Creating Comics (Collections!): Archivist Shaqui Le Vesconte on bringing classic British comics back into print

Withe the release of Anderson Entertainment’s Space: 1999 anthology and other collections of classic licensed British comics, we caught up with comic archivist and comics archive restoration expert Shaqui Le Vesconte to talk about his work on many of them…

Shaqui Le Vesconte, 2023. Photo: Paul Smith
Photo: Paul Smith

How did your career as a comic archivist begin?

I’ve always been into comics since very young. I suppose the start of it as ‘a career’ was doing the Space Patrol website back in the 2000s. I found out the British Newspaper Library, then based at Colindale in North London, had volumes of TV Comic with the “Space Patrol” strip in them. So one cold day just before Christmas 2001, a friend and myself sat in the Reading Room with our coats on as they didn’t seem to have any heating on, trying to hand write synopses with blue frozen hands!

After a change of editor and publisher, I was approached to write a series of features on the Anderson comics for the magazine, Comics International.

Longtime followers of your work probably first came across it on now defunct “Gerry Anderson Complete Comic History” site. When and how did that start?

After a year or two of the Space Patrol website, having obtained issue 21 of the fanzine, Time Screen, which was devoted to British telefantasy comics as a history and an index, I found there was more than just the usual suspects for the Anderson-based comics like TV21, Countdown and Look-in. Knowing that Colindale had volumes of these as well, I set up the Gerry Anderson Complete Comic History website with Kim Stevens to try and catalogue them all – story details, commentaries, and other background information.

We interviewed people like comic artist Mike Noble, writer Angus Allan, Look-In editor Colin Shelbourn, illustrator Andrew Skilleter and author Howard Elson to get the inside story as much as possible. Some, such as the Noble, Allan and Shelbourn ones were recently used in the Space:1999 Comic Anthology.

As I recall, a huge amount of research went into the project. I take it there are no plans to revive it? 

No, and I’ve had various offers to host it over the years, but quite a bit of information is out of date and inaccurate. A number of the features have been updated and reworked for the Comic Anthologies. I also no longer have an Internet provider that hosts personal websites, without a fee.

Dr Who Fannual (2014)

Are the shows of Gerry and Sylvia Anderson your “go to” series as a fan? Because you have mentioned you worked on numerous fan Doctor Who projects, such as script editing  the Dr. Who Fannual (as well as being one of its writers and illustrators).

I think yes, by a narrow margin, I’ve always considered myself more of an Anderson fan, but I’m also a long-standing fan of Doctor Who from the late 1960s on, as well as telefantasy and cult TV in general.

Who was an annual constant up until the end of the 1980s, whereas after Supermarionation the Anderson series were more sporadic and we didn’t have video back then, let alone DVDs, Blu-Rays or the Internet! I was re-introduced to Space: 1999 through film compilations like “Alien Attack”, which I saw on video rental in the early 1980s. From then, I was hooked again.

The Dr. Who Fannual was Scott Burditt’s idea. I had been working with him on a ‘zine called CSO, which covered various cult TV series. So on the Fannual, he was the art editor and publisher and I was the script editor, overseeing all the story submissions and liasing with the writers as well as doing a few stories, most of the features and a strip myself.

I did a few story illustrations towards the end to get some late stories in, such as for my own “The Trial of Dr. Who”, and Kathy Lopez’s “The Friend”, and “The Girl at the End of Time”.

You’re also an illustrator, working on books for Alan Hayes – titles such as With Umbrella, Scotch and Cigarettes, Two Against The Underworld, AvengerWorld, Dr Brent’s Casebook and Playboys, Spies & Private Eyes. How did that come about?

It may have been the Fannual caught the eye of Alan Hayes, who was self-publishing books on cult TV series through his own set-up, Hidden Tiger. He wanted someone to do the cover of With Umbrella, Scotch and Cigarettes but there was no money. So we came to an arrangement, where I would do the art for nothing up-front, and be paid a fee as a percentage of sales. That was very amicable and also done for Two Against The Underworld and Dr Brent’s Casebook.

Playboys, Spies & Private Eyes Quoit Media Limited (2017)

The latter was interesting, as there was hardly any reference material for the first series of The Avengers. But I’m a collector of Spotlight Casting Directories, so I could see who played the characters and use those photos as the basis for the illustrations.

