George Low - Commando

War games

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As legendary military comic Commando reaches issue 4000, Henry Northmore asks editor George Low how this pocket dynamo blew away its enemies

Commando is an institution. In 1961 ‘Walk or Die’ became the first published story and the comic is still going strong today, firing off a staggering eight issues per month (four classic reprints and four new stories). It may seem utterly anachronistic, but it’s survived where many others have fallen and for any title to reach 4000 issues is a groundbreaking achievement. That Commando has stuck to its guns and barely changed in over 40 years is remarkable. The stories may not solely be set during World War II these days but they still have a distinctive style with the emphasis on an ‘action-packed plot and morally-minded hero’. Their small format and evocative, painted covers are instantly recognisable on newsstands across the country.

George Low is only the third editor in Commando’s 46-year history - he’s been there since 1963 and took over as editor in 1988 - and still shows clear affection for the comic he helped shape. ‘We reckoned it would go on for a while but never thought it would get anything near 4000.’ But what does he see as the reason for such longevity? ‘We’ve always tried to have believable stories, if at times far-fetched, and we’ve always been lucky in that we had a good stable of artists, who have pulled out lots of stops.’

The comic featured in a recent BBC4 documentary, during which the creators were asked about its broad appeal. ‘One of the film crew was saying “I remember at school you could always hide it in your blazer pocket,”’ recalls Low. The comic may sound like it belongs firmly in another age and the editor concedes, ‘there was an awful lot of secret readers of Commando. They’d be going, “I get them for my son”, and that sort of thing. There’s not an awful lot of material like this on sale now, and it’s such a throwback to the old boys’ papers, The Eagle and so on.’

In fact Low’s comic outlived The Eagle, which ceased production in 1994, and Commando is still selling a healthy 8000 per issue. Above all it’s another long-running success story from legendary Dundee-based publishing house DC Thomson, which has also spawned the likes of The Beano, The Dandy, The Broons and Bunty.

For the 4000th issue Low’s team has created a classic World War II story, ‘Aces All’, packed with Spitfires, action and derring-do from Edinburgh-based writer Ferg Handley and veteran Argentinean artist Jose Maria Jorge, who bring the Battle of Britain to vivid life. However, since the late 80s the scope has widened. ‘World War II and World War I are still very much the basis because they were such big conflicts that you could get so much material out of them,’ explains Low. ‘But we said “let’s have a story about Vikings, let’s have a story about spacemen,” and by and large these period stories are just as popular.’

You could never accuse Commando of being at the cutting edge of publishing, but they are solid, action-packed stories with clear-cut notions of right and wrong. There’s something reassuring about their continuing success. Here’s to the next 4000.

Commando is out now published by DC Thomson.

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