Supercar: TV Comic, 1961
Supermarionation history tends to begin with Supercar (the name appears first on the latter episodes of the TV series), and likewise the strip version marked more starting points.
But firstly, TV Comic itself was starting to undergo changes. A scant year earlier, the content of the comic barely warranted the addition of 'TV' in the title. Only long running Muffin the Mule and Larry the Lamb had any claim, and were more of a fixture than a tie-in. Sergeant Gunn had the subtitle Royal Canadian Mounted Police in an attempt to cash in on the Canadian/BBC film series of the same name without any costly rights issues. The inclusion of Four Feather Falls seemed to mark a turning point for Independent Television children's programmes to become strip tie-ins, and was closely followed by others, such as Foo Foo, while the newly launched sister comic TV Land featured Twizzle and Chippy. Previously, few ITV series had appeared in comics, notably Biggles and No Hiding Place as strips, and the popular Danger Man as text stories, in TV Express. By the time Supercar made its debut, American western The Lone Ranger (drawn by Mike Noble) had been transferred from TV Express, bringing the adventure strips closer to a contemporary vein as opposed to the historical dramatisations like G.A. Henty's Winning His Spurs, or adaptations of Biblical stories. Later in the year, The Lone Ranger would be replaced by The Range Rider (again drawn by Mike Noble), and Bootsie & Snudge would become a real tie-in after its genesis as Alfie & Bill in TV Express, leading the way for further sitcom based strips such as The Dickie Henderson Show.
But Supercar remained the only true contemporary adventure strip in the comic (Sergeant Gunn probably was, but the setting made it more akin to a western), and would remain so until Orlando and The Avengers in 1966. It would also lead the way for more telefantasy adventures, such as Doctor Who and Space Patrol, whereas previously only the BBC radio series Journey Into Space which had given rise to a strip (Jet Morgan) in TV Express. Like the historical and western strips, Supercar featured (for the first time with an Anderson based strip) multi-part stories instead of single self-contained strips. In fact, for its first run, the stories segued into each other with one beginning as another ends, and could almost be seen as one long 25-part serial.
The writing is very much in the vein of the series, although with a drier, adventure type edge which was more akin to the first episode (aka 'Rescue') before the characters started to be fleshed out. These initial stories make it the hardest of the Supercar incarnations, even in comparison to the stories in the Supercar annuals. It would not be until the final story, involving Beaker's explorer father Professor Richard Beaker, that an inkling of the slightly more human characterisation that would follow was hinted at.
The other change was the style of the strip. No longer were the characters drawn as their larger-than-life television caricatures, but as real people - something that would not be tried again until TV Century 21. Promoted by a full page in issue 482 (see above), the readers got a glimpse of how their favourite puppet stars would appear for the next six months. The artist chosen was Harold Tamblyn-Watts (signing his work as 'H Watts' or 'T-Watts'), whose earlier work could be seen in the Girl and Swift annuals of the 1950s. Tamblyn-Watts' forté were nature features, also illustrating the Grahame Dangerfield pages in TV Comic and the annuals, and more recently, he had worked on historical strips such as Robin the Brave and Robin Hood. His continuing interest in nature continued to be seen in the Supercar strip itself, where he sometimes pays more attention to any animals that appear, rather than the main characters! Unfortunately little else is known about him, apart from this interest in nature illustration, which is a pity as his contribution to the strip cannot really be over emphasised.
Supercar strip guide - part one
It flies through the air at fantastic speeds! Nothing can beat it over road or country! On or under the sea it is supreme!
Writer: Alan Fennell. Artist: Harold Tamblyn-Watts.
Two pages, duotone (black/red) to issue 499. B/w, issues 500 to 507.
Part 1, issue 483, dated 18 March 1961
In an isolated building in the Nevada desert, U.S.A., a trio of men had worked five long years to complete a revolutionary new machine...
Professor Popkiss and Dr. Beaker were the brains behind the project. They called their invention... SUPERCAR
The third member of the team was adynamic young man with a brilliant record of achievement in the air. He was test pilot Mike Mercury...
Supercar's first job was to rescue some stranded fliers lost in the sea. Two of these fliers, Jimmy Gibson and his pet monkey Mitch, quickly became firm friends of the creators of Supercar...
Mike is taking Supercar on a routine test flight, with Jimmy and Mitch as passengers. As the radio is always in direct contact with the control room, Mike is concerned when Popkiss cries out, followed by silence. In the control room, both Popkiss and Beaker are unconscious from a gas bomb...
