Denver-based publisher CEPG is continuing to roll out new editions of some of the 1980s Harrier Comics titles that offered many now well-established creators one of their first entry points into publishing thanks to publisher Martin Lock.
CEPG’s publisher Mike Rickaby struck a deal with Martin to republish titles such as Avalon and Swiftsure last year and numerous reprint titles are now available digitally on a free/ pay what you want basis.
The fondly-remembered titles currently have in progress, initially re-released as digital editions, are Swiftsure, Avalon and Shock Therapy – with Barbarienne, Cuirass and Nightbird following shortly after.
CEPG will not be reprinting all of the Harrier titles as some have moved on with their creators to other publishers – and some rights issues still to be resolved. However, Martin has been digging through his old filing cabinet, and found previously unpublished Harrier stories that will finally get an airing thanks to the CEPG agreement.
In the 1980s, a new comic book movement began – a black and white comics invasion, spreading across the fledgling direct market of specialist comic stores and dealers, in America, Europe, and beyond. New independent publishers flooded the stands, like ants invading a picnic. No longer were readers limited to Marvel, DC, and a few Charlton comics – fresh opportunities abounded for comic creators all over the world.
Readers finally had a wide selection of options, with great new publishers like Blackthorne, Lightning Comics, First Comics, Comico, AC Comics, Antarctic Press, Caliber, Continuity, Harris, NEC, Now, Pacific, Fleetway, Aircel, and much, much more. But this new dawn only lasted for a short while, perhaps due to some clever and crafty leveraging by the big publishers within the comic distribution system, or over-expansion leading to a glut, leading to a crash in advance order levels. By the end of the 1990s almost all of the black & white independent publishers were either bankrupt, defunct or bought out. Only a few survived.
One of the earliest of the black and white independent publishers across the pond in England was Harrier Comics, started by publisher Martin Lock in 1984. Martin, who had previously published one of Britain’s leading fanzines, was soon joined by another fanzine alumnus, editor/writer Rob Sharp and a whole host of talented writers and artists.
Seasoned fan-favourite comics creators gave Harrier their backing by contributing cover artwork, such as Bryan Talbot, Dave Gibbons, Brian Bolland, John Ridgway and John Bolton, while Alan Moore gave editorial input and some introductions. Artists who just about started their careers in the pages of Harrier Comics included Art Wetherell, Stephen Baskerville, Kev Hopgood, Howard Priestley, Glenn Dakin, Nick Neocleous and more.
“People like Phil Elliott, Eddie Campbell, Woodrow Phoenix, Mark Farmer, Mike Collins, Tony O’Donnell and Grant Morrison found Harrier a useful place to have their work published, too,’ notes CEPG publisher Mike Rickaby, “with a lot more freedom than the big publishers of the day could offer.
“I always felt that Harrier and CEPG had much in common, primarily telling the great stories that comic creators need to tell. Not caring much about the financial side of the business, but continuing the stories for the fans. So I contacted Martin, and we hit it off immediately. We formulated some big plans for Harrier Comics.”
Ownership Issues Addressed?
Note: Following initial publication of this story, a number of comic creators who worked on the line have contacted us to say they have yet to hear from CEPG
When the news first broke about the new Harrier Comics reprints last year, some of the creators who’d been involved in Martin’s project back in the 1980s voiced concern about the plan, citing creator ownership issues, so downthetubes spoke direct with Mike about property ownership. He was more than happy to answer our questions.
“I wish to be as transparent as possible,” he told us.
“With the Harrier reprint and revival we are making every effort to involve each Harrier creator wherever possible,” he said. “We have obtained permission from much of the creators, some of which have declined – and some are simply un-reachable at the moment. Whenever I find contacts I will reach out to them.”
Mike explained that Martin Lock originally paid a page rate for work created for Harrier Comics employing the “work for hire” arrangement from back end profits. “It was a handsome page rate at that for the 1980s,” Mike notes. “Martin has documented this extensively and shared it with myself in light of the recent removal of [Lew Stringer’s] “Rock Solid” and “Brickman” titles from Swiftsure.
