Well, I took my time about it, but finally I got me hold of a copy of The Thirteenth Floor, and Doomlord too.
They’re both fan-published collections organised by David McDonald in Ireland, who set up Hibernia Books for the purpose, and aside from the occasional – and entirely forgivable – typo, they are excellently produced editions. Even the slightly shonky amateur DTP is more than mitigated by the quality of the repro and the little extras: forewords by authors Alan Grant and John Wagner, a Doomlord catch-up synopsis by Paul Scott of tribute comic Solar Wind, a Thirteenth Floor stripography, and best of all an excellent article by Edward Berridge on the history of Scream! comic, original home to The Thirteenth Floor.
And you know what? With a cover price of £5 and £4.50 respectively, you can’t beat either collection for value, especially as there’s never been any sign that the copyright holders would release editions themselves. So a big round of applause to David for sorting all this out.
When it comes to the strips themselves, you have to immerse yourself into the environment out of which they came. Doomlord began life in the relaunched Eagle comic back in 1982. The new Eagle was a bold initiative from IPC at the time; it mixed comic strips with photostrips – a medium till then restricted to a few teenage girl titles – and was also printed by letterpress on a good quality paper, at a time when most children’s comics were put out on low-grade rag with the web offset litho process. It also boasted excellent full colour cover and centre pages, which leapt out in a marketplace full of rough-edged, newsprint comics with only the occasional spot colour.
The parallel with its namesake is strong; back in 1950 the original Eagle was launched by Hulton Press as an upmarket, homegrown title, designed to compete with imported American comics, full of moral rectitude and inspiring stories for boys. To achieve this Hulton – known then for its photo illustrated magazines like the Picture Post and Lilliput – applied the same quality to its new juvenile title as to its established adult ones: namely, photogravure printing. This permitted excellent artwork reproduction, with a consistent depth to black, impressively gradients to greys, and best of all, a rich sharpness to colour pages. The quality of the presentation helped lure its target readership into trying out the content, and when they did they discovered this too was of the highest calibre. And so Eagle Mk1 was a huge success, standing out from its contemporaries on production values and creative talent.
So let’s also consider the context the 1982 Eagle dropped into: comic historians now describe the 1980s as a period of decline for the industry, but to the end users – the readers – things seemed great, with a wide variety of titles always available, and new ones constantly coming out. The main players in the UK arena were IPC (which by then embraced the historical lineage of the likes of Hulton, Amalgamated Press, Fleetway, Odhams, Longacre and others), and the Dundee family firm DC Thomson. Each ran large lines which might be divided into essentially three types – girls comics, humour titles, and boys papers. At the time of the new Eagle, we were nearly a decade into the long, slow revolution kicked off by a generation of comics creators, often working freelance, who challenged the cosy consensus.