Part 2, issue 484, dated 25 March 1961
What has gone wrong in the control room?
The loss of contact causes Mike to return to the lab, where they use the Clearview to see Masterspy is getting away with the plans of Supercar. A chase ensues but a police patrol orders a roadblock, which Masterspy evades by making a sharp turn. At top speed, Supercar heads directly for it...
Part 3, issue 485, dated 01 April 1961
Can SUPERCAR avoid the crash?
Mike pulls Supercar up and over the roadblock, and returns to the control room, where Professor Popkiss and Dr. Beaker are recovering. Beaker seems pleased at the theft, and reveals he dipped the plans in a solution that transmits radio signals. Supercar will be able to trace Masterspy, which Mike is able to do easily, but the arch criminal is waiting for him...
Part 4, issue 486, dated 08 April 1961
Masterspy means business!
Mike realises Masterspy must have seen his approach in Supercar, and lands on the roof of the warehouse. Through the skylight Mike sees the criminal waiting with a rifle but his shadow gives him away. Masterspy fires a shot up at him, Mike leaping down on top of him. The criminal tries to escape but Mike uses a mooring rope to trip him into the harbour and retrieve the plans. Soon Mike is back in Supercar but Popkiss asks him to get some money from the bank for provisions. At the bank, however, a hold-up is in progress...
Sjors - issues 52/1961 to 03/1962 (coloured)
Part 1 features a full page introduction to the characters and setting.
The last frames of part 4 lead into the next story.
A straight-forward story in relation to later ones, mainly getting the readers used to the format, introducing Masterspy, and giving an indication of Supercar's capabilities.
It is a little difficult to believe Mike would just leave Masterspy in the harbour waters, and not alert the authorities to apprehend him.
Part 1, issue 487, dated 15 April 1961
The bank-bandits clash with SUPERCAR!
As the crooks escape from the bank, Mike pursues in Supercar and follows them to a hotel. But even with the police, the crooks evade capture and escape in a boat. Again Mike spots them from the air, and gives chase - until they open fire with an anti-tank gun...
Part 2, issue 488, dated 22 April 1961
What can Mike do?
Beaker advises Mike to dive, and the crooks believe they have sunk the craft. But Supercar is safe and rams the boat from underneath, leaving the crooks to be picked up by a police launch. The next day in Sydney, Masterspy and Zarin arrive and meet up with another spy called Joe Gallaher, in order to steal plans of the new British Atomic Powered Fighter from Karmara Research Station...
Sjors - issues 04/1962 to 05/1962 (coloured)
A short story, almost a coda to the first parts, again expanding the format and showing more of Supercar's capabilities.
As with the first story, the last frames of the final part set up the story to follow.
Part 1, issue 489, dated 29 April 1961
Gallaher has arranged for Masterspy and Zarin to be shown around the station as visiting 'experts from Urania'. but one of the scientists thinks he recognises Masterspy and warns Dr Beaker. Mike returns to the lab, and takes beaker in Supercar to Australia. But Gallagher has already got Masterspy access to the fighter...
Part 2, issue 490, dated 06 May 1961
SUPERCAR srrives in Australia!
The B-L11 Fighter is being readied for its final test flight, and Masterspy, Zarin and Gallagher overpower the pilot. Supercar arrives at the station just as the fighter is takes off. Masterspy recognises it, and opens fire with rocket-powered cannons...
Part 3, issue 491, dated 13 May 1961
Supercar is hit and, after a long series of manoeuvres in which Mike attempts to regain control, ditches in the Australian outback....
Part 4, issue 492, dated 20 May 1961
Mike and Dr. Beaker are in trouble now!
Mike and Beaker are okay but the damage to Supercar is quite extensive. Contacting Popkiss by radio, the professor tells them to stay where they are. In the B-L11, Masterspy is triumphant they are finally rid of Supercar but the fighter itself is in trouble, and ditches in the desert too. Seeing smoke in the distance, a furious Masterspy takes Zarin and Gallaher to investigate. Meanwhile, Mike and Beaker have a feeling they are being watched, and find themselves surrounded by aboriginals...
