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My days creating comics were not all dandy

By Isle of Thanet Gazette  |  Posted: October 05, 2012

  • WHAT A STORY: Left, Gerry O'Donnell with his comic Terra Nova (above), which never made it beyond a sample copy GIIS20120925D-004_C

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AS HE pours a latte for his next customer, chatty cafe owner Gerry O'Donnell is always good for spinning a tale, so he should be because 30 years ago it was how he made a living.

A former kids' comic book creator, Gerry wrote stories for all the great strips of the Seventies and Eighties.

Beano, Dandy, Whizzer, Chips, Buster – Gerry had a hand in them all.

One of his bigger claims to fame is that he co-created the first Bananaman strip.

The comic that would have been his crowning glory, however, was Terra Nova.

Gerry wistfully recalls the doomed project that had its beginning at a comic convention in 1981.

Gerry said: "The comic came about after I had spent the previous eight years working in children's comics for companies like IPC and DC Thomson and that is when I went to this convention where I met Derek Lord, former editor of the Fifties comic Eagle. Through him I met Derek Dempster, an ex-Battle of Britain pilot who wrote the book behind the 1969 film Battle Of Britain. Together we started our company ECO with me as editor-in-chief."

Gerry said the comic, titled Terra Nova, meaning "new earth", was using a traditional model of a kids' comic to get the young readers thinking about environmental issues and current affairs.

The first sample edition featured comic strips like Ocean Interpol and Warriors of the Rainbow.

These would be interwoven with features about chimp conservation or the rights and wrongs of fox hunting.

With the concept for the comic in place and his company set up, Gerry went about commissioning his artists and getting some high-profile backers for the project, including Bob Geldof.

The Irish philanthropist and Boomtown Rats star was to be the comic's first investor and invited Gerry to his Faversham home.

"He showed me his collection of Italian comics and said he very much wanted to be involved and offered 40 per cent of the funding," Gerry said.

"Next Richard Branson from Virgin showed interest, saying he wanted to have a new comic for his airline. Then the Mail on Sunday said they wanted a version for their weekly supplement."

Gerry said the problems started when each investor wanted a different thing. Virgin and the Mail on Sunday wanting an edition catered for their businesses

He said: "Bob wanted it to be a specialised a comic and didn't want to see it trivialised. We were having to produce three different comics. Eventually Bob decided to pull and then, deciding the whole thing was too complicated, Richard Branson dropped out leaving me with the Mail on Sunday."

"In the end they wanted to trivialise to the point of being a cop out, what commenced as a great firework display ended in a damp squib."

"The Mail on Sunday's market research company said it was 'best children's comic there was", but in the end I couldn't save it."

After the dream of bringing Terra Nova to print ended, Gerry worked for the NSPCC, creating a comic for its magazine before he finally put down his pen three years later and started a career in advertising and marketing which ran until 2000.

He said: "I came back to Ramsgate opened a cafe and the rest is history.

"I hope to bring it back the comic and put it online but I am still at the talking stage with some of the artists who did the original. The thing is that it is a whole new world out there so there would have to be a completely different way to present it. Until it comes back it will always be to me the greatest comic that never was."

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