Tomorrow’s News Today: Stingray in TV21

The daring excitement and cosmic adventures that the worlds of Gerry Anderson are celebrated for aren’t just confined to the TV screen. Many of Gerry Anderson’s creations enjoyed further adventures across novels, annuals, audio dramas, and comics, most famously in the pages of TV Century 21. Released through Marineville security press control, we’re investigating the untold histories of Gerry Anderson’s greatest creations found in the newspaper of the future, starting with Stingray!

TV Century 21 is Go!

TV Century 21, later shortened to simply TV21, began publication in January 1965 and marks a substantial leap forward in A.P. Films’ growing merchandise operation. Book-centric works based on their puppet productions were already commonplace by this point, with numerous annuals and storybooks produced for the likes of The Adventures of Twizzle and Torchy the Battery Boy. In addition to these, Four Feather Falls, Supercar, and Fireball XL5 had all been appearing as ongoing comic strips in the popular TV tie-in publication TV Comic. However, based on the shrewd judgement of A.P. Films’ head of merchandising, Keith Shackleton, the company made the decision to step further into publishing with their very own comic title.

With a partnership eventually established between A.P. Films and City Magazines, TV Century 21 blasted off onto newsstands as a space-age adventure comic that took many design and content cues from the Eagle, but quickly asserted itself as its own unique paper. The comic prioritised A.P. Films’ characters with other popular TV characters, most notably The Daleks from Doctor Who. In the comic’s early issues, four sets of Anderson-centric characters established a unified world where crossovers and cameos were common. This was all capped off with the remarkable idea to present the comic as though it were a newspaper of the future, with enthralling front pages that presented its Anderson-focused characters through intense, hard-hitting news reports. Amongst the comic’s leads were the deadly spy-fi of Agent 21, the space adventure of Fireball XL5, and a pre-Thunderbirds Lady Penelope and Parker. However, still enjoying its debut TV run, the comic’s standout star was Stingray.

Stand By for Stingray

The Stingray strip in TV21 became one of the comic’s longest running efforts. It ran for 25 stories across 189 issues between January 1965 and August 1968. The strip began under the creative reign of the comic’s first editor-in-chief, Alan Fennell, who was the strip’s main writer during this time, and the artistic talent of Ron Embleton. Despite being best-known in Anderson circles for his scriptwriting on Fireball XL5, Stingray, and Thunderbirds, Fennell came from a background in comics. His experiences in writing for A.P. Films’ works were matched by his writing for Anderson characters in TV Comic. All of these combined skills made him the perfect candidate to be the editor of TV21, which involved being chiefly responsible for writing many of its major strips.

Prior to joining the TV21 ranks, Embleton was already an experienced illustrator across a wide variety of genres. He had begun his professional career in the late 1940s and illustrated a far-reaching array of boys’ adventure titles, from Westerns to comedies, detectives, and science fiction. Much of the creative success of Stingray‘s early adventures in TV21 can be attributed to Embleton’s contributions. Compared to other celebrated artists on the comic, such as Mike Noble or Frank Bellamy, Embleton displayed a keen faithfulness for capturing a strong likeness in the characters. This photorealist approach also played well with his take on Stingray itself as a vehicle. Along with Fennell’s intimate familiarity with the source material, Stingray‘s TV21 adventures display a pleasing faithfulness to the TV series.

Stingray commanded the coveted double-page centrespread in TV21 during its first year. (TV21 issue #46, art by Ron Embleton)

These early adventures would involve the Stingray crew battling against ferocious underwater warmongers, climate change-inducing alien robots, and cracking open treacherous underwater espionage, all brought to life by Embleton’s meticulous attention to detail and confident use of colour. The undisputable heavyweight in these early days is surely Escape from Aquatraz, a riveting two-part adventure that sees Commander Shore forcibly stripped of his leadership of the WASPs, while Titan manages to overtake a WASP uranium station and plots to armour his Terror Fish into an unstoppable atomic armada. The Stingray strip helped to ensure that TV21 became an instant hit with readers.

Stingray Sensation

Like many other Gerry Anderson strips in the comic, Stingray‘s TV21 adventures were subject to a revolving line-up of editors, writers, and artists. Ron Embleton’s unbroken run on the Stingray strip would pause with The Medallion Mystery storyline (#58-#61). His brother, Gerry (a fellow accomplished artist), would illustrate this brief adventure before Ron’s return in what would be his final offering for the comic with the epic storyline The Monster Weed (#61-#71). Gerry would illustrate the next two stories, Junk Jeopardy (#71-#81) and Creatures of the Lake (#82-#89), but new artist Michael Strand would become Stingray’s second resident artist. Despite his brief tenure, Gerry would return to illustrate a brand new one-off Stingray adventure for Network Distributing’s commemorative TV21 #243, produced as part of their Filmed in Supermarionation boxset release.

