Dez Skinn reveals the origins of Vulcan (the comic, not the Star Trek planet)

Longtime British comics fan and indie publisher David McDonald, whose projects under his Hibernia Comics imprint include One Eyed Jack and the Death of Valiant and a fab Doomlord strip collection, writes to tell us he is busy working on his next Comic Archive title, provisionally titled Beyond 2000.

In the process, he’s gathered a motley assemblage of interesting material, some of it he’s unable to find space for in the final Archive – so is instead running items of note on his blog and Facebook page, starting with this fascinating piece about the 1970s Vulcan comic, which he’s kindly given us permission to publish on downthetubes.

Vulcan was a weekly comic published by IPC from 1975 to 1976, reprinting strips such as Mytek the Mighty, Trigan Empire and Steel Claw from other IPC titles. Unusually, the comic was originally published only in Scotland, but switched to nationwide publication after 30 issues, lasting for 28 more issues before merging into Valiant.

Bizarrely, longtime editor Dez Skinn, who was working at IPC when Vulcan was published, tells David Vulcan wasn’t really an IPC product.

“In his spare time [Valiant editor] Sid Bicknell put it together editorially for Europe, with Jan Shepherd as art editor.

“It came about because Syndication International was making an absolute fortune for IPC by selling Fleetway strips abroad,” Dez reveals, “even though their success was foolishly never costed into the viability of titles. So some bright spark had the idea of selling an entire comic to foreign publishers, instead of individual strips. The big gimmick being the low cost price to each because they’d all be printed at the same time (in Italy, I think).

“So it was an early co-production for various countries (hence all the words, including the cover masthead were in black, so the fifth (language) plate could be changed easily when printing all at the same time for different languages without need to change any of the colour plates. They’d print off from the full four colour plates for everybody including a black artwork plate, giving it a print run beyond a million, then overprint different languages from a second black plate, a different one for each individual territory.

“This way, you could have a full colour comic, even in a territory which could only support a print run of only 25,000 or so. (Very cost effective).

“Because it was so cheap (and nasty, on horrible flimsy paper which usually fell apart at newsagents), it was an easy job to run-on copies in English for the UK with a ridiculously low breakeven, provided it sold well enough abroad to keep going. I seem to remember the German edition, Kondor, proved very popular. 
“But it wasn’t liked in-house, not being a “proper” comic, with no full time staff or any origination, and on that awful cheap paper! Everybody felt it undermined their work, being a cheap little reprint, the thin end of the wedge, and Sid and Jan weren’t very popular for agreeing to do it.

… so now you know!”

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Categories: British Comics

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2 replies

  1. I was disappointed to hear that artists didn’t like Vulcan. I thought the presentation was much better than normal UK comics. I liked the American / continental size and the fact that there was a minimum of 4 pages per strip meant that you got a decent sized instalment for every strip. Also the printing on white glossy paper rather than newsprint meant that the artwork had proper black areas which added to the gothic effect on strips like The Steel Claw and a sense of a dark imposing jungle in Saber. Coupled with the fact that it had the best of UK sixties strips and 8 pages of glorious Tigan Empire made Vulcan unbeatable. I still have a complete run including the Scottish issues and the Summer Special and soft cover annual. They are in great condition and haven’t yellowed-so the paper could not have been that bad.I was really disappointed when it folded. We should have kept it as a Scottish secret.

    • I remember Vulcan when it emerged in the newsagents…I was disappointed at the time because I knew that the stories were reprints but NOW i would LOVE to own every issue giving me stories of the Steel Claw and the Spider etc. I have plenty of Trigan Empire books already, which are amazing, of course! I’ve got the first issue of Vulcan now and am trying to add to my collection. Have just ordered the Vulcan Annual and would like to own the Vulcan Holiday Special, which looks tremendous. Anything that takes me closer to the Steel Claw, the Spider, Kelly’s Eye(and Skid Solo, another favourite of mine not from Vulcan!) would be so much appreciated! Cheers, Andrew

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