Friday, 27 February 2015

Panel 17: Gosh! Comics

Panel 17: Gosh! Comics

I've already pointed you in the direction of Orbital Comics in the Cartoon & Comic Book Tour of London. And before my 20-part series ends, you should also check out Gosh!

Gosh! is not only a great comic book store – well-stocked and friendly – but their events are top notch, too. Visit their website (see below) to keep up with their signings, talks and workshops.

There has been a Gosh! comic book store in London for as long as I can remember. Its former home was near the British Museum but it can currently be found doing its bit for turning back the tide of corporate dullness in Soho.

Another thing to love about Gosh! is that they give pride of place to indy comics, right at the top of the stairs – you can't miss 'em if you're heading down to the comic book and back issues section. Support your local comic book store and support your local comic book artists and creators at the same time.

Soho itself provides rich pickings for cartoons and their creators. Being an iconoclasts' paradise Soho is a natural home for cartoonists – Private Eye is based here (see earlier blog post). The defining events of 19th Century Soho, the cholera epidemics, also inspired some famous and angry cartoons. Perhaps most famous of all is A Court for King Cholera

… by John Leech, published in Punch 1852. Twenty years earlier George Cruikshank had already poked fun at a profiteering medical profession in an earlier outbreak of the disease…

The Gosh! website is at

1 Berwick Street, 

Open 10.30am – 7pm
Seven days a week

Wednesday, 25 February 2015

Panel 16: Fleet Street

Panel No.16: Fleet Street

We can’t leave out Fleet Street on our Cartoon and Comic Book Tour of London – even though the national newspaper industry has long since abandoned its spiritual home.

Fleet Street as a metonym, however, is still going strong. And it doesn’t seem to want to go away. Twenty-first century TV and radio presenters still refer to the British press collectively as Fleet Street. To put this in perspective, The Daily Mail, one of the UK’s most popular papers, set up shop in Kensington as long ago as 1988. Yet Fleet Street as a moniker persists.

The nationals may have moved on, but any paper worth its salt still has a cartoonist – even though it was reported in UK Press Gazette that The Daily Express was keen to dispense with the services of their political cartoonist, news that broke back in January on the same day as the Charlie Hebdo murders.

The Express once had a cartoon legacy the envy of Fleet Street. Their strips included Rupert Bear and James Bond, and their political cartoonist was the famous Giles. No English home was complete without a copy of the Giles annual. 

Giles was a Londoner by birth, born Ronald Giles in Islington in 1916. His topical cartoons often featured the family that became his signature, headed by the doughty (and I always thought faintly sinister) Grandma. His collections are still published annually, some 20 years after his death, and can be bought in the bookshop at the Cartoon Museum.

The Daily Express is also the only British paper to publish a cartoon on its front page almost everyday since 1929 in the shape of the Crusader…

The crusader was the brainchild of legendary newspaper baron Lord Beaverbrook. Beaverbrook bought the Express in 1916 back when he was plain old Mr. Max Aitken.

The crusader was the emblem of his campaign for free trade between nations of the empire – an initiative he hoped would benefit his native Canada. In 1951 when Churchill was elected as Prime Minister, he disappointed Beaverbrook with his abandonment of traditional imperial policies. In reaction, The Beaver slapped chains on the Crusader – a gesture that was repeated when Britain was invited to join the Common Market (a forerunner of the EU).

The Crusader remains the emblem of The Daily Express to this day.

A version of the Crusader, rather more battered and forlorn, represents our great satirical magazine Private Eye

It would be inaccurate to say that rumours of Fleet Street's death have been greatly exaggerated – no national newspapers are left here, and Reuters moved away in 2003. And since the journalists left, other despised and unpopular professions have since moved in with the arrival of the bankers and the lawyers. (How's that for an unholy trinity?) But there is one famous name left standing in the once infamous Street of Ink: D.C Thomson.

D.C Thomson is the publisher of the Dundee Courier, the People's Friend story paper and the famous Sunday Post. The titles are built into the fabric of its Fleet Street HQ…

The Sunday Post is published weekly in Dundee and features the legendary cartoon strips The Broons and Oor Wullie, originally drawn by the Lancashire-born artist Dudley D. Watkins – whose work can be seen at the Cartoon Museum in Bloomsbury.

