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Friday, February 29, 2008

Frank Bellamy's Robin Hood

Published in 31 March 2008, Frank Bellamy's Robin Hood: The Complete Adventures collects together the two Robin Hood strips ('Robin Hood and His Merry Men' and 'Robin Hood and Maid Marian') drawn by Frank Bellamy for Swift in 1956-57. The strip ran a total of 67 episodes and featured some of Bellamy's finest work in black & white. This is the first time the strip has been reprinted complete and unbowdlerised. The book is available from Amazon.co.uk or directly from the publisher.

The Book

Published by Book Palace Books in March 2008. 144 pages. Edited and introduced by Steve Holland. (ISBN-13: 9780955159633)

Even at this early stage of Bellamy's career, his work was remarkably confident and detailed; if you've never seen these strips before prepare to be amazed! Soft Cover Black & White

Reviews
(None yet)

Clarks Commandos Series 0 - part 1

When I started posting these strips, I believed that I'd located the very first series which ran in the early months of 1970. However, I've since found an earlier tale which ran from August to November 1969. Drawn by the fabulous Tom Kerr, I'm pleased to present the origin story of...

More excitement tomorrow!

Clarks Commandos Series 0 - part 2

More adventures with Clarks Commandos! Scroll down if you missed the previous episode.

Artwork is by Tom Kerr and you'll be able to read part 3 tomorrow!

Clarks Commandos Series 0 - part 3

Part 3 of our latest series of Clarks Commandos. Scroll down if you missed either of the first two episodes.

Artwork is by Tom Kerr... and the will be another episode tomorrow!

Clarks Commandos Series 0 - part 4

The penultimate set of episodes from the latest—and, in fact, first—series of Clarks Commandos.

Artwork by Tom Kerr... come back tomorrow for the gripping finale!

Clarks Commandos Series 0 - part 5

The final three episodes from the debut series of Kit Carter's Clarks Commandos.

If you've enjoyed this little trip down memory lane, why not follow Kit and the other Commandos on their further adventures, some of which you can find below. This has been a Clarks Shoes Production ... and the Clarks Commandos will return in another adventure soon.

Series 1
Series 2
Series 3
Series 4

Wednesday, February 27, 2008

Comic Cuts

I'm juggling various projects this week: The Mike Western Story is now well under way and I'm now sitting here with a yard-high pile of Valiants to read through. As you can imagine, it's a bit of a distraction. It's a far from complete run, even from the time when I was an avid reader; I seem to be missing a huge chunk of issues from 1971/72 and I've got a horrible feeling that it was around this period that my Mum decided that there were too many comics piling up and got rid of all my TV 21s and any others that were laying around. But many survived and still have the little 'Holland' written in the corner by our local newsagent. I must have squirreled most of the earlier issues away somewhere safe because most of 1969 and 1970 have survived. While I've got them out of the attic I'll see if I can scan up a few pages to share with you. Above is the cover to the very first issue (bought many years later, I hasten to add; I only just beat Valiant into the world).

Also underway is the next Frank Bellamy book for the Book Palace which will contain the complete runs of 'King Arthur and His Knights' and 'Swiss Family Robinson'. The scanning is all done but it will be a while before anything else happens as we're still waiting the arrival of the first book, copies of which should be available in a few week's time. We will have a limited number of copies available at the ABC Show on March 16th if you just can't wait, but the bulk of the copies will probably be arriving a week or two later.

I've also got to get started on the translation of the next Storm book. Maybe tomorrow.

In the Post:

Justin Marriott's The Paperback Fanatic has reached issue 6 and he's produced another fantastic issue, this one a Peter Haining special. Leading off the issue is a long interview with Peter conducted in 2006 followed by a summary of his horror anthologies by Mike Ashley both offering a lot of insight into Peter's work and how he managed to write and compile his 260 or so books. I don't think the publishing conditions exist any more for such a prolific output so it can truly be said that you're unlikely to see the likes of Peter again. Nice guy, too.

Of the shorter pieces I thoroughly enjoyed Justin's interview with Phil Harbottle (my co-author on Vultures of the Void) and Andy Boot's thorough examination of Bill Baker's Press Editorial Syndicate. Phil's fascinating story of editing Vision of Tomorrow is a real "what might have been" tale if only problems with distribution could have been overcome; the latter article is the kind of well-researched piece that Paperback Fanatic is starting to earn a reputation for.

