Thorpe & Porter and Top Sellers were both imprints of publisher Williams. Between 1971 and 1977, Top Sellers published Pocket Chiller Library, running to 137 issues, but there are plenty of questions circulating online about the title’s origins and exactly what it featured – reprint European strips or commissioned material from British creators?
I decided to ask several of those noted as working on the title. In particular, it was Dez Skinn, who worked on the series, as he outlines here on his official web site, who kindly provided some background.
“There was a charming rogue named Lee Moncho,” Dez recalls, a longtime editor and publisher who many downthetubes readers will recognise as the man who re-shaped Marvel UK and was later the editor of WARRIOR. “Spain seems to have produced quite a few of such in the comics biz.
“Already having several print connections, he acquired multiple sets of artwork for picture libraries, war, detective, horror, etc.
“Combining these with his print contacts, he offered finished monthly products to several publishers across the 1960s and 1970s. I ended up ‘editing’ one such line, for the aforementioned Top Sellers/Thorpe & Porter/General Books.
“Like Funny Half Hour which was also under my auspices, each was a finished package so I’d nothing to do really, although I did run a set of taglines (an idea nicked from early 1960s Marvels) and a back cover ad, promoting Monster Mag and House of Hammer magazine.”
Dez would have further dealings with Lee Moncho when he set up Quality Periodicals, detailed here.
Issues 1 and 2 of Pocket Chiller Library were published by Alex White & Co Ltd, based in James Street, London. From Issue Three, the publisher was Top Sellers, but downthetubes contributor Colin Noble notes that towards the end of the run, the company was either sold or given to Wells Gardner, Darton & Co publishers, in lieu of unpaid debt, as a number of their Pocket War Library were reprinted as Micron Combat Picture Libraries. He also notes that at least three of the stories are based on true crimes.
While many of the early stories were created for the title, some were reprints of stories that were first published in the titles Nightmare Suspense Library and Tales of Terror Picture Library.
As is commonly known, the Pocket Chiller Library comics were pretty dark and not really aimed at children but the issues between 79 and 85, which have never been reprinted, feature perhaps the most extreme imagery in the series. Two especially, Number 81, “Execution of Sinners” and Number 85, “When Cats Purr?”, went as far as including both female nudity and some particularly violent scenes.
Did the artists on these issues go further than they perhaps should have? Issue 85 was the last unique issue, and the artist for Number 85 went as further than others, perhaps a las bow before the series went fully reprint.
From Issue 86, onwards, the entire remaining run of issues were reprints, so all issues after that are duplicates, some with different covers, and different titles, but the same internal stories. Some of these are also reprints of comics from the two earlier series, Nightmare Suspense Library and Tales of Terror Picture Library – which leads to the situation of one story (“Waxworks/ “Terror in Wax”) actually being published three times. The story titles were often changed.
Pocket Chiller Library appears to have reprinted Italian material in some issues, which would fit with Williams pan-European publishing operation and deal with Lee Moncho, and the title was, according to a past discussion on ComicsUK, initially printed initially in Italy for the first 26 issues, then in Spain.
Collector Jon Smit notes a couple of the Chiller stories were previously published before in the short-lived title Nightmare Suspense Picture Library, published by MV Features between 1966 and 1967, which ran for just 16 issues. Pocket Chiller Library Issue 23 “Followers of Satan” originally debuted as Nightmare Suspense Picture Library Issue 7, “The Devil’s Disciple”, utilising the same cover art.
David Roach notes the artists commissioned to create new work were typically Spanish, “people like Borrell and Nieto wth some covers by Fernando Fernandez.
“While there is definitely some new British material – including covers by Allan Willow, the bulk of the art is Spanish reprints. I’ve never linked any of these numerous reprints to a specific Spanish source, but I’d guess it was likely to be a minor publisher like Toray. The search goes on!”
Steve Holland notes that Badia Romero also drew some issues, and wonders if UK-based art agent Barry Coker was agenting these directly to Top Sellers or to Euredit in Spain.
UK commissioned material includes art by 2000AD “Ballad of Halo Jones” artist Ian Gibson drawing “The Rope” (Issue 56), “The Bat” (Issue 60) and “The Kolby Curse” (issue 72).
Dave Gibbons has confirmed he drew #43, “The Dead Are Awake And Walking” – and that this was his first paid comics commission. “It’s awful,” he cautions!
We’ve now separated out our Pocket Chiller Library checklist over three separate listings and we hope it brings back memories for some of you… chilling ones!
Follow the links below… if you dare…
Note that from Issue 86 onwards, the title went reprint
Additional information welcome! This feature and listing last updated 17th December 2021
For those of you trying to puzzle out the history of the many British pocket library titles and publishers, Steve Holland notes that just to add to the confusion, a lot of pocket libraries were packaged abroad and sold around Europe (France, Germany, Spain, etc.), so there is still a lot of questions about whether some pocket libraries were reprints – or were actually published here in the UK first!
• Nightmare Suspense Picture Library – Listing and Covers
With thanks to Dave Gibbons, Adrian Griffiths, Steve Holland, Rik Hoskin, Chris O’Leary, Douglas Noble, the much-missed Colin Noble, Steve Pini, David Roach, the indispensable Richard Sheaf, Dez Skinn and Jon Smit – and thanks also to the WordPictureWord Group for sending me down this rabbit hole!