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Friday, November 21, 2008

Oliver Frey

Born in Switzerland, Oliver Frey was brought to England by his parents as a young boy. At school, he was introduced to the Eagle and the adventures of "Dan Dare" which spurred on his interest in artwork and, by the age of nine, he was quite an accomplished illustrator, his teachers showing off his artwork around the class.

Frey returned with his family to Switzerland but, thanks to a friend who sent copies of Eagle and Look and Learn, was able to keep reading his favourite strips, "Dan Dare" and "The Trigan Empire". Frey was such a fan of the latter that he sent examples of his own drawings and received a reply from Don Lawrence. Determined to become an artist, he persuaded his parents to allow him to take a correspondence course in illustration while he was still at school. 'The Famous Artist' was a course of thirty-six lessons set out in three books, each lesson ending in an assignment; Frey completed the course and his A-Levels about the same time.

Frey's other main interest was film making; his brother and sister became the stars of his home movies, shot on an 8mm camera. Turned down by the London School of Film Technique, Frey joined the Swiss Army to perform his National Service before attending Berne University where he intended to study History, German Literature and English Literature. Notionally he was aiming at a career in the diplomatic services but his interest in cinema and going to the movies (instead of lectures) led him to approach the London School of Film Technique again.

This time he was accepted and began a two-year course in 1969. As a way of supporting himself in London, Frey began drawing comic strips for Fleetway Publications' War and Battle picture libaries. At the end of his film course, he served a second compulsary term in the Swiss Army before returning to England where he continued to produce full-length stories, back-up strips and covers for the picture libraries.

With Roger Kean, a friend from film school, Frey set up an industrial film making company in Switzerland but, as neither partner was a particularly good salesman, the company soon faded. Frey returned to England to freelance artwork to Fleetway, including a spell as a regular illustrator in Look and Learn and Speed & Power which earned him the opportunity to take over "The Trigan Empire" strip, which he drew in 1976-77. He achieved a double when he began painting artwork for his other childhood hero, "Dan Dare" for the revived Eagle in 1982.

Frey became involved in a wide variety of projects, from video cover paintings to illustrations for children's books. Frey was invited to produce a comic strip in the style of the 1930s Superman for the opening credits of Superman: The Movie (1978). In the early 1980s he became associated with computer magazines through his brother Franco who was living in England but working for a German company looking to import Spectrum computer software. Whilst researching the market, Franco began considering the idea of launching a magazine which led to the creation of Newsfield Publications with brother Oliver and Oliver's former film parter Roger Kean. Their first launch was Crash in 1983, followed by Zzap!64, Amtix, LM and The Games Machine, all covering the computer gaming market. The company expanded into other areas, notably with horror magazines Fear in 1988 and Frighteners in 1991, both of which allowed Oliver Frey to unleash his imagination for covers and illustrations. Newsfield, despite employing 50 people at its peak, was not attracting enough advertising revenue and went into liquidation in 1991. A companion company, Thalamus Ltd., which was involved in creating games for the 8-bit and 16-bit market, also went into liquidation in 1993.

In recent years he has been a partner in Thalamus Publishing, designing and illustrating books, including The Complete Chronicle of the Emperors of Rome (2005) written by Roger Kean. Kean was also the editor of The Fantasy Art of Oliver Frey (2006) which reprints some of the hundreds of covers Frey has produced over the years.

Here's the opening episode of "The Terminal Man" from Crash issue 1. The fourth page was originally published in black & white but was coloured for a later reprint in Zzap! 64 issue 5 (1986). The strip ran in the first 12 issues of Crash (Feb 1984-Jan 1985) and, following a reprint run in Zzap, the story picked up again in issue 40 (May 1987) with a recap and new episode. Three more episodes appeared in issues 42-44 (July-Sept. 1987).

(* Trigan Empire © IPC Media; The Terminal Man © Kelvin Gosnell/Oliver Frey. The full run of the strip can be found here.)


  1. Loiver Frey is undoubtedly a fine artist but I always felt - as a young(ish!) reader of The Trigan Empire, and now as well in retrospect, that his Trigan work never conveyed the colour, excitement and basic adrenalin that Don Lawrence's work did. The Trigan strip appeared diminished in an undefinable way and Gerry Wood, made the stories more believable but in a more subdued form than Lawrence.

  2. With a lot of strips I find that the original artist leaves such an impression that it's almost impossible to appreciate whoever takes over. Don Lawrence was the original and best artist for "The Trigan Empire" and I don't think many could be swayed from that opinion. Oliver Frey had a somewhat thankless task taking over: artists try to stamp their own style on a strip where, if it's something they like, the readers want it to continue in the original style forever.

    I think Frey's finest moments were "S.O.S. International", which I loved when it began appearing in Speed & Power, and his illustrations in Look and Learn... possibly because that's where I first saw his work and where it made the biggest impression on me.

  3. I read Crash every issue and Ollie's cover illustration really made the mag stand out against the other home computer magazines. His Crash covers cleverly worked the spectrum colours into each and every picture.

  4. I also loved Fear but didn't realise Ollie did those covers. Thinking back they were in his style - What happened to John Gilbert, the magazine's editor, I wonder.

  5. I first came across his work in the early new Eagles, and his vibrant, pulsating colours really impressed me, even as a six year old (and looking back now, I think his compositions were more interesting, more kinetic, than Gerry Embleton's).

    I didn't really (knowingly) come across his work again (aside from occasion annual illustrations) until as a teen I got into Fear and Frighteners, where the glossy covers proved a rich seeding ground for his painting. And of course his interior black and white wash work was also of the highest draughtmanship, if looser and more impressionistic.

    Recently, as I have been sorting through my annuals and comics and writing descriptions of their contents ready for eBay, I have noticed more and more little Freyisms - feature illustrations, odd panels and the like.

    Plus - and I suspect I cannot be the only comics fan who is impressed by such things - his signature is very pretty and distinctive too!

    If only I had seen about this event earlier...

  6. Ahem,this man is a genius!I read the Terminal Man and wanted more!It would have sat very comfortably as a lead strip in Star Lord back in 1978!Genius,absolute genius!More,more,more!

  7. A year down the line and someone is trying to free up some warehouse space...

    Those lucky enough to be near the FOPP in London (just off Cambridge Circus) will be able to pick this book up for £4-00. Those Crash covers still look good...