Oor Wullie is Scotland's answer to Dennis the Menace…

…while The Broons features a cartoon family that holds as dear a place in the hearts of Scots as Giles's family occupy in the affections of middle England…

(I have a theory about Wullie's hair: given that the creators and writers of The Simpsons plough such a rich furrow of Scottish wit with their Groundskeeper Willie character, even referencing Baron Ross of Marnock, the former Willie Ross MP in one gag – pretty nuanced stuff! – I'm prepared to stick my neck out and claim that Oor Wullie is the inspiration for Bart Simpson…)

Wullie & Bart. Separated at birth?

You can buy Broons & Oor Wullie books and merchandise direct from D.C Thomson here:

The Broons strip was famously parodied as The Broonites written by Fountain & Jamieson for Private Eye magazine, to poke fun at our former Prime Minister Gordon Brown.

The artwork is by the excellent Henry Davies, who works for The Beano and has also drawn for the official Broons! (He shares great cartoon related stuff via his Twitter feed @BeanoArtist and you can buy his originals direct from his website.)

You can subscribe to Private Eye magazine at

As a child growing up in Scotland it was always a race to get to the copy of The Sunday Post before my father. If my father got there first he would pore over the comics for what seemed like AGES, chuckling away while I stood jealously by.

Oor Wullie and The Broons have appeared in The Sunday Post since 1936 and it is claimed that Watkins, along with David Low, was listed as an enemy of the Third Reich for his satirical portraits of the Nazi leadership – see our earlier post for more on that topic.

Mr. Watkins was also the creator of Desperate Dan for The Dandy (here's Dan on a first class stamp)…

… and worked for the legendary Beano – again, the last man standing of the classic British comics, and a periodical of which I remain an avid reader…

When the D.C Thomson offices closed last year for a makeover, they chose neither the Sunday Post nor the Evening Telegraph to brighten up their windows, but pages from The Beano…

Here's a map to Fleet Street and D.C Thomson's HQ…

I'll be calling by D.C Thomson on the next Publish & Be Damned walking tour, which looks at the history of journalism in Fleet Street. It meets at Temple Station at 2:30p.m on the 2nd of May 2015. I'll even bring my Broons and Oor Wullie annuals along for you to look at at… as long as you promise not to hog them for as long as my dad.

Thursday, 19 February 2015

Panel 15: The League of Extraordinary Gentlemen

Panel No.15: The League Of Extraordinary Gentlemen

The League Of Extraordinary Gentlemen (written by Alan Moore and illustrated by Kevin O'Neill) is the comic book I come back to more often than any other. First and foremost it's an exciting tale, an old school adventure, a rip-roaring yarn. Beneath the Boy's Own exterior, however, lies an intoxicating gallimaufry of conspiracy, literary references, alternate history, old myths re-examined, new myths coined, lovingly observed historical details and a welter of London locations.

It is the fag end of the 19th Century and the Empire is in peril. The new century looms and with it a new world order armed with an alarming array of new fangled machines. Only the most extraordinary characters can save us now…

As a blend of fact and fiction, The League of Extraordinary Gentlemen would be fun enough. The added dimension of mingling fictional characters of the past with newly minted creations, however, creates a new level of fascination. The interweaving of adventure story and Alternate History adds further piquancy. Sounds a bit heavy? Never fear. The League of Extraordinary Gentlemen never forgets to be a thrilling comic book.

But the great by-product of the book is that it throws us back upon the source material that it references so freely in the narrative. It is so well written and executed that it genuinely feels like a part of the 19th Century canon of adventure stories.

Mina Murray, the wife of Jonathan Harker in Dracula (having reverted to her maiden name) is the driving force of the League. Indeed it is she who is charged with leading that most dramatic of set-pieces, Rounding Up The Team. First she enlists Allan Quatermain (of Rider Haggard's King Soloman's Mines and sequels) a dissipated shadow of his former heroic self. Captain Nemo, Doctor Jekyll (and Mr Hyde, of course) also join in the fun, as does a deliciously sordid Hawley Griffin (AKA the invisible man). H.G Wells is a recurring reference, with his War of the Worlds being woven into the narrative near the end of the collected volume one.

