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Thursday, September 27, 2007

AARRGGHH! It's War

The old Fleetway war libraries are starting to haunt me. Having been involved in two reprint books (Unleash Hell and Death or Glory) and an index (The Fleetway Picture Library Index Vol. 1: The War Libraries), the latest book through the door is none other than David Roach's collection of war covers, Aarrgghh! It's War.

With 400 pages chock full of cover reproductions -- many from original artwork -- this is probably the most colourful book ever produced about British comics. The reproduction of the covers is superb, although I suspect some of the artwork has been cleaned up. Good in one sense (you get to see the covers pristine as they were intended to look with very few blemishes on show) but not so good if you wanted to look at some warts-and-all art boards.

Following the foreword by James May, David Roach evokes the memory of buying these books when he was a kid and the grittier style that War Picture Library had over the gung-ho adventures of Battler Britton and Spy 13 that were appearing in Thriller Picture Library at the same time. The focus of the book is on the covers and this is where David comes into his own, offering some fascinating details about the artists whose work he (and I) so long admired but who, for the most part, were nameless. David (metaphorically) raises a glass to the talents of Giorgio De Gaspari, Pino Dell'Orco, Alessandro Biffignandi, Nino Caroselli, Graham Coton and Oliver Frey, amongst others and discusses the fate of the original artwork and how, in 2005, he found himself in a freezing cold warehouse in Camden Town, surrounded by stacks of old comic pages and paintings. I was there, too, on a couple of occasions and, believe me, it was an experience.

The remainder of the book is split into three sections covering war on land, in the air and at sea, each with a brief introduction followed by page after page of covers. Some have been greatly enlarged, zooming in on a section of art until you can see every brush-stroke. Other pages reproduce covers four to a page, each with the artist identified -- only a tiny handful of the over 500 covers reproduced are by unknown hands.

My favourite section has to be the air war covers, mostly from Air Ace and War picture libraries, which contains 200 covers of incredible diversity. The artists put every ounce of imagination they could into them and, beyond the technical skill of being able to depict a plane in flight, there's incredible power and majesty in many of the illustrations.

The index to artists at the rear is occasionally awry (for instance, promising two illustrations by De Gaspari on page 38 when there is only one, ditto for page 121) but I've noticed only one actual error and one factual error: the illustration on page 382, supposedly Battle 244 is, in fact, a close-up of War 244 which is reproduced in full on page 151; and Pat Nicolle's name is mis-spelled Nicholle in the index and on page 35. Trifling mistakes given the scope of the volume.

I thoroughly recommend getting hold of a copy. If you're reading this, you're only a click away from Amazon where they're offering the book for half price. With so many of the pictures scanned from the original artwork and printed on good paper stock, the book really does live up to the promise that these little masterpieces have never looked so good.

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