Anyone who follows British comics will know that down the years it’s scattered with many great, well-received but short-lived comic projects, often published on a wing and a prayer by small independent publishers, working on them firstly because of the love of the genre; to promote new creators; and, hopefully, at the very least cover the costs of the production, even if they didn’t make much money.
One such project of the 1980s was Blaam!, a pioneering free tabloid comic that was given away free in British comics shops in the late 1980s. It was published by Willyprods/Small Time In, the company who had produced Heartbreak Hotel, a short-lived but highly influential anthology combining music and comics, the brainchild of the late Don Melia, who, together with his former long-time partner Lionel Gracey-Whitman, also created ‘Matt Black’, regarded as the world’s first gay superhero.
Launched in 1987, Heartbreak Hotel was a brash and influential magazine that brought together comic art and music and served as a launch pad for the subsequent success of many new young artists.
“Lionel Gracey-Whitman and his partner Don Melia, two Americans living in London, parlayed their own huge enthusiasm and energy into six bi-monthly issues” recalls journalist Paul Slade on his website, who worked on the magazine. “No-one got paid for their work on Heartbreak Hotel – least of all Lionel and Don themselves – but still they managed to attract an awful lot of big names.
“Each issue of the magazine picked a different genre of music and then found half a dozen writer/artists to adapt a song from that genre into a four-page comic strip. Alan Moore tackled ‘I Can Hear the Grass Grow’ for the hippy issue, for example, while Mark Buckingham did ‘The Wild Side of Life’ in the C&W one.
“They also had a single-page soapbox strip called ‘Spill It!!’, which Grant Morrison, Dave McKean, Bryan Talbot and Glenn Fabry all helped to fill. Jamie Reid and Rian Hughes both supplied covers.”
“The mere fact that this anti-homophobic publication could be a comic was testimony to how far the medium had come since the days of Wizard and Hotspur weekly comics in which homosexuality was a heavily suppressed element,” noted former Marvel UK comics writer David Thorpe in a blog post last year.
Launched in 1988 and distributed by Titan Distributors, Blaam! was a title in its own right which ran for just four issues, was funded through advertising, aiming to give new talent exposure and featuring strips written by Neil Gaiman and Dick Foreman and art by the likes of John McCrea (one of his earliest strips), Shane Oakley and others.
“E.C Perriman”, who drew the cover of Issue One and both wrote and drew the strip “A Single English Rose” for the same issue was one of a few names used by 2000AD and Deadline artist Edmund Bagwell.
Melia and Gracey-Whitman also published the charity project Strip Aids, a fund-raising comic and exhibition for the London Lighthouse, it featured donated work from nearly 90 artists, including Posy Simmonds, Mel Calman, Jamie Reid, Margi Clarke, Alan Moore, Los Bros Hernandez and Steve Bell. “It was a triumphant breakthrough in the battle for Aids awareness and education,” notes Rosie Colis in her 1992 obituary for Melia for The Independent.
When you pick up a free comic such as the wonderful OFF LIFE, spare a thought for those that have gone before – and where at least some of those talents ended up. As a good reason as any to support such initiatives!
With thanks to David McDonald of Hibernia Comics