Sunday, December 07, 2014
This Was The Wizard by Derek Marsden & Ray Moore
Social history aside, there has been little effort made to chart the history of individual story papers. George Beal's The Magnet Companion, for instance, was little more than a list of the lead Greyfriars/Billy Bunter stories, making no effort to index the back-up stories or features nor any attempt to trace the paper's history and influence. Two further attempts at listing the contents of long-running titles also fell short: Colin Morgan's The Rover Index because it covered only post-war issues and The Hotspur: A Catalogue by Derek Advley and Bill Lofts living too much up to its name and offering nothing more than a list of story and serial titles and dates with no attempt to describe the contents.
Launched in 1922, the third of Thomson's Big Five papers, The Wizard continued the trend already established in Adventure and The Rover for a mix of adventure and sport stories and serials. By rotating characters in and out of its pages, The Wizard was able to roll out a wide variety of characters. Air adventurers, footballers, detectives, cowboys, athletes... stories would be rested and the most popular ones revived for series after series.
Wilson developed as a character under the guidance of Wizard editor Willie Blain, who took over in 1927 from Fred Tait. It was Blain who helped create some of the paper's most popular stars, including the Wolf of Kabul, the Red MacGregor, Red Star Roberts and Thick-Ear Donovan. Under Blain, the paper began phasing out school stories and introduced science fiction, including such characters as the giant robot 'The Smasher'.
I have found only one minor factual error in Marsden's historical overview and it is of nit-picking unimportance: he states that there was strike in March 1947, causing the paper to miss two issues, but it is more likely that this was down to the extreme weather experienced in the UK in February/March of that year.
Whilst the book is factually impeccable, there is a tendency to compartmentalise everything: the history of the paper is followed by a set of biographies of the editors, then of the artists who supplied the header illustrations; since the editors and their enormous influence is covered in the introduction, it would have made more sense to incorporate biographical details; similarly, the artists are separated from the discussion of the characters they helped define. The historical introduction is sparsely illustrated with tiny, uncredited vignettes but the author biographies have no illustrations at all.
The serial listing is illustrated by having sample header illos. all grouped together on a single page, 27 2-inch-wide pictures on one page but generally 21 tiny images per page. At the other extreme, the book scores highly with a couple of sets of colour inserts—ten pages each with 12 sample covers, 16 pages of promotional material and 12 pages of free gifts.
The index itself has lists of serials, complete stories, cartoons, free gifts, the annuals and an index of serials.
Most of the above comments can be summed up as "that's not how I would do it," which doesn't make the format chosen wrong. Different strokes for different folks and, to me, only a minor problem for a book that has such a vast amount of information in it.
I only hope that it doesn't take nearly as long for Derek and Ray to get their next volume out.
This Was The Wizard is available from Border Bookshop, priced £25 + p&p, and also from 30th Century Comics.