Review by Woodrow Phoenix
Frank Bellamy is unquestionably one of the titans of mid-century UK comics, best known for his run on the Garth newspaper strip from 1971-76 and the epic Heros The Spartan in the Eagle from 1962-65. However, with his work mostly inaccessible, scattered across expensive vintage comics or out of print book collections, getting to see for yourself what his legendary reputation is based on is not easy. Volume 1 of Thunderbirds The Comic Collection is a big 228-page treat for fans of the massively popular 1960s ’Supermarionation’ TV series and an even bigger treat for people interested in Frank Bellamy, reprinting in date order over 160 pages of his work for the weekly comics magazine TV Century 21, produced between 1967 and 1969. Bellamy drew the Thunderbirds strip every week for four years with one six-week break, so to complete the reprinting of his run there is Thunderbirds The Comic Collection Volume 2, 224-pages featuring twelve more stories.
There are a few things to note about this book; firstly, the nearly two hundred pages here are all Bellamy art with none of the pin-ups and features by other artists included in Volume 1. Secondly, the strips reprinted here are actually the earliest stories in Bellamy’s run on TV Century 21, produced between 1966 and 1967. Because these first dozen stories composed of double-page spreads are his most spectacular Thunderbirds work they have been reprinted a great many times. The editors decided the first volume should feature the second half of Bellamy’s time on TV Century 21, which is more conventionally laid out in single pages and so not reprinted as often. There’s almost no continuity from one story to the next, so changing the reprint order has no effect on this series. Anyone reading the two volumes in order and thinking the first book was okay but perhaps a little overhyped has a wonderful surprise waiting for them in this volume where you really see what Bellamy can do, given space to stretch out and play with layout and composition.
This book has been created from scans of the original vintage TV Century 21 issues, so the art is not as crisp as it would have looked in the 1960s, with some soft areas and occasional issues with images or lettering disappearing into the binding, but overall reproduction is not bad, colours are vivid and black line detail is clean. Pages 120 to 131 are drawn by Dan Dare artist Don Harley, filling in for the six weeks when Bellamy was absent. There is one missing spread: pages 140 and 141 – part 5 of ‘The Big Freeze’ from January 1967 – are the same pages 136 and 137 from December 1966, accidentally repeated. How does Scott Tracey survive certain death from Thunderbird One’s iced-up wings on page 139? We’ll never know, but everything’s FAB on page 142. This book is easily found and amazingly cheap considering its size and contents. If you only buy one of these two volumes then this is the one to get. There are many smaller-sized collections with similar titles out there, so check to make sure you have the right edition before buying.