How Do You Write About Comics That Were Never Published?

I have been writing articles about old British comics for websites, fanzines, magazines and books for over 10 years now and I know that it is best done when you have physical copies of the comics in front of you to use as reference, preferably a continuous run given that many titles as they aged mutated away from their original concepts. So how then do you write about comics that never made it to the newsagents’ shelves – the dummy comics that never achieved weekly publication?

There are a few dummies that have survived the passing of years and they can be divided into two main types, dummies for comics that went ahead, and so can seem familiar, and dummies for those that did not.Eagle Dummy 1 and 2
For those that did make it to weekly publication, the dummy for the original Eagle on the cusp of the 1950s had the adventures of Chaplain (rather than Colonel) Dan Dare and looks little like its published version, however the dummy for Issue Two is much closer to what was published even if the bird logo is missing and Spacefleet’s uniforms are purple instead of green. Eagle did maintain its title between the dummy stage and the publication stage which cannot be said of Bonnie, IPC’s 1970s nursery comic for girls, which was dummied up as Dinkie – did it not occur to them that Dinky Toys may have had an issue with that title?Dinkie and Bonnie Issue One
But perhaps the best known of this type is the dummy for 2000AD, the cover logo of which appears to read AD2000, and which David Bishop, a former Tharg himself, goes into a lot of detail on in his book Thrill Power Overload.2000AD and Renga Dummy Covers
Yet it is the comics that did not reach newsagents that are perhaps the most fascinating and on which, by their very nature, information and images are few and far between.

In 1995 writer Tony Luke put together a proposal for DC Thomson for a 2000AD type title that was called Renga. With a cover by Glen Fabry and strips by Alan Grant and John Hinklenton amongst others, there is a lot more information on Renga here on downthetubes.

IPC’s 1973 dummy for a Captain Britain comic

IPC’s 1973 dummy for a Captain Britain comic

Meanwhile, over on his website editor and publisher Dez Skinn features a lot of information on IPC’s 1973 dummy for a Captain Britain comic that would have preceded the now familiar Marvel character and his appearance in 1976 in Marvel UK’s title of the same name. Dez covers the issue 1 dummy, and both its covers, in considerable detail and there is even purported to be an issue 2 dummy still in existence as well.

Humour comics also received the dummy treatment and on Bear Alley, Richard Sheaf details the dummy of an advertising humour comic from around 1971 called Whacko! which featured strips that tied in with various food and drink brands to do with J. Lyons & Co (as in Lyons’ Tea and Lyons Maid ice cream).

Meanwhile, over on Blimey, humour artist and writer Lew Stringer highlighted the dummy cover for a comic called Cracker dated October 1969 – not to be confused with DC Thomson’s Cracker , which ran for 87 issues in 1975 and 1976.Whacko! and Cracker Dummy
Little is known about Cracker and while it has been suggested that it is an IPC dummy, and it certainly has a Odham’s feel to the cover art, the ratio of height to width and the colouring of the logo, which is similar to Whacko!’s, would suggest otherwise. As much as we tend to think of most British comics being published by IPC/Fleetway or DC Thomson, there were other smaller publishers so maybe it came from one of them. Alternatively, given that it references biscuits and cream crackers on the cover, perhaps it was an idea for an advertising comic aimed at the likes of a biscuit manufacturer such as Jacob’s. With only this cover extant, we may never know the full story on this version of Cracker.

Cheeky Issue 1 Newsagents Preview

Cheeky Issue 1 Newsagents Preview

There are other non-distributed comics that sometimes get termed dummies, the printed preview comics that were used to entice newsagents to order new titles. If you think how rare the first issue of 1950s Eagle is now then just consider how rare the newsagents’ preview of it is. With the cover using the final version of the Dan Dare artwork, bar the missing date and a lower page count, it looks almost the same as the version that sold nearly 1 million copies back in April 1950.

Another potential newsagents’ preview version is the copy of Cheeky, the spin-off from Krazy, that is covered by Colin Noble here on downthetubes and NothingButAFan. This one is unusually labelled ‘Dummy copy subject to alteration – not for sale’ and while it is so close to the final version of issue 1 as to have the same cover date, it still has paragraphs of Latin “lorem ipsum” text that publishers often use as place-holders before the final version of text is available to them, as well as some pages of artwork that didn’t survive through to the final version.

Some years back on downthetubes I started a hunt for details of what was believed to be an unpublished Dan Dare strip that, for want of a better title, I called “Eagle Force” after the space fighter squadron featured in it. The Eagle Force hunt was helped along by the great and the good of British comics, both professionals and collectors, and lead to the confirmation that in 1973 IPC seriously considered relaunching Eagle comic in a Look and Learn format with Joe Colquhoun as its Dan Dare artist.

DTT Eagle Force Mystery
This version of Eagle fitted in between the original Eagle of the 1950s and 1960s and the title we refer to as “New Eagle” from the 1980s and 1990s, and as such to help distinguish it from the other two I christened it “Lost Eagle.” My articles on Lost Eagle have since been featured in the two main Eagle and Dan Dare publications, Spaceship Away and the Eagle Society’s Eagle Times.

Ocean Interpol Logo TN
Following on from those articles a friend asked me about a couple of dummy comics that both featured a strip called “Ocean Interpol”, those comics being Terra Nova and Eureka. As he owned a copy of the Eureka dummy and I had a copy of the Terra Nova dummy we knew that the Ocean Interpol strips were different in the two titles. Given that both these comics were touted as “an Eagle for the 1980s/1990s” he wondered if it was possible to find out more about them and if there were any others of a similar nature.

The outcome of this is an article that will run in downthetubes over the next four days. Replacing Eagle: The Comics That Didn’t Make It will cover five comics that are unknown to the vast majority of British comics fans – Lost Eagle, Lightning, Terra Nova and two different versions of Eureka.

Eagle Replacements - Lost Eagle, Lightning, Terra Nova and two versions of Eureka

Eagle Replacements – Lost Eagle, Lightning, Terra Nova and two versions of Eureka

Returning to the question I asked at the beginning – how then do you write about comics that never made it to the newsagents’ shelves – the dummy comics that never achieved weekly publication?

With virtually no printed issues to reference I went to as many of the comics’ creators as I could contact and asked them about their work on the titles. To a man they were willing to help me out by answering questions and providing both background information and imagery, and the article is a lot better for their much appreciated help – and they were all men as these titles preceded the influx of female creators that we now have within the ranks of British comics.

I make no claim that the article covers all the potential Eagle replacements over the years but it does cover the main ones, and if it means that other researchers are able to unearth further dummy titles, be they Eagle replacements or otherwise, and be inspired to write them up then it will have more than done its job.

REPLACING EAGLE – READ THE SERIES

Introduction – How do you write about Comics That Were Never Published?Lost Eagle and LightningTerra NovaThe first EurekaEureka Revived



Categories: British Comics, Creating Comics, downthetubes Comics News, downthetubes News, Features

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