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Gott in Himmel: Commando is 50 this Year!

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It was in July 1961 that publishers D.C. Thomson of Dundee launched Commando on an unsuspecting British public. It was then just one of a host of British comics based on more or less the same theme: plucky British Tommies and their allies forever fighting invariably the Nazis and their evil Japanese cohorts in an endless World War II. Fifty years later, those other war comics are long gone, as indeed is most of the British comics industry, but Commando, the lone, last survivor of an entire genre, is still out there flying the flag eight times a month! So, with fifty years and a staggering 4,350 pocket sized issues under its webbing belt, what is the secret of Commando’s indisputable success?

Calum Laird, the current editor of Commando, has some pretty clear views on the subject: “I don’t view Commando as war stories per se,” he explains, "they are stories of action and adventure set against a background of war, where the personal conflicts of characters on the same, or opposing, sides are more important than the greater battles going on behind them. The great conflicts are a gift for a storyteller as they provide a huge canvas and allow a character to be put anywhere without tortured explanations. Obviously there will be exceptions to this rule, but that’s the generality of it. We pick our stories based on the characters, their interplay and the strength of the plot. The background battle is of less importance. We don’t expect our readers to see themselves in any character, but we do think that they will sympathize with our heroes, who incidentally can be of any nationality.” And it’s true, in recent years Commando has increasingly broadened its scope, not just in going beyond World War II but in featuring protagonists from every nation - including those traditionally viewed as the “enemy”!

Calum continues: “We put a lot of detail in because it makes the action within the story more believable and rational. We like to be as authentic as we can because it adds to the tapestry of the story. If you put a German jet into the Battle of Britain, it might make a cracking story but you’ve rewritten history and it’s not credible.”

“Our target audience is boys who like to read adventure stories, whatever age they might be - from 8 to 80 or even beyond. As a culture we are fascinated by war, as it strips away all but the most vital actions of individuals and puts those individuals under the most extreme pressures; it’s basic instincts to the nth degree. However, that is not all that there is to Commando. If it was, we’d have disappeared long since.”

And far from disappearing, Commando is storming ahead into the 21st century: they’ve launched a new website, (debuting on February 15th) and are now providing a digital subscription service using iPhone and iPad apps. This is a radical move from the once staid D.C. Thomson, meaning Commando is now available in digital form as well as in its traditional print incarnation! 

         

You can even download four issues for free in order to try before you buy, so to speak, which would seem to indicate that Thomson are confident of success - as well they might be, since with other magazines disappearing on all sides, Commando seems to be as untouchable and indestructible as ever. It continues just soldiering on as it’s always done, and (superficially at least) still looking much as it did in the Sixties; that same combination of clean lines, scrupulous attention to period detail and commitment to simple, easy-to-read and follow stories that it has always had.

Commando moves with the times, these new developments are proof of that. But it never forgets what it is and where it came from; its basic, fundamental identity remains the same and hopefully always will. And perhaps that, ultimately, is the secret of its success: Commando has outlasted its former competitors and stablemates because it has never tried to be anything other than what it is - a good old fashioned rollicking adventure comic, where courage and fortitude can usually be relied on to win through against evil and corruption. And in this murky world we live in, maybe that is simply what we need at times. A reminder that sometimes, it’s important to simply pick the side that’s right and fight for it.

Commando survives because deep down, we will always need Commando.

For more information on the 50th anniversary of Commando check out the new website here.

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