunged into darkness.”
As well as being serialised in Modern Boy, most of Captain Justice’s adventures were subsequently collected in the Boys’ Friend Library.
“Apparently these were a big influence on the young [SF author] Brian Aldiss,” Philip tells us, “and unlike Biggles, the character must now be owned by Rebellion, which presents the intriguing possibility that Captain Justice could someday be revived in the pages of 2000AD.”
Or perhaps as some precursor to any new stories featuring The Vigilant? Who knows?
The Modern Boy copyright Rebellion Publishing Ltd
The copyright in all of W.E. Johns work is owned by the estate of W.E. Johns as represented by his literary agent, Ms Linda Shaughnessy of A. P. Watt.
With thanks to Jeremy Briggs and Philip Rushton