The magazine is illustrated with dozens of book covers, mostly from the 1970s boom days of paperbacks.

Justin now has a website for the magazine where you can see a few sample pages. Or why not just dive straight in and order a copy via the online shop. £5 including p&p in the UK is a bargain.

Also landing on the welcome mat recently was Spaceship Away, Rod Barzilay's evocation of the original Dan Dare. Although it originally home to a single strip, a brand new Dan Dare yarn drawn by Keith Watson, the magazine has expanded greatly over the last couple of years and now contains the ongoing DD series 'Green Nemesis', nowadays only partly drawn—due to pressure of other work—by Don Harley but with Tim Booth ably filling in, 'Hal Starr' by Syd Jordan, 'Rocket Pilot' by Keith Page (a Dare prequel), 'The Gates of Eden' (another Dare strip by Tim Booth) and a reprint of 'Journey Into Space'.

Other features include various humour strips (by Ray Aspden, Eric Mackenzie and Andy Boyce), a Dan Dare text serial by Denis Steeper, articles and a beautiful pin-up illustration by Ian Kennedy. Printed on glossy paper that really makes colours pop out, it's a fabulous collection and Rod is promising more original strips for the future. The magazine is getting some distribution through comics shops but to guarantee your copy, go to the Spaceship Away website and subscribe. I can't give it any higher recommendation than to say that I've just subbed for another six issues (which means I get a seventh for free).

Dime Novel Round-Up is a rather more academic magazine dedicated to American popular literature of the 19th and early 20th century. I'm always amazed at the breadth of material editor J. Randolph Cox manages to attract to his little mag—and, indeed, the diversity of his own reading as this issue includes his memories of reading the Freddy the Pig books by Walter Brooks. This issue's two main features are 'Samuel Goodrich and the Branding of American Children's Books' by Pat Pflieger and 'Just Desserts: Crime and Punishment in Philip S. Warne's Dime Novel Mysteries' by Marlena E. Bremseth, both of whom have University backgrounds. That's not to say that they're unreadable (a serious fault in many academic papers), but they are focussed sharply on their subject and if, like me, you know little about the authors under discussion, you might not get the best out of them. I'm still a learner when it comes to dime novels (many of which were published for boys' here in the UK, hence my interest) and this is the place to learn.

DNRU is published six times a year and available by sub. in the US for $20/year and $35/two years. Single issues, $4. Enquiries for subs. elsewhere to the editor J. Randolph Cox, Dime Novel Round-Up, P. O. Box 226, Dundas MN 55019.

A few bits of news from hither and yon...

* Lew Stringer has put up a fun video of Alex Collier drawing a page from Viz shot with a time lapse camera. I'd hate to do one myself as there would be almost no movement apart from the coffee regularly draining from my cup then mysteriously refilling.

* The rise in Dan Dare sales for Virgin I reported a few days ago may partly caused by a glitch in the way the numbers were recorded. According to a couple of sources—see, for instance, Marc-Oliver Frisch's comments here—the figures for a number of titles took an unexpected jump, suspected to involve reorder figures from February being included in the January chart. We shall just have to see if Diamond reissue the January chart and, if not, what happens next month.

Tuesday, February 26, 2008

Steve Whitaker (1955-2008)

I was sorry to hear about the death of Steve Whitaker, who died suddenly on Friday, 22 February, at the age of 52. He died suddenly: feeling unwell, he was travelling to see a doctor by taxi when he collapsed. Although he was revived, he later died in hospital.

I probably became aware of his name in the 1980s through the pages Fantasy Advertiser and various Harrier Comics' anthologies Swiftsure and Avalon, along with two issue's of Guy Lawley's Man Elf for Trident; he was an incredibly active and enthusiastic supporter of, and contributor to, small press comics in the 1980s and 1990s although he was probably best know for his colouring work for Marvel UK, 2000AD and for DC's colour version of V For Vendetta, where he ably assisted David Lloyd.

