Friday, February 17, 2012

Comic Cuts - 17 February 2012

With Pages from History now out, it has been my intention to keep up the momentum I've built up by getting the next title out from Bear Alley Books as soon as I can manage. It would be the happiest day of my life if I could turn my hobbies and interests into a full-time job, but that's unlikely to happen unless I win the lottery; until then I'm in a constant state of having half a dozen projects bubbling along until I can find the time (and the finance) to work on them. Bear Alley Books is not a loss-maker because I'm a one-man band and don't draw a wage for any of the work I do; at the same time, it isn't generating profits in any meaningful way, so my first concern always has to be earning enough to pay the rent and everything else has to wait on the sidelines until that's done. A daily blog like Bear Alley also takes time to compile; running a strip like Paul Temple means I can "bank" a few spare days over the period it runs, which I then use to work on the next book.

The choice of book depends on a couple of things: one is to vary the way I'm spending my evenings, so a book that is heavy on illustration, as the Doughty book was, is likely to be followed by something a little more text heavy; sometimes it simply depends on something turning up that grabs my interest. It's a mixture of both that has kick-started the next book.

There are a handful of authors I keep returning to, usually every two or three years, to see if I can discover anything new on them. One of my favourites has been Gwyn Evans, who wrote dozens of Sexton Blake tales in the 1920s and 1930s, including some incomparible Christmas yarns which were a mixture of humour and off the wall plots. Titles like "The Mystery of Mrs Bardell's Xmas Pudding", "The Crime of the Christmas Tree" "The Man Who Hated Xmas" and "The Masked Carollers" I find  irresistable.

To cut a long story short, I returned to Gwyn recently to see if I could resolve one or two niggling mysteries and discovered a few things that pushed this particular book to the top of the heap of my projects list. I also managed to dig out (and believe me it took some digging — there are still a lot of unopened boxes from our move eighteen months ago) a few things from my collection that will hopefully be new to even the most ardent of Gwyn's fans.

I should have more news on the book's line-up next week; all I'll say for now is that I'm working on it every chance I get. And while it will have a lot more text than the last book, there will still be a lot of superb artwork, our column header being just one example.

I had hoped to place a piece on Mike White, who died on the weekend of 4/5 February, but, unfortunately, I was lacking certain basic information that the Guardian demands and any delay is fatal nowadays with the recently slimmed-down obituaries pages.

During a career that spanned almost forty years, Mike White was one of the stalwarts of the comic industry, solidly professional and adaptable but so often asked to work in a style that was already set that he did not develop his own individuality that might have boosted his reputation from good to great. White's own favourites were artists whose individuality shone through: Frank Hampson, Frank Bellamy, Mike McMahon (whom he dubbed "a genius") and Cam Kennedy.

When he took over Roy of the Rovers in 1986 from long-time Roy artist David Sque, White modernised the look of both the strip and the team. In one of writer Tom Tully’s most powerful stories, Melchester Rovers had recently lost eight players to a terrorist bomb and, as White took over, was rebuilding itself from a core of survivors. Over the next few years, storylines drawn by White included Roy’s efforts to combat hooliganism at the club, winning the Littlewood’s Cup, losing in the 1988 FA Cup final but winning the league, playing their home matches at Wembley after an earthquake hit Melchester Park and winning the 1990 FA Cup final; meanwhile, “Racey’s Rocket” continued to score, eventually beating the record of 435 league and cup goals held by Dennis Croker, a last minute goal that also meant they won the 1991-92 League Championship.

I was an avid reader at the time and had followed Mike's career through quite a few papers — Valiant, Action and 2000AD amongst them. I had the good fortune to speak to him a couple of times, most recently in 2011 when he was suffering from terrible arthritis; to continue working, he had to hold his drawing hand in his other hand. You wouldn't know it to look at the last few issues of Commando he drew.

Today's random scans. First up is a late-comer to the Peter Cheyney cover collection from Corgi in 1955... and our other three scans continue the Corgi theme this week. The Christina Brand cover is by Fox and the Fredric Brown by Jas E McConnell. Not sure about the last but it's gorgeous. I think a couple of these were originally scanned by Jamie Sturgeon... cheers, Jamie.

Next week sees the conclusion of Paul Temple, so I'll have to think of something quick to fill in from Wednesday.


  1. Sad to hear of the death of Mike White - is ROTR appearing in any contemporary form these days?

  2. Hi Mike,

    I don't think he is. There was a strip in Match for some while, but I've a feeling that disappeared some while ago. Even the "official" RotR website seems to be fairly inactive, with few updates outside the forum. I'll be happy to be proved wrong if someone knows differently.



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