I was proud of the work done for Playboys, Spies & Private Eyes, as the print quality was better and I could use grey markers for half-tones as well as black line. I did about twenty internal illustrations over one summer, plus a few colour ones for the cover I designed.

Alan then got actress Annette Andre to write the foreword, so I rejigged the cover to include her. Talk about a rod for my back, trying to get a good likeness as well as flattering her! I gather she was pleased with the end result, and complimentary about the other illustrations, saying they looked quite professional. Phew!

More recently, you have worked on a range of anthology “classic comic” collections, including two collections of “UFO” strips, from Countdown and TV Action, and Space: 1999, from Look-In, for Anderson Entertainment and The Tomorrow People – The Complete Look-in Comic volumes”, for Chinbeard Books. What would you say are the main challenges facing a publisher considering such projects?

Getting the rights, and at a reasonable cost to make it commercially viable. I wasn’t privy to any negotiations but I gather that for Anderson Entertainment it was something like a five-figure sum. They had already acquired the rights by the time Jamie Anderson headhunted me to put the first volumes together, on the basis of the Gerry Anderson Complete Comics History website. It was always, to my sensibilities, a case of which strips had already been reprinted previously, versus the popularity of the various series.

The other challenge is getting all the issues and hoping the print reproduction in those is good enough. I’ve seen some comics where there’s misregistering of colours, or just murky print. 

For The Tomorrow People, it was Andy Davidson who got me on board, as he knew I had the original art for the instalments that were not printed back in 1975. Plus he knew I was quite an expert on Look-in and had interviewed various artists, writers and editorial staff. Being local to each other, we’d hook up every few Saturdays to compare notes. In the end, he wrote the feature but with notes and quotations from material I provided.

Shaqui Le Vesconte, with some original "The Tomorrow People" art, published in Look-In. Photo: Paul Smith
Shaqui Le Vesconte, with some original “The Tomorrow People” art, published in Look-In. Photo: Paul Smith
Shaqui Le Vesconte, with some original "The Tomorrow People" art. The four pages are those not published in Look-in in early 1975 owing to strike action. Scans of these were provided for The Tomorrow People: The Complete Look-in Comics Volume One. Photo: Paul Smith
Shaqui Le Vesconte, with some original “The Tomorrow People” art. The four pages are those not published in Look-in in early 1975 owing to strike action. Scans of these were provided for The Tomorrow People: The Complete Look-in Comics Volume One. Photo: Paul Smith
Shaqui Le Vesconte, with some original "Star Fleet" art, published in Look-In. Photo: Paul Smith
Shaqui with some original “Star Fleet” art, published in Look-In. Photo: Paul Smith
Shaqui Le Vesconte with an original Look-In cover art by Arnaldo Putzu. Photo: Paul Smith
Shaqui with an original Look-In cover art by Arnaldo Putzu. Photo: Paul Smith

Has it been harder to source the original comics for some projects than others?

With some, definitely. TV Comic is extremely expensive to collect from the Anderson era. I saw one review of the Fireball XL5 Comic Anthology which said it “contains virtually all the stories published between September 1962 to its demise in ‘The New Thunderbirds’ in the 1990s”. I’d love to know which edition they were reading, as we didn’t include any TV Comic strips, except as examples! Not that there was room in the Volume, as the TV21 strips pretty much maxed out the 320 page count.

I was fortunate, while working on the Space:1999 Comic Anthology, to acquire the first six issues of the rare Portuguese TV Junior, which reprinted some of the Look-in strips. I could now see them in full and do high resolution scans rather than just pull low quality ones off the internet.

From mutual past experience, working on The Beatles Story digital project for ROK Comics (now available in print from Rebellion) we know there is still a lot of original art from these much-loved strips, in private hands, or still owned by the original artists. But it must be hard to find them – and I’d imagine you have had the same experience of missing balloons and faded colour/ line.

Do you favour working from the original comics as a consequence or would the original art still be your go to, if possible?

If the option was there to work from all the original art pages, I would have. But I was told to use just the published printed pages for consistency of quality. I did use scans from original pages I had for some of the features though.