I didn't know him well but our paths crossed in the early 1990s when I was editing Comic World. He was working at the London Cartoon Centre at the time and I also bumped into him (not literally as he was incredibly tall and easy to spot) at the offices of Tundra UK, the SSI and at UKCAC. He was incredibly knowledgeable about comics and artists and the techniques of how to put comics together, knowledge which he shared with hundreds of students as a teacher at the various incarnations of the LCC, at East Ham College and many workshops at conventions and festivals. This desire to share culminated in the publication of The Encyclopedia of Cartooning Techniques, originally published in 1994 and republished in 2002; the most recent edition was published in 2006.

A memorial special issue of B-APA (British Amateur Press Association) is to be compiled, to be made available at CAPTION, the British small press gathering held in Oxford in August.

A good round-up of tributes and more about Whitaker's career can be found at John Freeman's Down the Tubes. Examples of Steve's recent art can be found on his livejournal page and flickr album.

Update:
Steve CV from the early 1990s has been posted here.

Saturday, February 23, 2008

Comic Cuts

Updated: Sunday night...

I've had connection problems thanks to an ancient modem with ADD which keeps losing track of the web; we're waiting on a new one which will, hopefully, resolve the problem and the frustrations of trying to upload anything will be a thing of past. Thankfully I'd uploaded all the pages of 'Caroline Baker' so it was just a case of posting each daily episode. I've another short series of these which I'll post at some point.

Most of the week has been dedicated to putting together the new edition of The Mike Western Story. This first appeared as a little A5 booklet back in 1990 and featured a fascinating autobiographical essay by Mike to which I added a brief running commentary. The new edition will be bigger, brighter and have a lot more information on Mike's career, plus what I hope will be a few very nice surprises. My main problem at the moment has been trying to dig out examples of Mike's forty years as a comics' artist as most of my comics are stashed away in boxes in the attic and not so easy to get at. Lugging even a few year's worth of Valiants around, doubled over, isn't doing my back much good.

The breaking news this week has come from Titan Books, who have signed a big deal with Egmont to reprint a variety of strips. The headline-grabber will be Roy of the Rovers who is to star in a whole series of books, starting with The Best of Roy of the Rovers: The 1980s (ISBN 978-1845769482) to be released on June 27. It will be a bumper, 208-page collection of classic stories and here's what Titan have to say about the new series:

"He's back! Britain's most famous fantasy footballer, Roy Race, makes his long-awaited return, in this first bumper volume collecting the very best of Roy's thrilling escapades! Featuring the cream of Roy's matches and adventures from the '70s and '80s, this incredible collection will be a must-have for footie fans of all ages! Thrill once more to the roar of the crowd, as Roy and Melchester Rovers face trials and tribulations on and off the pitch! As featured in the recent BBC 'Comics Britannia' documentaries, these are the tales that endeared "Roy of the Rovers" to a generation, and provide the ultimate introduction to the best football comic ever created!"

Titan's deal with Egmont covers quite a range of titles, including Battle Picture Weekly, Action, humour comic Buster and girls' comics Tammy and Misty. Look out for future reprints starring 'Johnny Red', 'Major Eazy' and 'The Rat Pack' from Battle.

Titan will be releasing their next James Bond volume, James Bond: The Paradise Plot, in April alongside the second Jeff Hawke release, Jeff Hawke: The Ambassadors.

As I made a bit of a fuss over the sales figures of Virgin's Dan Dare #2, the latest figure for #3, 10,245 shows a healthy increase over both 1st and 2nd issues. The explanation seems obvious: interest in the first issue has driven orders up—unfortunately, too late to increase sales for issue 2 due to the way orders through Diamond (where these figures originate) are made some months in advance. So sales for #3 are up 31% reflecting the demand for #1.

Tucked away in the back of Diamond's Previews magazine is an announcement from Virgin that they will be releasing the first three issues in a special hardback edition on April 23rd. This 80-page book is in an oversized format (7.4" by 11") which Virgin helpfully illustrate (see above) with a comparison to the original comics size. The book will also include reproductions of the five covers used on the three issues by Bryan Talbot (also the cover for the book), Greg Horn, John Higgins, Brendan McCarthy and Garry Leach. The book retails at £6.99 so this will be a cheap way to catch up on the series so far.

Other news from here 'n' there...

* Philip Pullman is to write for the new DFC comic that is due to be launched on subscription at the end of May. The strip, 'The Adventures of John Blake', is to be drawn by John Aggs. John Freeman's Down the Tubes has more details of the planned line-up and the FP International blog has some additional pics.

