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Sunday, 12 December 2010

KOBRA!


Thanks to Santiago [who runs the Tales From The Kryptonian blog],I have finally gotten hold of copies of the German language version of Vulcan which was retitled to Kobra.
The first thing that hit me was that they are of the same size and quality as the IPC Vulcans.  This is no coincidence since the title was edited by Martspress based in Croydon. Martspress edited and packaged the books for Kauka Verlag -whom I’ve mentioned before as publishers of Fix Und Foxi,Lupo etc.
Martspress was set up by  Leonard Matthews and Val Holding. Matthews used to be one of the directors at IPC Magazines and he was said to be quite a tough character. Martspress itself was a very small outfit.  That said,Matthews had,as a former IPC director,access to a lot of artists contact details and on packaging many comics,such as TV21 and Joe 90,artists unconnected with any of the interior art were usually drafted in.
Here we come to the,uh,”dodgey” aspect. There was talk,when I visited Fleetway on one occasion and the topic of Vulcan cropped up,that there was some “bad feeling” over Matthews and some of the books he packaged –including foreign editions.  “A nod,a wink and a monetary handshake” was said to have solicited Matthews a lot of material from which his former employer didn’t get much –if any- financial comeback.  A lot of catty chatting went on so how true this was I’ve no idea though there are certain 1980s examples now well documented that proves this did go on.
Matthews was also not a very liked man it seems.  I’d like to quote the obituary for Matthews written byb George Beal for The Independent [Friday, 5 December 1997]:
“Halfway through 1962, a weekly news magazine in London appeared with its front page fully devoted to a cartoon. It showed the figure of a man in Napoleonic garb flagged “Napoleon of the Comics”. This was Leonard Matthews, the newly created director of Fleetway Publications. A long- standing member of the staff, Matthews had become director in overall editorial command of such weeklies as, Buster, Film Fun, Girls’ Crystal, Jack and Jill, Lion, Look and Learn, Playhour, Princess, Tiger and Valiant.
Previously he had worked for an Italian firm which made carpets, and later joined the London department store Whiteley’s, where he ran the Whiteley’s Dance Band.
The Amalgamated Press had advertised for an editorial assistant, and Matthews, who had a talent for drawing, submitted some of his material. He was fortunate enough to secure an interview with Monty Haydon, a director of the company, who, impressed with his ability, took him on.
The Second World War took him into the RAF, but he also worked for the RAF at the Air Ministry in Kingsway, where he compiled air-training manuals. Fleetway House was not too far away, so he kept his hand in by doing editorial tasks there. He volunteered to fire-watch on the building, and one occasion fire-bombs fell when he and his colleague George Allen (a lifelong friend whom he had first met at Whiteley’s) were on watch. They scooped up the bombs and shovelled them over the side. Next morning, Fleetway House was intact, but its next-door neighbour was burned to the ground.
Towards the end of the war, Matthews married. Pat, his wife, had some show-business connection, and they appeared in a short film together, but the marriage did not survive. With the end of the war, he resumed his editorial work and in 1957 married Barbara Hayes, an attractive brunette in the nursery papers department.
The Amalgamated Press was taken over by the Mirror Group in 1958, and renamed Fleetway Publications. Matthews began to reorganise his papers, which now included all the boy’s titles, the girl’s weeklies and the nursery papers. A small man, he was a keen admirer of Napoleon Bonaparte and, like him, not entirely democratically inclined, but his leadership was tempered with a charismatic quality which quashed resentment. Matthews tended to recruit tall men on to his team.
His capacity to enthuse was enormous and infectious, but he made sure that all under his command knew their place. He expected you to agree with him, and indeed, to do his bidding. As one of his editors, I was given a large, airy office right next to his. Once he called me into his office, and told me of a project he was planning. He asked me to take part in a particular mission for its furtherance. I could not, in all conscience, oblige him, and gave him a definite, and, I hope, polite, “no”.
His reaction was, I suppose, to be expected. He nodded gently, said he understood my point of view, and I departed. Next day, Colin Thomas, Matthews’s “adjutant”, dropped in see me. “Oh, a small thing. Leonard wants to make a few changes in the office locations, so we’ll have to move you, old man.” I then went down to inspect my “new” office. It was a quarter of the size of the old one, overlooked the fire- escape at the back of the building, and had one tiny window. I had been punished.
Changes occurred at Fleetway House. The Hulton publications – Eagle, Girl and Robin – fell within the Matthews orbit, after being taken over by the Mirror Group, which in turn, incorporating Odham’s, Newnes and other companies, became IPC, the International Publishing Corporation. Matthews, strong personality as he was, felt eventually that he had no choice but to leave the company. He would shortly have been able to take early retirement, in any case.
He did not, of course, actually retire. Within a month or so, he had set up his own publishing and production company, Martspress, accompanied by a few of his old staff. One of his first moves was to buy up some old titles, among them Men Only, a mildly saucy pocket-sized monthly issued by Newnes. Matthews appointed as its editor Tony Power, who had edited children’s comics at Fleetway House. Men Only had been slowly fading, and its demise seemed imminent. Power, out for an evening, met Paul Raymond, who ran night-clubs. The outcome was that Matthews sold the title to Raymond, who turned Men Only, still with Power as editor, into a hugely successful publication.
Matthews devoted his attention to juvenile publishing, this time as a packager, producing a complete magazine or book for any publisher who required it. First among such publications was Once Upon a Time, issued by City Magazines.
With the passage of time, Matthews’s operations lessened. His company continued production, mostly with books for children, with the able assistance of Elizabeth Flower, his former secretary at Fleetway House.”
Kauka Verlag you can find info on by visiting the blog roll for the links.

