Thursday, 22 March 2018

Comic: Blake's 7 - A Marvel Monthly

Jesus I'd forgotten all about this. Basically, Marvel had - after an initial boom and bust - managed to produce a magazine based on Doctor Who; it had initially been more of a comic before they cottoned on that there was a lot of cheap mileage in articles about the show's history and the like, meaning only a handful of pages of comic strip needed to be commissioned each month. The decision to do the same thing for B7 from the start was therefore a no-brainer and the title debuted in autumn 1981 just as the new-look Season 4 hit screens. Brilliance, apart from the fact within a few issues the the cast were wiped out in a bloodbath and the series was cancelled, with the monthly presumably selling enough to amble on regardless. Same thing would happen with Doctor Who Magazine, which bridged a 17-year gap between the show being cancelled and that CBeebies shit with farting aliens arriving on the screen by surviving on a TV Movie and lots of interviews with minor guest stars. The difference was Who had a 26-year history to draw on, not to mention ongoing official fiction like the novel and audio series. Blake's 7 had four years, seemingly no rights to anything from the first three, and an official ending that saw everyone die.

The resulting magazine is closer to something put out by Scarfolk Council than the House of Ideas. The comic strips, detailing unseen adventures of the Scorpio crew, is probably the best bit. The remainder is a depressing trawl through the effects the show left behind - perennial interviews with Paul Darrow, bless him; endless smudgy behind the scenes photographs showing that when the cameras weren't on actors smiled, often blown up to take up half a page; text stories recycling the handful of promotional pictures Vere Lorrimer had sent before his office was demolished; oddball pin-ups (the only part aside from the covers printed in colour)... Anyway, I have (from somewhere) scans of four issues, which I'm sharing with you lucky people.

Issue 6 was cover-dated March 1982; when it was published is a little unclear to me as the UK market didn't do quite the same amount of ridiculous early dating as the US one. Your initial reaction considering the focus on the events of series finale "Blake" is that it wouldn't be long after that but the magazine does tend to chew over this for some time so it's not much of an indicator. Still, the magazine has nailed down the exclusive rights to Paul Darrow musing about Avon's character, leaving Hello and Time sore. 

Then there's time for a piece paying tribute to the make-up crew, sadly using Zeeona as an example of their fine work - this takes up four pages but has to be split in half to keep the reader from exploding with excitement. Then there's an eight page comic strip called "Sacrifice" where Avon falls in love with a space princess who's then killed in a sword duel with Servalan; no-one is actually credited and it's got that typed lettering which usually means the pages have been swiped from some overseas production, a letters page and companion Ask Orac ("How big is the sun?"), an interview with Glynnis Barber (and a pin-up of Soolin for once not looking dreadful), four mid-numbing pages of people standing around on location ("Josette Simon's face lends itself to extraordinary eye make-up", with a black and white picture of Josette in shadow), six page (uncredited) text story "Wanderlust", a four-page recap of everyone dying in "Blake" and just to seal the deal a full-colour pin-up of Darrow and Roy Kinnear leaning against a wall where only one of them seems to be in character.

The next one I have is issue 7. Interestingly the strip from this issue - "Rendezvous" (it's nice that they keep Season 4's one word ethos going here) features credits; the writer is Ken Armstrong, the magazine's consultant who seems to be a sort-of B7 equivalent of Ian Levine, but presumably less of a twat because most people are less of a twat than Ian Levine. He takes a larger and larger role in the content as it goes on. In a world's collide sort of way the strip is illustrated by Steve Dillon, already a 21-year old veteran of Marvel UK's Hulk Weekly. The letters page gives the address for two B7 fan clubs, the Liberator Popular Front and Horizon; the latter is still going, showing there's more to the art than having a decent name.