Cameos include Mycroft Holmes (the original Sherlock Holmes's Smarter Brother!), as shadowy as Conan Doyle implied him to be in the Sherlock Holmes stories and Auguste Dupin, the legendary French detective of Poe's Murders In The Rue Morge.

Illustrator Kevin O'Neill also joins in the referential fun, my particular favourite page being his introduction to Chinatown

so redolent of a crowded Gustave Dore composition

The tale has spawned a number of sequels, each wilder than the last. It makes me wonder: with each flight of fancy, is writer Alan Moore making sure that Hollywood will stay away from his work by making his tales unfilmable? The writer has a famously spiky relationship with Hollywood's watered-down adaptations of his work. Whatever the reason, it's a wild ride with Moore and O'Neill and later volumes cover 1960s London and right up to the present day, with an ever-increasing Greek Chorus of literary characters crowding in. It's fun to spot them, but if you miss the references (and I'm sure I've missed a ton of 'em) the story can still enthral. Moore is not an easy writer to follow (as I said, it's a wild ride) but he's never elitist and no reader is excluded from the narrative. 

The London location that I'll choose from the book is the League's hideout from early in the series, the British Museum… 

I choose this not only because the collection at the BM features a number of cartoons (including work by George Cruikshank) and that it's also handy for the Cartoon Museum in Little Russell Street, but because I'd rather like to have a secret lair there myself!

The book's London references are a delight to a London Walks guide and when I make passing reference to them on my London Walks, I can always identify kindred spirits in comic books by the delighted looks on their faces. The League of Extraordinary Gentlemen, and the work of Mr Moore generally, inspires great devotion in his fans. The alternate history material is both provoking and witty – this last best illustrated in the tale of Hyde Park. Did you know how Hyde Park got its name? No? Well read on, gentle reader, read on in Messrs Moore & O'Neill's blockbusting comic. You can buy The League of Extraordinary Gentlemen at Orbital Comics on Great Newport Street.

Tuesday, 10 February 2015

Panel No.14: V For Vendetta

Panel No.14: V For Vendetta

DC Editor Adam writes… The timing of this innocent – this daft, this frivolous – Cartoon & Comic Book Tour of London continues to challenge your correspondent. (See earlier post HERE and HERE.)

As I sat down to blog this post on V For Vendetta – as trailed in the previous post – a friend sent me a link to a piece in today's Daily Telegraph newspaper* about the hacktivist/activist group Anonymous and their latest project, a cull of at least 100 social media accounts allegedly being used to recruit potential jihadists to fight for Islamic State.

The symbol of Anonymous is the "Guy Fawkes mask". Such masks were popularised by the comic book V For Vendetta…

V For Vendetta is simply the most important comic book of our age.

It is with V For Vendetta, written by Alan Moore (in 1981, first published in '82), and a small band of other graphic novels (a term shunned by Moore himself) that the world of comics begins to elbow in to the same critical space as traditional literature. From this point on, comics/graphic novels would be discussed alongside Flaubert at dinner parties.

This last image would, I imagine, make Alan Moore – an occultist and an anarchist as well as a writer – want to throw up. At the very least.

Many of us knew it all along, o' course. But in the aftermath of the V comic – and From Hell , also by Moore – publishers would realise that there was a market for intelligent illustrated stories and such talents as Posy Simmonds – long a great newspaper cartoonist and children's illustrator – would be free to unleash her gifts on such projects as Gemma Bovary (1999) – based on Madame Bovary by the aforementioned Flaubert.

Moore did not, of course, invent the Fawkes mask – here's Buster comic from 1965…

… giving a Guy Fawkes mask, already long popular with British children, as a free gift to readers for Bonfire Night (commemorating the bungled 1605 assassination by explosion of King James VI at the hands of plotters including the famous Fawkes). 

But the film of V for Vendetta (2006), using David Lloyd's highly stylised version from the comic is widely credited with starting the contemporary phenomena of using the Fawkes mask in a protest and political agitation context.

So there's a big dollop of British radical history from the get-go. And the spirit of the Vincent Price movie Theatre of Blood provides some rather twisted "light relief". The paper stock and stylistic influence is pure D.C Thomson** and the shadow of Judge Dread looms large, too. For all that it was a hit in the US, it is very British comic.