* Alex Fitch's Panel Borders has the first part of an interview with Alan Moore.

(* Pics: First sighting of a Wild Wonder drawn by Mike Western © IPC Media; Roy of the Rovers through the years © Egmont UK Ltd. Dan Dare © Dan Dare Corporation/Virgin Comics.)

Tuesday, February 19, 2008

Comics on Radio: "Merry-Go-Round"

Back in November 2006 I mentioned that stories from Eagle were broadcast on the Radio Luxembourg show 'Spread Your Wings' in 1954; both 'Luck of the Legion' and 'Dan Dare' were turned into radio serials. Probably the first strips to be adapted for the radio, I said at the time.

I was wrong.

I've been digging around issues of Swift and stumbled across a mention of an earlier show. This was also on Radio Luxembourg and was called 'Merry-Go-Round'. Looking around the net I can't find any reference to it but a few details appeared in issues of Swift. In the issue dated 2 October 1954, readers were informed about...

"A Special Radio Programme for every boy and girl. Tune in to Radio Luxembourg on Monday 4th October at seven p.m. and hear Humphrey Lestocq—H.L. of TV fame—tell you about:—

* A special helicopter trip for a boy or girl
* A new Tarna serial
* And other exciting things for everybody.

This show is compered for you by H.L. himself. Tune in to 208 metres."

The following week (9 October 1954) was a free gift issue for Swift, designed to boost sales; talk of the radio show was surprisingly low-key on the editorial page which was mostly concerned with the launch of the Swift Quester's Book for Swift Club members. A Quester, as the editorial page reveals, is a boy or girl who looks for exciting and interesting things; the editorial choice of what was interesting was quite... um... unexciting. Each week, pictures were published that you could stick in your book and you could award yourself points for spotting what was pictured. So, for instance, the first week's quest was to look for: a scooter (15 points), a dog (4), a railway crossing (33), a postman (10) and a weighing machine (23).

The radio show got a brief mention at the end of the editorial: "... and don't forget our Radio Luxembourg Programme either. Tune in to 208 metres next Monday evening at 7 p.m." In addition, there was a competition (announced on the previous week's show) with two "super" cameras as prizes.

The following week's editorial page gave the show something of a greater boost and mentioned an 'Out and About' adventure which, I guess, would be some kind of Quester-style feature.

The following week's snippet about the show mentions a "sing-song with Tom Tex". Tom was a cowboy character who appeared in Swift each week. "Sing a song with Tom Tex" was again mentioned the following week (30 October 1954): "On Merry-Go-Round you can sit round thet old camp fire with Tom Tex; have a thrilling jungle adventure with Tarna; listen to H.L. compere the Show and hear several other enjoyable radio features."

Two weeks later, a small notice urged readers to "Tell Your Big Brother!"

"The Merry-Go-Round Programme for Swift readers featuring H.L. has been a terrific success! Now you can tell your big brother and his friends that next week they can listen to the first smashing Eagle "Spread Your Wings" Programme featuring all the things that Eagle readers look forward to. Don't forget it's your big brother's turn! Tell him to tune in to Radio Luxembourg, on 208 metres, next Monday, November 15th. The Eagle "Spread Your Wings" Programme starts at 7.0 p.m."

The last of the competition entries had appeared a week earlier relating to the show for November 1st and the winners were announced in the issue dated November 20th.

"Merry-Go-Round" lasted only six weeks before being replaced by "Spread Your Wings" but that's enough to make it the first British comic-related radio show. And the first strip to be adapted would therefore appear to be the adventures of Swift's junior Tarzan, Tarna the jungle boy. Tarna (unlike his almost namesake) had no back-story; he was simply a white boy in the jungle who could make himself understood to Toto the chimp and Tuski the elephant. His adventures ran in Swift for nine years, at its best when drawn by Harry Bishop (the 1st episode, at the top of this column was drawn by the strip's original artist, Walter Pannett).

Humphrey Lestocq (Humphrey Lestocq Gilbert) was a London-born actor and former R.A.F. fighter pilot who came to prominence as the character Flying Officer Kite in the radio comedy series 'Merry-Go-Round'. The show had been first broadcast by the BBC, rotating each week to cover the three major services (army, navy, air force); it gave birth to a number of famous radio shows, not least 'Much Binding in the Marsh' with Kenneth Horne and 'Stand Easy' with Charlie Chester. Lestocq made the switch to television where he became well known in the 1950s as a children's entertainer, playing the stooge to a puppet called Mr. Turnip on Whirligig, and as the quiz show chairman of Quick on the Draw. His fortunes diminished in the late 1950s when he was bankrupted. He died in January 1984 after collapsing at King's Cross station, aged 65.