Do you think it’s hard to balance the demands of fans who want to see these strips back in print over the commercial realities of cost of restoration and editorial, when, for some, print runs will inevitably be low – and getting lower as material was printed longer ago? Collections of comics from the 1950s, for example, must be getting harder to “sell in” to the book trade as the audience literally dies off…

I had to come to the Comic Anthologies with two hats on – one as a professional working in a commercial market but also as a fan – what would I like to see done? Before working on the first Gerry Anderson anthology, I put together a study listing all the strips and how sellable I thought they would be. From this, Anderson Entertainment determined which they would choose for their first, and it boiled down to UFO and Thunderbirds.

UFO Comic Anthology Volumes One and Two - Covers

While Thunderbirds was the more popular and well-known, there had already been a full reprinting a few years prior, which may have put a dent in the market. Would fans double dip for another collection? Also, the strips themselves totalled about 500 pages and I said this would be too much for one volume, in price alone and probably in foreign shipping as well, so let’s make it two, which was agreed upon. So UFO Volume 1 was testing the market, and from that I dared a bit further for Volume 2, with the feature on UFO 1988, and the story behind Misc Mayhem, culminating in the first printing of their unpublished pilot issue. I felt that was a major achievement.

Is there a classic comic project you would dearly like to put together, given opportunity? You’ve mentioned, for example, that you wrote the introduction to a Powys Media book called Apocrypha, which collected all the Space: 1999 stories (not strips) from the annuals, plus a couple from an American storybook, but their license was not renewed before it was published…

Now you’re asking! While away during this summer, I did the spec for a two volume Captain Scarlet and the Mysterons Comic Anthology, covering TV21 and Countdown. Using the lessons learned on the Space:1999 Volume, it would be an absolute corker and tick all the boxes I previously didn’t think possible. That would be my Anderson series favourite. Whether it happens though… out of my hands now.

Also Anderson-related, I would love the TV Comic “Supercar” strip to be collected, because it is quite superb. There’s three years of colour spreads for the main part, with a year and a half in other formats. But as I said, getting a complete run would be near impossible at a reasonable price.

The Powys Media book was Mateo Latosa’s idea. He got me on-board for the introduction because of my inside knowledge on the annuals, Angus Allan and also as I was working on the Comic Anthology. It would have complemented the Anthology very nicely. It was fun to write, trying to introduce American fans to the stories in the annuals which, like the early British Star Trek strips, sometimes bear little relationship to the TV series! Hence the title!

What would be the one piece (of advice) you would give to any publisher looking to publish classic British comic strip collections?

Know your market – fans will always say ‘this will really sell!’ but they’re impartial and usually biased. I had to step back from my fan zeal to give honest commercial views on the various Anderson strips and say, for instance, Volume One of UFO may have appeal because of Gerry Haylock’s colour art, but Volume Two may not do as well. John M. Burns has a lot of fans, but the stories get a bit shit at the end, and so forth. Each strip had pros and cons entries.

That has to be balanced, as said before, with the cost of rights and other outlays against a reasoned estimation of returns. Whatever the fan cries of ‘Want! Want! Want!’, no publisher is going to release a book to lose money. As an editor yourself John, you’ll know that’s always the bottom line, and I’d like to think on the Comic Anthologes, I’ve given the fans not only what they wanted but more than they expected.

Me? I actually lost money on doing these because even though the fee was decent, I acquired original art and costly issues and other material from overseas to give fans like myself as well as more casual readers the very best possible. That’s where my fan zeal worked for the publisher but against my bank balance. At the very least I can say I gave 110% to the Volumes, regardless.

Shaqui, thank you very much for your time, your hard work, and I wish you the very best of luck with future projects

Space: 1999 Comic Anthology (Anderson Entertainment, 2023)

Space: 1999 Comic Anthology is available direct from Anderson Entertainment

Collected for the first time since publication, this anthology contains all the “Space: 1999” Look-in strips, along with stories and features. Plus a wealth of background articles and interviews puts the Space: 1999 material in context, as well as providing insights on the foreign reprints and its American counterpart magazines and comics.

Also included: overviews of other related Anderson material from the pages of Look-in: The Worlds of Gerry Anderson, Starcruiser and Terrahawks.

UFO Comic Anthology - Volume Two - Sample Spread
“Voyage of Disaster” – art by John M. Burns

Both UFO Anthology volumes are available as a bundle from Anderson Entertainment

This is a great way to catch up with fellow UFO fans and enjoy these great hardcover books. These volumes offer the complete collection of “UFO” comic strips from Countdown and TV Action. Volume One features all the colour and black and white strips from Countdown and Volume Two features all the colour and black and white strips from TV Action. Both books also include articles and interviews by Shaqui Le Vesconte, giving the reader context and fascinating insights into the strips’ history, artists and UFO‘s life in comics.

