Saturday 28 September 2013

Frank Bellamy and Red Devil Dean (Part Two)

Red Devil Dean by Frank Bellamy

The original artwork from Chris Harris, (featured in the blog of 16 May 2013), drew a number of responses and, in particular, began an exchange of correspondence with David Slinn -(who has recently assisted Steve Holland on his marvellous "Boy's World: Ticket to adventure", more on that in a later feature). Where this eventually led, is also for another time, but his initial observations are presented unedited as he can say it better than I can!

“First, let’s deal with ‘Red Devil Dean’. Included in ‘The Editor writes’, Junior Express Weekly, No.40, 25 June 1955, is this announcement about next week’s issue:
“...Then we have RED DEVIL DEAN. Red, an ex-Commando who finds post-war life humdrum, has a way of turning up wherever there is trouble. In his first adventure he is involved in an Arab rebellion in mysterious Morocco.”

Even that brief description uncannily tallies with the character Frank has depicted – though, disappointingly, as you’ll quickly spot in this first episode [pictured below], it appears Tug Wilson has already decided to go a.w.o.l.? 

'Red Devil Dean' by Desmond Walduck
Junior Express 41 July 2, 1955
In the mid-Fifties, your average youngster having grown up during the War, will have associated the “Red Devils” as the nickname for the 1st Parachute Brigade and, most probably, their involvement at Arnhem. As you’ve already established, the insignia is of Allied Combined Operations and, to add to these coincidences, even allowing for Desmond Walduck’s unmistakeable style, there is a discernible facial resemblance with Frank’s redheaded character. Admittedly, with Junior Express Weekly’s production restricted to red as a second colour, editorially expediency may have decided this new hero’s genetic traits.

Without knowing just when the specimen artwork was produced and why Frank’s version shows both men in uniform equipped for combat, suggesting the proposed stories were to be fictional wartime adventures, it’s difficult to offer much more than conjecture. Other than, while children’s titles of that period tended to persevere, often for years on end, with proven familiar content - unusually, Junior Express Weekly’s format, strips and features all seemed to be constantly evolving week-by-week.

By the time this new series had been planned to replace Jim Holdaway’s ‘Joanna of Bitter Creek’, the paper had embarked on a very successful strip adaptation of ‘The Colditz Story’, superbly illustrated by Tony Weare which led to ‘The Dam Busters’ and, later on, ‘The Bold and the Brave’ series of real-life wartime exploits. This may well have influenced the editorial decision to make Red Devil Dean an ex-Commando, with his adventures set in a civilian environment.

In any event, Frank’s further participation would have been ruled out by developments elsewhere. When, as you know, in addition to drawing ‘The Swiss Family Robinson’ for Swift he was asked during February 1955, to take over the ‘Paul English’ serial from Giorgio Bellavitas who was also coping with ‘Mark the Youngest Disciple’, on Eagle’s prestigious back-page colour feature.”

Many thanks to David for his clear thinking on this matter and, as you’ll see next time, also providing another fascinating insight to Frank’s early career – with a triple-discovery – Be here for ........‘The Missing Lynx’!

Monday 9 September 2013

Fans of Frank: Jonathan Wyke

TV21 #81
I tripped over the fact that Jonathan Wyke had an affinity for Frank Bellamy and in the interests of getting someone else to write my blog for me here is Jonathan...Seriously I'm grateful to Jonathan for sharing his insights and I've enjoyed adding links to the names I would list in the great pantheon (Perez has no official presence on the web, really?) and also browsing Jonathan's own art.
Frank Bellamy
I was born in Kettering, Northamptonshire on the 21st May. On the exact date and in the exactly same place as Frank Bellamy. That means nothing of course, unless you're a young lad, who's just beginning to notice that the art in comics is done by different people. What it means then is that you spend your time hunting down examples of Frank Bellamy's work and pouring over them as if they're relics.
This obsession faded somewhat as I moved into my early teenage years and was seduced by the 4 colour wonders coming from across the Atlantic. These were exotic Marvels, and because I now knew to look at the art I began to like a whole different pantheon of artists - Byrne, Perez, Adams, Kirby, Kane - all great in their own way, but all really coming from the same source. Their roots were firmly set in the States, and didn't really speak to me. It was at this time I re-discovered Frank Bellamy.
In Kettering there was a second-hand book shop - the type you really don't see anymore - with boxes of books and magazines scattered around its two tiny rooms. On the counter was one small cardboard box of old Marvel comics - they were the reason I'd gone in, and as I was buying them (very early Fantastic Four and Avengers issues at 5p each), the owner of the shop pointed out a stack of annuals on the floor and said I might like to take a look. I added one to my haul and left. It was of course an Eagle Annual, and I went back the next day to grab the rest. Harris Tweed and his friends were interesting, but here was Dan Dare. And here too was Frank Bellamy. Bellamy's strengths were many. His draughtsmanship was without peer, but his astonishingly dynamic layouts were out of this world. Where the American comics I'd been reading were all pretty rigid - fixed grids broken up by occasional splash page, Bellamy's ripped through that. Circular frames that dragged the eye to them, cinematic viewpoints swirling around, fixing your focus onto what was important. And the drawings. No more cartoon like figures. These were real people. Real animals. Real spaceships. Frank Bellamy could make the extra-ordinary real.
Dan Dare and Garth are I suppose the strips that Bellamy's most remembered for, but my favourites will always be Thunderbirds and Heros the Spartan. Heros is a particular love. Bellamy's inspiring use of colour. The wonderful penmanship. The layout! This astonishing piece was begun in the early 1960s and the dynamism of the narrative is, I believe, unsurpassed to this day.
All of this influences me. From the first finding the coincidence of our birth dates causing me to start to draw, copying the crappy reproduction in the Kettering Evening Telegraph over and over. The first thing I'd ever seriously tried to draw. To being blown away by the re-discovery of his work which spoke to me far more than the stylised pieces coming over from the US. In everything I draw I try to portray the subject with a realistic air, and that comes directly from Frank Bellamy. My attempts at sequential narrative are influenced by the European New Wave cinema, but Frank Bellamy was, of course, there first too.
Frank Bellamy was our Jean Giraud. Our Jack Kirby. His understanding and mastery of the sequential form have never been surpassed, and I know that if anything I ever did held even a slight reflection of his work I'd be a happy man.
Eagle Vol 14 #39
Jonathan's presence on the Net enables you to view his terrific work.  His blog "WobblyLines and Blotchy Colour" sounds too self-denigrating for such a good artist and he has a space on the wonderful DeviantArt site (took me a long time to realise this wasn't DeviantTart!) and he's on Twitter too. I'm sure you'll all head to his comic art but I loved this sketch.
St. John's Church, St. John Cornwall - by Jonathan Wyke
And like a lot of us I bet Jonathan can't wait for the Heros reprint (yes another shameless plug for Book Palace!)