Review by Woodrow Phoenix
Gerry Anderson’s all-action ‘Supermarionation’ TV series Stingray, Thunderbirds and Captain Scarlet were the biggest thing in children’s television in the 1960s. Long before the advent of home video and streaming channels, the only way to see these dynamic heroes outside of scheduled broadcasts was via comics. TV Century 21 was a magazine styled like a newspaper, the front page emblazoned with news from the world of the future: “TB2 PILOT DRAMA! Would-Be Killer Steals Fire Fighting Machine” reads one typical headline, over photos of Thunderbirds One and Two. It featured comic strips of all the Anderson creations: Supercar, Fireball XL5, Stingray, Thunderbirds, Captain Scarlet, Zero X, Joe 90 plus select other tv shows that fit the SF/Fantasy theme such as the Daleks (without Dr. Who), My Favorite Martian, Get Smart and …The Munsters.
The large format weekly was designed around colourful double-page spreads which presented the comics in the most dramatic form possible; angular layouts filled with jeopardy, eye-popping technology, and huge, lovingly detailed explosions. Many of the most accomplished artists in the UK at the time such as Frank Hampson and Mike Noble worked on these strips, but the most highly regarded of them all was Frank Bellamy, now best known for the Garth newspaper strip. For TV Century 21, Bellamy took on Gerry Anderson’s biggest and most dramatic series: Thunderbirds. The dynamism, style and invention he packed into his weekly instalments was on a different level to the rest of the features, and each double-page spread was an event. Bellamy’s Thunderbirds strips have been reprinted many times in various sizes and editions, but no complete, systematic collections of them existed until Thunderbirds: The Comic Collection in 2013. This 288-page book reprints fifteen Thunderbirds serial adventures drawn by Frank Bellamy from September 1967 to July 1969. It also contains one episode drawn by John Cooper from 1970, and four 1965/66 Lady Penelope stories. Note that two of the four strips are wrongly labelled. ‘The Isle of Arran Riddle’ is credited to Frank Bellamy and ‘The Enemy Spy’ to Eric Eden. Both strips are drawn by Frank Hampson. Scattered throughout the book are several cutaway diagrams of the Thunderbirds craft and their Tracy Island base, illustrated by Graham Bleathman.
Almost all the art comes from scans of the original vintage TV Century 21 issues, so reproduction is variable. Some spreads are a little soft or blurred, but overall it’s a decent-looking collection with vivid colour and clean outlines. The target audience for this book is unlikely to know or care much about who the artists are, but for anyone interested in the work of this maestro of the 1960s and 1970s, this collection is a goldmine of Frank Bellamy at his best. The stories themselves are competent and well-plotted, if generic – but as faithful representations of a typical Thunderbirds TV episode they provide lots of opportunities for Bellamy to display his skill at depicting action and designing futuristic machines in layouts of amazing graphic flair. At cover price this big hardcover book is already a very good deal; used copies can be found even more cheaply. There are now multiple smaller collections of these same strips with similar titles, so check you are looking at the right one before buying. The rest of Bellamy’s work on this series – and probably the collection you should buy first – is reprinted in Thunderbirds: The Comic Collection Volume 2.