Based on the classic television series, “UFO” was one of the pioneer comic strips of the 1970s. Never before reprinted or collected, relive each powerful adventure and discover the story behind its creation – and beyond – with supporting features across the two anthologies.

The Tomorrow People - The Complete Look-In Comics

The Tomorrow People – Look-In Volume One is available from AUK

Volume One of a two-volume collection featuring every Look-In strip of “The Tomorrow People”. It includes many pages lovingly restored from the original art boards, and four never-before-printed pages of missing comic adventure action (the details of how and why are also inside).

The Tomorrow People - The Complete Look-In Comics

The Tomorrow People – Look-In Volume Two is available to preorder for February 2024 release from AUK

Volume Two of the two-volume collection featuring every Look-In strip of “The Tomorrow People”. This volume includes pages lovingly restored from the original art boards, concluding articles, features, and posters, as well as a foreword by actor Nicholas Young.

The Dr. Who Fannual (2014)

For those curious about this unofficial Doctor Who item mentioned above, published in 2014, here’s what was included… you may find copies on eBay or World of Books

Dr. Who Fannual Contents

It All Begins Tomorrow
Writer: Mark Hevingham 
Illustrator: Paul Cooke

Dr. Who and his young granddaughter Susan are on the verge of finishing Tardis in late 1963, when a shocking news event breaks…

Strip Adaptation: Dr. Who and The Daleks
Illustrator: Shaqui Le Vesconte

Feature: Secrets of Dalek Control
Writer/Illustrator:  Shaqui Le Vesconte

Intermission 1: Tardis 
Writer: Deb Richardson 
Illustrator: Logo Polish 

Dr. Who Fannual - Red Edition (2014)

Ian Chesterton is baffled by Dr. Who and Susan’s explanation of why Tardis looks like a police box…

Susan and the King
Writer: Beth Jones 
Illustrator: Arfon Jones 

Dr. Who and Susan travel back in time and become caught in events surrounding the civil war of the 1600s…

Feature: Who is Dr. Who?
Illustrator: Adam Bullock 

The Pursuers
Writer: Shaqui Le Vesconte 
Illustrator: Owen Claxton 

Dr. Who’s nightmare of a recent trip in Tardis to a distant alien world is the prelude to a mystery involving a couple he encounters on Barnes Common…

Feature: Secrets of Tardis
Illustrator: Jim Wilkins 

The Underground Menace
Writer/Illustrator: Terry Cooper 

On the planet Silicus, Dr. Who and his fellow travellers encounter the Cybermen…

Intermission 2: Soft Centres
Writer: Deb Richardson 
Illustrator: Jim Wilkins 

Dr. Who and Susan are hostages of two aliens who stowed away in Tardis…

Intermission 3: Doors 
Writer: Deb Richardson 
Illustrator: Jim Wilkins 

Ian encounters sliding doors with attitude…

Feature: Who is Susan?
Illustrator: Adam Bullock 

The Brethren of Infinity
Writer: Shaqui Le Vesconte 
Illustrator: Barry Delve 

On the planet Samsara, Dr. Who and Susan are caught up in a conflict between the two sides of the Brethren of Infinity, as they wait for their Great Deity to save them from its imminent apocalypse…

Feature: Who is Barbara?
Illustrator: Adam Bullock 

Strip Adaptation: Curse of the Daleks
Illustrator: Paul Cooke

The Short and the Tall of It
Writer: J.R. Southall 
Illustrator: Graham Hellen 

After falling on Dr. Who’s Polarity Field Manipulation Device, Ian and Barbara fight for survival in the inventor’s own living room…

Intermission 4: The Grand Market of Daxor
Writer: Ian Wheeler 
Illustrator: Jim Wilkins 

Dr. Who and Susan unwittingly upset a couple of alien traders…

Day of the Automatons
Writer: Robyn Agnew 
Illustrator: Tony Clark 

Returning to Earth from a trip in Tardis, Dr. Who, Barbara and Susan find Ian and others close to them acting very strangely…

