Tuesday, March 3, 2015

Hook, Line and Inker

Scary creatures with sharp teeth sell comics, or at least they did back in the late seventies. Pat Mills and Ken Armstrong created Hook Jaw for the launch of Action comics in 1976 as a direct attempt to cash in on the success of the first summer blockbuster Jaws. Although Action had a short lived and controversial run it was one of the forerunners of 2000AD, and the popularity of the swimming killing machine led Mills to create another fearsome beastie in the form of Shako, the lethal polar bear on the CIA’s most wanted list which d├ębuted in Prog 20.

Egmont classics produced a restored digital version of the first six episodes of Hook Jaw written by Ken Armstrong, The original art by Ramon Sola has been sensitively coloured by Gary Caldwell and re-lettered by Jim Campbell. I bought it fairly cheaply through the Sequential comics app and I believe it is also available for the Kindle. The four page episodes follow a fairly standard pattern; plenty of lambs to the slaughter; a loud mouthed hothead who wants to kill the shark at any cost; and the calmer, clean cut hero who acts as the reader's focal point and narrates much of the action. According to Egmont Hook Jaw was consistently the most popular strip in Action.

Sola's artwork is fabulous and Caldwell has done a lovely job of bringing it to life with a suitably bloody colour palette. It's a nice job by the restoration team and the only downside is that there is no more available in this digital format. This was a 2013 release so it's possible that sales weren't enough to justify further issues?

Shako retreads familiar ground with a similar loud mouth, a native american hero, and a big beastie who is confused by all these humans running around but finds them to be a rather tasty snack. I read the digital collection from the 2000AD iPad app but the trade paperback version is still available. Written by Pat Mills and John Wagner, Ramon Sola was again the go to guy to draw the first episode. Juan Arancio takes over for chapters 2-4, later on the art chores are handled by Dodderio and Lopez-Vera who are perhaps a bit bland in comparison for my taste. Both of the fierce animal stories contain many examples of the showing and telling that was common in kids' adventure comics back then, particularly when it comes to scenes of people being consumed by the monster while narrating their own demise.

The Shako volume benefits from having all of the stories that appeared in the Progs and the 1978 annual story, White Fury. It also has a couple of gallery images including the striking Jock cover for the trade paperback. I gather there may be a few issues with repositioning of the title logo on some of the pages for the reprint but I'll leave that for the experts to comment on. The raw black and white art is fine stuff and I'm again caught in a cleft stick between original monochrome or the lovingly restored and coloured work on Hook Jaw.

Although Hook Jaw was the forerunner I'll give the edge to Shako just for completeness in one volume, but they are both nice collections that are well worth a look.

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