Space Fiction Adventure in Pictures: ‘Starblazer’ Comics, 1979 – 1991

Exhibit / June 13, 2019

Object Name: Starblazer
Maker and Year: D.C. Thomson and Co., Ltd, 1979-1991
Object Type: Comic book
Description: (Richard McKenna)

Launched in 1979, digest-sized monthly comic Starblazer was Scottish publisher DC Thomson’s attempt to cash in on the science fiction craze that had dominated popular culture since the release of Star Wars. Every aspect of the visual media landscape was saturated with trippy, futuristic imagery, triggering a commercial feeding frenzy in which normally staid companies like DC Thomson were eager to participate.

DC Thomson was a famously secretive family business from Dundee and probably best-known nationally as the publisher of Britain’s two longest-running children’s comics, The Dandy and The Beano. Starblazer was in the same small format as the war-themed digest comics like Commando, which DC Thomson had been producing since the early 1960s. Though the Second World War had long since ended, it continued to dominate the national imagination (providing a handy source of cliché and rhetoric with which to manipulate the emotions of the country’s undereducated population), and was a reliable source of revenue for publishers, as younger generations avidly read comics like Victor, War Picture Library, and Battle Picture Weekly throughout the 1970s and ’80s

As befit its publisher’s conservative meat-and-two-veg ethos, Starblazer had no aspirations to the unprofitable glam pomp of the recently-absorbed Starlord, nor to the zeitgeist channeling impact of the comic that had absorbed it, 2000 AD. It was for the most a much more conventional affair than both, though its mixed bag of stories and black and white artwork—ranging from rushed-looking and basic to lush and detailed—did provide the occasional surprise. Starblazer‘s main selling point and raison d’être (at least to me) was its lurid, eye-catching covers, some of the most memorable of which were illustrated by British comics stalwarts Ian Kennedy and Keith Robson. The covers were occasionally bought in from art agencies and given to writers to use as the basis for the story. As was often the case in the British comic industry of the time, Starblazer made intensive use of European and South American artists such as Argentines Enrique Alcatena and Alberto Saichann and Spaniards Juan Sarompas and Carlos Pino, as well as a plethora of British comics talent including names 2000 AD would make famous: Mike McMahon, Cam Kennedy, and Grant Morrison.

Over its lifetime, Starblazer suffered ongoing distribution issues: though freely available in Scotland and much of the North of England, it was virtually unknown in much of southern Britain, except during the summer months when it was dispatched in bulk to newsagents in seaside towns with the aim of exploiting the commercial potential of the school holidays. Over its lifespan, it underwent several mutations, including a shift away from science fiction towards fantasy and a brief, and almost universally loathed, flirtation with choose-your-own-adventure stories, before finally ceasing publishing in 1991.

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