Part 5, issue 493, dated 27 May 1961
The aboriginies take Mike and Beaker to their 'sacred ground'. Masterspy and his gang find Supercar, and are about to smash it when Popkiss, Jimmy and Mitch arrive in a helicopter. Mike and Beaker manage to overpower their aboriginie guards and escape along a cliff, but the edge gives way and they tumble towards a boiling mud lake...
Part 6, issue 494, dated 03 June 1961
Mike tells Beaker to dig his feet in, and the two stop inches from the lake edge. They start back to Supercar as Popkiss refuels it, but Masterspy steals the helicopter and makes off. Mike is convinced Supercar will fly, and sets off in pursuit with Popkiss...
Part 7, issue 495, dated 10 June 1961
Mike has to fly with increased power on one engine to compensate for the damaged wing. Masterspy tries to evade capture but only ends up crashing the helicopter. Supercar returns to the crashed fighter but the engines are burnt out. Beaker has a plan to get it back to the station...
Part 8, issue 496, dated 17 June 1961
Beaker believes Supercar can carry the B-L11 fighter back to Karmara. After a brief test, they all pile into Supercar and lift the fighter - landing just in time as the ropes were slipping. The thankful scientists give the team full use of their faculties to repair Supercar, and work begins. After five days, work is nearing completion, when Beaker reads in a newspaper his father's expedition has been lost in the Amazon jungle...
Sjors - issues 06/1962 to 13/1962 (coloured)
At last a proper full length story, and one that does not disappoint. A fully blown adventure strip, with an international setting and some hard-edged action.
What has happened to Dr. Beaker's father? (Story Four)
Part 1, issue 497, dated 24 June 1961
In the heart of the Amazon jungle, an expedition has met with serious and mysterious trouble. Only the explorers' shattered and broken equipment remains to tell the outside world of the expeditions's fate!
Mike tells Beaker that once Supercar's wing is repaired, they will set off in search. Starting from the Brazilian town of Obidos, 500 miles from the Amazon estuary, It has been five weeks since Professor Richard Beaker set off, so Mike and the others spend the night in a hotel. Sharing a room with Jimmy and Mitch, Mike is startled when on the verandah, a knife thuds into the wall. On the handle is a message: Professor Beaker is beyond help! Abandon your search... or you will all die!
Part 2, issue 498, dated 01 July 1961
Mike climbs up to the balcony the knife was thrown from but the man has gone. Mike believes Richard Beaker has been kidnapped, and when Supercar leaves Obidos the next day, two men are watching. A gun boat on the Amazon opens fire dangerously close to Supercar, and Mike cuts to glide to close in on them...
Part 3, issue 499, dated 08 July 1961
Mike evades the gunfire and dives at the boat, causing the crew to jump off in fear. Stopping at a native encampment further up the shores of the Amazon, the crew split up to search when they find it is deserted. But a man-eating plant is closing in on Popkiss...
Notes: From this issue onwards, Supercar was in black & while only.
Part 4, issue 500, dated 15 July 1961
Professor Popkiss is in deadly danger!
Cries from Popkiss bring Mike to the rescue, and he beats the plant until it releases the professor. Beaker thinks the village has been deserted a couple of days, so they travel further up the river and find Richard beaker's camp. There is evidence of a major fight, but then a fearful horned dinosaur appears in the distance...
Part 5, issue 501, 22 July 1961
Beaker is curious as the creature does not move its head so they investigate in Supercar and find it is a massive model mounted on a boat. Machine guns open fire from its eyes, and the bullet proof canopy of Supercar saves the crew. But the gunman has another surprise...
Part 6, issue 502, 29 July 1961
What will Mike do?
A grenade coated with adhesive is thrown at Supercar's nose. Mike tries to shake it off but to no avail. With time running out, Mike leaves Beaker to pilot and climbs out to remove it...
Part 7, issue 503, 05 August 1961
Is Supercar doomed?
At the last second, Mike knocks the grenade clear as it explodes, nearly causing him to fall but beaker pulls him in. Supercar returns to the 'monster' and uses its rocket motors to burn its head off! But a nearby armed camp is preparing to attack them...
Part 8, issue 504, 12 August 1961
As shells burst around Supercar, Mike believes the attackers to be rebels planning a revolution. Adding more oil to the motors, Mike lays a smoke screen, and the rebels head for a tunnel cave nearby. But then Beaker spot his father on the Clearview...
Part 9, issue 505, 19 August 1961
As the rebels disappear, Super lands and finds Professor Beaker left outside the tunnel mouth. He explains his expedition were captured and forced to dig the tunnel, which has a large army store. Mike leads them into the tunnel, where they overpower a rebel radio operator and put out a call for help. But then the rebels return, and they are captured...
