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Monday, May 24, 2021

A Life With Comics by G. M. Wilson

Alan Clark is one of the few writers who continues to tackle the subject of British comics prior to the Second World War. His previous books on Edwardian comics and (chiefly) pre-War artists and editors have been welcome additions to reference shelves in recent years, and now he has published a third which fits in very nicely alongside them. Keeping his output diverse, his latest title is the memoir of G. M. Wilson—Gertrude Mary Wilson, the wife of comic artist Roy Wilson.

Compact, at 153 double-spaced pages it is not as dense as an autobiography tends to be. Rather, it is written in an entertaining and breezy manner, detailed enough for the avid comics’ fan who wants to know more about the era covered, beginning with husband Roy’s work in the 1920s and covering her own parallel career writing comic serials, and later novels and radio plays, from 1932.

Wilson paints a detailed picture of the life she shared with her husband. Roy Wilson began his career in Norwich as an assistant to Don Newhouse, who was already established as a busy artist with Amalgamated Press. Before long, Wilson began to outshine his master and was drawing not only backgrounds, but the main characters, while Newhouse continued to letter the pages. Norwich, at that time, was home to a number of artists, and Wilson was soon invited to submit his own sets to supplement his income working with Newhouse.

This was necessary as he was married in 1924 and he was soon drawing the likes of ‘Pitch and Toss’ and ‘Basil and Bert’ against a background of house hunting and other family commitments.  Overworked and overstressed, Wilson came near to having a breakdown in 1931. His wife, at the suggestion of editor Len Stroud, tried her had at a detective tale and, before long, she was writing complete stories and serials for the same papers her husband was contributing to.

Her memoir mixes family exploits, from fun holidays to the worry of their daughter’s operation for a congenital dislocation of the hip. There are many more worries to face, especially during the War when Wilson, whose work ethic meant long nights making sure every set, every cover and every frontispiece met his high expectations, was drafted into the Home Guard, and together, from their house in Surrey, they could watch doodle bugs passing overhead.

Charting their friendship with artists and editors, and the passing of an era when the War devastated the publishing of comics, A Life With Comics is a fascinating look at those lost times by someone who was intimately involved in them. It is also a warm, welcoming invitation into the Wilson household, where Roy would be busily drawing on the dining room table while his wife tapped out the latest adventure of ‘Roy Keen’ or ‘Tilly of the Tuck Shop’ nearby.

Privately published, it can be purchased via Ebay:

A Life With Comics… A Personal Memoir by G. M. Wilson
Alan Clark, April 2021, 154pp (A5), £12.00.

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