Friday, 2 December 2011
It is curious to think, in hindsight, that the first mention of UFO in a comic was as far back as the Summer of 1969 when filming was just getting under way. The prize for a competition run in issues 17 & 18 of Joe 90 Top Secret included a visit to the MGM Studios at Borehamwood and some lucky youngster would have been given a glimpse of what would not be seen on television for well over a year.
By now, Century 21 no longer had an independent publishing concern but was still in the thick of film-making with their first ever live action series. Interest in Science Fiction was still high and the regeneration of Doctor Who into Jon Pertwee in a more realistic earthbound setting had given the series a new lease of life. Its TV Comic incarnation had remained in a juvenile rut despite some better scripts by Alan Fennell and it subsequently disappeared at the end of 1970 with issue 999. Likewise UFO was a far more adult series and, with that much in common the seeds of a new comic were sown at the beginning of 1971.
The publishers were the same, Polystyle, and they had acquired the rights to UFO some months earlier and published an annual in the Autumn of 1970. Some aspects of the publication betray the long period involved in appearing in print, as reference is made to Skydiver Captain Peter (in one caption 'Jon') Karlin, who would become Peter Carlin, Space Tracker Paula Harris, who disappeared early on in production to be renamed Gay Ellis. Paul Foster is also referred to as being a Major, actually, his rank in the Air Force before being promoted to Colonel upon joining SHADO. It can be inferred that the annual became the 'Bible' for the writers involved with the strip, as some of these errors were occasionally carried over.
The Editor of Countdown was Dennis Hooper, previously the Art Editor for TV21. By accounts, Polystyle had also negotiated the rights to use the other Gerry Anderson series for a new comic and Hooper was approached to produce a dummy. Unfortunately, unlike TV21, the Anderson content could only represent a proportion of each issue so other strips and features would have to be found. Hooper persuaded the then Editor of TV Comic, Dick Millington, that Doctor Who would be better served in the new comic too. Whilst the new colour Doctor Who strip, drawn by Harry Lindfield, would take some liberties with the format to stand up in its own right (cost dictated the rights to use UNIT would not be used) It was fair reflection of the more serious tone of the television series. The recent Apollo missions to the moon garnered a high interest in the space race and a lot of related features appeared in early issues. As TV21 had always implied a superficial reality regarding the Anderson 'universe' features on the actual making of the series were non-existent, an exception being the Thunderbirds are go special released to publicise the 1966 film. So the occasion feature appeared here too, notably in issue 5 with behind the scenes shots of the Thunderbirds film & series.
The first issue was dated 20th February 1971 and bears the hallmarks of having been revamped from the pilot dummy with typeset captions and speech for all bar two of the strips and differences to the layout. UFO was well presented with a double page introductory feature called, 'The Secrets of SHADO' and a 5 page strip. Along with Doctor Who, Thunderbirds and Captain Scarlet also joined the line-up and another feature explained that other Gerry Anderson stories such as Stingray, Lady Penelope and Fireball XL5 would appear in future editions. Filling out the strips would be Countdown, a wholly new space opera that used the designs from the feature film, 2001: A Space Odyssey ( a TV21 merchandising tie-in that seemed to hark back to Project Sword) drawn in full colour by John M. Burns and which would run for well over a year.