Note: Following initial publication of this story, we have been informed the page rate was on average £20, higher for some more popular tiles such as Lew Stringer’s Brickman. Letterer Richard Starkings was not paid at all
“Permission technically was not necessary, but it was sought after anyhow, and the creator’s wishes were completely respected, as they always are at CEPG for creative ownership,” Mike told us last August. “If there are any other creators wishing to opt-out of other reprints in the future, we will completely respect their wishes as well.”
Note:Following initial publication of this story, a number of creators have contested the claims about ownership and rights. “The statement that Harrier Comics work was created as ‘work made for hire’ is purest bullshit,” says Will Morgan, who worked for Harrier as Howard Stangroom, “At least speaking for myself. In fairness, I had no dealings with Martin directly – my contact was all with Rob Sharp, who had his own sub-imprint – but I never relinquished the ownership of anything.”
For Mike, the Harrier Comics revival is largely a reflection of his love of the medium, a publisher who has spent countless sleepless hours scanning, cleaning, editing, artwork and formatting Harrier pages to preserve these great stories for future generations.
“I’m a one-stop publisher that does everything on my own,” he told us. “All of the reprints are free on all of our distributor websites, and funds from ‘pay if you want’ are saved to fund future Harrier ventures.”
“I’ve been collecting any and all of the Harrier comic books to scan and reproduce the best quality I possibly can for digital reprint,” Mike tells us. “Plus, Martin has provided a truckload of previously unpublished Harrier work along with every bit of editorial necessary to ensnare our future readers.
“Both he and Rob Sharp have provided more than a few volumes of Harrier history which is amazing and humbling for this little indie to share with the world.”
Once a Harrier Comics series run has been completed as single digital issues, each will be offered as a collected soft cover book, just like CEPG’s MEGABOOK anthology.
“At that time, we will pursue sharing any profits with the participating creators,” says Mike. “These books will contain previously un-published artwork that either never made it to paper, or scripted stories that we will create new artwork.
“Some of the scripts may be hand-written in pencil, but the magic is there!”
“We hope that it works well, and there is plenty to share. At a minimum, creators will be able to purchase Harrier print compendiums at my publisher’s cost, similar to our MEGABOOK program.
Rob Sharp, Martin and Mike are also are putting together a Harrier Salute to Art Wetherell compendium book, paying tribute to a truly outstanding artist who died far too young and contributed so much to the comics community around the world. Details of the project are evolving.
“Martin, Rob and I have no malicious intent whatsoever to cause harm to anyone’s comic property by conducting the Harrier revival,” Mike insists. “We simply want to place these great books into the hands of the current generation of readers and potentially spawn newfound Harrier stories amongst the next generation of indie creators.
“It’s great to have Harrier take wing again (see what I did there?),” Martin Lock enthuses. “Some popular and successful British comics creators got their start in the pages of our publications, and we had very generous support from people who were already big names, like Dave Gibbons, Alan Moore and Brian Bolland. I hope that a new audience will grow to enjoy what we all did – and Mike intends to bring out some previously unpublished material, and continue what were our most popular series if the demand is there.”
Mike has very kindly shared what he emphasises isa tentative list of “release order” of the first stage of Harrier books. “We’ve never been good at project release dates,” he says, reminding us that essentially he’s single handedly doing much of the work to prepare the titles for digital release. “I try my best to put out whatever I can, whenever I can!”
#1 through #6 already on the comic stand as digital editions. “Follow up issues will be released as I complete them,” says Mike. “Then we will publish a hard copy compendium on Amazon/ Createspace similar to our Megabook Anthology as a “Print on Demand” per book order.
#1 through #5 are already on the digital comic stand, with a collection in the works. “Rob has some secrets hiding in forgotten storage spaces and we hope to present those with the hard copy edition,” Mike teases.
