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TV 21 Comics
In 1965, the series 'Stingray', which told the immensely popular underwater
adventures of Troy Tempest and his friends, was rewarded with its own comic.
TV Century 21 hit the bookstalls to the delight of a million children on
23rd January 1965. The magazine, later to drop the 'Century', and now known
widely as TV 21, was a brilliant piece of marketing by A.P. films, which
capitalised on the immense popularity of the latest Anderson shows.
Despite the fact that 'Supercar' and 'Fireball XL5' were made long before
the start of 'TV 21', they were still being shown sporadically on ITV, and
they were also featured in the magazine. 'Thunderbirds' was not featured in
TV 21 until issue 52 , but one of the key characters from it, the
aristocratic Lady Penelope, was featured from the start.
'Fireball XL5', 'Stingray' and 'Lady Penelope' were the three colour strips
which started with the launch of the magazine. The front covers were in
colour too, with photographs either from one or more of the Anderson
television series, or occasionally of the stars of the back page feature -
'The Daleks'. Although the long running 'Dalek' strip in TV 21 did not
feature Doctor Who ( whose copyright was with the BBC while the Dalek
copyright belonged to Terry Nation ), it is still very popular with Doctor
Who collectors and pushes prices up for TV 21 comics. Some of the TV 21
strips were later reprinted in the Marvel Doctor Who comic which is still
In contrast to TV Comic which was a traditional strip comic, TV 21 was
presented as a newspaper for children with a front page of 'Stop Press'
items and 'news' style photographs of their puppet heroes. The fresh
approach captured the imagination of a whole generation of children, and at
its peak TV 21 was selling over one million copies every week.
Early copies of TV 21 are very hard to find, and fetch very high prices
compared to almost all other Anderson printed material. It is easy to see
why. The artwork was of an excellent standard, with artists like Eric Eden
and Frank Bellamy ( who had worked on 'The Eagle' ) contributing strips for
the magazine. It was also a very 'new' style of comic, and had no
competitors in its own particular field of science-fiction and secret agent
The much heralded arrival of 'Thunderbirds' in TV 21 came after the first
immensely successful year of the comic. In issue 52, Lady Penelope visits
Tracy Island to see the home of International Rescue, and agrees to be their
British agent. On the following week, Lady Penelope was given her own comic
in a spin off from TV 21 aimed at girl television fans. The emphasis here
was a little different, with the first class Lady Penelope strips being
accompanied by features on pop stars and fashion. This comic is also very
popular with collectors, with many photographs from the television series.
A glance through the early issues of TV 21 and Lady Penelope gives some idea
of the enormous popularity of Gerry Anderson's productions in the mid
1960's. There were any number of models, records, books and toys available
and all of these items command high prices today.
As well as the weekly TV Century 21 and Lady Penelope comics, there were
also a number of 'Specials' published by the magazine which have become very
prized collectors items. An example is the 'Thunderbirds' extra from 1966,
which contained 48 pages devoted almost exclusively to 'Thunderbirds'. Due
to its size, this issue was stapled unlike most of the other Century 21
productions which were not.
The 'Thunderbirds' special contains the usual array of excellent strips, as
well as an unlikely invitation to 'Build your own Thunderbird 1', the
components of which were featured on pages 20 and 29. I doubt if even the
most ardent Anderson fan would have attempted this task, as the resulting
paper model would at best have looked rather disappointing. However, it is
worth checking that these pages are present if you are offered a copy of the
magazine. As a 'Thunderbirds' momento, this production, like the 'Stingray'
special, is a very worthwhile addition to a collection.
Another important 'Thunderbirds' item published by Century 21 was
'Thunderbirds are go', a glossy large format soft cover book about the first
'Thunderbirds' feature film which is full of stills from the film. The
story of 'Thunderbirds are go' was also serialised in 'TV 21' in issues
101-104, and illustrated with stills rather than the usual artwork.
In 1967 the indestructible 'Captain Scarlet' appeared on television and in
the pages of TV Century 21. Meanwhile, Captain Scarlet's enemies 'The
Mysterons' were having their history explained in another City Magazines
publication TV Tornado which also featured the popular series 'Man from
Uncle' and 'The Saint'. TV Tornado merged with TV 21 in September 1968.
TV Century 21 comic officially dropped the 'Century' from the title at the
start of 1968 after 154 issues. On 18th January 1969, the latest Gerry
Anderson success, 'Joe 90', was given his own paper. This was not a very
long lasting publication however, merging with TV 21 in September 1969 after
just 34 issues. From this point onwards, the TV 21 and Joe 90 comic as it
was then called restarted their numbering from number 1, with 'New Series
No.' given on the front cover. The new comic kept to a similar format, but
the Anderson strips of 'Joe 90' and 'Thunderbirds' were relegated to black
and white in favour of the new favourites 'Star Trek' and 'Land of the
One important factor to consider when collecting comics is the presence or
absence of 'free gifts'. The first issue of most comics features such a
gift to attract an initial readership who may or may not stay with the
comic. In this respect, the Gerry Anderson comics are no exception. The
first two TV 21 comics contained a secret code book and special agent badge
with coded message forms respectively. Lady Penelope number 1 featured her
ladyship's signet ring, while the first Joe 90 comic came with Mac's jet car
kit. Many other gifts were given with other issues, usually when the
interest of the readers might be beginning to flag.
As a general rule, issues of comics with missing free gifts will be worth
about the same as other issues around the same number. However, the
presence of a free gift, particularly with a very rare comic such as the
first issue of TV 21, can multiply the value of the comic by two or more
times. The reason for this is that to the purist a comic is incomplete
without its free gift, and so 'complete' copies must be worth more.
Please take a look at our archive
page to view the covers of individual TV21 comics.
'I wish I was a spaceman, the fastest man alive, I'd fly around the universe in Fireball XL5' - From Fireball by Don Spencer
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