Category: Features

Feature : THE SECRET HISTORY OF TIN TIN

The series is set during a largely realistic[3] 20th century. Its hero is Tintin, a courageous young Belgian reporter and adventurer aided by his faithful dog Snowy (Milou in the original French edition). Other allies include the brash and cynical Captain Haddock, the intelligent but hearing-impaired Professor Calculus (French: Professeur Tournesol), incompetent detectives Thomson and Thompson (French: Dupont et Dupond), and the opera diva Bianca Castafiore.

The series has been admired for its clean, expressive drawings in Hergé’s signature ligne claire (“clear line”) style.[4] Its well-researched[5] plots straddle the action-adventure and mystery genres and draw upon themes of politics, history, culture and technology, offset by moments of slapstick comedy.

Georges Prosper Remi, best known under the pen name Hergé, was employed as an illustrator at Le Vingtième Siècle (The Twentieth Century), a staunchly Roman Catholic, conservative Belgian newspaper based in Hergé’s native Brussels. Run by the Abbé Norbert Wallez, the paper described itself as a “Catholic Newspaper for Doctrine and Information” and disseminated a far-right, fascist viewpoint.[7] Wallez appointed Hergé editor of a new Thursday youth supplement, titled Le Petit Vingtième (“The Little Twentieth”).[8] Propagating Wallez’s sociopolitical views to its young readership, it contained explicitly profascist and antisemitic sentiment.[9] In addition to editing the supplement, Hergé illustrated L’extraordinaire aventure de Flup, Nénesse, Poussette et Cochonnet (The Extraordinary Adventure of Flup, Nénesse, Poussette and Cochonnet),[10] a comic strip authored by a member of the newspaper’s sport staff. Dissatisfied with this, Hergé wanted to write and draw his own cartoon strip.[11]

He already had experience creating comic strips. From July 1926, he had written a strip about a Boy Scout patrol leader titled Les Aventures de Totor C.P. des Hannetons (The Adventures of Totor, Scout Leader of the Cockchafers) for the Scouting newspaper Le Boy Scout Belge (The Belgian Boy Scout).[11] Totor was a strong influence on Tintin,[12] with Hergé describing the latter as being like Totor’s younger brother.[6] Jean-Marc and Randy Lofficier stated that graphically, Totor and Tintin were “virtually identical” except for the Scout uniform,[13] also noting many similarities between their respective adventures, particularly in the illustration style, the fast pace of the story, and the use of humour.[14] He was fascinated by new techniques in the medium such as the systematic use of speech bubbles—found in such American comics as George McManus’ Bringing up Father, George Herriman’s Krazy Kat, and Rudolph Dirks’s Katzenjammer Kids, copies of which had been sent to him from Mexico by the paper’s reporter Léon Degrelle.[15]

Although Hergé wanted to send Tintin to the United States, Wallez ordered him to set his adventure in the Soviet Union, acting as antisocialist propaganda for children. The result, Tintin in the Land of the Soviets, was serialised in Le Petit Vingtième from January 1929 to May 1930.[17] Popular in Francophone Belgium, Wallez organised a publicity stunt at the Paris Gare du Nord railway station, following which he organised the publication of the story in book form.[18] The story’s popularity led to an increase in sales, so Wallez granted Hergé two assistants.[19] At Wallez’s direction, in June he began serialisation of the second story, Tintin in the Congo, designed to encourage colonial sentiment towards the Belgian Congo. Authored in a paternalistic style that depicted the Congolese as childlike idiots, in later decades it was accused of racism, but at the time was uncontroversial and popular, and further publicity stunts were held to increase sales.[20]

For the third adventure, Tintin in America, serialised from September 1931 to October 1932, Hergé finally got to deal with a scenario of his own choice, and used the work to push an anti-capitalist, anti-consumerist agenda in keeping with the paper’s ultraconservative ideology.[21] The Adventures of Tintin had been syndicated to a Catholic magazine named Cœurs Vaillants (Brave Hearts) since 1930, and Hergé was soon receiving syndication requests from Swiss and Portuguese newspapers, too.[22]