Orwell is also in the mix, both in the words and the pictures. There's a grubby feel to David Lloyd's artwork that makes me think of the 1984 – the low quality goods, the cigarettes rolled so loosely that the tobacco falls out. The palette, too, is not only grim but its lack of breadth – putrid greens and yellows the hue of a week-old bruise providing scant respite from the suffocating shadows – underpin the privations of the story.

Our story is set in the aftermath of a nuclear war in the late 80s. Britain is under Fascist rule. V – a theatrically-costumed revolutionary anarchist in a Guy Fawkes mask – is wreaking revenge on the regime. Early in the story he saves 16-year-old Evey Hammond. Evey, from Shooters Hill in South East London, is an orphan – her father has been executed for his Socialist beliefs. Having saved Evey, V allows her to tag along as he embarks upon his next act of vengeance – blowing up the Old Bailey…

The book teems with London locations (here's Big Ben AGAIN, see also earlier posts in this series)…

… but the Old Bailey scene is a signature moment in the tale.

We'll come back to Allan Moore again with his From Hell and The League of Extraordinary Gentlemen – doing our best to avoid the movie versions of those two books as Moore hated both film treatments every bit as much as he did the movie of V For Vendetta. (We'll ask my colleague, movie expert Richard IV to state their cases another day!)

You can buy V For Vendetta at the Vertigo website:

* I'll be back to the Daily Telegraph soon, as well as **D.C Thomson.

Wednesday, 4 February 2015

Panel 13: Marvel in London

First blogged on The Daily Constitutional , these posts take us on a virtual Cartoon & Comic Book Tour of London – 20 stops on a metropolis-wide search for all things illustrated. 

I'll be taking in everything from Gillray and Hogarth, to Scooby Doo and on to Deadpool and beyond! In addition I'll guide you to the best in London comic book stores as well as galleries that showcase the best in the cartoonist's art. 

Panel 13: Marvel in London

As we saw in an earlier post, Disney has long-loved London. In recent years Marvel has grown to love us, too, with film adaptations of The Fantastic Four

The Silver Surfer above the London Eye

And Thor

The God of Thunder catches the tube
… being filmed here in the capital.

(Thor is avaliable to buy on iTunes HERE.)

But using film adaptations on my tour is cheating a little bit (I'll leave that to my colleague Richard IV and his wonderful London on Film walks). We're looking for cartoons and comic books. And, as with Disney, Marvel seems to be in love with Big Ben…

I absolutely LOVE this cover from 1975! There's Big Ben plopped down right where the Tower of London should be! One London landmark just wasn't London-y enough. The red double-decker pushes the point home. Great stuff.

Inside the comic, our tale sees Spidey battling with the Green Goblin on a bridge that looks a little more like the Brooklyn Bridge than our own dear Tower Bridge.

Tower Bridge also features in a more recent Marvel book, Deadpool: Dracula's Gauntlet. In fact, here I am at my desk reading said publication instead of working…

Deadpool is a sociopathic mercenary with a mordant line in wisecracks. His superpower – to remain almost un-killable thanks to special regenerative powers – is also his undoing. His moral dubiety and bleak worldview seem to stem from his invincibility. His life is truly relentless and he is duly jaded. The process that turned Wade Wilson into Deadpool has left him physically as well as mentally scarred. Complicated, deeply politically incorrect, and very funny, he's my favourite Marvel character by quite some way. (He's due to get the big screen treatment, too, movie due 2016.)

(Update Feb 2016: the movie was released here in the UK on 10th February 2016)

At the commencement of Dracula's Gauntlet we find Deadpool spiralling toward London in an out of control helicopter. And here we go again with the Big Ben/Tower Bridge thing

And where the hero usually gets the gal, here's the gal running away from Deadpool when he takes off his mask to reveal his less-than-moviestar visage…

The drawing of Tower Bridge here seems to have been based on source material dating from the mid 20th Century, with almost industrial surroundings (it's all clean and shiny today).

There's also a great fight scene with a vampire at the base of the Victoria Memorial as a guardsman looks on impassively from his sentry box and, as with Spiderman, that third London icon, the red double decker, makes a cameo appearance…

(The three London symbols used in the Spiderman and Deadpool examples here just happen to be the same ones used in our own graphic at the top o' this blog.)