“Billy Und Die Fussballschuhe” is,of course,easily recognisable as “Billy’s Boots” but this is sadly not a Mike Western page -anyone know the artist?

“Das Magische Augen” [or "The Magic Eye"] is,again,easily recognisable as Kelly’s Eye. Looking at the series now I can see that there would be no reason why it,or any of the Fleetway/IPC strips would not [with the exception of Second World War strips] be out of place in a German comic.  I am pretty surprised that none of the Western strips made it into Kobra since Westerns were very popular!
Interestingly,the printing job was by Franzis-Druch of Munich.  And I’m guessing that Vulcan was probably printed by the same company.  Why?  Well,as I wrote,the size of the book,paper quality and printing is an exact match.  A foreign printer trying to “match” the look and feel of Vulcan and getting the exact same paper and print style seems unlikely.
Now,I do need to make something clear.  I’ve said this was published by Kauka,however,it says that “redaktion und anzeigen” by Kauka which translates as “editing and advertising”.  The actual publisher is Gevacur AG who were bringing the title out weekly and this opens up a bit of confusion [there doesn't seem to be a pain-in-the-ass Terry Hooper comic historian in Germany I can ask!].  Gevacur and Kauka are linked on a number of books so I’m not sure whether Martpress put together Kobra which Kauka then translated and edited for Gevacur.  It seems very likely but these things tend to be quite confused.

Not “Kong King”,not “King Kong” but “Mytek Das Monster” -I don’t have to translate that surely?  Anyway,the giant robot enjoyed a long life in comics as well as an international one.
Below is a double paged poster of “Die Eiserne Hand” or The Steel Claw as we knew him! Pity there were no posters like this in Vulcan!

There are a few mysteries in Kobra.  For instance ““Bob Scott Detective” -I have seen this strip in English but cannot remember the title.  Also,I’m quite sure that this is an old Amalgamated Press strip and,obviously,colourised.  Anyone identify it because all my books are stuck behind boxes!!

Now,“Heisse Rader” translates out as “Hot Wheels” with Team “Ham” {Hamish Hamilton] and driver Brad Foreman.  I have to admit to avoiding sports comics so if anyone knows?  I keep thinking the strip was in Tiger?

“Dr Karnaks Rache” -”Dr Karnaks Revenge” or,as we Brits knew him,“Dr Mesmer”. basically,when thieves stole a number of ancient Egyptian relics from him, the mysterious and oh so evil looking Dr Mesmer resurrected a 5000-year old mummy, Angor, to help him recover his collection.  The strip first appeared in Lion in the early 1970s.