X-20 hires the services of none other than the Hood to help in this fiendish scheme against Stingray! (TV21 issue #94, art by Michael Strand)

Strand would go on to illustrate nearly 100 issues’ worth of Stingray adventures for the comic, and he brought a distinctively separate visual flavour to the Stingray strip compared to Ron. Where Ron prioritised accuracy through clean line art, Strand brought a far more expressive bent to the characters, coupled with a rough immediacy to his striking artwork. This imbued the strip with a darker attitude, enlivening the intensity of its storylines. This change in line-ups also spread to the strip’s writers. Precise details on which of TV21‘s freelance/editorial staff wrote these strips can be tricky to pinpoint. However, art editor Dennis Hooper is often attributed with writing on the Stingray strip, while frequent freelancer Scott Goodall is linked with writing Stingray in its final months.

TV21‘s metamorphic material meant that the comic regularly accommodated the departure and arrivals of other strips, including the eventual dominance of comic strips based on Thunderbirds, Zero X, and Captain Scarlet. Throughout 1966-68, however, Stingray remained a dependably regular staple of the comic. During this time, storylines grew gradually more ambitious, including the destruction of Titanica (Lure of Titan, #121-#128), metal eating lifeforms (The Missile Trials (#105-#108), and a memorable team-up between X-20 and the Hood to sabotage Stingray’s global reputation (A Trip to England, #90-#97).

Troy Tempest – Fugitive!

As 1968 dawned, both the Stingray and Fireball XL5 strips were starting to show their age in the comic and were evidently running dry on story ideas. Fireball XL5 was reinvented to become a series of text stories, culminating in the destruction of XL5 itself but ending with the hopeful promise that the craft will be rebuilt. The Stingray strip underwent an equally dramatic reinvention; Stingray would bow out of TV21 with a grandiose, 34-issue storyline that sees Troy Tempest become a fugitive from the World Aquanaut Security Patrol.

Troy Tempest becomes a wanted fugitive from Marineville! (TV21 issue #157, art by Michael Strand)

In Marineville Traitor (#155-#189), Troy is framed for the destruction of a secret World Government bomber aircraft. Refusing to accept his imprisonment, Troy steals Stingray and embarks on a globe-trotting voyage to elude his captors and clear his name. However, doing so uncovers an even deadlier scheme by enemy forces to destroy Marineville from within. Marineville Traitor is a sprawling, densely-packed adventure that rattles through several mini-sagas, each one building on the suspense of the other as Troy, later joined by Phones, ventures closer to the truth behind his frame-up.

Michael Strand would depart from the Stingray strip towards the end of its run, allowing Jon Davis to illustrate the adventure from issue #177 onwards for its final 12 issues. While the strip was now reduced to being a black-and-white affair and produced as a page-and-a-half per instalment rather than the more traditional one or two pages per issue, Marineville Traitor gave the Stingray strip an engrossing send-off for one of TV21‘s longest-running sagas.

Afterlife in Reprints

The debut issue of Fleetway’s Stingray the Comic, art by Steve Kyte

Stingray‘s comic book adventures extended into annuals and storybooks throughout the 1960s, and the super-sub would receive a fresh batch of original adventures in the pages of Countdown in the early 1970s. Much of Stingray‘s TV21 stories became the backbone for Fleetway Editions’ Stingray the Comic, which became the second-longest running of the 1990s Anderson comics behind Thunderbirds the Comic. Stingray the Comic would morph into Stingray Monthly, before it and Fleetway’s Captain Scarlet and Thunderbirds comics merged to become The New Thunderbirds. It was during this time that Stingray‘s TV21 stories actually gained titles, too, many of which have become commonplace.

Stingray‘s TV21 adventures would go on to become a regular presence in the various TV21 reprint collections that have been published over the last 15 years. Admittedly, it’s mostly been the Ron Embleton-illustrated stories that have been given the most exposure. Many of Stingray‘s early TV21 stories have had multiple reprints, while others from the strip’s later years have gone uncollected. Nevertheless, the entirety of Stingray‘s reign in TV21 offers aquatic excitement, mystery, and adventure with every turn of the page and serves as a handsome and imaginative extension of the world and characters established in the TV series.

New comic strip adventures for Stingray continue this year with the trans-media narrative Stingray: Deadly Uprising! Two new releases in Anderson Entertainment’s successful line-up of comic anthologies form part of this ambitious multi-release event. Stingray Comic Anthology Volume 1: Tales from the Depths and Stingray Comic Anthology Volume 2: Battle Lines will collect the entirety of Stingray‘s TV21 adventures and other classic comic material, as well as several brand new interconnected comic adventures that form part of the Deadly Uprising saga. Sign up to the official Deadly Uprising mini-website to stay up-to-date with all the latest news from this spectacular and groundbreaking 60th anniversary event!

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Written by
Fred McNamara

Atomic-powered writer/editor. Website editor at Official Gerry Anderson. Author of Flaming Thunderbolts: The Definitive Story of Terrahawks. Also runs Gerry Anderson comic book blog Sequential 21.

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