 Dracula's Gauntlet is out now in a hardcover edition.

A less knockabout Marvel title is Neil Gaiman's Marvel 1602 (published in 2003). This eight-part series sees Gaiman take classic Marvel super hero characters (mainly from the 1960s) and place them in Elizabethan London. A typical bravura feat from the wildly imaginative Gaiman. (My 7-year-old daughter is currently reading The Sleeper & The Spindle, his collaboration with one of my cartooning heroes Chris Riddell, for the second time since Christmas.)

The cover…

…is based on a sketch featuring the gunpower plotters of 1605, a London tale that will take us neatly on to our next stop with Alan Moore's modern classic V For Vendetta.

Monday, 2 February 2015

Panel 12: Charing Cross Road

First blogged on The Daily Constitutional , these posts take us on a virtual Cartoon & Comic Book Tour of London – 20 stops on a metropolis-wide search for all things illustrated. 

I'll be taking in everything from Gillray and Hogarth, to Scooby Doo and on to Deadpool and beyond! In addition I'll guide you to the best in London comic book stores as well as galleries that showcase the best in the cartoonist's art. 

Panel 11. London Explorer & The Charing Cross Road

All the comic books featured so far in this series can be acquired fairly easily – I always recommend Orbital Comics in Great Newport Street, and Gosh! in Berwick Street is another fave (more of them later). The Cartoon Museum also has an excellent bookshop.

(Support your local bookshop!)

This time, however, I'm introducing an element of sport into my Cartoon & Comic Book Tour of London. The thrill of the chase, if you will.

You're going to have to browse for this one.

The forgotten art of browsing, particularly in secondhand bookshops, is one of London’s great pleasures. The coffee emporia may have moved in on the Charing Cross Road, but there are still more good secondhand bookshops than you can shake a stick at here in London. And should a shop assistant approach and ask “May I help you?” (very unlikely in London’s secondhand bookshops!) we can provide you with two answers with which to reply. You can either say:

“I’m looking for what I didn’t know I wanted” (the definition of browsing).

Or you can say, “Do you have a copy of…”

Peter Jackson’s London Explorer

The book is long out-of-print but remains an essential part of any London library. This paperback volume is a collection of cartoons by Peter Jackson. Jackson worked on the old London Evening News (defunct since 1980 when it was incorporated into the Evening Standard) and for that paper he crafted a lovingly illustrated series on the history of London in cartoon form. (The graphic novel is nothing new.)

The volume we came across (at Black Gull Books in East Finchley) has no date in the flyleaf, but the accompanying London Underground map in the back has no Victoria Line so we estimate it to be some several years before 1967.

Jackson’s illustrations (“with supporting text by W. Crawford Snowden”) covered a different area of London each instalment. Succinct and revelatory, his drawings bring London’s history to life with a mixture fact, fable and cartoon fun touches (such as King Charles II snuggling up to Nell Gwynn and her orange on the Fleet Street section, illustrated here).

Jackson’s encyclopaedic knowledge of London grew from his love of the metropolis and he was a renowned collector of historic prints, maps and London ephemera. He drew for the Evening News from 1940 to 1980 and his other series include London is Stranger Than Fiction and Somewhere to Go. He passed away in 2003.

Good luck hunting for his book! Make your first stop Charing Cross Road…

… with Any Amount of Books and Henry Pordes always worth a visit. (Worth noting that the Wetherspoons pub at No.105, now the Montagu Pyke, was once the Cambridge Circus Cinematograph Theatre  – in the 60s this was a "cartoon cinema" presenting animated films amid a programme of news and shorts.)

The legendary Foyles bookshop, now at home in its swanky new premises at 107 Charing Cross Road also has a very healthy graphic novel section. Last year they commissioned a number of cartoon artists to depict the history of that great bookshop…

The panel above is the work of Warren Pleece. Warren started drawing comics with his writer brother, Gary in the late 80s and 90s and then went on to working as an artist on numerous titles for the Vertigo imprint of DC Comics. His latest books include The Great Unwashed and Montague Terrace, published by Jonathan Cape.

You can view the whole series – and go shopping, of course – at the Foyles website:

There are eight more stops to go on our Cartoon & Comic Book Tour of London! Panel 13 will be posted later this week!