Interviews with comics creators are something that we have run here on downthetubes for many years and we are always thankful to the artists, writers, editors, and production team members for taking the time and effort to answer our questions. We are well aware that for self-employed creators the time they take to answer our questions is time that they could be using to earn money or spending with their families. Many of them have rarely if ever been interviewed on their comics work and while the advent of the internet and e-mail has allowed better and easier access to the current generation those pre-internet creators, many of whom are no longer with us, must always remain silent.
Except some of those creators were found by the enterprising editors and writers of the old fanzines, the pre-internet equivalents of today’s blogs and news websites like ourselves here on downthetubes, Lew Stringer’s Blimey, and Steve Holland’s Bear Alley, and they were interviewed by them. Of course those printed zines, which may have only lasted for a few issues and may only have had a few dozen copies of each issue printed and sold, are not just hard to find but can be difficult to know the contents of in the first place. We highly recommend David Hathaway-Price’s Classic UK Comics Zines website as an amazing resource for these old comics fanzines.
Yet then as now the interests of many of the editors and writers of those zines revolved around American comics plus 2000AD, and the zine contents reflected this. In no way is this is a criticism of the site or the fanzines it archives, rather it shows that the older type of British comics that we are interested in here on downthetubes, while often being the big sellers of their day, then as now sit on the outskirts of British comic fandom.
A chance comment by a downthetubes reader about two footnotes buried deep in the back of Paul Scoones’ excellent Doctor Who reference book, The Comic Strip Companion – The Unofficial and Unauthorised Guide to Doctor Who in Comics: 1964-1979, started us on a journey to find interviews with two old Doctor Who comic strip artists.
One of them, Frank Langford is known to British comics fans for his work on Countdown/TV Action’s 1970s Doctor Who strip and on Lady Penelope’s 1960s titular strip but is not so well-known for his early 1970s DC Comics romance strips in the US, or his Boy’s World strip The Angry Planet under his birth name of Cyril Eidlestein. Frank died in 1996.
The other artist dates back even further to the Ladybird advertising strip for the clothing manufacturer (not the publisher) in 1950s editions of Swift and TV Comic, but John Canning is perhaps better remembered as the longest running artist on TV Comic’s Doctor Who strip beginning with a First Doctor strip in April 1966 and continuing on and off through to the last new strip to appear in the weekly comic, a Fourth Doctor story in July 1978. Despite his longevity on a multitude of strips in TV Comic, little is known about John Canning but, given that his earliest work we know of is from the mid-1950s, the chances are that he is no longer with us – although we would be more than happy to be proved wrong.
In 1976 Doctor Who fan Gordon Blows interviewed both Frank Langford and John Canning about their Doctor Who comic strips for his then new fanzine called Tardis. Tardis would very quickly go on to become the fanzine of the fledgling Doctor Who Appreciation Society (DWAS) which published it alongside their Celestial Toyroom (CT) newsletter for around 15 years before CT took over from Tardis as the DWAS’ premier publication. While you may have the impression that Doctor Who has been so heavily documented over its 50+ years history, with its fans retaining anything and everything they can get their hands on, especially in the less merchandised days of original Who, the search to get scans of these interviews in two 40 year-old fanzines proved to be almost beyond the ability of even downthetubes’ Doctor Who connections.
We found them and are thankful to the many fans who helped us trace them, and especially to the owners of the two zines who agreed to scan the interviews for us.
Along the way we also found another John Canning interview by Paul Vyse in a 1981 issue of Doctor Who fanzine Views, News and Reviews (VNR). That one, thankfully, proved to be a lot easier to track down a copy of and Paul was able to furnish us with some previously unpublished material to go with it as well.
Of course having the scans was half of the battle, the other half is the issue of copyright. As far as we are concerned the copyright with a fanzine article belongs to the writer of that article. Fortunately we were able to track down both Gordon Blows and Paul Vyse and we are also thankful to both of them for giving us permission to reprint their long forgotten interviews.
While these interviews are all very short, they do represent the words of the artists themselves and we consider them worth reprinting to allow the information in them to be disseminated to a wider audience. So over the next few days we will run the two John Canning interviews as they were published in Tardis way back in 1976 and VNR in 1981 and we will be including extra material that has been uncovered since then. The Frank Langford interview will appear in due course.
Since these various interviews originate from outside the immediate downthetubes ‘family’, as well as being from artists who are potentially no longer with us, we have entitled the series Words From Beyond.
Any other suggestions for reprinting old interviews with British comics artists from specific fanzines, be they covered by the Classic UK Comics Zines website or not, are welcome.
• 2018 UPDATE: David’s archive site is at https://davidprice5.wixsite.com/classicukcomicszines