Fiction Reviews

UFO: Comic Anthology – vol. 1

(2021) Andrew Clements & Chris Dale (eds.), Anderson Entertainment, £29.99 / US$39.99, hrdbk, 288pp, ISBN 978-1-914-52220-8


UFO was arguably the best of the Gerry Anderson television series. It was a great shame ITC – having commissioned pre-production work on a second series based on US ratings – cancelled the proposed second series when ratings dropped off. It was a narrow call and we will never know whether a moonbase-centred second season of UFO would be as good as the first.

UFO the series had just 26 episodes that were first broadcast in Britain erratically (there were gaps of a few months) between September 1970 and March 1973. Fortunately it has been repeated a number of times (including this year (2021)) in the UK as well as the US.

The show's premise was that aliens were visiting Earth in prelude to an invasion and were also harvesting organs from humans (interesting bit of convergent evolution going on there). Consequently, a secret defence organisation is established to protect the planet: 'secret' so as not to cause panic.

The organisation has an administrative cum mission control under the cover of a film studios. It has a small army of 'mobiles' (sort of tanks), a small fleet of submarines (skydivers) that are each capable of launching a fighter jet. On the Moon there is a base from which fighter rockets can be launched…

The earlier Gerry Anderson series, of Fireball XL5, Stingray, Thunderbirds and Captain Scarlet, were serialised in the weekly comic TV Century 21 (TV21). However its run ended in 1971 with it being subsumed into Valiant, so UFO never got a comic strip adaptation there.

February 1971 saw the launch of another weekly comic Countdown by another company who had acquired the rights to produce strips on Gerry Anderson series. So, with UFO's only season spanning 1971-3, and with repeats from 1972, Countdown was well placed to carry UFO strips.

Because at the time UFO was the latest, and current, Gerry Anderson series, it often got lead billing in Countdown and so many of the strips were in colour. And now these have been brought together in UFO: Comic Anthology – vol. 1.

The publication of the UFO: Comic Anthology – vol. 1 is most welcome and it fills a gap: I don't believe UFO strips have been reprinted (in English at any rate) before. We have already had five volumes of Century 21: Classic Comic Strips (2009 - 2011) and the The Gerry Anderson Comic Collection (2014) and other, lesser, volumes of Anderson-based comic strip reprints, but none – to my knowledge – of UFO. In short, this is a must have for fans of the series.

There are some considerable production plus points to this volume starting with it being in a large format – close to the original Countdown size – and it being a hardback with the cover illustration laminated into the board (and not as a loose paper fly leaf). The artwork reproduction is of a reasonable quality, though the centre guttering does need to be wider – better to have a millimetre or two of white paper showing (a good fault) rather than a letter and some artwork of text buried into the spine (a bad fault). (This is something Anderson Entertainment really need to note for volume 2.)

Where this anthology really scores is that it does not just reprint the strips but also other UFO related material that appeared in Countdown, UFO strips from annuals, and articles. These last include an introductory one on the Countdown comic itself, strip artist profiles and a fascinating interview (apparently his only one ever given) with Countdown's editor (and former TV21 art editor) Denis Hooper. This anthology's editors, Andrew Clements and Chris Dale, are to be commended.

Anderson aficionados will simply love this. Meanwhile, those with a serious interest in science fiction in comics will find that this is a surprisingly useful resource providing a rare window into a key dimension of British SF comics from half a century ago. I can't wait for the accompanying volume 2.

Jonathan Cowie


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