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Commando: 50 Years on the Frontline

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DC Thomson’s Commando is currently one of the longest running comic books in the world, having clocked up more than 4400 issues in the last fifty years - an impressive achievement by anyone’s standards! So, what’s the secret of this old trooper’s success? We infiltrated Commando HQ to gather some intelligence from Commando’s Top Brass!

BROKEN FRONTIER: Hello, Calum. First up: name, rank and serial number. Or in other words - who are you, and what do you do?

CALUM LAIRD: Calum G Laird, Editor, Commando Comic, 000121. I manage the worldwide team of talents who combine to make Commando what it is. Without them, Commando would be nothing. I guess I’m a bit like the ringmaster at the circus, introducing the successive acts.

BF: So, Commando - what can you tell us about its history? How and when did it get started?

LAIRD: Well, I wasn’t here at the time…I was only 5! However the story of the early days has been captured by George Low for the forthcoming Carlton book, Commando — 50 Years: A Home For Heroes. It’s all in there and he tells it better than I do…although he wasn’t in right at the start either.

BF: Fifty years ago, Commando was just one of a host of similar boys’ adventure titles vying for space in British newsagents, but it’s managed to outlast them all. Not just the other war digests, but pretty much everything else as well! What happened to the rest, and why did Commando survive where the other war and adventure titles died?

LAIRD: If there was a single answer to this, I guess we wouldn’t be the last man standing, we’d still be scrapping with the others. Commando has always tried to keep good strong stories about men at war at the heart of its philosophy. That’s not to say that others didn’t — look at Charley’s War for a prime example. We always have personal struggles, not just great battle scenes, but again, others have done that too. Our heroes are everymen, not supermen. Our art, inside and out, is a major part of the equation, yet artists like Carlos Pino have worked on other long-gone titles. Maybe we should ask the people who bought Commando rather than one of the others? They would have a better answer. Or maybe the folks who voted us an Eagle Award?

BF: Congratulations on that, by the way. The book has been amazingly successful, hasn’t it? It’s sold in Europe too, isn’t it? In translated versions?

LAIRD: From the very start, Commando has been exported worldwide, translated into all sorts of languages, sometimes even coloured. Pink Spitfire, anyone? Some of these gems should be on display at the National Army Museum exhibition starting on the 1st September. It’s in Chelsea and you can get more detail from their website. We have a great following in Finland who have translated Commando for more years than anyone can remember. And of course, the books have found their way to Australia, New Zealand, South Africa, Hong Kong, Singapore…not to mention Bosnia and Afghanistan!

             

A selection of covers from some of the recent 50th anniversary issues of Commando

BF:You’ve worked on Commando for quite a while now, haven’t you? How did you get involved?

LAIRD: I started working here in 1981, having originally been recruited to work on Jackie magazine. I’ve had several stints elsewhere within the DC Thomson stable (teen mags, comics, a motorcycle magazine, Syndication Department) but I keep coming back to Commando. It must be fate. Having read the title in the 60s and 70s was definitely an advantage.

BF: Your immediate predecessor was Commando’s longest serving editor, wasn’t he? I suspect that not many comics’ professionals spend over forty years on the same title; it’s quite an impressive run. Do you intend to equal his record?

LAIRD: Actually, I’m only the fourth editor of Commando in 50 years. Chick Checkley was the first (1961-71), followed by Ian Forbes (1971-1988). George Low who worked on Commando for 44 years took over in 1988 and ran the show until he retired in 2007. At which point, yours truly picked up the reins. To equal his record I’d have to be here until 2026 which is 5 years past my current retirement age. Mind you, the way things are going with the State Pension who’s to say I won’t still be here?

                 

Classic Commando comics are now also available in a selection of hardcover books

BF: Tell us a bit about he digital version of Commando you launched earlier this year. How’s it working out?

LAIRD: The digital Commandos can be sampled at www.commandocomics.com. We’re giving away four free ones which you can read on iPhone and iPad as well as your desktop PC. We welcome folks telling us what they think. When I last asked, we’d had well over 2000 downloads of the app you need to read them and we were slowly but steadily converting those to firm subscriptions. The launch has been successful enough for the boffins to start looking at other digital platforms and the possibility of working back into the archive. The downloads themselves are the complete 68-page book just exactly as we publish it on paper. There’s quite a lot of work to convert it to the correct format but all the work is taken from our original files.

BF: Any future innovations we should know about?

LAIRD: I don’t know if they would count as an innovations but there’s the 50th Birthday book that I’ve mentioned and Carlton intend to produce another set of four 3-in-one story collections for 2012. We’re always looking at possible spin-offs so maybe we’ll spring a surprise at the end of this year…who knows?

BF: An unfair question I know, but if you had to pick one story by one artist from the last fifty years as your personal favourite which one would it be?

LAIRD: That would be the next one to land in the editorial in-tray.
     
BF: Dis-Miss, Commando!

Commando is published eight times a month by DC Thomson priced £1.50. For more information visit the official website here. All images above are (c) DC Thomson.

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Comments

  • Bart Croonenborghs

    Bart Croonenborghs Aug 17, 2011 at 2:42am

    an incredible feat indeed

  • Andy Oliver

    Andy Oliver Aug 17, 2011 at 9:04am

    Yes, DCand Marvel take note, 4400-plus issues and not a new #1 in sight...

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