Loc: England, United Kingdom
It is April, 1965, and I am 8 years old.
My childhood is a happy one, with lots of interesting pastimes to keep me occupied and entertained.
I live in the city of Liverpool, in the UK, in the district of Anfield . . . in close proximity to the world-famous Liverpool Football Club’s ground.
The city’s music scene is an exciting and vibrant one, with a home-grown group called the Beatles taking the world by storm and going from strength-to-strength.
On television I am attracted to science-fiction serials. Doctor Who, starring William Hartnell, is immensely popular, with an American import, the Outer Limits, keeping me enthralled with its riveting teleplays and film-like production values. Horror movies are the forbidden fruit; we know about them . . . thanks to Forry Ackerman’s Famous Monsters of Filmland magazine . . . but are too young to gain entrance to movie theatres to see them (and late-night television screenings are denied us by concerned parents).
Comic-books are everywhere.
I can walk within a few miles radius of my house and discover dozens and dozens of newsagents and second-hand bookstores carrying American imports and all the home-grown UK titles.
The American comics, particularly those from Marvel and DC, are big on superheroes . . . while the UK titles are big on adventure serials.
I like lots of different genres.
Half-way through the month, I am playing out in my road with my friends. We show each other our latest comic-books acquisitions and take a keen interest in how storylines are developing.
One of the kids in my road has the May 17th 1965 edition of VALIANT, a weekly anthology title containing a number of ongoing serials. The comic had debuted in 1961 and was a favourite with many. My focus had shifted more and more towards the American Marvel titles and my pocket-money just didn’t allow the purchase of everything I liked. The Valiant had become a casualty of my budget.
Perusing this latest edition of the Valiant, three adventure serials really stood out for me.
THE STEEL CLAW, “Max Kruger”, episode 4 page 1
From THE STEEL CLAW, concerning the adventures of a secret agent with a metal hand and the power of invisibility, came a terrific storyline feauturing our hero's attempts to free a captured scientist being held by a traitor in a castle fortress. The Gothic mix contained elements of Roger Corman's 1960s feature film adaptations of Edgar Allen Poe's "The Pit and the Pendulum" (1961) and "The Masque of the Red Death" (1964). Also, part of the story was reminiscent of the British AVENGERS teleplay, "Castle De'ath". Spanish artist Jesus Blasco's atmospheric b&w art superbly captured the gothic elements of the three sources of influence to near-perfection (Valiant hired a number of European-based illustrators).
MYTEK THE MIGHTY, half-page
MYTEK THE MIGHTY, by Eric Bradbury, focused on the adventures of a giant robotic ape (with more than a passing nod to King Kong). The robot ape was piloted, and could travel underwater, but fell into the hands of the evil Gogra - who used it to wreak havoc and destruction.
Best of all was KELLY’S EYE, by Argentinian artist, Francisco Solano Lopez. Tim Kelly was the owner of the life-preserving Eye-of-Zoltec, a large jewel-like artefact with mystical powers that protected him from harm.
The Kelly’s Eye serial was of particular interest to our group of friends . . . it featured a Vampire story . . . the aforementioned Horror genre being the forbidden fruit of the time! We were enthralled.
The vampire storyline had started two issues beforehand (which I’d missed), but the story re-cap quickly brought me up-to-speed:
“THE STORY SO FAR . . . While in Italy, Tim Kelly, owner of the life-preserving Eye of Zoltec, learned about a sinister mystery surrounding the village of Raffino where three people had been snatched into the air by weird creatures. Tim decided to investigate and he arrived at the village just as a vast inhuman shape swooped down from the night air . . ."
KELLY’S EYE, “The Vampire of Raffino”, episode 3
To a modern-day (jaded) audience, this might sound pretty tame stuff, but to a group of 8 year old kids, this was both riveting and terrifying!
We were hooked . . . and eagerly awaited the weekly two-page episode that spanned a total of 24 installments to complete the adventure!
The Kelly’s Eye vampire story must have proved very popular throughout the country . . . it was later reprinted (in abridged format) in the 1973 Valiant Annual . . . and two years later a full reprint commenced in a new UK title called Vulcan.
Fast forward to recent times . . .
Several years ago, whilst visiting an old (comics collector) friend in Liverpool, I was informed by him that a UK dealer was appearing at the monthly comic-book marts in Manchester, offering for sale original artworks from vintage UK comic-books. Included in the selection were strips from the Valiant . . .
Fondly remembering the Kelly’s Eye vampire storyline, I wondered if any of those artwork pages had surfaced? My friend said he hadn’t seen any, but would keep an eye out for me (no pun intended).
Shortly afterwards, following ebay perusals, I discovered that the dealer was active with on-line art sales.