Other strips include “Dollmann’s Haus” or “Dolmann”/”House of Dolmann”;another mystery here -“Deckname Tigerhai” ["Tigerhai" being Tiger Shark so is this "Codename Barracuda"?] which featured an agent and his assistant “Sharky” fighting King Cobra and WAM -World Terror and Murder.

“Die Kampfe der Seewolfe” is the great Smash strip [1969-1971] by Don Lawrence,“Erik The Viking”. Wrestling star “Johnny Cougar” also features as “Johnny Puma” ["Cougar" or "Puma" is the same beastie but let's not go into this].

“Martin’s Super Mini” I have to admit I vaguely recognise the characters and their car “George” but I just cannot place it.  The colouring seems a little OTT to me!  Again,anyone know..let me know!
Summing up I have to writre that,had Vulcan been developed as Kobra was then it should have sold.  German readers were quite fussy so if a comic was good enough to go on as long as Kobra did then there is no reason why it should not have gone on as long.
When I asked managers,back in the 1980s,why Vulcan was cancelled no one had a clue but agreed it was “a good comic”.  Someone simply decided to pull the plug.
Now,we know Don Lawrence found out about IPC/Fleetway using his work in Europe and asking to be paid for it.  And we know the result -he never worked for UK comics again.  Think of all those “dumped” creators,some still alive,their families and what would happen if IPC were asked to pay money for overseas publications of the strips?
I cannot publish a great deal of what I have found out in 20+ years about “under the table deals” and even more dubious activities -I need to keep a lot safe for any future legal actions.  What I can say is that some struggling writers/artists would have been a lot better off had they been paid even a more modest reprint fee.
But the history of Kobra still isn’t complete…yet!
Previous Kobra items on CBO:
http://www.comicbitsonline.com/2010/11/17/the-weird-german-kobra-from-vulcan/
http://www.comicbitsonline.com/2010/11/18/addenda-on-german-kobra-comic/

Friday, 10 December 2010

Browner Knowle 5

 

Browner Knowle 5
A5 [Digest]
20pp
£3.00
The cover should be familiar to you by now? Very neat illustration that,if you look at it often enough,will throw up a few optical effects -go on:look closely!
When this arrived in the post this morning I was expecting the “usual stuff” from Mr Brown.  But I got a bit of a surprise.  Okay,he’s a miserable sod who needs to chill out with a stack of comic books.  That or get laid -but after his last date turned out to be a Thai lady-boy he’s been a bit reticent.
The cover illo leads into the strip “Her Face”.  Not very happy bunny time but an interesting piece.  I loved the illo “Loathsome Oafs”.  Hey,we’ve all seen these skanky sacks of doo-dah and I think this illo sums them up just right and that battered lamp post seals the deal.
There are the usual “about Bristol” pieces so if you live in Bristol you may well recognise “Reggae Beckett”!  The centre-pages feature a spread that you will recognise if you’ve been in Bristols Broadmead shopping area:that very loud Jesus freak that keeps screaming in my face that I’ll only find redemption through Jesus.  In fact,he shouts this at everyone [yet people from a Muslim centre handing out leaflets for a "come and get to know us" meeting were moved on!].  Anyway,not sure what happened to the “Shouter” but not seen him for a while.
“Wonky Leg Girl” is also quite accurate so maybe Mr Brown ought to draw a “Guide to Notable Persons Seen In Bristol” for visitors?
“Slate Grey Series” is depressing.  Depressing but good. I’m glad Mr Brown’s idea of giving away a free razor blade with every copy fell through!
The quality of printing is excellent -as is the paper stock.  What I like is the way that the art seems to have clicked here.  The solid blacks are well balanced with the white areas in “Slate Grey Series” and I’m not sure what he’s using to draw with but the lines are just right and the figures look full of movement.  Perhaps all those cups of tea while reclining on the sofa croaking out:”Mother -fetch me some opium!” has worked.
Certainly the best art of the Browner Knowle series so far.   Well worth adding to your collection.
the book is orderable via Mr Brown at:
paulashleybrown@googlemail.com