Before leaving Swift, here's your chance to be a Quester: while you're out and about over the next few days, make a note of how many of the following things you see...

(* Swift © Look and Learn Magazine Ltd.; 'Tarna Jungle Boy' © IPC Media.)

Comic Cuts

Spent the weekend working on the new Trigan Empire collection, finishing up the introduction and proofing the story pages; there's still some work to do on the volume once the intro material has been laid out but we're 90% there. Above you can see a page taken from original artwork, unlettered. The original is in colour but as I receive proof copies in black & white that's all I can offer for the mo.

The introductions can take some time to write and, with ten volumes now completed, I was staggered to find that I'd written 37,000 words in all. Plus another 16,500 words of other introductory material for the dossiers that most volumes include, looking at various aspects of the Trigan Empire. The grand total will easily top 60,000 words once we've completed the 12 volumes. That's almost a book! Hmmmm...

For a little light relief, I've been checking over the next section of 'The Crime Fighters'. This little project started back in 2005 when Allen J. Hubin, compiler of Crime Fiction Bibliography, mentioned that he had been given the unpublished manuscript to a Bill Lofts/Derek Adley book by Bill. When Derek died in 1991, almost all of the research notes that he and Bill had compiled over a period of forty years were destroyed and, as the original MS for 'The Crime Fighters' has never come to light, it is likely that Allen's photocopy is the only record that the work exists.

The MS contains hundreds of entries for detective characters and other crime solvers, many of them culled from early British story papers and dime novel reprints; as most bibliographies of crime fiction concentrate on novels, this adds a unique quality to the Lofts/Adley 'Crime Fighters'. It was obviously written around 1970, perhaps intended as a follow-up to The Men Behind Boys' Fiction which appeared that year.

With posterity in mind, Allen and I began putting the whole thing online and, after a long interruption -- Allen has been working on updating Crime Fiction and my energies have been aimed elsewhere -- we've finally gotten the next section done. Apart from weeding out a number of errors and adding authorship information on anonymous stories where I was able to, the online version is pretty much as was written.

At present only A-F is available but part 4 (G-H) should be up shortly.

If you've visited the site before, it has moved since it was set up, so please change any bookmarks you have. The same applies to the Story Paper Index which, although it hasn't been updated for some time (the last update was just before I joined Look and Learn full time), still has a lot of information, with nearly 17,000 magazine and pocket library issues indexed.

A couple of bits of news...

* The Carol Day website, dedicated to the strip drawn by David Wright, has added two more complete stories (bringing the total to four) as well as a story guide, a showcase of some of the best of the original artwork and more artwork for sale.

* The latest issue of Book and Magazine Collector contains a couple of articles by David Ashford and Norman Wright, one on the 100th anniversary of Billy Bunter and another in their long-running series on British comics artists, this time putting the spotlight on Mike Hubbard.

* Meanwhile, Lew Stringer celebrates Eric Roberts' brief run on the 'Billy Bunter' strip in Knockout. Roberts was on the strip for about 18 months following the death of Frank Minnitt, who had drawn the strip for nearly 20 years. Roberts was already a Knockout veteran himself, having drawn 'Mike' (later 'Mike & Dimps') for the paper since 1945; later he drew 'Sinbad Simms' for Knockout (1957-60) and 'Winker Watson' for Dandy (1967-79). Lew has some examples of Roberts' original art boards on view.

* Death visits Alan Moore (link via Journalista).

* And finally, Dan Dare advertises Mobil Oil on TV. These ads date from 1987 and, to date, mark the only live appearance of Dan and Digby on the small screen. Thanks to Peter J. Inns (of dan-dare.org, dan-dare.net and dandare.org.uk) for posting these.

Rocket to Nowhere



Passage to Delmik



Mekon Ahoy!