Intermission 5: Washer 
Writer: Tim Gambrell 
Illustrator: David MacGowan 

Fixing a leaking sink ought to be simple task for Ian, but he did not bargain on Dr. Who’s help…

Feature: Anatomy of a Dalek
Writer/Illustrator: Tony Clark

Strip: The Planet in Peril 
Writer/Illustrator: Mark Toner 

Silent Night
Writer: Mark Hevingham 
Illustrator: Mark Toner 

Dr. Who, Ian, Barbara and Susan land in one of the most terrible places in human history – No Man’s Land during the First World War… 

The Gift of Mathias
Writer: Katherine Lopez 
Illustrator: David MacGowan 

On the far side of the galaxy, Dr. Who and Susan discover a harmonious civilisation with a terrible secret…

The Cosmic Ice
Writer: Grant Foxon 
Illustrator: Mark Hevingham 
Tardis materialises in the Oort Cloud that encircles the solar system and becomes trapped…

Intermission 6: Terra Interstellar Entertainment
Writer: Scott Burditt 
Illustrator: Adric Cabbage 

A desperate struggle by Dr. Who to salvage the cultural heritage of an alien race…

Intermission 7: Worth Fighting For
Writer: Deb Richardson 
Illustrator: Adam Bullock 

At Dr. Who’s urging, Ian tries to persuade the Thals to fight back against the Daleks…

The Cabinet of Illusion
Writer: Scott Burditt 
Illustrators: Marc D Lewis / Paul Cooke 

Someone has stolen Tardis from Dr. Who’s back garden! Trying to cheer a sullen Dr. Who, Susan suggests a trip to a local travelling circus… 

Intermission 8: Handing Over
Writer: Katherine Lopez 
Illustrator: Shaqui Le Vesconte 

Barbara and Louise share time together, as one passes her responsibilities to the other…

Strip Adaptation: Daleks – Invasion Earth 2150AD
Illustrator: Matias Festa 

The Dalek Museum
Writer: Charles Daniels 
Illustrator: Deborah Taylor 

Dr. Who and Susan journey to the Museum of Space Science in the year 3000…

Feature: Exciting Adventure Maze
Writer/Illustrator: Christian Tarpey 

Happy Ever After
Writer: Katherine Lopez 
Illustrator: Barry Delve 

On a beautiful planet, Susan encounters an alien prince and the two become romantically involved…

Intermission 9: Food
Writer: Deb Richardson 
Illustrator: Carolyn Edwards 

Dr. Who learns the terrible evil behind the Dalek treatment of human slaves in the year 2150AD… 

Intermission 10: Time and Relatives
Writer/Illustrator: David MacGowan 

Dr. Who ponders on the nature of time, and his family…

The War Moon
Writer: Shaqui Le Vesconte 
Illustrator: Mike Daws 

The Chauvin are arms dealers to the galaxy, and their clients become interested in using Tardis as a weapon. But other forces are at work on the War Moon of planet Skirm… 

The Friend
Writer: Katherine Lopez 
Illustrator: Shaqui Le Vesconte

Susan befriends a strange creature on a alien planet, unaware that it is plotting to kill her at the first opportunity…

Feature:Tardis Manual
Writer/Illustrator:  Shaqui Le Vesconte 

The Trial of Dr. Who
Writer: Shaqui Le Vesconte 
Illustrator: Dave Golding 

The Knights of Chronos are self-styled guardians of time, and put Dr. Who on trial for creating a temporal paradox by returning Tom Campbell to 1966 before he left in Tardis…

Intermission 11: Fair’s Fair
Writer: Robyn Agnew 
Illustrator: David Parker 

As a treat for her 13th birthday, Dr. Who and Louise take Susan to the funfair on planet Parlyaree but Tardis breaks down with them trapped inside… 

The Girl at the End of Time
Writer: Katherine Lopez 
Illustrator: Dave Golding 

As the universe dies in the distant unimaginable future, Dr. Who has a terrifying encounter. What is the mystery of the Girl at the End of Time itself? 

Feature: A Page For You To Colour
Illustrator: Sue Veneer

Feature: Dr. Who Cut Out Figures
Illustrator: Mike Daws

Categories: Art and Illustration, British Comics, British Comics - Collections, Comic Art, Comics, Creating Comics, Doctor Who, downthetubes Comics News, Features, Other Worlds, Television

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