Hergé wrote a string of Adventures of Tintin, sending his character to real locations such as the Belgian Congo, United States, Egypt, India, Tibet, China, and the United Kingdom. He also sent Tintin to fictional countries of his own devising, such as the Latin American republic of San Theodoros, the East European kingdom of Syldavia, or the fascist state of Borduria—whose leader’s name, Müsstler, was a portmanteau of the names Nazi German Fuhrer Adolf Hitler and Italian Fascist Prime Minister Benito Mussolini.[23]

In May 1940, Nazi Germany invaded Belgium as World War II spread further across Europe. Although Hergé briefly fled to France and considered a self-imposed exile, he ultimately decided to return to his occupied homeland.[24] For political reasons, the Nazi authorities closed down Le Vingtième Siècle, leaving Hergé unemployed.[25] In search of employment, he got a job as an illustrator at Belgium’s leading newspaper, Le Soir (The Evening), which was allowed to continue publication under German management.[26] On 17 October 1940, he was made editor of the children’s supplement, Le Soir Jeunesse, in which he set about producing new Tintin adventures.[27] In this new, more repressive political climate of German-occupied Belgium, Hergé could no longer politicize The Adventures of Tintin lest he be arrested by the Gestapo. As Harry Thompson noted, Tintin’s role as a reporter came to an end, to be replaced by his new role as an explorer.[28]

In September 1944, the Allies entered Brussels and Hergé’s German employers fled. Le Soir was shut down and The Adventures of Tintin was put on hold.[29] Then in 1946, Hergé accepted an invitation from Belgian comic publisher Raymond Leblanc and his new publishing company Le Lombard to continue The Adventures of Tintin in the new Le journal de Tintin (Tintin magazine).[30] Hergé quickly learned that he no longer had the independence he preferred; he was required to produce two coloured pages a week for Leblanc’s magazine, a tall order.[31] In 1950, Hergé began to poach the better members of the Tintin magazine staff to work in the large house on Avenue Louise that contained the fledgling Studios Hergé.[32] Bob De Moor (who imitated Hergé’s style and did half the work),[32] Guy Dessicy (colourist), and Marcel DeHaye (secretary) were the nucleus. To this, Hergé added Jacques Martin (imitated Hergé’s style), Roger Leloup (detailed, realistic drawings), Eugène Evany (later chief of the Studios),[30] Michel Demaret (letterer), and Baudouin Van Den Branden (secretary).[33] As Harry Thompson observed, the idea was to turn the process of creating The Adventures of Tintin into a “veritable production line, the artwork passing from person to person, everyone knowing their part, like an artistic orchestra with Hergé conducting”.[34] The studios produced eight new Tintin albums for Tintin magazine, and coloured and reformatted two old Tintin albums. Studios Hergé continued to release additional publications until Hergé’s death in 1983. In 1986, a 24th unfinished album was released, the studios were disbanded, and the assets were transferred to the Hergé Foundation.

Feature : INSIDE DOCTOR WHO’S 20

The working title for this story was The Six Doctors.[3] It would have been written by former script editor Robert Holmes and would have featured the Cybermen and their kidnapping of the five incarnations of the Doctor; in their attempt to extract Time Lord DNA to turn themselves into “Cyberlords”, the twist being that the First Doctor and Susan would actually be android impostors[3] (the former being the “Sixth Doctor” of the title) and the Second Doctor would have saved the day. However, Holmes dropped out at an early stage and another former script editor, Terrance Dicks, was brought in instead. Some elements of this plotline would be reused in Holmes’ own The Two Doctors (1985) and in Chris Chibnall’s The Timeless Children (2020).

The programme is officially a co-production with the Australian Broadcasting Corporation, although the production team were not aware of this during production and the agreement in effect amounted to little more than a pre-production purchase pact. Nathan-Turner’s first choice of director for the story was Waris Hussein, who had directed the first-ever Doctor Who serial, An Unearthly Child, in 1963. However, Hussein was in America at the time and was unable to accept the offer.[4] Nathan-Turner then asked another veteran director, Douglas Camfield, to direct but he also declined.[5] Camfield was also very ill with heart disease, and this may have affected his decision not to direct the production. He died of a heart attack early in 1984.[6]

The original script featured an appearance by the Autons, last seen in Terror of the Autons (1971). After being dropped into the Death Zone, Sarah would have been attacked by a group of them before being rescued by the Third Doctor. However, due to budgetary restrictions, the scene was dropped[7] and replaced in the finished version. Just before she meets the Third Doctor, Sarah falls a few feet down what fans have generally considered a rather unconvincing slope. In the novelisation, Sarah actually steps off a cliff. This was what was originally intended in the script, but for budgetary reasons the sequence was changed.