(link via Eagle Times blog)

Sunday, February 17, 2008

Picture Adventure Books

We've stumbled across quite a few curious things as we've been doing into the Thriller Comics Library for the upcoming index and, I'm pleased to say, resolved nearly all of them. But Geoff West has turned up a new mystery which I'm going to throw to the world.

It involves a Canadian edition of Thriller Comics under the title "Picture Adventure Books". Only one is known to exist -- an adaptation of The Last of the Mohicans which was originally published as Thriller Comics #15 in June 1952. All well and good. A Canadian edition isn't out of the question. The cover is identical to that of the original Thriller edition (above).

Well, Geoff has just sent me a scan of the back cover and it lists a total of 20 titles, with The Last of the Mohicans as the first.

The question is... were any of the other titles published?

I've not been able to find copies of any of these titles listed anywhere -- not even the one we know to exist -- although I did find out a little something about the Brunswick Press who published it/them after a bit of digging around the Canadian National Archive.

The Press was set up by Michael Wardell who had joined Beaverbrook Newspapers in London in 1926 after a career in the military. With the outbreak of the Second World War he rejoined the army and finally retired with the rank of Brigadier in 1946. He returned to Fleet Street and eventually became vice-chairman to the Beaverbrook organisation.

In 1950 he came to Fredericton, in New Brunswick, Canada, and bought the Daily Gleaner. He then established the University Press of New Brunswick Ltd. with its subsidiary, Brunswick Press. He also purchased the Maritime Advocate, relaunched as the Atlantic Advocate. Wardell acted as Lord Beaverbrook's representative in New Brunswick, providing him with advice and information on a wide range of affairs. In the late 1960s, Wardell sold his controlling interest in the Gleaner to industrialist K. C. Irving. Wardell died in 1978, aged 83.

Of the titles listed, The Count of Monte Cristo appeared in September 1953 as Thriller Comics #45, which I suspect means that the "Picture Adventure Books" series appeared in 1953 or 1954. I'd be amazed to learn that all 20 titles appeared... it's unusual for a whole series like this to be unknown to hardcore comics collectors. But did it fold after only one issue?

Friday, February 15, 2008

The Evolution of Billy Bunter

The Magnet #1, 15 February 1908

Today is the 100th anniversary of the launch of The Magnet which gave to the world one of its most famous characters, Billy Bunter of Greyfriars School. Bunter was more of a background character in the early stories, although arrived fully formed and well rounded (no pun intended) from the mind of writer Charles Hamilton, in the debut issue, where he was described as "somewhat stout, with a broad, pleasant face and an enormous pair of spectacles ... It was pretty clear that, big as his spectacles were, they did not assist his vision very much, for he had to put his head within a foot of Harry's to make him out."

The short-sighted (or "blind owl," as Skinner of the Remove calls him), somewhat stout Bunter who was forever saying "I'm sincerely sorry" and was prepared to make tea for the chaps who shared Study No.1 soon developed the traits that readers came to love. These extracts from the second issue tell you all you need to know about Bunter...
Billy Bunter was called the Owl in the Remove, on account of his big spectacles, which gave him an owlish appearance, but did not seem to assist his vision very much. He was always making ludicrous mistakes through his short sight...
And...
"Hallo, Wharton!" said the short-sighted Billy, blinking at him. "Where did you spring from? You weren't in the common-room when we scoffed the new kid's grub, were you? I was against it, but I had half a dozen of the tarts. Thought I had better, to save them from being wasted."
And...
Wharton and Nugent were alone on this particular afternoon when tea-time came round, and Nugent jammed the kettle on the fire, and Wharton cleared the table, each with the hope that they were to have the study to themselves. They didn't object to Billy Bunter, who was too harmless for anybody to object to him. Billy's only fault was a perennial impecuniosity, and he would share cheerfully in anything that was going, and owe his "whack" with equal cheerfulness, explaining on all occasions that he was in a stony state, which he hoped would soon be relieved by the arrival of a postal order, which, by the way, very seldom arrived.
Although William George Bunter was to become a household name he was not a nice fellow. He was a thief, forever stealing from study rooms; nor was he averse to stealing from masters because greed got the better of him every time, even overcoming has inborn cowardice; he was an arrogant snob who he had little to be arrogant about; he lied and cheated and spied and wheedled his way through school showing no academic abilities; his talents, outside of ventriloquism, were his natural cunning and his lack of scruples. Charles Hamilton struck just the right note with him and so he remained for over fifty years. Bunter was a fine character to have around while Harry Wharton & Co., the heroes of the Greyfriars stories, got on with the important business of winning cricket matches against rival schools, unmasking spies amongst the staff and pupils and solving mysteries, which were the basic plots of most school stories. He provided much of the humour in the Greyfriars yarns, a cruel but justifiable humour: every squeal and cry ("Yow-ow-ow! Beasts! Yarooooh!") was a laugh for the readers because they knew that everything Bunter suffered, whether it was a bumping from the Chums or having a cricket stump taken to his ample behind, he brought upon himself.

