Wednesday, December 29, 2010

The Thriller Libraries Index Story

The Thriller Libraries Index Story
By Steve Holland 

Original hand-lettered cover art for volume 1 of the first (1991) edition by Ali Cottee, based on James E. McConnell's cover for TPL 22
With the publication of The Thriller Libraries Index only a few weeks away, I thought I'd take this opportunity - as Christmas is always a time for casting backward looks into the past - to reveal a little about the history of the book. So imagine a slightly wavy effect, getting stronger and stronger and...

We're back in 1983!

An exciting year for me: I had my first article published that year and completed my first book (although the latter took some years to appear); I was also rediscovering my love for comics via the Association of Comics Enthusiasts (A.C.E.) which was run by Denis Gifford. I had discovered this wonderful club back in the late 1970s when helping Phil Harbottle and his search for stories by British science fiction writer John Russell Fearn. Phil was based in Newcastle and I was based in Chelmsford and had far easier access to the British Library. There were certain magazines that Phil believed Fearn had contributed to and I was able to rediscover some of Fearn's more obscure stories amongst the dustier tomes held by the library, some of which probably hadn't been looked at since they were deposited back in the 1940s. Phil compiled a listing of Fearn's contributions for various Gerald G. Swan magazines for Denis in 1979 and I was given a co-credit, the first time I saw my name in print.

Original hand-lettered title page of the same volume. You can see how much Tippex it took to clean up the photocopied panel of artwork.
Back to 1983. Because I was now a bone fide contributor to the A.C.E. newsletter thanks to my articles "The Paperback Connection: Comics Artists and Publishers" and "Gerald G. Swan: A Brief Guide to his Publications" (exciting stuff!), Denis said I could have a free advert in the newsletter. As I didn't have anything to sell, I thought I'd ask whether anyone had any old pocket libraries as I was interested in compiling a list of them.

The little box ad was published in January 1984 and I got one response from a chap called John Allen-Clarke who phoned the number I'd given only to discover that I was out of the country - my first ever holiday abroad, cycling in Holland with a mate of mine who ended up in hospital with appendicitis! But that's another story.

The contact with John led to starting up many of the indexes that were published in the 1990s as I scoured his collection for information. In the 1980s I also contacted like-minded collectors who were interested in gathering info. or were willing to share information they had already put together, which led to some of the earliest comprehensive listings of British comics; I think we were beaten to the punch by Ray Moore's The Beano Diaries, which came out in 1990, and some fairly solid listings had appeared in various magazines over the years. But I like to think we - because I was rarely compiling these things on my own - did a good and comprehensive job on some of the best titles that appeared in the 1950s, '60s and '70s.

Original copyright page
Bryan Whitworth was publishing a fanzine called The Illustrated Comics Journal, which I became involved with around 1990 and it was to Bryan that I mentioned that I had a number of lists that the merry band of indexers had been compiling over the previous couple of years. Bryan was interested in publishing them and I was interested in getting the information out to the wider world, so it seemed a match made in heaven.

Over the winter months of 1990/91 - 20 years ago - we put the finishing touches to the first of these indexes cover the first 150 issues of The Thriller Library. Looking back at it now, the resulting volume looks a bit amateurish. Although the text was laid out on a computer - which I supplied on a 3 1/4 inch floppy disc (remember those?) - the end product was still a photocopied booklet, so while we were able to reproduce every cover, they were photocopied in b/w and reduced in size to create master pages which were themselves photocopied to create the finished booklets. The picture reproduction was awful!

As each copy was individually hand-made by Bryan, the various indexes produced worked out very expensive. Yet they sold reasonably well - for what they were - and over the years I've been asked whether I have copies for sale. I think the authors - I usually worked in tandem with David Ashford and Ray Moore - only ever got one or two copies apiece.

Twenty years on I'm very happy to say that we're only weeks away from seeing printed copies of the new Thriller Libraries Index. Not only does it radically update the original Thriller Index but it also includes revisions for the Super Detective Library and Cowboy Comics volumes that followed Thriller in 1992 and 1993 respectively. Twenty years on we know a lot more about the artists and even the authors of these old libraries and the complexities of their publication. For the first time the history of these libraries can be found and followed in a single volume, from their origins in comic books designed for the Australian market all the way through to the spin-off annuals and books.

What I'm particularly proud of is that we've managed to gather together the widest possible selection of original artwork, as well as complete sets of cover images for everything indexed. That's over 1,000 images in total, with much of the original artwork reproduced one cover to the page. The book is full colour throughout and I'm confident our printers in Hong Kong will make it one of the best-looking books we've produced.

I'm looking forward to having copies of the book finally in my hands. I hope you are, too.