The pocket-sized Commando books with its iconic dagger logo is celebrating 60 years of wartime adventure and lantern-jawed heroes.
First published in 1961 by DC Thomson Media, Commando has thrilled its readers, aged eight to 80, with over 5,000 issues of adventure, heroism, and comradery.
At the start, Commando’s stories were almost exclusively about the Second World War but over time, readers have been able to delve into tales of any conflict from the days of the Roman Empire to the almost contemporary First Gulf War.
The first editor, Charles ‘Chick’ Checkley, had served in the RAF, and his deputy editor, Ian Forbes, had served with the Royal Corps of Signals, so neither struggled for inspiration.
The Commando books became, in their heyday, a publishing phenomenon, with sales reaching an amazing 750,000 copies in one month during the 1970s.
The stories were then re-enacted on living room or bedroom floors using “Action Man” or “Matchbox” toys.
And the comic has continued to entertain loyal readers despite the current coronavirus pandemic.
Despite the challenges of the team working remotely across the globe, and publishing and distributing the comic, Commando has continued to flourish with a 21.4% increase in subscribers in the past year.
We asked the Commando team to select six classic issues from the past 60 years to mark the latest milestone for the country’s sole surviving war comic.
WALK — OR DIE!
The issue that started it all — premiering Commando’s 60 year (and counting) run, leading it to become Britain’s, if not the world’s, longest-serving war comic.
This summer marks the fourth reprint of the famous issue, and for the first time with a brand-new cover by the legendary Ian Kennedy.
Ken Barr’s superb cover cemented the gritty, masculine look of the heroes, even basing them on his own body-builder physique.
Barr and the editor Charles ‘Chick’ Checkley designed the title’s logo and header together, with the famous Commando dagger slicing through the C — so timeless was their design that 60 years later it remains unchanged.
Issue 1 captures all the themes and values at the heart of Commando: adventure, comradery, compassion in war, and of course, heroism.
Such a basis on character driven stories is perhaps why the title has outlived so many of its contemporaries, still resonating with readers today.
| Story | Castle | Art | Garcia | Cover | Ken Barr|
Originally Commando No. 1 (1961)
SEEK AND STRIKE
While Ian Kennedy began his artistic career at DC Thomson as the lad who coloured in the black and white squares on The Sunday Post crossword puzzles, Kennedy’s talent shone and he rose to work on several comic titles including The Wizard and Adventure before leaving to work freelance, but continue his close relationship with the company.
It was then, several years into Commando’s infancy, that editor Chick Checkley asked Kennedy to do a Commando cover while playing him in a game of golf.
Kennedy accepted, creating the brilliant ‘Seek and Strike’ in 1970 and the rest in history.
Kennedy would go on to be the most prolific cover artist for Commando and remain synonymous with the brand, leading to the first ‘Art of’ book DC Thomson would produce, The Art of Ian Kennedy.
| Story | Clegg | Art | Amador | Cover | Ian Kennedy|
Originally Commando No. 453 (1970)
THE LONG CHASE
To highlight another issue by Ian Kennedy, the cover artwork for ‘The Long Chase’ really is outstanding.
It shows a Sunderland flying boat attacking a U-boat, with the horizon and aircraft both offset, using a limited colour palette to give it an atmospheric look as the Sunderland speeds towards the reader over the U-boat in the background, drawing your eye into the picture creating a sense of movement.
This, combined with amazing internal artwork by Gordon C Livingstone and a cracker of an adventure tale by Bill Fear, gives this Commando everything needed to make it an all-time classic.
| Story | Bill Fear | Art | Gordon C Livingstone | Cover | Ian Kennedy|
Originally Commando No. 1210 (1978)
The issue that spawned over a dozen sequels (and still going strong!), ‘Ramsey’s Raiders’ is an instant classic and fan-favourite.
Even those who may not read the weekly issues of Commando will be familiar with the title as the first four issues of the series have been collected in two of DC Thomson’s first ever graphic novels, making them the only full-colour and full graphic-novel sized issues of Commando to date.
The brainchild of then editor George Low and prolific writer Ferg Handley, ‘Ramsey’s Raiders’ is Boys’ Adventure comics gold.
With a roster of lovable, quipping vagabonds as the eponymous raiders, there is action and wit aplenty in each story, which Keith Page expertly depicts with his charming illustrations.
And, you guessed it, it’s topped off with another cover from the master, Ian Kennedy.
| Story | Ferg Handley | Art | Keith Page | Cover | Ian Kennedy|
Originally Commando No. 3854 (2005)
To celebrate the landmark 5,000th issue of Commando, it seemed fitting to honour Britain’s legendary Commando units of the Second World War.
The story follows Joe Hartley, a young lad in awe of his brother, Terry, who joined Churchill’s celebrated Commando ranks.
But Terry was taken all too soon, captured and killed by a vicious SS regiment.
Distraught, and desperate to follow in his brother’s footsteps, Joe enlisted.
Young and inexperienced, Joe struggled to impress the veteran soldiers in his brigade. With the end of the war drawing ever nearer, his opportunity to honour his brother’s memory was running out.
But in the final hours of the war, Joe Hartley would have his revenge!
Pulling together some of Commando’s finest talents for the special issue, the story is expertly penned by Ferg Handley and brought to life by Carlos Pino’s astonishing artwork and framed with a stunning cover from the great Ian Kennedy.
If that wasn’t enough, the team added in eye-catching red foil finish to the cover and awarded Commando with a very special 5000th medal, based on the long-service medal.
| Story | Ferg Handley | Art | Carlos Pino | Cover | Ian Kennedy|
Originally Commando No. 5000 (2017)
COMMANDOS VERSUS ZOMBIES
For several reasons, the final Commando we want to highlight is one of the more recent ventures, ‘Commandos Versus Zombies’.
Released in 2019 with a mixture of trepidation and excitement, the comic was a hit with the readers.
Scripted by the team’s very own Georgia Battle and matched with interior art by the consistently brilliant Vicente Alcazar, all it needed now was a cover from British comics legend Ian Kennedy — which it has!
Battle crafted a gripping story that moved at a pace, working with Vicente to break some of Commando’s storytelling traditions and prove they could do something a wee bit out there. The pair even went for the full bleed (pun intended) on some pages.
| Story | Georgia Standen Battle | Art | Vicente Alcazar | Cover | Ian Kennedy|
Originally Commando No. 5277 (2019)
Nine special issues to celebrate
To mark the 60th anniversary, Commando is releasing nine special issues starting with a reprint of the very first issue ‘Walk — or Die!’ with a brand-new cover by British comics legend Ian Kennedy.
The four comic books are all brand-new stories written by the Commando team and past editor Calum Laird — including a World War Three science fiction adventure and the long-awaited sequel to issue 1.
This set also features an exclusive collection of cover art prints for subscribers.
Capping off the celebration, the final set is on sale on July 8, and consists of four classic issues from the Golden Age of Commando voted for by fans and topped off with brand-new covers from modern artists.