Part 10, issue 506, 26 August 1961
What will happen to the Supercar team?
The rebel leader decides to abandon the tunnel with the arms as Mike has given their position away, and explosives are planted. Mike has managed to find a way out of their cell, and sees the charges. Realising that he may onl have minutes, he sets off in Supercar to stop the detonator...
Part 11, issue 507, 02 September 1961
Will Mike be in time?
Mike throws a water canteen with amazing accuracy, and knocks out the rebel in charge of the detonator. The Government air force arrives and rounds up the rebels, as Mike destroys the tunnel and the arms store. Richard Beaker decides to saty and carry on his expedition.
Sjors - issues 14/1962 to 24/1962 (coloured)
This story introduces Dr Beaker's father, Professor Richard Beaker, who would return in several later stories.
As with his cousin Felicity Farnsworth, seen in the episodes 'Jungle Hazard' and 'Phantom Piper', there is a marked family resemblance between Dr Beaker and his father. And, as Mike points out in the final part, they even speak the same way...
In issue 497, coinciding with the start of this story, Lenny the Lion makes his own 'Supercar' in a full colour strip drawn by Bill Mevin.
If the art had any failing, then it was the fact the characters appeared a little too far removed from their television counterparts, and it was perhaps this that prompted a return to more caricatured work toward the end of the year. Beaker is almost unrecogniseable without the bulging eyes, Jimmy is a run of the mill child, and Masterspy's grotesque caricature becomes simply... grotesque. Even Mitch becomes a straight-forward chimpanzee, though this is a better realisation than the opening strips, where you could be forgiven for thinking he was a midget in an ape costume. Had this version of Supercar appeared with the other 'life-like' strip incarnations of Fireball XL5 and Stingray in TV Century 21, doubtless no-one would have noticed. As it was, this was a few years ahead of its time, requiring a rethink in both writing and in artwork.
These first twenty-five parts were also reprinted in Holland, in colour, as De Vliegende Auto ('The Flying Car'), in Sjors from late 1961 - the first of a long-running association with Dutch publishers which would continue with TV2000 and Prins Valiant later in the 1960s, and also with Thunderbirds, based on the 1990s Fleetway comic.
As with the Prins Valiant and latter TV2000 comics, the colour was a little haphazard with no real relation to reference photos available, and even changing from instalment to instalment! But this does not stop it from being a reasonably superior reprint of the Englsh Supercar, which was only printed in black with red spot colour up until issue 499, when it became monochrome only.
As this first era of the Supercar strip drew to a close, the 1962 TV Comic annual appeared. This featured two strips in colour, also drawn by Harold Tamblyn-Watts, and are possibly the most beautifully rendered of the Supercar strips. Unfortunately, they still highlight some of Watts' failings as an adventure strip artist in terms of character and layout. But by this time, change was already underway in TV Comic itself, and with issue 508 the regular strip would also be in full colour, with a new artist...
TV Comic Annual 1962
Writer: Alan Fennell (?).
Artist: Harold Tamblyn-Watts.
Pages 5-7, colour.
Mike Mercury is about to take Jimmy Gibson on a picnic in Supercar when news that the San Paulo mine shaft has collapsed, trapping two men in rising flood waters.
The first of the only two colour Supercar strips by Harold Tamblyn-Watts opens with a superbly atmospheric painting of Supercar flying over a city at night.
Supercar and the Maharajah's Ruby
Writer: Alan Fennell (?).
Artist: Harold Tamblyn-Watts.
Pages 58-62, colour.
The Indian state of Krandapore has a new Maharajah, and Supercar is flying there with a device built by Dr Beaker to help find water. But Masterspy and Zarin have been hired to frame the Prime Minister Challah Singh for the theft of the Maharajah's Ruby.
The longest of the TV Comic Annual Anderson strips, and the only one to have a story title.
Unlike the tightly plotted weekly strips, which usually tie up all the loose ends, the person who hires Masterspy and Zarin is not mentioned again, and never brought to justice.
The strip features some wonderfully evocative frames of the tiger hunt at the start, and Supercar over the Maharajah's palace.
The Gerry Anderson Complete Comic History would like to thank:
and Bill Mevin
- for their help with this feature.
Version 1.3 - 01.09.05
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