Sunday 13 July 2014

Frank Bellamy and Countdown comic

I am not scared sometimes to include oblique references to Frank Bellamy if I think it does some good. For example Steve Holland had published his latest UK comic index: Countdown to TV Action.

Bear Alley books' Countdown to TV Action

As usual his scholarly precision leaves me feeling inadequate but what enjoyable material. My memory of the Countdown comic was that it was great to see the Anderson strips after the slow and painful death of TV21 in 1971. I'd abandoned the title way before that as the merger with Valiant was of no interest to me, at that time.

And here was a shiny new comic printed on very shiny paper (and tatty edges!). The artwork by Jon Davis and John Cooper (who I always get confused) never appealed to me and browsing through the comic I can't see why I kept ordering it until very late in its run, but I did. Don Harley's art was perfect to my eyes and that John Burns art with its heavy colour shadows made no sense - sorry John! Now I can appreciate Gerry Haylock, John Burns and others.  I do remember really appreciating the space news. It was the time of Apollo and Skylab which I found thrilling and as a teenager I was not averse to the flying saucer material either - after all I did watch UFO, didn't I?

I sold all my original copies to David Nightingale for £100 in the 1980s and was glad for the money. But enough of my life story.

Countdown #24 (Saturn V art by Roy Cross)
Read the story of how this art was used in Countdown Steve's book
The Frank Bellamy strips reprinted from his 'Thunderbird' run in TV21 appeared in Countdown #24 - 30 (each 3 page instalment reduced to 2 black and white pages - see example below). The 'cutting up' of Bellamy's art was produced in such as a way that unless you knew it had been done, it was hard to spot. 

Countdown #24

Countdown #24

TV21 #59 pp.10-11

TV21 #59 p.12

Secondly TV Action & Countdown #71 - 77 reprinted in colour this time and in the centre pages as they originally appeared, the 'Thunderbirds' story from TV21 issues 52-58, the first Thunderbirds story in TV21. As Steve explains in his book, these reprints saved costs in the production of the comic but new art was still being commissioned e.g. Gerry Haylock's 'Doctor Who' cover for issue 71 shown here

TV Action & Countdown #71

TV Action & Countdown #71

TV Action & Countdown #71
'Thunderbirds' also appeared in other Polystyle productions (the publishers of Countdown) such as the Thunderbirds 48 page Holiday Special (1971). I no longer have this one so rely on Shaqui's excellent website for more details. 

Thunderbirds Holiday Special 1971
But in reading Steve's Countdown to TV Action book I discovered he'd missed a Holiday Special.

Thunderbirds Holiday Special (1984) (Unknown artist)
If you're curious as to what the contents are, then allow me to help you.

To give the publishers credit they did reprint these stories as they were published - as a centrespread...but lost some of the captions in the gutter! The Holiday Special contains the stories from TV21 #66 through to #82 and #99-104 but with awkward additions.

Shaqui sums this up well "The mastheads from the original Thunderbirds strips are redrawn by an unidentified artist to make the stories complete compilations".

He is kinder than me and actually whoever was given the job of filling the headers that Bellamy drew, summed it up him/herself in this scan, where I think they mean to intimate "Danger" but it comes out as "Anger"!

You can see here how awful the black and white version of Bellamy's gorgeous colour is and also how the 'header' or masthead is filled in.

TV21 #75

None of this diminishes the work that Steve has done. The history of the company and the set up of Countdown under Dennis Hooper is worth the price of admission! But you also get lots of Brian lewis, Gerry Haylock, John Burns, Peter Ford artwork. To see more go to his page dedicated to the book which has pricing postage and far more details than covered here

Cover wraparound

Frank Bellamy still sells Thunderbirds products

I am so excited! Like a child in a sweet toyshop! "In shops now...!" I could say.

Messenger bag with Frank Bellamy's Thunderbirds art (RRP: £24.99)

I remember in the Sixties wishing so hard that I could get the comic stickers, notebooks etc etc that was advertised in Marvel and DC comics and wishing we had the equivalent range of comic toys, bags, alarm clocks for UK comics! Imagine when I found out that these are coming our way in the UK and with FRANK BELLAMY ARTWORK!!

Perhaps I should calm down and tell you more without using exclamation marks.

Thunderbirds flask with Frank Bellamy's Artwork

Firstly it was thanks to John Freeman over on that I found all this out.  I then went hunting and found that the 50th anniversary of Thunderbirds (how old does that make me?) has a raft of merchandising opportunities with it and that "during the last significant licensing programme in 2001, the brand was worth over £150m at retail" (see the full article on

Thunderbirds was on our screens for the first time in 1965 and the new Thunderbirds series - being produced in New Zealand (read more than you need to know here on the Fanderson website) will only increase excitement for little children like me.

Travel set with Frank Bellamy's Thunderbirds art
Trudy Hayward says elsewhere: "The new series looks stunning and we have every confidence that it will be a massive global hit. There is a huge affection for this much-loved brand in the UK where it is a national treasure and there are also many exciting themes and characters that will chime with global audiences tuning in for the first time. The series will be supported by one of our biggest ever marketing and retail campaigns 

Thunderbirds gadget case with Frank Bellamy's artwork (RRP:£24.99)

Housewares product designer, developer and distributor Bunkerbound are the company behind these products which should appear in shops this month. I have listed the Recommended Retail Price against each image with a link to further details under each image.  Bunkerbound's sales department kindly sent me the larger images and you can see the range and their fuller descriptions here

Thunderbirds alarm clock with Frank Bellamy's artwork (RRP: £22.99)
If like me you spotted that they all appear to use the same collage of images from Frank Bellamy ('Thunderbirds') , Eric Eden ('Lady Penelope')  and also, I think, John Cooper ('Thunderbirds'). Please let me know if you know who the other artists are if I'm wrong!

TemptationGifts will be retailing these later this year. Their site is full of merchandised characters