By the third issue, Bunter had found has natural place in the plotting of Charles Hamilton's storylines. In this instance, Bunter is responsible for putting Bob Cherry on the trail of Hazledene and a missing button. As Cherry put it, Bunter was "the right ass to be in the right place for once" and that was often his role in many a story. Whether it was through enforced detentions, sneaking off games practice or scurrying around Greyfriars in search of food, Bunter was usually separate from the rest of his classmates and in a position to eavesdrop on some vital piece of information or see something that would otherwise have been unknown.

Bunter became more of a object of humour in comic strips; he starred in many between 1939 and 1976 in the pages of Knockout and Valiant... in fact, he had appeared even earlier in a number of strips in The Magnet. The humour in the strips revolved almost constantly around the non-appearance of Bunter's postal order or his overwhelming desire to feast; most of the time he got his comeuppance, although occasionally he triumphed and was rewarded.

By the time the comics strips began their weekly appearance, The Magnet had been running for over thirty years, establishing the look of Bunter as well as his character.

Bunter did not appear in any of the Magnet illustrations until issue 7 when he was given the cover. Technically, his first appearance was issue 6, as the cover for the following issue was always previewed in those early issues.

The illustrator was Hutton Mitchell, who drew the illustrations for the early issues of The Magnet. Mitchell's Bunter was nothing like the Bunter we recall today. Rotund, definitely, but younger looking and lacking the checkered trousers, spotted bow tie and twin curls of hair that he would gain from the pens of later artists.

William Hutton Mitchell drew only 39 issues of The Magnet but, according to Hugh Fennell, who was working at the Amalgamated Press at the time, "Mitchell could have had the job indefinitely but he was always behind with his drawings and at length the editor just could not stand the delays any longer. Mitchell was a very swift worker and could dash off a set of pen and ink drawings in jig-time, but he would not start work until the very last moment—and sometimes after. A man of considerable erudition, a brilliant conversationalist, a painter and novelist, he just would not get down to the steady grind demanded by the A.P."

Mitchell was born in Perthshire, Scotland, in 1870, the son of Peter Mitchell, a Presbyterian Minister in Kilmarnock. He was married to Alice Odell and had four sons and a daughter (the latter by a second marriage); three of his sons, Alan, Alexander and Bruce, acted as models for the Greyfriars boys, even Bunter thanks to pillows stuffed into their trousers.

As well as being an illustrator, Mitchell also wrote two novels, Deviations of Diana (London, A. M. Philpot, 1925) and Fourth Man (London, Selwyn & Blount, 1931). He lived in Peignton, South Devon, in the 1920s and died in Great Bardfield, Essex, in 1934, aged 64.

It was Arthur H. Clarke who put Bunter into his familiar striped trousers. Clarke was to illustrate The Magnet for some 160 issues. The illustration above comes from issue 99 and the shape of Bunter has by now developed along familiar lines (and curves). By issue 130 (below), Bunter is in his checkered trousers.

Clarke, despite his importance to the look of Bunter, seems to be the forgotten man of the Magnet. I was unable to find out anything about him amongst the many sites dedicated to Greyfriars and only a brief mention in George Beal's The Complete Magnet Companion (1996) which admitted "few biographical details are known."

Arthur H(yde) Clarke was born in South Hackney in January 1871, the son of Edwin Hyde Clarke and his wife Isabella. Edwin, a London-born solicitor, had married Mary Maria Lawson in 1864 but Mary Clarke died the following year. In 1866, Edwin married Isabella King with whom he had at least eight children. The death of his first wife was not to be Edwin's only tragedy: although she was 25 year his junior, Isabella Clarke died in 1897 and her death adversely affected their eldest son (also Edwin Hyde Clarke, born in 1869), who committed suicide two weeks later. Edwin himself died in 1898.