Location filming took place at Cwm Bychan, Llanbedr.[8] The Yeti costume used in the serial was last used in The Web of Fear in 1968. It had decayed badly in 15 years of storage, requiring dim lighting and selective camera angles during filming.[9]

In the various publicity photos of the five Doctors from this story, a waxwork model of Tom Baker from a 1980 Doctor Who Exhibition in Madame Tussauds was used. According to producer John Nathan-Turner, Baker had agreed to do the photocall for the 20th anniversary but, suspecting that he might not turn up, Nathan-Turner arranged for the waxwork to be on location.[10]

The end credits featured a specially-mixed version of the theme music, which began with Delia Derbyshire’s original 1960s arrangement and then segued into the Peter Howell arrangement being used by the series at the time (the former being played at a slightly higher speed to match the tempo and pitch of the latter). This arrangement was only used on this one occasion[11] and was the last time that the Derbyshire version was heard during the show’s original run. A unique arrangement of the opening credits music was also used, which ended in a brief coda phrase that was never used in any other serial.

The First Doctor was played by Richard Hurndall, replacing William Hartnell, who died in 1975. Hartnell does make an appearance, however, in a pre-titles clip taken from the end of The Dalek Invasion of Earth (1964).[11] After initially agreeing to take part, Tom Baker declined to return so soon after his departure from the series two years before, saying in 2014, “I didn’t want to play 20 per cent of the part. I didn’t fancy being a feed for other Doctors—in fact, it filled me with horror.”[12] His appearance was pieced together with footage from the unaired serial Shada.[13]

In early drafts of the script, some of the Doctor and companion combinations were different. Originally, the Fourth Doctor would have been paired with Sarah Jane Smith, the Third Doctor with Brigadier Lethbridge-Stewart and the Second Doctor with Jamie McCrimmon.[14] When Frazer Hines, Jamie’s actor, proved unavailable for more than a cameo appearance the script had to be altered, pairing the Second Doctor with Victoria Waterfield. This was revised again when Deborah Watling, Victoria’s actress, became unavailable and Baker decided not to appear, resulting in the pairings as they were screened. Instead of meeting phantoms of Jamie and Zoe (Wendy Padbury), the Second Doctor and the Brigadier were originally scripted to meet Zoe and Victoria. The Doctor would have realised the truth about them when Victoria called Lethbridge-Stewart “Brigadier”, when she only knew him as a Colonel (in The Web of Fear). Deborah Watling was unable to make the recording dates but Frazer Hines was able to free himself up for a day’s shooting, so Jamie was written in instead.

John Levene was invited back as Sergeant Benton but objected to the script requiring Benton to not recognise the Second Doctor. Levene felt this was unfaithful to his character, who he felt would not forget the Second Doctor, and he declined to participate. The scene was filmed with a character introduced as Colonel Crichton in his place.[15]

In April 2013, Carole Ann Ford revealed the producer had initially insisted that Susan not refer to the Doctor as her grandfather: “You will not believe why. They said, ‘We don’t really want people to perceive him as having had sex with someone, to father a child.’ I just screamed with hysterical laughter and said, ‘In that case, I’m not doing it.'” The script was changed to include mentions of the characters’ relationship.[16] The Five Doctors was first broadcast in the United States on the actual date of the programme’s 20th anniversary. The broadcast in the United Kingdom was delayed two days so it could coincide with the BBC’s Children in Need charity night, with an outro in character by Peter Davison. There were a few segments in the BBC broadcast that had not been shown in the US airing.

Feature : KENNER’s ANIMATED BATMAN TOYS – A NOSTALGIC RETROSPECTIVE

One of the greatest super hero lines ever produced was based on the Batman Animated Series.  Some would argue that this line was the best, with great style and play value.

The cartoon broke ground, with its dark backgrounds, edgy story lines, and retro style.  Both children and adults responded with pleasure, and the show became for many one of the best versions of Batman ever created on T.V., film or print.

The line followed the style of the show, and is the longest running super hero line ever produced.  The line first debuted in 1992, and we are still getting a few characters each year.  Rumor has it that the final end may come this year, but we’ve been fortunate to get 9 years of excellent action figures. The show went through several versions, with some style changes and character changes over time.  The action figures followed these changes, and altered the characters along the way.