I contacted the seller, Phil Clarke of Blasé Books, who told me that he was acting on behalf of a wealthy British collector, residing in Canada, who had bought up a warehouse archive of old British comic-book artwork. Until such time as he would be given the go-ahead to release certain storylines (with consideration being given to retaining certain strips for reprint possibilities), he couldn’t guarantee the availability of anything. Also, because of the huge amounts of artwork that comprised the warehouse purchase, it would prove difficult to locate specific pages of artwork.
Some months later Phil contacted me advising that he had located a single page from the Kelly’s Eye vampire storyline, but when discussing a price I became painfully aware that he wanted to charge me multiples of what he’d been charging (from other Kelly’s Eye storylines) that he had previously sold at marts or through ebay.
Sadly, Phil wouldn’t compromise with me on a price and, from my stance, didn’t like the idea of having my declared interest exploited. I continued to monitor the weekly ebay offerings and, as luck would have it, came across pages starting to appear for sale on the ebay auctions. Over a period of about a year, I managed to buy about 12 pages (25% of the storyline), so things were looking up.
Along the way, I also purchased examples from the aforementioned STEEL CLAW and MYTEK THE MIGHTY serials.
In light of my continued custom, Phil relented on his earlier pricing point-of-contention and agreed to relax his prices and accommodate a personal visit – in which I could make my own search of the artwork archive – in the hunt for further examples which (at that time) were proving increasingly difficult to locate.
One Sunday afternoon I drove down to the Blasé Books warehouse and was greeted by Phil, who turned out to be quite a pleasant guy – and we spent several hours comparing notes (while I went about my needle-in-a-haystack search). The place was like an Aladin’s cave, with stacks and stacks of artwork cramming the place . . . just too much to sift through on a single visit!
Luckily, I managed to locate some more STEEL CLAW and MYTEK THE MIGHTY pages, but sadly no further sign of the KELLY’S EYE vampire artwork . I continued to monitor the ebay auctions and, several months ago, was delighted to discover some of the elusive KELLY’S EYE pages re-appearing for sale!
The bidding was particularly tough this time round and I lost out on one of the pages. I subsequently e-mailed the seller (Blasé Books), reminding that I still had an interest in buying pages from this story. I was quickly advised that another group of pages had been found and we consequently negotiated a price for direct sale out of ebay. I was now at 25 pages out of a total of 48 (just over the halfway mark). The latest finds had yielded quite a few early pages, including the pivotal episode 3, which had been my introduction to the story more than four decades earlier!
Co-incidentally, whilst in the process of purchasing the latest yield of Kelly’s Eye artwork from the vampire storyline, I was contacted by a UK artwork collector wanting to buy a Daleks original from me. A smooth sale ensued and the funds enabled me to speed-up my own purchase of the Kelly’s Eye artwork.
Shortly after completing the sale to this UK collector, he contacted me again – advising that he held a number of pages from the Kelly’s Eye storyline I was attempting to piece back together! It transpired that he had also been an avid fan of the adventure, from its 1973 (abridged) Valiant Annual reprint. Furthermore, to my delight, he was willing to release his pages to me (if we could agree on a suitable trade exchange of art)!
Through several weeks of negotiations, we finally arrived on a mutually-acceptable deal that would see me receiving a total of seven more pages! Two of the pages were forwarded to me straight away, but five were (then) currently on loan to a comic art exhibition in London.
This morning the remaining five of those seven pages have now been retrieved from the exhibition and have now arrived safely on my doorstep.
Here are two examples from the five latest pages (which now puts me at 32 pages out of a total of 48):
Episode 7 page 2
Episode 9 page 2
Two-thirds of this fondly-remembered story now reside in my collection.
Thankfully, most of the early (moody and atmospheric) pages are here with me. I know of another page from this storyline on CAF. The owner is not against the idea of releasing his page to me . . . providing I find him something that would equate ten to fifteen times the value of his page. His expectations are far too excessive, so I find myself reluctant to accommodate such an offer.
At this moment in time, who knows what the future might yield?
Realistically, I think it’s doubtful the day will come that all 48 pages of the Kelly’s Eye “Vampire of Raffino” storyline will be re-united.
But you never know.
To all fellow-collectors out there, with similar goals of piecing-together original artworks that comprise favourite storylines of the past . . . don’t give up your dream . . . you never know what the future holds for you, do you?
Completing a book seems like a lifelong project, especially if its a book from your childhood.
It's usually more fulfilling to complete a book rather than buy an already compiled complete book.
I am still a young and new collector, with little savings to afford the big pieces, much less complete a book. This just inspires me to work harder, earn more money, and maybe in the future, I can complete my own book that has a sentimental value to me.
Loc: England, United Kingdom
Worth mentioning, perhaps, that the entire story can now be read in sequential order in my CAF Gallery (Kelly's Eye - "The Vampire of Raffino"), as I've included the 16 pages I'm as yet missing as additional images to the 32 pages I now have.