As many will no doubt be aware, the original Air Ace Picture Library series was a 64-page, digest-size comic. Each issue contained a single, compete story. It differed from some other similar series in that it focussed on aviation or air war stories specifically. The original series ran for 545 issues and was published by Fleetway between January 1960 and November 1970. It was incorporated into War Picture Library the following month, commencing with issue number 632. A second series of reprints was published under license by former Fleetway executive, Ron Phillips. It ran for 56 issues from 1985.
Fleetway had introduced the Holiday Special format to War and Battle Picture Libraries in 1963 and 1964 respectively but it was not until 1969 that the first edition of an Air Ace Picture Library Holiday Special would find its way onto newsagent’s shelves. Holiday Specials are effectively collected editions or anthologies, typically bringing together three or four stories in a single volume. The initial run of Holiday Specials maintained the same digest-size format. The earlier editions in the first run each contained four stories, edited to a more concise 56 pages, providing each volume with a 224 page total.
This changed with the 1974 edition. The book now comprised of three full length (56 page) stories, one short story of 20 pages and an additional 4 page feature. This delivered a trimmed down 192 page total. Beyond this, the precise composition and story length varied but the most common format included three main stories of 56 pages, supplemented by three additional 8 page shorts. In each case, the 192 page total was maintained, culminating in 1984 – the final Holiday Special in the initial run. There were a total of 16 Holiday Specials in this first run.
The Ron Phillips Era
In the mid-1980s, former Fleetway executive Ron Phillips managed to obtain a license to several of the picture libraries, including Air Ace. This resulted in the publishing of reprints of the original comics for a second run. It also paved the way for a second set of Holiday Specials.
The Ron Phillips Holiday Specials were taller and narrower than their predecessors – more like a standard paperback book then the traditional digest we have come to expect from picture libraries. Concerns were raised regarding the production quality of these editions and this combined with the lack of original content no doubt contributed to a relatively short lifespan. In all, there were just four Air Ace Holiday Specials in this second run, published annually between 1986 and 1989. They each retained the 192 total page format.
There are however some positives to take from this series. The absence of the additional short features in these editions at least allowed for each of the three included stories to be published in their original, full 64-page length. The covers were bold and bright with some flashes which make them quite aesthetically pleasing, at least externally. The Ron Phillips editions are now considered quite collectable, perhaps more so than they were at the time of publication.
Air Ace Picture Monthly
The Air Ace Picture Monthly series were Holiday Specials in all but name. This lesser known and short-run series was something of a final fling for Fleetway’s picture libraries. Produced to the same size and format as the previous Ron Phillips editions, they each contained three stories edited to the 56 page length that had previously been seen in Holiday Specials of the 1960s and 70s. The picture monthlies included Attack, Air Ace, Battle and War and were published over a brief, approximately 15 month period, during 1991 and 1992. There are just seven editions of Air Ace Picture Monthly, all published in 1992.
Somewhat overlooked by collectors in the past, the short run and possibly smaller circulation of these editions make them potentially scarcer than some previous incarnations. They could well be worth holding onto.