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Monday, October 02, 2017

Marney the Fox (Rebellion)

John Stokes, the artist of Marney the Fox, describes the strip as a Marmite story, one which readers of Buster, where it originally appeared, either loved or hated. The editor "kept a chart on the wall of his office with the results of the readers' poll of most liked and most disliked stories. Marney the Fox regularly topped both polls, sometimes in the same week."

Well, I'm on the side of loving it. It's the story of a fox cub growing up in the Devon countryside... no, let me put that another way. It's about a fox cub whose mother has been killed, whose siblings are taken by the farmer who killed her, and who spends the next two years surviving the Devon countryside with all its predators with claws and hunters with traps and shotguns.

This is British comics' version of Henry Williamson's Tarka the Otter or Gavin Maxwell's Ring of Bright Water. Unlike Bambi, Marney has no happy playmates to frolic around with when his mother dies; instead, his life is dominated by needing to eat and needing to escape from creatures (both two-legged and four-legged) that see him either as a verminous killer or as food. Unlike Bambi, the creatures of the forest do not all speak the same language, so there are is no dialogue beyond Marney's thoughts and the overheard conversations of humans.

Over time Marney, faces many other dangers, from the Devon hunt to winter snow and from scientists' experiments to snake bites. This is not to say that all of Marney's encounters are bad ones. Along the way he makes the occasional friend: a mongrel dog named Greytooth, a runaway boy escaping a violent stepfather, a lost kitten...

For ninety percent of the story, Scott Goodall kept his little foxy hero terrified, escaping angry otters, poachers and other obstacles for episode after episode. It would have been very easy to jump the shark with Marney, but even in the most outrageous and unlikely storylines (such as having Marney taught by gypsies to perform tricks) he pulled back from the edge of the shark pool.

Artistically, Marney was brilliantly served by John Stokes, who made it one of the best-looking strips of the mid-Seventies (it originally appeared in Buster in 1974-76). Over the 27 months it ran, Stokes was called upon to draw every countryside animal that existed in Devon at the time (and a lion), which he did astonishingly well. Marney himself goes through an amazing range of emotions, which requires a realism to the artwork beyond most comic strips if its readers are to empathise with its furry hero. To achieve this, Stokes used every trick he could to add texture to the artwork, from crosshatching and stippling to airbrush effects using a diffuser. The results  make Marney one of the most fondly remembered of Buster's adventure strips and a fantastic choice for Rebellion's new reprint line.

Forty years on, it may be the grand-children of the original readers that the book is being bought for this Christmas.

Marney the Fox. Rebellion ISBN  978-178108598-1, 5 October 2017, 229pp, £17.99 / $23.99. Available from Amazon.

3 comments:

Phil Rushton said...

I'm really looking forward to this collection, but do you have any idea who wrote and drew the full colour version of Marney that appeared in the nursery comic Sunny during the 1980s?

Phil Rushton said...

Thanks to John Freeman and David Slinn I can now answer my own question: it seems that the later Marney artist was Bernard Long! :-)

David Simpson said...

There's an article on the Sunny version of Marney at Down The Tubes. go to http://downthetubes.net/?p=40663 for lots of lovely art