Writer: Steve MacManus
Artists: Dan Cornwell, Colin Maxwell, Filippo Roncone, Pete Western, Andrew Richmond
The 77 Publications, June 2021
“Press here to Enter!” This call to action sits in an arrow pointing to a button labelled “Ignition”. It sits on the corner of the cover page, the starting point for thumb and forefinger in the process of reading a print comic.
Such are the goofy period sight gags deployed in BLAZER!, a compilation of comic book stories published by The 77 Publications this year. Your reviewer was taken back to the UK ‘zine publishing scene of the 1970s. Cheap paper, a very limited palate of colours, completely inane jokes, and a enormous slap of personality pervades this title. It entirely mimics the sort of pop ‘zine fare which UK publishers had sitting in newsagents’ stores, a lowest common denominator competition with far more sophisticated American comic books. No one took them seriously, they were put together in someone’s mum’s lounge room with sticky tape and a stapler, and they were a sort of literary froth even in the country which is the birthplace of tabloid journalism. The expectation was that the issues would end up as wrapping for fish and chips, or left piled up next to a cistern as emergency toilet paper. Brit ‘zines were anti-collectible.
This is the promotion copy as it appeared on Kickstarter:
In 1974 the launch issue of BLAZER! inexplicably vanished. Now read on…
One evening, whilst attending the 2019 Singapore Comic Con, a member of The77 Publications team got lost on the way back to her hotel. Feeling a little worse for wear, she strayed into the Singapore docks area, where she passed the night inside what appeared to be a disused warehouse. Waking the next day, in the chilly interior, she found she had covered herself in what she took to be discarded newspapers. As her eyes became accustomed to the morning light, she realised her bedding was in fact copies of a newsprint comic. On further inspection, the warehouse proved to be packed with shrink-wrapped bundles of the title, each one in pristine condition.
It was only then that the amazing truth slowly began to dawn on the hung-over fan.
She had stumbled upon the Holy Grail of the British comics collecting community, namely the first issue of Blazer!, whose 90,000 copy print run had inexplicably vanished shortly after being loaded into a distributor’s lorry some forty-five years earlier.
This is the explanation as to how a publication from 7 April 1974 (complete with fake five pound sticky label) has only just come to light – a magnificent cock-up, as the English say, by a lorry driver whereby the shipment improbably ended up in Singapore.
Blazer! springs from the brow of British comics editor, Steve MacManus, who in turn inhabited the fictional body of 2000AD’s Tharg the Mighty from 1978 to 1987. (Thaarg is indeed mighty – he has his own Wikipedia page, and has appeared in 2000AD comics more times than any other character save for Judge Dredd.)
In-between the biographies of the improbable zine staff (your reviewer is Australian and had a good chuckle at his faux countryman on the editorial team) and shots of fake Italian starlet Dom Tom, Mr Macmanus has written a number of short comics. These are , again, as described on Kickstarter:
GODWIN’S LAW: Fire-and-brimstone fan the flames of an unlikely resistance in the foetid jungles of Burma during WW2. Artwork by Dan Cornwell (Judge Dredd/Rok of the Reds). This tale of an eyepatched priest turned mercenary seems to have been taken directly from the pages of some sort of post WW2 Commando comic. It is extreme to the point of absurdity – an indicia of English comedy.
DERRINGER AND S’ON: Ace pilot Jack Derringer served his country in ‘Nam – now he serves himself, guarding America’s super rich. Artwork by Colin Maxwell (Commando Comics). S’On ends up being a boy that Derringer saved in Vietnam. It ends up not being as silly as the other stories.
BOOT ROOM BOY: Murderous goings on at Barchester United jeopardise wee Kenny Fortrose’s fervent dreams of soccer stardom. Artwork by Filippo Roncone (Gut Crawlers – The77). Japanese manga have stories about young aspiring sumo and baseball stars. An English ‘zine would not be complete without a story of a boy wanting to be a hometown soccer hero.
DOMENICA’S RING: Italian starlet Domenica Totti discovers the ring she was given as a child has developed lethal powers. Artwork by Pete Western (Who Framed Roger Rabbit?). This one is a very strange horror story with lurid 70s art.
SHERIFFS OF NOTTINGHAM: Tetchy Texan cop Tod Steiger finds himself patrolling Nottingham’s mean streets — deprived of his beloved Smith & Wesson! Artwork by Andrew Richmond (Trompe la Mort – The77). This is a bodyswap story: rough American justice brought to the streets of London.
With so much silliness, is this collection a parody? Readers of 1970s ‘zines know that the ‘zine genre parodied itself.