There's also more from Paul Darrow and more location footage, plus a pin-up of that iconic moment in "Stardrive" when Avon and Tarrant put safety goggles on to fix Scorpio. Things then get desperate and there's a five-page interview with, er, Ken Armstrong. Ask Orac meanwhile actually features questions about the show, during which the person playing Orac (undoubtedly Armstrong) abuses their power wildly to amend a minor continuity about Soolin having mentioned growing up on two different planets. Armstrong then also contributes five-page text story "Quantum Jump"; considering he conducted the interviews and took the on-location photography this is probably as close as it gets to a professionally published magazine being made by one person.

Then it's a jump forward to issue 13 and content is borderline dystopian. There's another Paul Darrow interview padded by two pages of pictures, more location pictures and a staggering five page quiz. The text story is "Quantum Jump" Part 2, suggesting content recycling had already picked up (and it features several unnecessarily large pictures, including a full page one of Servalan), while there are two unwarranted full-page B&W shots of Soolin and famous star Federation Guard. Space battle-heavy script "Alliance" is again uncredited. 
The letters page meanwhile contains some enthusiastic female praise for Darrow ("he really does some things to me" says Bernice from Nottingham and promises a catch-up with all of the cast now the series has been off the air for a year. There's also a page on Spacelab; real-life science was always a reliable file page-filler for genre mags. One thing worthy of note is that the penultimate page is a random pin-up by the greatest Marvel UK artist of all time, Sir Geoff Senior, in what might well have been his first work for the company. It's not great what with Tarrant ripping one of his shoulders out while trying to carry Soolin up a building but hey, Geoff fucking Senior.

The final issue I have is #14 - I believe the title somehow kept going for about another year after this, which is astonishing considering the dearth of content here. Three more pages of location photographs, strip story "Stranded" (written by Anderson but drawn by Mick Austin, just before he was taken over to Dez Skinn's legendary Warrior). The promised cast catch-up unsurprisingly only consists of Darrow; half of the four pages focus on bigging up the stage stuff he was doing at the time while a third of the letters page is taken up by a picture of Barber ahead of playing Jane.
Amazingly there's a six-page convention report with a guest list of Chris Boucher, Peter Tuddenham and Mat fucking Irvine, and even this is padded out by cosplay pictures showing the venue presumably clashed with some sort of fetishists' ball. There's then a two-page feature on Tony Attwood's then-new Programme Guide, which consists of about a column of actual information (Attwood was probably Armstrong's nemesis) and then just prints a bunch of random extracts from the index. This is followed by the first part of text story "Plague" - writer uncredited, but we all know who it is...


  1. Damn, I thought this ran about six issues, that's insane.

    1. Plus they randomly brought it back for specials and poster magazines in the nineties with no small success. As I think I've said before B7 outsold Who on VHS tape-for-tape apparently (how many series as long as B7 were out entirely on VHS by about 1993?). Considering "the kids" have always been mentioned as a big section of the audience the thing seems to have developed a sizable adult following very early in the day - IIRC the Programme Guide predated the Who one as well.

      I dread to think what sort of thing is in the last couple of issues, though - by the last one of these Darrow isn't even talking about B7 and that everyone else was done with the thing and looking for work is pretty obvious. It seems to have come out too late to work as "news" and too close to the end to work as "retro" - Steven Pacey, Glynnis Barber, Michael Keating etc. were probably all trying to avoid being typecast at this point.

    2. Reading up on it, the two 90's specials were down to an Andrew Pixley book being cancelled and him working to salvage the writing.

      The poster magazine is nuts though. Presumably the average young B7 fan would have been well into their 20's by then. Who's going to put a poster of David Jackson on their wall? But it managed 12 issues!

  2. The B7 magazine's otherwise inexplicable longevity might have been due to some initial uncertainty over whether or not there would actually be another series.

    In any case, it lasted long enough to coincide with the repeats of series 4 in the summer of 1983, but once those final repeats ended, so too finally did the magazine.

    1. That would make some sense; Marvel UK also seem to have been happy to run basically anything if it was profitable. B7 seemed to have had a huge following at the time, what with the programme guide and Afterlife coming out relatively soon afterwards.