Kenner, and then Hasbro once they bought them out, have produced the series, and like all Kenner/Hasbro lines, there have been plenty of ridiculous Batman variations.  But we’ve also been treated to some great ones, including versions that match each style change of the show or movies, and unique ones like Retro Batman which are excellent designs on their own.

Robin was also produced, though in far fewer numbers.  The first Robin was the weakest, using the old Robin body from the movie line with an animated style head.  The improved as time went on, and the small Robin from the Adventures of Batman and Robin was certainly the best.

Cloth capes were used early in the series, but these switched to plastic capes later on.  I still prefer the cloth, and the very first Batman they produced, Combat Belt Batman, is still the finest version in the entire line. Batman and Robin couldn’t do all the work themselves, and several of the good guy supporting cast was also produced.  Batgirl, Nightwing, Commissioner Gordon and fan favorite Alfred were all immortalized in plastic.  It is extremely rare for any super hero line to produce these types of second string heroes, and while it took awhile to get them, Hasbro has to be applauded for the effort.

Tons of villains were produced during the entire run of figures.  No other DC based line has ever had this number of bad guys, driven both by the large selection in Batman’s Rogue’s Gallery, and by the unusual willingness of Hasbro to produce them. First produced were the classics of course – Penguin, Joker, Riddler, Catwoman, Scarecrow, Mr. Freeze, etc.  Many of these figures were produced in lower numbers than later figures, and the Penguin and Riddler are still two of the hardest figures to find.

The Joker has always been the most popular Batman foe, and this line was no exception.  There were plenty of bizarre variations, but also some great ones.  The style of the Machine Gun Joker, the 40’s look of the Jet Pack Joker, and the simple style of several others gave the Joker fans more than they could have ever expected.

During the run of this line, the league of female action figure collectors was just starting to build.  They were thrilled to get several key female figures in this line, including Batgirl, Catwoman, Poison Ivy, and the surprise villain from Mask of the Phantasm.  This movie, based on the T.V. show, is still one of the best Batman movies to ever reach the big screen.

Some of the villains produced were seen in many episodes, like Ras Al Ghul, or the Joker.  Others, like Bane or the Mad Hatter, might only be in one or two episodes.  But their visually striking designs made it to plastic and stood toe to toe with the more common characters.

While some of the villains were done in multiple versions, some of the quite silly, others were actually done in versions that matched the changing style of the show.  Examples like Riddler, Two Face and Mr. Freeze, are great examples of the evolving animated style. This is a classic series of figures, and is one of my all time favorites.  There are only two DC lines that are must haves for the action figure collector – BTAS and Super Powers.  If you’re looking for a terrific line with great variation and excellent design to collect, I can’t recommend another more highly than this.

I thought I’d present you with a brief chronology of Batman as action figure. The very first Batman figure is tough to pinpoint.  By the 1970’s, licensing toys was in full swing.  The first Planet of the Apes movies proved it could be quite profitable, and tons of licensed toys started to hit the shelves.  Everything from lunch boxes to bed sheets bared the likeness of Cornelius and the others.

Mego was the major player of the decade in this field, and produced Batman figures in its 8″ and 12″ World’s Finest lines, along with the first 3 3/4″ versions in the Comic Action Heroes and Pocket Heroes lines.  Most people believe that Kenner, and their Star Wars line, were the first 3 3/4″ figures, but Mego had them beat with this super hero line by a couple years. During the 80’s, a new player got involved with the Batman license – Kenner.  The Super Powers version of Batman and his corresponding friends and foes are arguably the best ever produced.  Terrific sculpts and action features combined with excellent articulation made this a truly classic line.

The 90’s saw Kenner take over the helm of the Batman license completely.  And once Hasbro bought up Kenner half way into the decade, their clutches on the license seemed secure. While it’s quite true that 90% of the extreme number of Batman figures produced during the decade where simply color and theme variations, there were two lines that stood out from the rest.  The new Batman: The Animated Series was a hit on TV, and with it came one of the greatest purely Batman based lines ever produced.  The sculpting was terrific, and the number of villains produced far surpassed any previous line.  Unfortunately, the articulation was not as good as the previous Super Powers line, but the BTAS line of figures is a true highlight for Batman in the 90’s.

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