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Monday, October 06, 2008

Eagle Annual of the Cutaways

THE EAGLE ANNUAL OF THE CUTAWAYS

Reviewed by Steve Winders


The Eagle Annual of the Cutaways is the second publication by Orion Books to be edited by Daniel Tatarsky which reprints material from the original Eagle comic of the 1950s and '60s. Last year’s book focused on the entire contents of the fifties Eagle and included single episodes from a wide range of strip stories and features. This year the focus is on Eagle’s famous ‘cutaway’ drawings of trains, aeroplanes, ships, motor vehicles and outstanding feats of engineering. The book reprints 141 of these drawings, with examples from the whole life of Eagle and includes work by Leslie Ashwell Wood, J. H. Batchelor, Roy Cross, Laurence Dunn, Walkden Fisher, Geoffrey Wheeler, Hubert Redmill, Gerald Palmer, Bruce Cornwell, Charles Hurford, John S. Smith, Paul B. Mann and others.

The drawings from the fifties are printed across two pages, as of course they were in Eagle, but in Eagle they were printed across the centre spread whereas in the book the spine occasionally obscures part of the middle of the drawing. To be fair there are very few pictures that suffer notable loss in the spine and it is clear that care has been taken to minimise this, but a previous collection, Denis Gifford’s 1988 Eagle Book of Cutaways was more successful in avoiding spinal loss. While Gifford’s book took the (letterbox) shape of the cutaway drawings of the fifties, The Eagle Annual of the Cutaways takes the approximate shape and size of the Eagle Annuals and generally reprints two cutaways across each double page to Gifford’s one. Consequently the cutaways in Gifford’s book were printed larger than in the new publication, but were still slightly smaller than in the Eagle comic. The pictures in the new book are about two thirds the size of the original, which sometimes makes the explanatory text boxes quite difficult to read, given that the text was rather small in the Eagle itself. The quality of reproduction of the drawings is also very slightly inferior to Gifford’s book, but should not spoil a reader’s enjoyment or appreciation of them. However Gifford’s collection numbers only 46 drawings and, apart from a cutaway of Dan Dare’s spaceship ‘Anastasia’ produced by members of Frank Hampson’s team, were exclusively by Ashwell Wood. While his drawings are excellent, so are those by other artists and it is good to see a lot of them in the new book.

The page size and shape of the new book also allows for single page cutaways from the sixties Eagle to be reproduced easily and obviously these suffer no spinal loss. While many aspects of the sixties Eagle are not considered to maintain the high standards of the fifties version, this is certainly not the case with the cutaway drawings and, although in the very last years of Eagle the drawings were changed to black and white, these are also worthy of reproduction and several are featured at the end of the book.

Also reproduced inside the front and back covers of the new book are eighteen examples of cutaways taken from surviving original artwork, without the information boxes. These are much smaller than the originals with three printed on each page, but they reveal the sharp clarity of the original art and are well worth including in the book. One of these, a drawing of a family cabin cruiser by Ashwell Wood, shows a character with his face painted out. Later in the book the published version shows the figure substantially altered, with a restored face and a better pose, indicating how an artist seeking perfection could make alterations by gluing small improvements onto his work.

The new book does not print the dates of the original publications of each of the cutaways. This would have been a welcome inclusion, as many drawings feature new ideas and innovations and it would have been interesting to date them as Gifford’s book did. However the new book makes maximum use of its space and pictures fill most pages almost from top to bottom, leaving the tiniest margins and no room for additional information.

The book begins with an interesting preface by Colin Frewin, the copyright holder of the Eagle name and much of its content. He recounts the story of Eagle’s publication of a cutaway of a nuclear submarine, which was so accurate in its speculations that the Government almost served a ‘D’ notice on Eagle, banning its publication! The preface is followed by an introduction by Jonathan Glancey, the Architecture critic of the Guardian newspaper. Although this article begins with an unfortunate misprint, stating that ‘Eagle Cutaways’ as opposed to ‘Eagle’ was the world’s best boys’ comic, the rest of the piece shows that Glancey has a great knowledge of the Eagle and the period in which it was produced.

Daniel Tatarsky included more than twenty cutaway drawings in his Eagle Annual of the Fifties and only two are repeated in the new collection. He has also chosen very few of the examples which appear in Gifford’s book, so most of the cutaways in this book are reproduced for the first time since their publication in Eagle. In addition to selecting the drawings, Tatarsky contributes several paragraphs of informative commentary spread through the annual, which will be of particular benefit to readers who do not remember the original Eagle, as a book of technical pictures of such high quality should appeal to a wider audience than Eagle enthusiasts. However as with last year’s Eagle Annual of the Fifties the book has been given an artificially ‘distressed’ appearance with apparently damaged corners and tears on the cover and yellowed marks on the margins of inside pages to suggest wear and tear. This begs the question of whether next year’s Eagle Annual of the Sixties will be slightly less distressed to indicate its more recent origins! In my opinion these aging marks are completely unnecessary in this book and may even conspire against sales to a more technically minded audience. This would be a pity as it is a most interesting book that has an appeal beyond nostalgia.

The Eagle Annual of the Cutaways, ed. Daniel Tatarsky. Orion ISBN 978-1409100140, 18 September 2008.

2 comments:

Ray said...

Loved the Eagle comic - and very often the cutaways were pinned to my bedroom wall.
Favourite stories were Dan Dare, Jeff Arnold and Jack O'Lantern. Also, the biographies that were on the back page.
Last year's Annual did not impress me much though. Plenty to look at - but there did not seem to be a full story. A nostalgia visit, maybe, but not one that carried a lasting effect which is a pity.

Steve said...

Ray,

I think the notion that nostalgia books need to be scrapbooks with a little bit of everything thrown in is wrong. I've only done one, The Best of Boyfriend, and I made sure there was a full-length (9-episode) comic serial and a complete text serial as I can't imagine anything more frustrating than reading one episode of something without there being any chance of finding out what happened next. I think this was the mistake made with the current Best of 2000AD where you get between 1 and 5 episodes of various strips and readers are left to wonder what the heck happened next.

I get the feeling that at some companies, books are put together with all eyes on marketing and no eyes on customer satisfaction. That's why publishing bubbles burst.