Arthur was their third child and not the only artist in the family. Elder brother Edwin, after serving in the Army for eight years, was later engaged as an artist on an illustrated London paper. Younger sisters Caroline Hyde Clarke (b. 1876) and Adeline Gertrude Clarke (b. 1878) were also listed in the 1901 census as artists.

Arthur seems to have found regular work with the Amalgamated Press boys' papers, also contributing to Boys' Friend, and various other papers put out by the Harmsworth brothers. He would draw Billy Bunter & Co. from November 1908 until around March 1911 (with occasional fill-ins by R. J. Macdonald). According to Beal, he "died suddenly ... aged only 38, apparently while actually engaged in drawing a Greyfriars illustration." This is clearly not true as, in March 1911, Clarke had recently celebrated his 40th birthday.

Although I've been unable to establish his year of death with absolute certainty, my best bet from perusing the death records is the Arthur H. Clarke whose death was registered in Edmonton in 1916, aged 45 (unfortunately, the records don't give middle names, only initials and there are at least a couple of other Arthur H. Clarkes who died in roughly the same period).

Beal is on stronger ground with his comments on Clarke as an artist: "He was a first-class draughtsman, with a strong, individual style ... He has been criticised for the 'sameness' of his drawings; that his schoolmasters especially were very grim-looking and Victorian in appearance."

Bunter found one of his finest artists in Charles Henry Chapman who was The Magnet's main artist from 1911 until its demise in 1940. You should be able to find all you want to know about the artists' life on this page, written by his grandson John Chapman. Chapman is credited with making each and every schoolboy at Greyfriars an individual; he certainly gave them character and his work, although following closely to the template established by Arthur Clarke, had none of Clarke's stiffness.

Chapman was responsible for some of the finest of Bunter's comic strip adventures, although that's a subject for another day. Briefly, he drew Bunter in the early issues of Knockout in 1939 and again—a much more substantial run—in Comet in 1958. During his days on The Magnet, a number of other artists helped spread the workload, amongst them Peter Hayward, Ronald Simmons and, most notably, Leonard Shields, who shared the art duties with Chapman from 1926; in 1936 he began producing all of the covers to the paper although from roughs produced by Chapman. A reminiscence written by Shields' son, Edgar, can be found here.

Chapman and Shields were both hugely popular with fans of the Greyfriars stories and Old Boys writing about the series rightly praised their work. However, in the evolution of the look of Bunter, considerable credit must go to Arthur H. Clarke who, although his work was less attractive than Chapman's, established Bunter as a consistent and well-delineated character, the artwork finally matching the skill shown by Bunter's creator, that master wordsmith, Charles Hamilton.

Further Reading
If this hasn't sated your appetite for reading about Billy Bunter and The Magnet, there are plenty of sites worth visiting. A good starting point is Tony Hiam's Greyfriars, The Magnet & Billy Bunter - Facts, Figures & Fun website. The Friars' Club celebrates everything related to Charles Hamilton. Both sites include various links to other online resources. Enjoy!

BBC Radio 4 are broadcasting a show entitled 'Billy Bunter's Birthday Bash' on Tuesday, 19th February (11.30 am) presented by Gyles Brandreth. No doubt it will be available through their Listen Again facility for the following week.

Thursday, February 14, 2008

Happy Valentine's Day

As it's Valentine's Day and romance is in the air, I thought I'd put up some romantic stories. These are from Boyfriend, which, it just so happens, I had a stack of sitting next to my scanner recently.

But it's not just a random selection. These are stories, one apiece, by a trio of very talented comic strip artists who rarely get a mention: the Tourrets. All three are very accomplished artists, better known for their book illustrations. Indeed, only one of the sisters ever blips on the comics radar -- Pat Tourret -- as she was the illustrator of the long-running Daily Sketch strip featuring fashion model Tiffany Jones. But she, along with sisters Gwen and Shirley, produced strips for weekly comics and annuals in between other assignments.

So, on this most romantic day of the year, here's a bouquet of romance strips from those talented Tourret sisters...

Gwen Tourret...

Pat Tourret...

Shirley Tourret...

(* strips © IPC Media. For more romance stories check out the Valentine Picture Story Library collection at Amazon.co.uk.)