Monday, November 11, 2019

The Annual

With TV and the High Street telling me that Christmas is in full swing, I've found my thoughts turning to that old British tradition: the annual.  Always at Christmas, as a kid, you'd get one or two annuals as presents.  If there was a weekly comic you read regularly, then you would inevitably receive its respective hard cover annual.  But popular TV series would also boast their own annuals - I used get given the Star Trek and Dr Who annuals, for instance.  My absolute favourites, though, were the Thunderbirds annuals, which were truly magnificent: not only were they packed with comic strips and text stories, but they had loads of fabulous features, presenting cutaways of various Thunderbird vehicles, bits of 'future history' filling in the background to the Gerry Anderson universe and various quizzes and puzzles.  The last of these that I owned was a combined Thunderbirds and Captain Scarlet annual, (both series were long out of production bt then, but were stull being regularly screened on ITV), which was fantastic -even uncovering the secrets of Spectrum's Cloudbase!  While these albums bore a close resemblance to their source material, the same couldn't be said for the Star Trek annuals.  It was clear that the uncredited artist had never actually seen the original TV series - sure, the Enterprise looked OK, but its interiors only loosely resembled those of the TV show.  Moreover, the uniform colours were mostly wrong and, with exception of Spock, the characters bore only a passing resemblance to those on TV.  (Scotty, for instance, was blonde).

I later discovered that these annuals were actually reprints of the US Gold Key Star Trek comics series, which were otherwise unavailable in the UK.  The artwork, apparently, had been outsourced to Spain, with the only reference material provided to the artists being a series of publicity stills from the second pilot episode, (which had many differences from the series proper in terms of the uniforms and Enterprise interior, not to mention characters), and the very early series episodes.  Consequently, the artists had to fill in much of the detail themselves.  The reason the uniform shirts were coloured green (except for Spock, who was correctly shown with a blue shirt) was that the actual shirts, in stills, were green - it was the studio lighting which made them appear gold, (something you wouldn't know if you hadn't seen the TV show).  The stories were also pretty wild and woolly, being far more action orientated than the TV series.  Still, it was probably truer to the series than the other Star Trek strip, which ran in the TV21 comic, (this comic also published an often magnificent annual).  While the visuals matched the series better, the scripts were clearly written by someone who had never seen the series.

But most annuals featured unfamiliar artwork and writing.  The comics-based ones tended to be written and drawn by non-regular writers and artists.  Which was only logical, when you think about it: the regulars were all busy producing the weekly comic.  So, while your favourite characters were all there in the annual, they often looked and sounded slightly unfamiliar.  On the other hand, the stories were usually longer than those in the weekly comic and were entirely self-contained - no having to wait a week for cliffhangers to be resolved.  Some of the characters would also appear in text stories rater than strips, which was always a novelty.  Another interesting aspect of annuals was the occasional reappearance of characters who had been dropped from the weekly comic, often several years previously.  Sometimes you would get preponderance of one-off stories featuring non-regular characters - I recall this happening with one of the 2000 AD annuals.  Of course, it wasn't just comics and TV series that had annuals - Model Railway Constructor magazine issued an annual from around 1977 (dated 1978) onwards, (I have several of them).  These were interesting, as they were compiled from articles which hadn't been used in the monthly magazine.  Although these articles were, supposedly, all from the previous year, it was obvious that many were of considerably older vintage.

Annuals are still around - only today, I saw the 2020 Peppa Pig annual on sale in Sainsburys - but I'm afraid I'm too old to be given them as presents.  Besides, most of the old weekly British comics are long since defunct, (although, in the old days, that didn't stop them issuing annuals for years after their demise, sometimes reprinting old strips, sometimes with new stories).  Which is a pity, as I used to look forward to receiving them.  Some of them, like the Thunderbirds annuals, were absolutely fantastic and kept me entertained over a period of years when I was a kid.  I can see that I'm going to have to go onto eBay and try to buy myself a Christmas present or two...

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