1. Eric Parker cover art
2. The Victor Drago comic strip
3. Sexton Blake strips from Valiant
|In the course of collecting Jack
Trevor Story's contributions to the Sexton Blake Library, I've
come across a few other fun tidbits, nothing to do with Mr Story,
which I'm putting up as an
adjunct to the JTS site.
Most people I talk to outside of the world of book collecting have completely forgotten Blake. While the name of Sherlock Holmes lingers on in popular memory, Blake has pretty much disappeared, despite his astonishing longevity. New Blake stories were written and published almost regularly, after all, from 1893 right through to 1968. Even ten years after that the new novel Sexton Blake and the Demon God appeared, tied in with a new TV series.
On the internet, Jess Nevins has done a fabulous job of documenting Blake the Victorian pulp hero, but there is little else to mark his passing. There may be some more to come; at least one of my correspondents is planning a site devoted to the Sexton Blake Library through the years.
Meanwhile I was going to make do with reprinting Michael Moorcock's 1961 history from the SBL itself, but the new Savoy edition of Monsieur Zenith The Albino led to me seeking out a few of Anthony Skene's Blake stories. I was so taken with the Eric Parker cover art of a Union Jack I found that I felt I had to put it on view here, along with a few other covers probably by Parker.
The Strange Case of Victor Drago
Likewise, I was unable to resist Steve Holland's The Case Of The Perplexing Pen-Names, an index to the 3rd and 5th series of the SBL (er... and the 4th series, sort of... it's complicated. This booklet might still be obtainable from Steve's collaborator Richard Williams at : email@example.com )
A brief mention therein of Sexton Blake comic strips led me to dig out my old copies of the 1979 comic Tornado. I didn't realise at the time, but Tornado's detective strip Victor Drago, set in 1929, was - according to Steve's booklet - written as Sexton Blake, and only changed at a very late stage. We'll probably never know why. Perhaps the editor decided that Blake was too "old-hat" for a comic which was closely linked to its science fiction stablemate 2000AD.
Whatever the case, the lead character Victor Drago is very much a Blake lookalike, and his assistant Spencer and bloodhound Brutus are also dead ringers for Tinker and Pedro. Three other factors link the strip incontrovertibly with Blake. Firstly, the main characters' names in the first few episodes have clearly been lettered in over their original Blake versions. The change to Drago must been after production of the Blake strip was complete. Drago's Rolls Royce is even renamed the Silver Lady, only to be referred to as the Grey Panther a few panels later!
Secondly, at least three other characters in the strip have have suspiciously familiar names. The bodyguard and the butler and are called Adley and Lofts. W.O.G. Lofts and Derek Adley were the writers of The Men Behind Boys Fiction in 1969. (They also wrote the introduction to The Case Of The Perplexing Pen-Names.) One of the detective writers in the story is called Jack Hamilton Teed. The first ever story in the Sexton Blake Library was written by G.H. Teed, who also went on to write many more.
Writer Bill Henry was obviously indulging in a bit of Blake-related fun here, which makes it all the sadder that his work would never be published as the Blake story it so clearly is. Sad too because this is probably one of the best Blake comic strips ever to be produced. I have to admit I haven't seen many of the others, but what I have seen really doesn't compare well with this strip. Kudos particularly to artist Mike Dorey, using his own style to bring an Eric Parker-esque Blake to what should have been a new lease of life.
Not a very long one, though. Drago appeared in every weekly issue of Tornado, from no. 1 ( 24th March 1979) to the final no. 22, either as a comic strip or an illustrated text story. After Tornado was subsumed into 2000AD, the decidedly non-SF Drago was not one of the strips which made the transition to the merged title. I'd like to think that this was really Blake's 5-month final bow, 86 years after he first walked the streets of London, and a fine quality swansong it was too.
You can see more Victor Drago here.
The third thing which clearly reveals the Blake / Drago connection is to be found in the two hardback Tornado Annuals, dated 1980 and 1981. In both, old Sexton Blake strips from the late 1960s, originally found in the weekly comic Valiant are reprinted with the names changed to Drago, Spencer and Brutus. The dead giveaway is in the 1981 Annual, where the villain is left under his original name of Waldo The Wonder Man, one of Blake's best-known bad guys.
Copies of Tornado might be available from the good people at The Book Palace - have a look at their web site here. I don't recommend either of the two Tornado Annuals, or the very poor Summer Special (which contains new Drago material, but not by the same excellent artist as the weekly comic).
The Valiant Sexton Blake strips
Some of the Valiant Blake strips were collected in the Valiant Book Of TV's Sexton Blake. You can see more about this by clicking on its blue name in the previous sentence.