Hibernia Comics, publishers of the terrific collections of classic British strips such as The House of Daemon and Doomlord have a new project in the works that has turned up some interesting “lost” gems from Britain’s rich comics history – including “Johnny O’Hara“, a strip by Grant Morrison, drawn by John M. Burns, that never saw the light of day, other than in pre-publicity for an abandoned IPC/Egmont project.
(If you haven’t seen Hibernia’s titles, there’s a sale on now in their Comicsy store until Monday)
“I’m putting together an article on unpublished comics for a future Comic Archive, and progress is very slow but fascinating,” says David McDonald, whose researches have already brought us terrific publications such as One Eyed Jack and the Death of Valiant, which focused
“One that is probably most interesting is Fantastic Adventure, proposed by David Lloyd in 1985 as a fortnightly comic to IPC, but was apparently passed over in favour of the licensed comic Mask.
As Ben Hansom documents over on Deep Space Transmissions, the format of the title would mean that each strip within would reflect a current movie or TV trend, slightly altered to avoid any copyright infringement or costly rights issues. While not an entirely unusual idea – British comics publishers have long plundered TV and film, adapting popular culture in strips to maintain the appeal of a title, or plundering it ruthlessly, as in the case of Action and “Hookjaw” and the Dirty Harry-inspired “Dredger” – Fantastic Adventure would have featured numerous strips by some top talent, written by Jamie Delano, John Smith Now perhaps best known as the creator of 2000AD’s “Devlin Waugh”) and Grant Morrison.
When Fantastic Adventure was under consideration, Grant Morrison, who had previously written (and drawn) some issues of DC Thomson’s Starblazer, had just landed a job writing “The Liberators” for Warrior, and this new comic was originally to have been the home for his sprawling parallel-worlds superhero epic Zenith, which ended up in 2000AD.
“The original ‘Zenith’ synopsis was written two years ago for Fantastic Adventure,” Morrison would later recall in an interview with Steve Holland in After Image Issue 8, published in Januray 1988 after “Zenith”‘s debut in 2000AD, “the working title for a project David Lloyd never quite managed to get off the ground. It was a boys’ adventure comic for IPC, but eventually they rejected it in favour of Mask, the toy comic, which was a real disappointment to me. I had three strips in Fantastic Adventure! I really wanted to do this thing, you know, and David had lined up some really nice artists – that’s where Steve Yeowell actually got his first sort of professional break, and I was also working with John Burns, which was amazing.
“Anyway, one of the things I came up with was a superhero idea called Zenith. Originally it was a real grim story, closer to the mood of Watchmen, with an alternative world history and various generations of superheroes, but by the time 2000AD expressed an interest in doing a superhero story, Watchmen was already out. I still wanted to use the Zenith concept, but we decided to downplay the parallel world angle and to concentrate on making it more light-hearted and disposable, so that it wouldn’t really be covering the same territory as Alan [Moore] and Dave [Gibbons]’ stuff. We definitely wanted to get away from the idea of the mentally unstable superhero, which has begun to dominate the whole market. I mean, reality doesn’t necessarily have to be so grim and gritty. The only grit in my life is the stuff in the cats’ litter tray, and I’m not really keen on this new cliché that equates ‘reality’ with people leading grim and terrible lives.”
The original “Zenith”, as planned for Fantastic Adventure, was very different to the version that appeared in 2000AD. “I wanted to do something that paralleled superhero history, so we had characters in the ’40s who were very like the early Superman,” Morrison told Speakeasy in an interview published in Issue 76 in July 1987. “We had the Maximan character, who was very primitive, we had the ’60s characters who were very Marvel pop arty, then we brought it up to date with the realistic ’80s characters.”
Along with “Zenith”, Morrison, as he himself confirms, was assigned three strips for Fantastic Adventure; “Johnny O’Hara” (loosely based on Indiana Jones) with art by Modesty Blaise and Look-In alumnus John M. Burns; “Nightwalkers” (based on Ghostbusters) with art by Hellblazer and 2000AD artist Ron Tiner; and “The California Crew“, a science fiction take on The A-Team wih art by Steve Yeowell.
In an interview for Bulletproof, published in 2002, Steve Yeowell notes other artists involved included John Higgins, John Bolton, the late Steve Whitaker, Ron Tiner and David Jackson. Unfortunately, IPC dropped it in favour of Mask, a toy licensed title.
The opening page of “Johnny O’Hara”, along with two “pages in progress” featured in Issue 32 of Paul Duncan’s brilliant Ark fanzine – one of British comics many ‘what could have been’ projects that never saw the light of day in its final form.
David tells us his new Comic Archive will mainly cover IPC/Fleetway “unseen” titles mooted between 1968 and 1990. “I’ll touch on Renga and Dez Skinn’s stuff too,” he says, referring to the former Marvel UK Editor in Chief and Warrior editor who has documented many of his proposed but unrealised projects on his official web site, such as Shock Treatment, a 2000AD reprint title featuring “Visible Man” and “Slaine”.
• If you haven’t seen Hibernia’s fantastic collections before, there is a sale on in Hibernia’s Comicsy shop now. Bakers Half Dozen (news item here), a strip drawn by Mike Western, is available at half price when bought with either The Dracula Files (from Scream, reviewed here) or The House of Daemon (from New Eagle, reviewed here). Doomlord (also from New Eagle) is also available at half price. The offer is only for the bank holiday weekend, or until quantities run out: www.comicsy.co.uk/hibernia