#1 is on the comic stand. As noted above “I plan on collecting all of Art Wetherell’s work through all of the Harrier books to make a “Harrier Salute” to Art Wetherell hard copy book,” says Mike. “Details are being formulated for this book, Rob plans to have some special editorial when the time comes.”
#1 has just been uploaded to the digital comic stand recently. “Howard Priestley, the book’s creator, may also have some surprises for the hard copy edition,” says Mike.
“I currently have a bunch of the digital reprints ready to go for this title,” Mike reveals. “But we are taking our time and presenting the ‘Zero’ issue stories previously published in Martin’s BEM Fanzine. He has a lot of stories in that magazine and we wanted to present the stories in historical chronology.
“This will be a big series and will also have digital reprint and hard copy compendium edition – and we have lots of plans to continue the Conqueror story.”
“I have had a rough time finding all of these issues,” Mike reveals, “But I have a start and will search every back issue bin till I find them. Martin has many spin-off characters from this series for our Super Secret Stuff….
Super Secret Stuff
“Yes, Martin is full of surprises,” Mike chuckles. “I have loads of previously unpublished artwork that will finally see the light of day, along with new characters and stories. Martin also has scripts galore for new and continuing old adventures.
“Who knows what will happen when new artists board HMS Conqueror, for a wild voyage into the unknown reaches of deep space, or take sword-wielding heroines into battle against evil sorcerers…?
“It will take time and commitment, but we’ve waited 25+ years, what’s another one (or two). I hope in the coming months to be able to find appropriate artists and script polishers among the massive cadre of Harrier and CE Publishing crew who love Harrier as much as we do.”
“Soon I will open the submission floodgates for MEGABOOK M5 and we will expose some Harrier surprises there as well,” Mike teases.
The Singles… and Creator Owned…
“There are also some short lived single (or few) issue titles that we will figure out how to bundle up somehow for the masses. Also, I have yet to get in touch with some of the other creator-owned Harrier titles to lobby their interest in our reprint/hardcopy program. Some titles we cannot republish, which is unfortunate, but they are always welcome. Ultimately it’s a win/win so we hope for the best.
“We have a simple philosophy at CEPG… we would rather have you reading our books than not reading them. Hence the reason we adopted the ‘pay if you want to’ system or Free for all most of our digital books. Now readers can have the 25 cent books of yesteryear if they choose. We have a lot of 10 and 25 cent readers.
“Additionally, our CEPG hardcopy editions are as inexpensive as humanly possible to be easily obtainable for our readers. If we ‘pay it forward’ to our collective of fans, we feel that it will help us out down the road. This is a passion for comics, not a job for any of us. So we want to share what we have in the hope that readers will appreciate and reciprocate as they are capable.’
And there is more to come, the most exciting element being not only the re-presentation of previously published stories but continuing the adventures of many of the Harrier properties with new adventures and previously written stories, bringing in a new generation of creators to continue the work.
• Follow Mike Rickaby on Twitter @CEPubdude
The founder of downthetubes, John describes himself as is a "freelance comics operative", currently working as a freelance editor for TITAN COMICS, as Creative Consultant on the new DAN DARE audio adventures for B7 Media, and on promotional work for the LAKES INTERNATIONAL COMIC ART FESTIVAL and LANCASTER COMICS DAY.
John has worked in British comics publishing for over 30 years, starting out at Marvel UK, where he edited a number of the Genesis 1992 books with Paul Neary. His numerous credits include editor of titles such as Doctor Who Magazine at Marvel and Star Trek Magazine and Babylon 5 Magazine at Titan Magazines, where he was Managing Editor.
He also edited STRIP Magazine and worked as an editor on several audio comics for ROK Comics, including TEAM M.O.B.I.L.E. and THE BEATLES STORY.
Most recently he is writing CRUCIBLE as a creator-owned project with 2000AD artist Smuzz, published on Tapastic; and DEATH DUTY and SKOW DOGS with Dave Hailwood for the digital comic 100% Biodegradable.