Thirty five years ago this week, in 1987, a new strip of mine made its debut in the pages of Marvel UK's Action Force weekly. Codename: Combat Colin was its title, although it soon became simply Combat Colin.
At that time I'd been working full time in the comics industry for just three years, and was contributing strips to IPC's Oink! regularly as well as doing Robo-Capers for Marvel's Transformers comic. I was still relatively new in the business but I was keeping busy.
The editor of Action Force, Richard Starkings, invited me to come up with an idea for a new humour strip for the comic. It needed to have some sort of militaristic angle to match the comic's theme, and my initial rough doodles (shown below but never submitted) had the character as a kid named Rambo Johnson. I quickly dismissed that idea as it seemed too much like a Whizzer and Chips type strip which wouldn't be right for Marvel. Eventually, I settled on the big gormless-looking character you're familiar with, except he was called "Dimbo" (a kind of spoof of the Rambo movie character).
Marvel liked the idea, but the editors felt that the name "Dimbo" wasn't right and would feel out of date as soon as the Rambo movies were less popular. They were quite correct, and I'm eternally grateful to Marvel UK editor Steve White who suggested the name "Combat Colin" as an alternative. (Steve himself became the inspiration for Colin's sidekick "Semi-Automatic Steve", a name suggested by Richard Starkings.)
|Published version after Marvel staff coloured it.|
The first few Combat Colin strips were self-contained gags, usually about Colin being an out-of-place mercenary type who lived with his parents. Gradually, I developed the character and his motivation and Colin and Steve became the local heroes fighting fantastic and bizarre threats to Wallytown. Rather than sticking to complete stories every week I was allowed to develop short serials of two to six weeks. (This had always been an ambition of mine, inspired by the comedy serials I grew up reading such as The Cloak and Eagle-Eye, Junior Spy in Pow! and Wham! comics.) Quite often though, they were just daft self-contained pages, which were equally fun to do. Over time I also expanded the cast to include Colin and Steve's girlfriends The Giggly Sisters, Colin's agent Roy L.T. Check, Combat Kate and Headline Howard, and recurring villains such as Madprof, The Brain, Bankrobber Man, The Amazing Dave, and others.
Action Force ran to just 50 issues, then merged into Transformers in early 1988. Luckily, Combat Colin transferred over too, replacing my Robo-Capers strip. Combat Colin would remain a fixture of the comic until the final issue in 1992.
I had a great time doing the Combat Colin strip, and the editors basically let me do what I wanted (within reason of course). The stories became increasingly bizarre and surreal at times (but still understandable enough for the target audience I hope) and I had a fantastic time on the strip.
Marvel UK played such an important part in the careers of many British comic creators. Its editors gave opportunities to newcomers that some of the longer-established and more traditional publishers might have passed up on. Even better, Marvel UK's page rate was higher than that of some of its rivals!
Comics such as Action Force gave work to a new generation of creators, most of whom had grown up fascinated by comics and were eager to work in the business. I was one of those fortunate to have freelanced for Marvel UK at this time. Many of us got to know each other socially too, at comic marts and conventions, so a sense of community and cameradre developed on a scale that may have been missing amongst UK comics creators of earlier generations.
Combat Colin still proves to be a popular request for sketches at conventions and it's a pleasure to now meet the readers who read it when they were kids in the 1980s. After Marvel UK decided to pursue far more serious comics in 1992 I gained the rights back to the strip and have published a few Combat Colin comics myself, selling them through mail order. He's also appeared in brand new colour strips occassionally in David Lloyd's digital anthology Aces Weekly.
Five years ago I decided to reprint all the Combat Colin stories from the start in a series of comics. I've published four issues of Combat Colin to date, with the much delayed fifth issue hopefully appearing sometime this year, finances allowing. Issue 1 is out of print now so I intend to publish a revised reprint soon of Combat Colin No.1 to mark the character's 35th anniversary. This edition collects all of Colin's adventures that appeared in Action Force. I'll post more info when I know for sure when I'll publish it.
|Not final cover.|
Issue No.4 is also out of print so that'll be reprinted sometime too. Meanwhile, issues 2 and 3 are still available from my eBay store at this link.My thanks to everyone who has read the Combat Colin strip over the years, and special thanks to Richard Starkings for commissioning me to do it in the first place. Of all the strips I've worked on, Combat Colin remains my favourite character, and I intend to keep him around for a good while yet.
(PS: In case you're puzzled by the word "yampy" in the image at the top of this post, it's a Midlands phrase meaning "crazy". Seems to sum up Colin's adventures. :) )