An unexpected Christmas treat is available now for fans of Space Ace, the space adventure hero written, drawn and lettered by the legendary Ron Turner for publisher Lone Star in the 1950s. Aided by artist John Ridgway, Ron’s friend and longtime agent John Lawrence has just released a Space Ace Special Edition – a 48-page, perfect bound special, offering three SF stories and more.
This special issue features two short tales, “The Plot” and “Space Ace and the Kidnappers“, and an extended story, “melded” from disparate tales by John, titled “The Search“. John has also included two great features: one on Ron’s covers for Practical Mechanics; the other on his cutaways created for Express Weekly, drawn in a style similar to those created by L. Ashwell Wood for Eagle.
“We had quite a favourable response to our last issue, BEYOND,” John notes in this Special’s introduction. “However, there was the odd objection to including a war story and disappointment that the promised, TIT-BITS issue [referring to plans to publish SF strips for the comic by Ron now owned by Rebellion], or further vintage stories had failed to appear. Plus, hope or expectation that we’d continue with Space Ace, irrespective of story or art quality.
“So, all things considered, I thought I’d try to satisfy everyone’s wishes by putting together this Space Ace Special, which should now tick all the boxes.
The longer story, “The Search”, is one that Ron never produced as presented in this Special. “In fact, ‘search’ is the operative word,” John reveals, “as it involved searching for three suitable stories with which, after a considerable amount of editing and re-writing, I could carry out another ‘Frankenstein’ job in bolting them together. It also meant finding images from other sources that, with John Ridgway’s help, could be added to form a complete narrative. Now, running to 21 pages, it’s the nearest we’ve got to one of Ron’s serialised stories that we ran together in the earlier issues of Space Ace, so I hope it’s found just as enjoyable.”
Personally, I think the amount of work both Johns have done on this issue indeed deserves the “Special” moniker. (John Ridgway working his magic on the art in terms of restoring pages, reworking panels and colouring strips throughout).
“The Plot” is a little pedestrian, for all its devious aliens planning an invasion, one of Ron’s earlier Space Ace stories, but “Space Ace and the Kidnappers” is both inventive, and funny. Ron Turner’s human villainous kidnapping mastermind is a delicious parody of 1930s American gangsters, who almost gets away with his dastardly crime, thwarted only through a clever ruse and very good luck.
Which brings us to the ‘Frankenstein’ tale, “The Search“, a merging of different original stories into a longer narrative, as Space Ace and loyal sidekick Bill Crag join forces with a disparate group of aliens to defeat a power mad warmonger. Right from the get go, Turner’s imaginative original stories, combined in style with a carefully worked script from John Lawrence, and seamless art modifications by John Ridgway for a modern audience hold the attention, for all the unlikely events portrayed, making for another “derring do” adventure, crammed with the kind of strong visuals you’d expect.
“Although there are further Space Ace stories I don’t ever intend to reprint as they stand, they may yet appear if I can give them a similar treatment,” John Lawrence says of “The Search”. Reader reaction, as ever, will steer any decision on that front, so I do hope it’s positive.
My only minor criticism would be size of the lettering balloons throughout, but I’m aware these are the result of the way they feature in the source material, John Ridgway having to strike a careful balance between the way they appeared in their first publication and any modern amendments or additional dialogue added for the new versions, particularly on “The Search”. In such circumstances, this is a small price to pay for another enjoyable collection of stories.
While Ron Turner’s work on Practical Mechanics – covers and internal illustrations – is fairly well known, I wasn’t as familiar about his work on Express Weekly, and seeing the cutaways presented is fascinating. The hydrofoil featured, for example, surely must have inspired some of the visuals on Gerry and Sylvia Anderson’s puppet series? We can but wonder.
John tells me that getting this Space Ace Special Edition out and into the hands of SF adventure fans during a pandemic has been something of a challenge. He originally hoped to release it in October, only to face numerous road blocks. I’m glad that, despite the problems, and there were many, the Special is now available – it’s well worth your attention.
Right now, this may definitely be the last Space Ace collection, unless, as I mentioned earlier, John’s convinced otherwise by fans. Otherwise, he notes “the only other strips Ron produced for Lone Star during this period, when he was most prolific and at a peak of his powers, were 28 pages of ‘Steve Larrabee‘ – but how many readers would want see an all-western issue?
“I still intend at some point to publish the TIT-BITS stories,” he adds, “but there are more vintage and copyright-free stories that may see the light of day first. Time will tell…”
• The Space Ace Special Edition costs £9.95 UK, £13.50 EU and 15.50 Int. including p+p. Copies may be obtained via PayPal (please use friends and family option) at: firstname.lastname@example.org. Otherwise cheques (UK funds only) payable to: John Lawrence, to 39 Carterweys, Dunstable, Bedfordshire, LU5 4RB
• Ron Turner’s Beyond and and previous issues of Space Ace cost £9.50 (UK) £12.95 Europe and £14.95 (international). Again, copies may be obtained via PayPal (please use friends and family option) at: email@example.com. Otherwise cheques (UK funds only) payable to: John Lawrence, to 39 Carterweys, Dunstable, Bedfordshire, LU5 4RB
• Also on downthetubes: Our review of Space Ace Volume One | Volume Two | Volume Three | Volume Four | Volume Five | A “Sneak Peek” of Space Ace Volume Six | Review of Space Ace Volume Seven | Volume Eight | Volume Nine | Volume 10 | Volume 11 | Volume 12 | Ron Turner’s Beyond | Space Ace Special Edition
All images © The Ron Turner Estate
The founder of downthetubes, which he established in 1998. John works as a comics and magazine editor, writer, and on promotional work for the Lakes International Comic Art Festival. He is currently editor of Star Trek Explorer, published by Titan – his third tour of duty on the title originally titled Star Trek Magazine.
Working in British comics publishing since the 1980s, his credits include editor of titles such as Doctor Who Magazine, Babylon 5 Magazine, and more. He also edited the comics anthology STRIP Magazine and edited several audio comics for ROK Comics. He has also edited several comic collections, including volumes of “Charley’s War” and “Dan Dare”.
He’s the writer of “Pilgrim: Secrets and Lies” for B7 Comics; “Crucible”, a creator-owned project with 2000AD artist Smuzz; and “Death Duty” and “Skow Dogs” with Dave Hailwood.